Priority Questions

Defence Forces Fatalities

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

10. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence if he will meet with the parents of a person (details supplied) to discuss their ongoing concerns regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of their son; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29386/13]

I wish to extend my sympathies to the family members of the deceased. I have been in correspondence with the family on the matter and officials from my office met with them as recently as 16 May. The family have supplied me with information in relation to their concerns. This information has been examined by officials in my Department and I have now sought further legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General. When this advice is received, I will be in a position to consider the matter further.

I thank the Minister for the apparent positivity of his response. I acknowledge that he takes a personal interest in this particularly sensitive matter. We are discussing an incident in which two members of the Air Corps, Cadet David Jevens and Capt. Derek Furniss, lost their lives. I do not in any way wish to add to the deep distress that the families of both men continue to experience. It is none the less a fact that the Jevens family, in particular, remain seriously concerned about the accident and the events leading up to it. As the Minister will be aware, the family is deeply distressed and concerned after spending countless hours studying the documentation, the regulations and the procedures that surround military courts of inquiry and the air accident investigation unit. The family is raising issues that, if found to be correct, are of fundamental importance to the Air Corps. I believe the Minister realises the significance and sensitivity of the issue and I appeal to him to meet the family at the earliest opportunity in order to address the issues arising. If it is possible to put the minds of family members at rest in respect of these issues, I ask him to do so and, if it is not possible, whatever investigations may be required should be instigated.

As the Deputy will be aware, three separate investigations have been conducted into this tragic accident. The first was conducted by the air accident investigation unit of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, which published its report on 24 January 2012. The second was held with the coroner's inquest in May 2012. The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death in respect of the individual in question. The third investigation was by a military court of inquiry, which was convened on 26 July 2012 and produced its report on 17 January 2013.

The air accident investigation unit found that the probable cause of the accident was spatial disorientation of the instructor pilot in conditions of poor visibility, resulting in a controlled flight into terrain. The court of inquiry's findings are in agreement that the accident was caused by the spatial disorientation of the instructor who was piloting the aircraft in conditions of poor visibility. The coroner's inquest returned a verdict of accidental death in respect of cadet pilot Jevens and an open verdict in respect of the instructor pilot. All of the reports indicate that the cadet bore no responsibility of any kind for the accident. I am aware of the concerns expressed by the Jevens family but it appears for some reason that the family retains a view that someone believes this tragedy was in some way the fault of Cadet Jevens. Three reports have made it absolutely clear that it was not his fault. I would dearly like to set the minds of family members at rest in that regard. In the context of the more recent issues raised, I am obtaining advice thereon and having done so will duly respond.

I pay tribute to the Secretary General of the Department, whom I understand has met the family on the Minister's behalf in an attempt to resolve the matter. However, far from the matter being resolved, the family continues to identify what it sees as serious problems with safety measures and the conduct of the various inquiries to which the Minister referred. I fear that if much more time is lost between now and when he meets the family, this problem will be further exacerbated. I welcome his indication that he would meet the family and ask him to do so at his earliest convenience.

I emphasise that there is no question of any nature of Cadet Jevens being responsible for the events that occurred. I dearly wish that the family understood and fully accepted that there is no issue in that context. In the context of the various safety recommendations of the air accident investigation unit, I am advised that all seven safety recommendations have been acted upon or implemented. Owing to the nature of some of the recommendations, work remains ongoing in two specific areas. These relate to the recommendation concerning external input into the Air Corps safety management system and the recommendation on implementation of flight data monitoring. The position in respect of the former is that the Air Corps has accepted the suggestion of inclusion of external input into the safety management system auditing process and identified a suitable expert to visit the Air Corps in this regard. It is anticipated that the safety management system review will be completed in 2013. The position in respect of flight data monitoring is that a study on this matter has been completed and steps have been taken to commence implementation of recommendations made on equipping all aircraft in the fleet with flight data monitoring.

Based on the reports that were published, neither of these matters was an issue that resulted in the tragic events that occurred. It is clear and without doubt from all of the reports that the accident was a consequence of the training pilot or instructor pilot suffering spatial disorientation in conditions of poor visibility, resulting in a controlled flight into terrain. That was the reason for this event. As I stated, the Department will continue to try to provide to the family any further information of relevance we can and we will do what we can to set their minds at rest. In so far as there are any suggestions of any nature of any legal issues in respect of which the family have concern, I will deal with such matters based on the best advice available to me.

Defence Forces Medicinal Products

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

11. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Defence his views on the facts raised on the Prime Time programme regarding the number of suicides associated with the use of Lariam; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29111/13]

Malaria is a serious disease that kills approximately 1 million people per annum in sub-Saharan Africa alone. It is a serious threat to any military force operating in the area. The anti-malaria regime in place in the Defence Forces, including the use of lariam, has worked. In the decade of deployment to sub-Saharan Africa by the Defence Forces, not a single member of the Defence Forces has died from malaria and there are only three documented cases of personnel contracting the disease.

The Irish Medicines Board, IMB, is the statutory body that regulates medicines available in Ireland. I am advised that the three anti-malarial medications licensed by the IMB, namely, lariam, malarone and doxycycline, can all have significant side effects. To assert that any one of these products is automatically a more effective or safer alternative to the others is a grossly misleading over-simplification. Each of the three drugs has been used by the Defence Forces, depending on individual circumstances, including the type of malaria in the destination, the duration of travel, etc. I am further advised that the Defence Forces are fully aware of the range of reported side effects attaching to all anti-malarial medications. Protocols are in place to control the risk of side effects in individuals.

Lariam is one of the most effective medications for protection against the type of malaria prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. I have had the various allegations surrounding the use of lariam investigated thoroughly and I have obtained the advice of leading medical experts who concur with the prescribing practices followed by the Defence Forces. I am advised that the allegation of a link between lariam and suicide or suicide ideation has been examined. Of 156 non-service related deaths among members of the Defence Forces in the period from January 2000 to December 2010, 25 were apparently from self-inflicted injuries, although only one is recorded by a coroner as suicide. Of these 25 deaths, lariam had never been prescribed in 16 cases. Of the remaining nine cases, given the limited period of time during which lariam remains in the bloodstream, according to our expert advice, it is extremely unlikely that the product could have been a contributory factor in practically all of these cases. There is no evidence in any of the coroners' inquests linking any deaths to lariam.

I must interrupt the Minister.

Perhaps I might finish this sentence as it might be of assistance to the Deputy.

The death rate in the Defence Forces from self-inflicted injuries in the period 2000 to 2010, when lariam was being prescribed, was 0.24%. The death rate from self-inflicted injuries in the period 1989 to 1999, when lariam was not being prescribed, was 0.32%, which is higher than the death rate in the period when lariam was being prescribed.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Lariam must remain in the formulary of medication prescribed by the medical corps for Defence Forces personnel on appropriate overseas missions, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, to ensure that our military personnel can have effective protection from the very serious risks posed by this highly dangerous disease.

Obviously, the Minister and his departmental officials are determined to defend the use of lariam and he has provided statistics which is fair enough. Why did the United States Government, which has one of the largest defence forces in the world, stop using lariam if everything the Minister has said about there being no concern over its use is accurate?

The answer is very simple. I understand the United States forces stopped using the medication owing to concerns about inadvertent prescribing to soldiers who should not take it. In this regard I am advised that the US authorities undertook mass administration of lariam for soldiers serving in areas subject to malaria without any individual screening of personnel. That is the difference between what the Defence Forces in this State do and what was occurring in the United States. The recommendation and protocols that apply here require the screening of each member of the Defence Forces with regard to the taking of lariam, to identify whether there are any contraindications that could give rise to an issue of concern.

Lariam is prescribed for a period of time prior to members of the Defence Forces going abroad on a mission in order to identify any reaction that might occur. The Defence Forces here do not mass prescribe, but follow all the instructions issued by the Irish Medicines Board in order to fully screen out personnel who may potentially have an adverse reaction to the medication. That is the crucial difference between us and the United States defence forces. In this context it is important to emphasise that this is about ensuring that members of our Defence Forces on UN missions do not contract malaria, which is crucial because one should never forget that malaria kills.

I understand the screening is for mental health issues that may be there and of course it would not be prescribed if that was the case. Mental health screening is very precarious. Many people do not acknowledge that they have mental health difficulties until a certain stage in their lives. That particular screening is fraught with difficulties.

Can the Minister confirm that the use of lariam is not cost related and is absolutely based on the best possible medical protection that can be given to members of the Defence Forces?

The decision to prescribe lariam is not based on cost but based on it being the appropriate medication to prescribe to provide protection against malaria for members of the Defence Forces going to particular regions. I remind the Deputy that the Irish Medicines Board is the statutory authority with responsibility for the quality, safety and efficacy of medicines for use in Ireland. That applies to all medicines and not just lariam. It does not have a special role simply with regard to the Defence Forces. For any prescription medicines that the Deputy, I or any other Member of this House might take, we are reliant on the best advices and expertise of the Irish Medicines Board.

Following approval and use of a medicine, the IMB monitors the type and frequency of any reported side effects. As product usage increases more information on safety profile becomes available. Further decisions and recommendations regarding its use are made by the IMB and its international counterparts. The Defence Forces comply fully with IMB guidelines on the prescription of medicines for members of the Defence Forces. Defence Forces policy is firstly to screen personnel for medical suitability and fitness to serve abroad.

Fitness to serve abroad is defined by medical classification code. Personnel who do not achieve the specific code are deemed to be medically unfit for overseas service. This automatically rules them out.

I assure the Deputy that this is an issue of which I was aware before I came into office, it is an issue about which I have regularly asked questions and it is one I am monitoring carefully. It is of great importance that our Defence Forces have the best possible medical information available to them and that we operate within that context and on the best advice of the Irish Medicines Board. This is what we will continue to do. In so far as any issue could arise, the Deputy can be assured I will ensure that any issue that does arise is fully addressed.

Defence Forces Investigations

Mick Wallace

Question:

12. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Defence the reasons a person who acted as whistle blower in a case (details supplied) was not interviewed by the military authorities as part of their investigation into the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29414/13]

The individual referred to by the Deputy as a whistleblower sent a letter dated 22 April 2010 to the then Minister for Defence, Mr. Tony Killeen. The letter, which contained a number of allegations pertaining to serving and former Defence Forces personnel, was brought to the attention of the military authorities. The letter was referred to the military authorities without providing personal details for the whistleblower as the letter had specifically requested that the home address of the whistleblower would not be given to the Irish Army. The letter indicated that the author had verbally received his information from another party and through sight of documents held in that other party's possession.

I am advised by the military authorities that in July 2010, military police investigators met with the other party in the presence of his legal team and some of the allegations contained in the letter were discussed. The whistleblower appeared to be a third party to the matters in question with no personal involvement in any of the alleged activities and had specifically requested that home address details would not be given to the military authorities. Accordingly, it was not considered appropriate for military police personnel to interview him.

The investigation, when completed, found no evidence to support the suggestion that Defence Forces equipment was utilised in any of the alleged activities, nor was there any evidence found of any illegal arms purchase or sales. In addition, the investigation undertaken by the military authorities found that Defence Forces regulations were not breached.

I am given to understand that the whistleblower in question was asked by the director of a private security company, Confidential Investigations Athlone, to work for the company in the Seychelles in respect of the recovery of a €25 million security contract which he had lost to former employees, including former and serving Irish soldiers. As the Minister is aware, this relates to the claim that arms were being bought on the black market in South Africa and shipped to a special forces unit in the Seychelles to train and arm same. I understand that the former Minister with responsibility for justice, Michael McDowell, was working with Confidential Investigations Athlone on this issue because the company believed it was being double-crossed by former employees.

It is somewhat unusual that shortly after the investigation the Chief of Staff updated the Defence Forces policy on off-duty employment. The Defence Forces must have seen something that was not completely in order. Does the Minister agree that the testimony of a whistleblower would be critical to an investigation of this order? The Minister has referred to the person in question as a third party and that may be so. I cannot say for certain how much validity there is in the case, but I found it odd that a person who brought the information into the public domain and who informed the Defence Forces about it was not interviewed. Does the Minister not believe that would be a good idea?

Thank you, Deputy. I will come back to you.

As the Deputy is aware, these are matters that go back prior to my time in office.

If a person provides information that appears to be hearsay from a third party, if the person who provides the information is not involved in it, and if the person whom the Deputy apparently describes as a whistleblower - anyone who has information about anything - provides the information on the condition that no one is told who they are, that they are not interviewed and they do not talk to anyone, I cannot understand how the Deputy can complain that the person who gave the information and requested that their identity would not be revealed and said that they would not talk to anybody could now complain that no one talked to them.

If an issue or allegation is being made by a company operating in this State of illegality and improper conduct on the part of a member or members of the Defence Forces, the company should put the allegation in writing and send it to me and I will have it investigated, as opposed to people going through circuitous routes. There is no need for people to be anonymous. If there is a serious allegation that someone has behaved illegally, that something illegal has happened relating to the Defence Forces, the person making the allegation should set out the factual basis for the allegation. If I am furnished with the information, I will have the matter investigated. However, if the matter involves the purchase of weapons in the Seychelles, the information I am given - assuming it is the incident I am advised the Deputy is addressing and we are both talking about the same incident - is that weapons were purchased legitimately by the Seychelles Government. I am further advised that no members of the Defence Forces behaved illegally or unlawfully.

Thank you, Minister. I must call Deputy Wallace.

If there are serious allegations to be made, let the people making them set them out in writing, detail the evidence and furnish it to me.

I understand that the person concerned gave his name, so he was not an anonymous contributor. I will put the Minister’s offer to him. I know the incident did not happen on the Minister’s watch. It happened long before his time. I will put it to the individual concerned that the Minister has offered to examine whatever evidence he supplies.

Charities Regulation

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

13. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence his plans to reform the Red Cross; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29387/13]

Pursuant to the Red Cross Act of 1938, the Irish Red Cross Society was established by Government order in 1939 as an independent charitable body corporate with full power to manage and administer its own affairs. Since 1939, the relevant establishment order had undergone piecemeal changes only but, in April of last year, I received Government approval to make substantial changes to the 1939 order. These represented the most wide-ranging and fundamental set of changes to have occurred since the establishment of the society. One of the key changes made was a substantial reduction in the number of Government nominees to the society’s general assembly, from not less than one third of its composition to not more than 10%. The legislation was also amended to provide that the chairperson of the society is now elected by the society itself, in accordance with its own rules and constitution, rather than by the President. In tandem with the Government’s initiative in amending the legislation, the society itself made a number of very progressive changes to its constitution and rules. I believe the society now has in place a 21st century corporate governance framework that meets the rigorous standards set for good governance internationally by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, IFRC, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC.

There is clearly a strong impetus for change within the society itself, and while a lot of important initiatives have been taken place over the past two years, these have tended, necessarily, to be focused on governance reform, the overhaul of the society’s financial management systems and reporting processes, and a revision of its operating policies and procedures. I am pleased to note this work is substantially complete and the attention of the society has turned to addressing other strategic challenges such as the development of a resilient and reliable funding base, more dynamic management of resources and the development of organisational structures that will enable the society to deliver its services more effectively to its beneficiaries, at home and abroad.

I am satisfied this phase of the society’s reform is now gathering momentum and I understand the board of directors has recently set progress milestones for itself to ensure these reforms remain on course for completion by the middle of next year.

Finally, it is important that I also mention the commitment made in the programme for Government for the initiation of a detailed legal review of the basis, structures and governance of the Red Cross in Ireland to improve its functioning in the light of changing circumstances. I can confirm that my Department has commenced work on the review and I anticipate this will result in a Red Cross Act amendment Bill during the lifetime of this Government.

I thank the Minister for his response and wish to raise two issues. I am a little concerned that the legislation to reform the Red Cross is delayed until next year. I believe the Minister is talking about its publication in what effectively will be the fourth year of the Government's term in office. It has been leapt over by the Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Bill, which was not even mentioned in the programme for Government. Perhaps that indicates the Minister's own personal preferences. As for the governance issues, I am conscious when raising such matters that all Members are proud of the work the Irish Red Cross Society has done since its establishment in 1939. However, the issue of governance has been raised in this House frequently, including by my colleague, Deputy Finian McGrath, and it was raised many times with the Minister's predecessor. Can I put it to the Minister that the treasurer of the organisation, appointed only in May 2012, has recently resigned? There are some suggestions, which I hope the Minister can refute, that the treasurer resigned because he was not satisfied with the current governance arrangements.

I call the Minister and will come back to Deputy Ó Fearghaíl.

In the context of the treasurer, his resignation is a matter for the society itself. I understand the society hopes to be in a position to elect a new honorary treasurer at its forthcoming general assembly meeting, which is taking place on Saturday, 29 June next. In accordance with the society's rules and constitution, the election of the treasurer is a matter for the society's general assembly. The last occasion on which this body met was on 9 February last, too soon after the treasurer's resignation, which occurred on 5 February last. I have no hand or part of any description in anything to do with the resignation of the treasurer.

I do not suggest the Minister had anything to do with this. However, I suggest that if one does not know the reason the treasurer resigned and if it is the case that there is some continuing concern about the governance arrangements within the Red Cross, this should be of great concern to the Minister. The Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board was quite critical about the auditing of the Irish Red Cross Society and referred to breaches of procedure and failure to comply with international standards on auditing. I am sure the Minister is concerned about these matters and I would not brush aside, in the way he has, the resignation of the treasurer because it continues an undesirable situation in which the governance of the Red Cross continues to be questioned at a time when one wishes the public to have full and absolute confidence in the Red Cross organisation. I am sure the Minister would agree with me on that matter.

The Deputy of course would be aware the governance difficulties in the Red Cross occurred during the lengthy period in office not of my immediate predecessor, former Deputy Killeen, who was only briefly in the Department of Defence, but under the watch of Deputy O'Dea, who did not seem to do a whole heap about it. I had concerns about governance in the Red Cross and I addressed those within-----

I am talking about the resignation of the treasurer now and not about any other events.

The Minister, without interruption.

-----the early weeks of my period in office. I am not aware of any governance issues that gave rise to the resignation of the treasurer. People resign from positions of responsibility in voluntary organisations for all sorts of reasons and it would be most unfortunate were the Deputy, by a loose comment, to damage the reputation of the Red Cross by suggesting there is a difficulty of which I am unaware. If the Deputy is aware of some current governance difficulty, he is welcome to share it with me but I should draw to the Deputy's attention that the changes the society made to its rules and constitution during my period of office were approved unanimously by the joint statutes commission of the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.

As a consequence of the changes made, the Head of Governance Support at the international federation wrote to the Irish Red Cross congratulating the society "for its continued efforts in revising its legal base" and confirmed that the changes the society had made are in conformity with the requirements of Geneva's Guidance for National Societies Statutes. It also confirmed "that the revised draft constitution has at this stage rightly addressed the areas that are important for a well-functioning national society". I draw to the Deputy's attention that those events occurred subsequent to my becoming Minister for Defence and following my meeting with members of the Irish Red Cross so as to ensure that governance difficulties were addressed.

Military Neutrality

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

14. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Defence if he will clarify his views on Irish neutrality following his comments reported in the latest edition of NATO Review on the subject. [29308/13]

I agreed to an interview with NATO Review on 21 March this year. The question I was asked regarding Ireland’s neutrality was how important it is for a militarily neutral country like Ireland to be in partnership with an organisation like NATO. In response to this question I referred to the fact that although we are a neutral country, our traditional stance on neutrality bears no relevance to the fight against terrorism or cyber security issues which are real threats for Ireland and the European Union today. In relation to the issue of neutrality, Ireland’s policy of military neutrality is defined by non-participation in a military alliance or mutual-defence arrangements.

Ireland's military neutrality is particular to its own unique history and geopolitical position and is not affected by participation in Partnership for Peace. Ireland’s membership of Partnership for Peace since 1999 is consistent with our traditional foreign policy approach and objectives such as the protection of human rights, support for development and arms control measures and our overall security policy, including non-membership of military alliances.

There is no mutual defence commitment involved and the partnership provides a voluntary framework for security co-operation. The principles of the Partnership for Peace are anchored in the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe charters, and are consistent with Ireland’s foreign policy goals, particularly the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

As the Minister is aware, Ireland has a proud tradition of neutrality. Our people are very proud of it, have endorsed it and wish to see it continue but it is active neutrality. Ireland has been one of the highest per capita contributors to overseas aid in the world. That has been our tradition. Our tradition in the missionaries is one of active participation in assistance to the developing world. We have made a real contribution to conflict resolution. As I speak, people are assisting the process in Colombia in a real way, learning from the lessons here in Ireland. It has happened in Sri Lanka also and will happen in many other countries. We have a proud tradition of blue helmet peacekeeping operations. We have an active, participative role. We do not sit on the fence. We play to our historical strengths. We are not a country that colonised other countries. We were colonised, and that gives us real strength and credibility in playing a role in conflict resolution. That is the context.

The concern is that we have had the Beyond Neutrality document from Gay Mitchell, from the Minister's party. We have had these comments from the Minister. Can the Minister confirm decisively that the Fine Gael Party, and the Minister as Minister for Defence, stand by and are proud of our position of neutrality and wish to move forward on that basis?

I am very proud of the dynamic role we are playing in peacekeeping operations over the world and in our engagement with partners in the European Union. I recognise the importance of us being members of Partnership for Peace and I do not have a problem of any description with our military neutrality, but I will reiterate and repeat every time anyone asks me that I am not neutral when it comes to terrorism and people being blown apart. I am not neutral when it comes to cyber security issues and ensuring that people are protected against individuals who engage in cyber crime and seek to disrupt not just companies and individuals, but states. I regard our involvement in Partnership for Peace as of importance. Unfortunately, Sinn Féin, a body that had a great belief in military engagement until relatively recently, has a particular perspective on these issues.

Partnership for Peace was established in January 1994 as a means of outreach to the new democracies in central and eastern Europe and as a way to promote stability and strengthen relationships through the promotion of practical co-operation. It is a very important grouping. It has since been joined by states that wish to become NATO members and those that do not. Partnership for Peace includes the neutral and non-aligned states of Finland, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland. Russia is also a member, something of which some members of Sinn Féin in its earlier guise would have approved. They were never quite neutral over Russia. Some of them thought what Russia did in most parts of the world was a reasonably good thing.

We have been a member of Partnership for Peace since December 1999, and in that time, Dáil Éireann has approved a presentation document setting out overall priorities for Ireland's participation, the foremost being co-operation in peacekeeping. I am pleased that our engagement in Partnership for Peace has ensured the Defence Forces operate at the highest level, allowing for interaction with other members of Partnership for Peace in UN peacekeeping missions. It is particularly in the interests of this State, using our expertise in peacekeeping, that we maintain that relationship.

It is good to see the Minister back in mischievous form again, that he has got his mischievous mojo back. We enjoy it when he is on form.

The Minister is well aware of the concerns about NATO. A substantial number of the more prominent NATO countries have a colonial history in North Africa and the Middle East. NATO was supposed to have been dismantled after the Cold War. It is a relic of that time and is no longer necessary. The United Nations and the EU are in place to deal with conflict resolution. I am not asking for the Minister's personal view, I am asking for the Government position. Does it stand over our long-held and proud tradition of active, participative neutrality, playing to our strengths, to protect human rights, help developing nations and, where necessary, to be involved in peacekeeping and conflict resolution?

The Deputy should be reasonably clear by now that the answer is "yes". I become concerned when neutrality is used as a flag to suggest we should not engage in peacekeeping, or that we should be neutral when it comes to terrorism and people being blown apart. I will never be neutral about that. Neutrality can be a convenient flag on occasions to avoid making moral judgments that should be made in the international arena.

Do I support our not being formally part of some military alliance intent on invading some other state? Of course I do, but it is important that we do not regard NATO as irrelevant. Close co-operation between NATO and the UN and its agencies is an important element in the development of what is known as an international comprehensive approach to crisis management and to UN operations. In that context, the UN relies on regional groupings to facilitate putting together peacekeeping missions and operations. NATO in that context is a crucial element. UN Security Council resolutions have provided the mandate for NATO operations in the western Balkans and Afghanistan, and we participated in NATO-led operations in those areas. More recently, NATO operations to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack in Libya in 2011 were carried out under the remit of UN Security Council Resolution No. 1973. NATO also provided support to UN-sponsored operations, including logistical assistance to the African Union's UN-endorsed peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Sudan and Somalia, support for UN disaster relief operations in Pakistan following the dreadful earthquake in 2005, and escorted merchant ships carrying World Food Programme humanitarian supplies off the coast of Somalia.

NATO has reformulated itself into a very important body in dealing with peacekeeping and humanitarian relief across the world. Our link to that is through Partnership for Peace.