You will serve as NATO secretary general until summer 2014. A couple of months later, the last NATO combat soldier will leave Afghanistan. Are you confident that both NATO's mission and your personal mission can be accomplished by then?
Yes, I am confident that Afghan security forces will be able to take full responsibility for the security all over Afghanistan by the end of 2014 as we have planned.
Some 50 NATO troops have been killed already this year by members of the Afghanistan army or police, and the number of these so-called insider attacks continues to grow. I wonder if NATO can stick to its timetable for the pullout?
Obviously these insider attacks are a matter of great concern because they threaten to undermine trust and confidence between foreign troops and Afghan security forces. But these enemy tactics will not succeed. No one can drive a wedge between us and our Afghan partners and this is the reason why we have taken a number of measures to prevent such insider attacks - including strengthened recruitment procedures, strengthened counter-intelligence measures and other steps, and we will not hesitate to take further steps if needed. So these insider attacks will not derail our strategy. We will stick to our strategy, to our timetable. And by the end of 2014 we will complete our current ISAF mission.
Many experts warned that the Taliban and warlords are just biding their time until NATO combat troops have left. Was it the right decision to set a fixed date for the end of ISAF's mission?
Yes, it was the right decision to outline a roadmap for handing over more and more responsibility to the Afghans. Firstly, because we are not in Afghanistan as an occupation force. The ultimate goal must be to hand over full responsibility to the Afghans themselves. We can't stay in Afghanistan forever. That's my first point. Secondly, I also think it's important to have certain deadlines because deadlines serve the purpose to push forward the process. The Afghans know that they have to be ready at certain dates, so the roadmap and the deadlines serve as a driving force and we have actually seen a lot of progress thanks to that roadmap.
But many NGOs portray Afghanistan as a country doomed to slip into another civil war and they warn of a collapse of the Kabul central government. Regarding these worst-case scenarios, what can, what will NATO do after 2014?
First and foremost, I would like to stress that I don't share these doom and gloom perspectives. I fully realize that we still have a lot to do and there are still challenges. But overall, we have seen progress. Security-wise, we have seen a decline in the number of enemy attacks. When it comes to development, we have seen progress: a relatively high economic growth; an improved educational system - eight million children go to school out of which more than one third are girls; a better health situation - child mortality has gone down, life expectancy has gone up. So, we have seen a lot of progress. We will not abandon Afghanistan. We will complete our current combat mission by the end of 2014, but we will stay with the NATO-led training mission after 2014 so we will continue to assist the Afghan security forces to make sure they maintain their capability to take full responsibility for security all over Afghanistan.
Let's take a look at this new NATO mission to Afghanistan - ETAM. Will it only be training and assistance or might there also be combat troops required?
It will not be a combat mission. There will be a clear difference between the current ISAF combat mission and the new training mission. So we will focus on training, assistance, giving advice to the Afghan security forces. They will do the fighting. We will help them with training, assistance, and giving advice. But having said that, of course, we need to make sure that our trainers and instructors can operate in a secure environment so we need to protect them effectively. What that will take has not been decided yet. We are in the early stages of the planning process. But it will definitely not be a combat mission.
These early stages of the planning - does it also involve the question of whether the new mission needs a UN mandate?
No, we are not there yet.
But do you want a UN mandate?
A UN mandate would be excellent but, according to international law, it would be sufficient to have an invitation from the Afghan government. If we, on top of that, could have a UN mandate, as we do today, it would be excellent.
The Afghan government is unwilling to grant NATO military personnel immunity from prosecution by Afghan courts after 2014 but NATO can't risk demanding this immunity for their soldiers. Could this row endanger the new mission as a whole?
Well, these legal aspects must be addressed. We have actually not made any decision in that respect yet. There will be talks between us and the Afghans. And we have to solve these legal aspects because otherwise I foresee problems as regards the deployment of trainers and instructors in Afghanistan.
Briefly looking at geopolitics, the US is leaning more and more towards the Pacific region. Does this weaken NATO?
No, not at all. On the contrary, I think it is also in Europe's interest that the United States focus on the Asia-Pacific region, taking into account the rise of emerging powers like, for instance, China. It's important of course that it does not take place at the expense of the traditional transatlantic relationship, and we have seen that the Americans are committed to European security. One example is missile defense. The Americans provide a major input into the NATO missile defense system. European allies provide input as well so it's a joint effort. It's an example that the United States continues to be committed to European security and the transatlantic relationship. So I do believe that this re-balancing of the US defense and security policy will not take place at the expense of the transatlantic relationship.
Interview: Christian F. Trippe, head of DW's Brussels studio