Venizelos Press Conference on NATO’s Lisbon Summit
In a Press Conference given Monday, November 22, at the MoD in Athens, Minister of Defence, Evangelos Venizelos gave details on NATO’s Lisbon Summit (Nov. 19-20, 2010)
Key-points of Venizelos’ opening remarks:
- NATO’s new Strategic Concept replaces the previous version that had been agreed upon by member-states during the 1999 Washington D.C. Summit.
- Greece’s objective was the re-affirmation of Article 5 (of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty) in the new document and the confirmation, once again, of the Principle of Consensus in Alliance decisions.
- NATO is being transformed into a political-military Organization that deals with all kinds of threats and challenges (including terrorism, energy-related issues, immigration, climate change, and most importantly cyber-attacks) and needs a cyber-defence capacity (to be approved on March 2011).
- Member-states, following the acceptance of the Strategic Concept by the Heads of States and Governments, no longer object to NATO’s nuclear and missile defence capabilities. NATO will continue to be a nuclear Alliance of a defensive nature, entailing however, a strong element of deterrence.
- On the occasion of ISAF’s meeting at the level of Heads of States and Governments and due to the situation in Afghanistan, almost 46 countries sat on the same table. That means NATO acquires other dimensions too, political ones. The President of the World Bank, the U.N. Secretary General, the President of the European Commission, the Prime Minister of Japan and others were present. We must see exactly what NATO’s role is and what countries such as Jordan or the U.A.E. approaching the Alliance signifies.
- The NATO-Russia Council meeting, at the level of Heads of States and Governments and in the spirit of the speeches by Presidents Obama and Medvedev, highlights this earlier point. It is also highlighted by the fact that both sides, NATO and Russia, declare that they don’t pose a threat to each other anymore and by the fact that Russia is called to participate, at an operational level, to a missile shield covering a vast area expanding from the Atlantic to the Urals, to Alaska.
- The new Command Structure or “Model III” of NATO, officially approved under the general framework, calls for a 35% reduction in personnel (or 4,900 staff), two Allied Force Command Headquarters, one Allied Maritime Command Headquarter, one Allied Air Command Headquarter and two Combined Air Operations Centres. Also, the Alliance will prepare a plan, until March 2011, to reduce the number of its organizations (like NAMSA) to only three.
- Greece participates in the anti-piracy operations, in the fight against terrorism in the Mediterranean and in Afghanistan because it wants to maintain the balance of power in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.
- When the Russian President declares he is willing to participate in the fight against piracy, against terrorism and in the missile shield project and when so many countries contact NATO through organizations like Partnership for Peace (PfP) or through other fora on the sidelines of NATO, it is easy to realise how important it is that Greece handles the situation in a way that its national interests are not harmed;
- The missile shield and missile defence structures have been approved by all NATO member-states. The three decisions regarding those structures concern
– The “ALT-BMD” system which is already into place but will be expanded to protect the territory and populations of the NATO member-states.
– The introduction, in phases, of the American-led missile defence shield that can include other nations’ voluntary contributions towards its deployment. Command and Control issues regarding those systems must be approved by March 2011 and the “Action Plan” for their use will be presented in June 2011.
– Russia will be called to participate in a spirit of cooperation, across the board, regarding those issues.
- In Afghanistan NATO agreed to cease all combat operations by 2014. The Afghan Government needs to present a coherent strategy regarding issues like transparency, drug-fighting and all sorts of trafficking that affect the country. NATO wants to reconcile with those who protest against violence, denounce terrorist activities and recognize the Afghan Constitution. This is an important policy change aimed at limiting battlefield operations and negotiating with those who cut ties with the Alliance’s enemies, because it is the only way for the transition phase between 2011 and 2014 to be successful.
- There is a need for NATO to produce clear political directives at a Ministerial level and have Ministerial decisions passed on to operational commanders. There are national defence priorities that must be met, first and foremost, before anything else takes place. Reducing NATO operating costs does not mean that national contributions must in turn be increased –leading to additional burden on national budgets- on the expense of the taxpayers.
- Member-states need to maintain control of all issues. There is a need to maintain the Organization-to-Organization cooperation between the E.U. and NATO, between their respective members. Greece supports this approach the same way it has supported Cyrpus’ role in the European Union. Each member-state has its own priorities and [national] sensitivities and must emphasise them to raise awareness about them among all member-states. All matters concerning the E.U. are for the Union members to discuss and are not up for discussion amongst NATO member-states. “Nobody can discuss issues concerning Cyprus with Cyprus absent from that discussion”, Venizelos said.
- Greece is satisfied with the inclusion of a paragraph in the text -signed by the Heads of States and Governments- concerning FYROM’s accession into NATO. In the paragraph it is clearly stated that without a mutually agreed solution between Greece and FYROM regarding the name issue, FYROM cannot join NATO.
Defence Minister Venizelos then opened the floor to questions by reporters.
- Asked whether amending Article 5 was on the table the Minister replied “No. The North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 does not change” but also said that priorities, on the other hand, do change, such as the need for collective field defence or for “Afghanistan-like” operations. This is what is important, what the military priority is, he said.
- Asked whether NATO could eventually become a version of an expanded E.U., Venizelos said that NATO already has many member-states and maintains an open door policy, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean region. “So new members will be added”. He also said that NATO is a Euro-Atlantic Military Cooperation Organization and maintains a balance between its Atlantic (the U.S. and Canada) and its European Allies. The political characteristics of the Alliance are strengthened because, by default, defence issues are linked to security issues, to crisis management issues, to issues that are entering the scope of defence policy such as climate change and energy, he said.
- On the question about the absence of autonomous military action capabilities by the UN and the E.U, the Minister said that one operation that the E.U. takes part in is a “Berlin Plus” type of operation, using NATO components in Bosnia. The other operation, “ATALANTA” which is entirely European, is going well and has much more members participating in it than in “OCEAN SHIELD” which is its NATO counterpart. Greece, the Minister said, participates on a rotating basis, to both but “ATALANTA” does not suffice to affirm the military presence of the E.U. The presence of the U.N. Secretary General in Lisbon, as well as the presence of representatives from E.U. institutions signifies NATO’s importance. The legitimacy of its actions stems from the U.N. mandates, Venizelos said.
- Asked if climate change is relevant to NATO’s goals, the Minister said a hypothetical flood, for example, (a result of climate change) in Pakistan could create problems affecting this country which has nuclear weapons and borders with Afghanistan.
- Asked whether NATO maintains a first-strike nuclear policy, Minister Venizelos said that NATO’s nuclear forces aim at deterring enemies. Everybody wants nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons but reality cannon be ignored, he said.
- On whether Greek national interests are under threat by the new Alliance force structure regarding Headquarters, the Minister replied that there is no threat but a negotiation and that Greece must participate in this discussion to avoid vulnerabilities. “It is very important to actively participate and have an opinion and a strategy on these topics. He said that Greece wants to see a command structure in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea that is simple, light, and “intelligent” and does not, by itself, create problems either technical or artificial. He also said that the Force Structure as it was could create additional problems and this fact has been proven over the course of history. “We want a structure that is simple, functional, that reduces tension and does not increase tension, in Greek-Turkish relations as well”.
- Asked about Turkey having sought to assume command of the missile shield, as was written in the press, the Minister clarified that, judging by statements made by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, Turkey wants to have control of the missile shield elements that will be operational on its soil and not of the entire shield. Operational control of the entire shield, he said, will lie in the countries that participate substantially in it. The Minister said that, command and control issues of the pre-existing “ALT- BMD” NATO system –and that of the missile shield- will be determined during the March 2011 NATO Summit and added that the Russian Federation has been asked to contribute at an operational level in order to achieve inter-operability with the Russian systems as well.
- On whether he considers a NATO with 30 or 35 member-states functional, given his remark about the reiteration of the Principle of Consensus, Defence Minister Venizelos said that the Consensus applies to all international organizations, under the logic of the correlation of forces. “So a country uses its right to block a decision in areas where a vital national interest exists. It has to feel that vital defence and security interests are at stake to block a decision. This is entirely logical. But it rarely happens”. He said that there were two secessions from the military leg of NATO and two comebacks (Greece and France). The Minister said that issues like those remain unresolved since 1974 (or 1980 when Greece returned into the military leg of NATO).
- Regarding a statement made in Lisbon by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou about new threats of an extreme policy nature or Movements NATO must face, and about NATO’s support of a just society and a more democratic function in International Relations under its new structure, Mr. Venizelos said he was not present when that statement was made but, because things are very simple, the Prime Minister was referring to Al Qaeda and the Taleban.
- Asked whether Greece has an obligation to house and support NATO’s nuclear force the Minister said “No” and made clear that the Alliance’s nuclear posture has not been changed. When asked, in relation to this question, whether Greece will renew its Air Force fleet, Mr. Venizelos said that this will take place based on national priorities.
- Minister Venizelos was also asked about the technical aspects of the Force Structure and whether Greece would like to see both the Izmir Air Command Headquarters and the Larissa CAOC scrapped. He added that Greece will participate in the relevant discussion in order to find the best solution possible for the Eastern Mediterranean region and the Aegean Sea and avoid the use of different criteria and practices from those in use in all the other areas of NATO’s operational responsibility.
- When he was asked whether NATO directives that have created problems in Greece’s bilateral relations could be recalled, Defence Minister Venizelos replied that Greece has officially asked that directives violating the jurisdiction of NATO bodies be recalled. He was referring especially on directives of operational commanders that are of a political nature, or even directives by the NATO secretary General that overstep the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 and the framework of the North Atlantic Council.