by NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Spring Session, Budapest, Hungary
Mr. Deputy Speaker,
Mr. Vice President,
Distinguished Members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly,
Let me start by sending you the best wishes of Secretary General Stoltenberg. He regrets that a prior commitment prevents him from being here today. But he is very much looking forward to attending your Annual Session in Stavanger in October.
It is a real privilege to address your plenary meeting, and to do so in this wonderful hall in one of Europe’s most splendid parliament buildings – a building which stands as a true testament to Hungary’s rich history and culture, and to its place in Europe.
Our common goal remains a Europe whole, free and at peace. But that vision is now being challenged.
Right on our doorstep, Russia has turned into an unpredictable and revisionist power. By using force to change borders and to destabilize Eastern Ukraine, it seeks to once again divide Europe into spheres of influence. Moreover, through propaganda, disinformation and xenophobic nationalism, the Kremlin is attempting to convince the Russian people that NATO wants confrontation, rather than partnership, in addressing common threats.
Meanwhile, violence has spread across the Middle East and North Africa. The extremism on our southern borders inspires terrorism on our streets. Failing states create a vacuum that violent extremists seek to exploit, fuelling civil wars, displaced populations, and mass migration across the Mediterranean, with tragic consequences.
Perceptions of the relative importance of these risks and challenges will inevitably vary. But as an Alliance, we do not have the luxury to choose between “East” and “South”. Our shared security and our common values are challenged from both directions, albeit in different ways. And the need for transatlantic cooperation – and transatlantic solidarity – is more evident than ever.
Together, we must do collective defence and crisis management. And we must make the best possible use of the cooperative-security tools that we have developed over the years – in both our southern and eastern neighbourhoods.
We are on the right track. With the Readiness Action Plan that we agreed at our Wales Summit last September, we are implementing the greatest reinforcement of our collective defence since the Cold War. For the first time, we will have a persistent presence of NATO forces in the eastern part of our alliance, as well as forces ready to deploy there – or to any part of NATO territory – within days. These decisions demonstrate that we will defend every Ally against any threat – whether from the East or the South.
We are also coming to grips with the scope and speed of hybrid warfare. We are sharpening up our intelligence sharing and early-warning mechanisms. And we are also assessing how Russia – or other actors – could exploit our open societies through disinformation, cyber attacks or covert action. We all agree on the need to enhance our ability to deter, prevent and – if necessary – defend against hybrid threats, including cyber attacks.
NATO Foreign Ministers, who met last week in Antalya, Turkey, agreed that we are making good progress in delivering on the commitments we made at Wales – in particular, when it comes to strengthening our own readiness and resilience as Allies. But looking ahead to our next NATO Summit, in Warsaw next summer, there are several areas where I believe we can – and must – do better.
One priority is to continue to make sure that our forces are fully geared, trained and exercised for any possible contingency. The speed of our response, the availability of more air and maritime assets, and the ability of our forces to move quickly from one theatre to another – all of this will be critical to our effectiveness as an Alliance. And so I believe these military requirements should be high on our agenda at our Summit next year.
There is also a political dimension to this. Even if we have forces that are speedy and agile enough to deploy within days, they won’t be effective if our decision-making isn’t speedy and agile as well. This is mainly a challenge for those of us who sit around the table in Brussels. But there may also be responsibilities for national governments and parliaments in providing the necessary authorization for the timely deployment or transit of NATO forces.
In addition to strengthening our own defences, we also have to find ways to provide additional support to Ukraine and to Russia’s other neighbours that face similar threats to their sovereignty and independence. This should include a much larger effort to help these countries carry out the reforms and build the institutions necessary to bolster their stability and their resilience to counter Russian pressure. NATO’s main focus will be on security sector reform and defence capacity building. Complementary efforts by the European Union can help to promote political and economic reform. The two should go hand in hand.
NATO’s “Open Door” policy also remains a powerful instrument to achieve a Europe whole, free and at peace. We continue to work with all our partner countries who aspire to NATO membership, and they will each be judged on their own merits. As we agreed at Wales, Montenegro’s progress will be assessed by NATO Foreign Ministers by the end of the year, with a view to deciding on whether to invite the country to join the Alliance. Allies also will need to address how to encourage further progress by the other three aspirants, Georgia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
At the same time as we refine our strategy for NATO’s eastern neighbourhood, we also need a more coherent, pro-active NATO approach to the South. The Alliance has had partnerships with a range of countries in the Middle East and North Africa since the mid-1990s, but these were established in much quieter times, and they have not had the same impact as our partnerships here in Central and Eastern Europe. We need to consider now how we can reach out more effectively to our southern neighbours – including in support of the anti-ISIL coalition in which all Allies take part.
A key objective must be to help our southern neighbours to help themselves – to build up their own defence capacity and their own ability to project stability in their region. That is why we have already stepped up our support for Jordan. We are considering how we can best respond to a request for defence capacity-building assistance by Iraq. And we stand ready to support Libya in rebuilding its defence institutions, as requested by its government, once security conditions allow.
When it comes to helping our southern neighbours, NATO is able to bring unique added value. But here there is a key role for the European Union too – to help these countries with political and economic reforms, to build strong institutions, and to fight corruption.
In fact, the logic of closer cooperation between NATO and the EU is more compelling than ever before. This was a prominent theme at last week’s Foreign Ministerial, including the session at which High Representative Mogherini was present.
There was broad agreement that NATO and the EU need to coordinate their efforts to strengthen the resilience of our own nations as well that of our eastern and southern neighbours. We need to work together to improve our defence capabilities. We need to synchronize our approaches to countering hybrid warfare, debunking Russian disinformation, and defending our shared democratic values. And we need to work together to manage crises, deliver humanitarian relief, and project stability beyond our borders. The European Council on security and defence next month – and then our NATO Summit in Warsaw next year – will be important opportunities to mark progress.
Real progress in all the different areas that I have mentioned will require strong political commitment. It will require unity of effort among all the members of the transatlantic community. And it will require a renewed sense of solidarity among the 28 NATO Allies. We will all need to show that we are committed to meeting and defeating all the different threats to our shared security and common values – whether from the East, the South or elsewhere – and that we are ready and able to act quickly and effectively whenever and wherever needed.
We have some excellent recent examples of that solidarity in NATO. Allies like France, Italy and Spain will play a leading role in our new Spearhead Force. Estonia has sent troops to the Central African Republic. And I should also like to commend our host country, Hungary, for its decision – endorsed just a few weeks ago here in this very Chamber – to deploy over a hundred troops to help Iraq strengthen its defence capacity.
But we must remember that security does not come for free. Strong political commitment must also come in the form of resources. We need to have the right means to protect our people, to keep our nations safe, and to build stability together with other countries. To be able to do that, Allied Governments must meet the defence spending pledge that they made at our NATO Summit in Wales last year – to move toward spending 2% of GDP on defence, and devoting 20% of our defence budgets to equipment and modernization. We count on you, as Parliamentarians, to remind your Governments of that important commitment.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Parliamentary support has always been critical to NATO’s success. It is critical to our ability to meet the serious risks and threats that we now face, from different directions. And it will be equally critical to our ability to meet the challenges of the future.
We count on your continued interest and engagement in NATO. We count on you to help explain to our publics why defence matters – and why the Alliance matters. We count on you to follow us closely as we continue to modernise the NATO organization, and to make it more transparent. And we count on you to think creatively about how best to use NATO’s unique political and military tools and instruments to bring continued peace and stability to our community of nations for generations to come.