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NATO Secretary-General Discusses Possible Role in Darfur

March 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, has expanded in membership and mission since the end of the Cold War. In Afghanistan, for example, it’s in the process of assuming the lead security role.

NATO is also assisting African Union peacekeepers in Sudan’s Darfur region, where local militia have killed some 200,000 people and displaced 2 million more. But NATO’s role there is small, primarily airlifting the African peacekeepers.

Last month, President Bush said NATO should play a larger role in Darfur, and he discussed the subject this week in a meeting with NATO’s secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer joins me now. Welcome.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER, NATO Secretary-general: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Thanks for being with us.

President Bush said that, in his meeting this week with you, he discussed, quote, “a strategy that would enable NATO to take the lead in Darfur.” What was he referring to? What was he suggesting NATO do?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: What we discussed was that, if the African Union — which, as you know, is leading the mission at the moment — will transfer that mission to the United Nations, for which we would need the Security Council mandate and a Security Council resolution — and on that basis, the African Union or the UN, which is, of course, very opposable, would ask NATO to do what we are doing at the moment and possibly to do more in the enabling sphere, enabling a United Nation mission, what would NATO’s answer then be?

And my answer was that, if those conditions would be fulfilled, African Union agreeing, United Nations setting up a mission in Darfur, asking NATO to do more — not bringing forces on the ground, but enabling the mission — that the allies would certainly take a very positive attitude.

MARGARET WARNER: But you did reiterate what you said earlier this month, that you do not see NATO putting what you describe, “boots on the ground”?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: If the core of the mission is African Union, headed on by other UN members who would be willing, and able, and ready to make up the UN mission, then I think NATO could do a very useful thing in enabling that mission: giving logistical support; going on with transporting troops in and out; training, and those kind of things.

MARGARET WARNER: So are you saying, though, that you cannot imagine that NATO would provide any troops on the ground, even in a transitional phase, which is what a lot of people are talking about, between the current African Union force — which clearly is outgunned and outmanned — and this UN force, which hasn’t even been fully authorized, and it could be as much as 10 or 12 months away.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I do not see this as a possibility at the moment, because I come back to the point I was making. It’s the American Union which has a mission; it’s the African Union which has decided on this mission; it is the African Union who has said that, at a later stage, there might be a UN mission.

It would not be wise, I think, for NATO, without a request by the A.U. but with itself, and without the UN request, to go in, wouldn’t it?

NATO allies would participate in a UN Mission

MARGARET WARNER: No, that’s not my question. My question is, you seem to be saying that under no circumstances would NATO provide any troops on the ground; is that what you’re saying?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: What I’m saying is that I do not see a NATO force on the ground. What I could see is that NATO allies, individual allies, would participate in a possible UN mission. I don’t exclude that at all, but NATO as such and NATO as an organization will not put a force on the ground in Darfur. It will be a UN force led by the UN, as the present force is led by the African Union.

MARGARET WARNER: The U.S. Senate a couple of weeks ago passed a resolution calling on President Bush to urge NATO to start planning for a NATO role on the ground and for at least establishing a no-fly zone. Did he raise that with you? Did he ask that you start that planning?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: The president raised Darfur. We talked about Darfur, in the terms I have just mentioned.

We did not go — neither the president nor I, myself, go into the specifics. And the reason again is the same. What we do need is a United Nations Security Council mandate. It would create all kind of wrong impressions if NATO would just go in as such.

MARGARET WARNER: But you did reiterate what you said earlier this month, that you do not see NATO putting what you describe, “boots on the ground”?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: If the core of the mission is African Union, headed on by other UN members who would be willing, and able, and ready to make up the UN mission, then I think NATO could do a very useful thing in enabling that mission: giving logistical support; going on with transporting troops in and out; training, and those kind of things.

MARGARET WARNER: So are you saying, though, that you cannot imagine that NATO would provide any troops on the ground, even in a transitional phase, which is what a lot of people are talking about, between the current African Union force — which clearly is outgunned and outmanned — and this UN force, which hasn’t even been fully authorized, and it could be as much as 10 or 12 months away.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I do not see this as a possibility at the moment, because I come back to the point I was making. It’s the American Union which has a mission; it’s the African Union which has decided on this mission; it is the African Union who has said that, at a later stage, there might be a UN mission.

It would not be wise, I think, for NATO, without a request by the A.U. But with itself, and without the UN request, to go in, wouldn’t it?

NATO allies would participate in a UN Mission

MARGARET WARNER: No, that’s not my question. My question is, you seem to be saying that under no circumstances would NATO provide any troops on the ground; is that what you’re saying?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: What I’m saying is that I do not see a NATO force on the ground. What I could see is that NATO allies, individual allies, would participate in a possible UN mission. I don’t exclude that at all, but NATO as such and NATO as an organization will not put a force on the ground in Darfur. It will be a UN force led by the UN, as the present force is led by the African Union.

MARGARET WARNER: The U.S. Senate a couple of weeks ago passed a resolution calling on President Bush to urge NATO to start planning for a NATO role on the ground and for at least establishing a no-fly zone. Did he raise that with you? Did he ask that you start that planning?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: The president raised Darfur. We talked about Darfur, in the terms I have just mentioned.

We did not go — neither the president nor I, myself, go into the specifics. And the reason again is the same. What we do need is a United Nations Security Council mandate. It would create all kind of wrong impressions if NATO would just go in as such.

MARGARET WARNER: But I’m really asking here is: Did President Bush press, as a leading NATO member, for NATO to at least begin the planning for this, even though I fully understand that the UN and the African Union haven’t fulfilled their prerequisites?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: What we are doing in NATO at the moment is giving support in the enabling elements. If it comes to a NATO role, it will stay in the enabling. There, President Bush and I do fully agree.

And for that, of course, we are doing planning and we are ready, if called upon, to do that, to continue to do that, and, if possible, to do that in a more substantial way, in a more substantial form.

MARGARET WARNER: You said that some NATO members individually might contribute to the UN force. Did the president or anybody else you’ve met with — say, Secretary Rumsfeld — say that the United States would be willing to contribute forces to such an operation?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I think, as we speak, given the present situation, there is not yet the need for declaring a willingness to participate. I do not know; it was not specifically discussed between the president and myself or Secretary Rumsfeld and myself.

What kind of decision the United States administration will make, the moment that there will be a UN force, I do not know. But I say again, it would be the United States, as U.S., of course, participating in the NATO mission, the enabling mission, and possibly — but I do not know — bringing U.S. forces into the UN fold by participating in the mission. But we did not discuss it, and it wasn’t raised today.

NATO feels they need to find most effective way to participate

MARGARET WARNER: What is it about the potential mission in Darfur that makes NATO — or, in your view, NATO should not participate as an organization?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: If I look at the present situation, if I look at the fact that this is Africa, and it’s the African Union leading the mission, and it’s the African Union making a success out of this mission, NATO supporting this African Union, where the opinion should be, but as much as possible, the Africans themselves, that’s what they think, and that’s what they feel very strongly should be responsible for events on their own continent.

I think you should be careful by imposing yourself on them and, without them asking, deciding or doing more than they are asking. And that is not only a position taken by the African Union itself; it is also certainly the position taken by the United Nations.

From a moral point of view, from a moral standpoint, again, I feel the same as everybody else, that the raping, and the pillage, and the burning of villages, and the murder should stop. But we have to find the most effective way to do that, and where NATO can contribute, NATO will contribute.

MARGARET WARNER: The special UN envoy to Darfur says that the Sudanese government basically said to him: You send in a white Western force here, and al-Qaida will go after any government that participates. In addition, many NATO members in Europe have problems, tensions with their own Muslim population.

Are either of those factors contributing to the reluctance of NATO to get involved in what is essentially Muslim-on-Muslim violence that happens to be in Darfur?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Certainly, not as far as NATO is concerned, because I can tell you that, if you look at NATO’s operations and missions today, that we take Afghanistan as a Muslim country. Let me take Kosovo; there’s a Muslim majority.

NATO is reaching out to the Muslim world. We have a dialogue with the Muslim world, with the Arab world, so that will never be and can never be an argument.

I have taken good notes of what the UN representative said, but NATO as such will not have itself deterred by al-Qaida, as we do not have and see ourselves deterred in Afghanistan by Taliban and al-Qaida. That can never be the argument.

The central argument is: Will the United Nations be able — and it comes down to the permanent numbers of the Security Council — will they be able and will they be willing, with the support of the Africans themselves, to lay the groundwork and the foundation for a UN mission in Darfur? That’s the key.

MARGARET WARNER: But how would you explain to a layperson who sees what’s going on, the killings continuing, the raping, the pillaging, people made homeless, that — I mean, you are the head of the most powerful multination military organization on the planet. How would you explain why the West has not done more to stop the killing?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, the West — I would amend your West by the international community — NATO has done and is doing what it has been asked to do by the African Union itself.

That was when I became secretary-general of NATO in the beginning of ’04, I would not have considered it possible that NATO would assist the African Union, that NATO would have a presence in Africa.

NATO has done within the reign of the possible, and is doing what it is doing, and I think we need the foundation for doing more. And I share everybody’s, be it the Senate’s, or Capitol Hill, or anybody’s great frustration on Darfur, because, indeed, the murdering goes on.

But for NATO to be able to play a role, we need that foundation. And I do not see, unfortunately, that foundation yet.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Secretary-general, thank you.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you very much.