Well, good afternoon. I’m delighted to welcome the Secretary General here to Downing Street today. NATO is the bedrock of our defence; for 65 years the alliance has helped to keep our nation secure and our people safe. For 65 years the UK has played a leading role at the heart of this alliance with British troops serving alongside their NATO allies in Afghanistan, in the Baltics and on counter piracy missions around the world.
This year the United Kingdom will host one of the most important summits in NATO’s history. In Wales this September we’ll bring together leaders to discuss how NATO can keep building stability in an unpredictable world. As host, Britain has a real opportunity to help shape the debate and today the Secretary General and I have agreed on 3 clear priorities for the Wales summit.
First, we must consider the long term implications of the Russia Ukraine crisis. The last NATO summit to be held in Britain was the first since the fall of communism. It paved the way to reunite our divided continent and for our Eastern European partners to join the alliance. Today they feel threatened once again. Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine has underlined NATO’s strength in collective defence and allies have shown solidarity in response, sending planes, ships or troops.
But at the Wales summit we must strengthen our ability to respond quickly to any threat against an ally, to reassure those who fear for their own country’s security and to deter further Russian aggression. We should make clear to Russia that NATO has only ever sought to be her partner not a threat. But Russia, by its own ongoing illegal actions in a neighbouring country, and threatening behaviour to NATO allies, is preventing such cooperation in the future.
Second, Afghanistan: as we near the end of NATO’s longest ever combat mission we should discuss the next chapter in our relationship with Afghanistan. How we can continue to train, advise and sustain the Afghan security forces to ensure that they preserve what we’ve achieved together, securing their own country and preventing Afghanistan from once again being a haven for terrorists.
Finally, we must make sure that NATO is addressing the new risks from an unstable world of failed states, regional conflicts, terrorism and cyber-attacks. In particular, we should agree how NATO can provide practical support to countries that need to strengthen their security sector. Whether in Libya, Georgia or the Gulf, we should work with those who want our help, sending specialist mentoring teams, providing advice on defence planning or even offering full scale training missions like the one Libyan troops are completing right here in Britain.
By investing in these troops now we will ensure more countries have strong and capable armed forces that can secure their own countries and consequently foster stability across the world. And while we invest in troops elsewhere, so we must invest in our armed forces here at home. As 1 of only 4 allies that meet the NATO 2% GDP spending target, we should be encouraging fellow members to invest more and to do it more smartly.
So these are ambitious priorities but by working together we will be stronger together; a rock-solid alliance that fosters global peace and stability. And an alliance that Britain is firmly committed to.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Thank you very much Prime Minister. Thank you for a very positive, constructive meeting this afternoon. It’s always great to talk to you and I thank you for your strong commitment to our alliance.
The Wales Summit in September will, as the Prime Minister said, be one of the most important in NATO’s history. And it is fitting that it should take place in the United Kingdom which plays such a leading role in NATO. Today peace and stability are being put to the test from Eastern Europe, from North Africa and the Middle East. So we must remain ready to deal with any threat to keep our nations safe. We must reinforce our network of partners and bolster their security forces to help keep the world stable. And we must reinvest in the vital link between Europe and America because, in a dangerous world, our Atlantic alliance of free democracies is indispensable.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has undermined the international order. NATO has already taken immediate steps to defend allies, and every NATO member contributes. Britain is playing a major role on land, at sea and in the air. In Wales we will take further measures to keep our defences strong.
Security has a price, but freedom doesn’t come for free. Across Europe we will all need to look at what we spend on our defence and how we spend it. The United Kingdom is leading by example. Despite the financial crisis you continue to invest 2% of your economic output in defence and in deployable forces. At our summit in Wales we must all show a commitment to do more and do better.
And in Wales we will also turn a new page in our relationship with Afghanistan as we complete our longest combat mission. I pay tribute to the British forces who have achieved so much and sacrificed so much. Despite the challenges Afghanistan is a very different place from a decade ago: no longer a safe haven for international terrorists; holding elections secured by the Afghan troops and police whom we have trained; and taking responsibility for its own future. In Wales we will make sure that the gains we have made are preserved.
So Prime Minister, I really look forward to a successful summit in Wales where we will build NATO’s future.
Thank you very much Secretary General. I think we’ve got a question.
Thank you Prime Minister. Could I ask you first about British fighters in Iraq and Syria? You will understand that people find this a gravely worrying situation. The numbers are extremely significant. We’re hearing perhaps as many as 450 fighting in Iraq.
How would you expect the British people to have confidence that you will stop these people coming back into the country when apparently they found it so easy to get out and go to the conflict zones in the first place?
And can I ask both of you when you look at the disastrous situation over which Prime Minister Maliki has presided in Iraq, can he really be the right man now to take the country forward?
Let me take the second part of your question first. In terms of the situation in Iraq, what matters is the approach taken by Iraq’s leaders whoever they are. And what matters is that they govern for the whole of the country. They must run non-sectarian regimes. They’ve got to include Sunni, Shi’a and Kurd in the way that they govern that country. And they need to close down the ungoverned space that has been left in their country and that has led to this appalling development of ISIL taking so much ground in the middle of Iraq. That’s what needs to happen. So it’s the approach that matters more than anything else.
On the issue of British people going to be radicalised either in Syria or indeed in Iraq, what I would say to people is that we are taking this extremely seriously. There have already been 65 Syria-related arrests in this country. There are 14 people who’ve had their passports taken away. The work of the security intelligence and policing services is very much now being focused on this area and has been for some time. And I’ve chaired meetings in Whitehall to make sure that every department is involved in that and that everything that can be done is being done.
We’re changing the law to make it easier to prosecute people who plot terrorist acts abroad and will continue to take every step we can to stop people travelling to Syria, to prevent them coming back if they have been radicalised and to keep the country safe. What has happened in some cases is people have been on humanitarian missions to Syria, but while in Syria they have been radicalised, either because they wanted to be or because of the people they were moving with.
One of the things we need to do in communities where people might be tempted to take part in humanitarian missions – to take aid, for instance, to parts of the country that desperately need it – is to make sure they are fully understanding the risks of friends or relatives or sons or daughters travelling to this country.
So we have to take the toughest anti-terrorism action we can and some of the more persuasive techniques of explaining to people the dangers of this region and the dangers if their children become radicalised. We will take every step we can.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen
On the Iraqi leadership I am very much in line with the Prime Minister. What really counts is the political approach and what we need in Iraq is a much more inclusive government that also includes Sunni and Kurds communities. If I may add to this, another lesson learned from Iraq is the importance of training of local security forces. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do in Afghanistan, and that’s also why, at the Wales summit, we will prepare a NATO initiative to build defence capacity in partner countries and fragile states that need our assistance to build a strong security sector.
Prime Minister al-Maliki is very poor in the areas that you’re saying. Can you really have any confidence that it can change?
There is no doubt that the government of Iraq has not given enough attention to healing sectarian divides, to including Sunnis and Kurds in the government, to bringing the country together. One of the reasons – you know, we have to examine why we have this crisis in the centre of Iraq, and it is that combination of poor governance, of ungoverned space, of that encouragement of extremism which has created this space which is going to be, potentially, a haven for terrorism, with all the dangers that I pointed out in the House of Commons yesterday.
But look, I think it is important that I don’t pick Iraq’s leaders. The people of Iraq pick their leaders. But what matters is that those leaders, whoever they are, now or in the future, run that country on a non-sectarian basis because that – running it on a more sectarian basis is part of the problem that is being dealt with today.
So that is what needs to happen.
How worried should we be about the build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border?
And also, to Mr Rasmussen specifically, are you concerned about the UK’s military capability if Scotland does vote to become independent?
Well, let me take the question first. What we need to see is a change in the status quo, in terms of Russia and Ukraine. We discussed this in some detail at the G7. Russia needs to take a series of actions to stop weapons crossing the border, to make sure that so called separatists are not getting support, and to make sure they contribute to the stability of the Ukraine rather than undermine it.
So a series of steps, building confidence between Russia and Ukraine, including the ones I mentioned, need to take place. And clearly, the number of troops on the border, and indeed, as I was discussing with the Estonian Prime Minister yesterday, the nature of those troops, is a part of the de-escalation that needs to take place.
I think that’s absolutely vital to make sure that we have a successful Ukraine and that we see a de-escalation of that problem. And I’m sure it’ll be discussed at the EU summit next week, where we’ll also be looking again at this issue of the trigger points for further sanctions should that de-escalation not take place.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen
We are now seeing a new military build-up – a Russian military build-up – along the Ukrainian border, and it is indeed a matter of grave concern. So we call on Russia to stop the flow of weapons and equipment from Russia to separatist groups in Eastern Ukraine; we call on Russia to stop the support for pro-Russian armed gangs in Eastern Ukraine; and in general we call on Russia to stop destabilising the situation in Eastern Ukraine, and engage in a constructive manner with the political leadership in Kiev.
On your second question, if I understood it correctly, it was about my confidence in UK defence spending?
In the capabilities being maintained of the UK contributions to NATO.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Absolutely. I have discussed that with both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence. I know that the UK government is strongly committed to our defence spending benchmark. As you know, we have a NATO benchmark of 2% and the UK is actually 1 of the 4 allies that spent on defence an amount of money equivalent to more than 2% of GDP. We highly appreciate that.
The UK also invests quite an amount of money, each and every year, in modern military equipment. And the UK is one of the allies that always step up to the plate and deploy assets when needed, whether it is in international military operations or, as now, in reinforcing our collective defence, reassuring our eastern allies, including 4 fighter jets to enhance air policing over the 3 Baltic states.
So whenever we call on the UK, the UK stands ready to contribute. So I have no doubt that will also be the case in the future.
Thank you. Thank you very much indeed.