Opening remarks

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow at the 2014 NATO Industry Forum, Croatia

  • 13 Nov. 2014
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  • Last updated: 13 Nov. 2014 09:17

Mr. Minister,
Generals, Admirals,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my very great pleasure to welcome you all to this 2014 NATO-Industry Forum.  At our reception last evening, I already thanked you, Mr. Minister, and the Croatian authorities, for your warm hospitality, and for your hard work in organizing our meeting, together with our Allied Command Transformation and the NATO International Staff.  I want to use this opportunity to thank everyone who has been involved once again here this morning.

I also want to say a special word of welcome to the representatives from industry who have travelled here.  The key objective of this forum is to discuss long-term, strategic issues in relation to the development of NATO capabilities.  It is a unique opportunity to discuss the security challenges our nations face, and how we can meet those challenges.  And we in NATO view industry as a key partner in that endeavor.

Our strategic environment today is more volatile than it has been for decades.  The ongoing crisis in Ukraine, and the spread of violence and extremism in North Africa and the Middle East, both represent major challenges to our security. They come on top of challenges that we called “emerging” not all that long ago, but which have now well and truly emerged – threats like missile proliferation, cyber attacks, and energy cut-offs.

In the face of these complex challenges, our NATO Summit in Wales two months ago sent a strong signal:  that we will keep NATO strong, ready and capable to meet any threat to any Ally; that we will work more closely with our partners to keep both our Eastern and our Southern neighborhoods stable; and that we will make sure that the vital bond between Europe and North America stays rock solid.

The Readiness Action Plan that we agreed at Wales is the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.  We are making our forces more agile, and able to deploy quickly, whenever and wherever threats emerge.  We are maintaining a continuous NATO presence in the Eastern part of our Alliance, on a rotational basis, to reassure our Allies and to deter anyone who might wish to challenge us.

We are also setting up a rapid reaction “Spearhead Force,” the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.  We are putting in place elements of a robust command and control structure on the territory of our Eastern Allies.  And we are looking at how we might pre-position equipment and supplies so that we can send reinforcements there rapidly, if we need to. 

As part of the Readiness Action Plan, we will also ensure that NATO is able to address effectively the challenges posed by the kind of hybrid warfare that we have seen in Ukraine – “little green men” without national insignia, regular troops allegedly “on vacation,” overt and covert support for separatists trained and equipped across the border, all of this wrapped into a massive propaganda campaign.

Implementing our Readiness Action Plan, and keeping NATO strong for the future, will require effort and commitment.  But of course there will be a price to pay as well.  At Wales, NATO leaders made a solemn pledge to halt the decline that we have seen in defence budgets across the Alliance for several years.  And they agreed that they would aim to increase defence spending in real terms over the coming decade, moving towards the NATO benchmark of two percent of GDP.

Governments are now going to have to implement that commitment they made at Wales.  And we should be under no illusion that this will be a challenge for many.  Even if spending may be expected to grow in the coming years, defence budgets will remain tight.  That is why leaders also emphasized the need for greater multinational cooperation, to get the most out of the resources we do have available.

Since the launch of the Smart Defence initiative at our previous summit in Chicago two years ago, a growing number of multinational projects have helped Allies to achieve tangible benefits, both in terms of operational effectiveness and cost efficiency.  It is vital now that we build on that progress and make multinational cooperation the preferred choice of more of our member nations.  This applies, in particular, to capabilities that will increase NATO’s readiness and adaptability.

The Wales Summit highlighted a number of these capabilities, including joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – or JISR.  Work is on track to deliver an initial JISR capability from 2016 onwards.  Our Alliance Ground Surveillance system will become available for operational deployment in 2017.  NATO’s Airborne Early Warning and Control Force will continue to be modernized to maintain its full operational capability.  And the North Atlantic Council has already directed work – including with contributions from industry – to ensure the longer-term future of this vital asset for our Alliance. 

At Wales we also endorsed the Framework Nations Concept, which encourages groups of Allies to work together to develop and deploy mutually reinforcing, complementary capabilities guided by a framework nation.  For example, facilitated by the United Kingdom, seven Allies are contributing to the Joint Expeditionary Force, which is a rapidly deployable force capable of conducting the full spectrum of operations, including high-intensity operations.

Work in all these areas will help to provide NATO with more coherent sets of forces and capabilities.  It should also lead to a fairer sharing of the defence burden between the United States and its Allies, as well as among the European Allies.

To be strong, NATO not only needs to have the right capabilities; it also needs to have the right partners.  Political dialogue and practical cooperation with other nations and organizations increases security and stability for all of us, so it is vital that NATO continues to engage with partners.  At Wales we took several new initiatives in this regard.

One initiative seeks to build on our experience in joint missions and operations and further develop the ability of NATO forces to operate together with those of our partners.  At Wales, our Defence Ministers met with 24 especially interoperable partners to launch an Interoperability Platform.  And we are keen to take forward our dialogue and cooperation with these partners on interoperability issues, including increased participation in NATO training and exercises. 

The Wales Summit also launched a Defence Capacity Building Initiative.  This is aimed at streamlining our efforts to assist partners with the development of their own defence capacity, so that they can better cope with security challenges in their own regions.  By building our partners’ capacity, we can project stability without having to deploy large forces of our own.

Finally, we want to strengthen our ties with a very particular – and very important – partner: industry.  Nearly all of the challenges we face have an important industrial dimension, from conventional threats to our territory and airspace to cyber attacks.  To meet those challenges, we need you to play your full part in all the different stages of capability development.

A closer and more open NATO-industry relationship will benefit us both.  We have already made some good progress these past few years in building such a mutually beneficial relationship.  Now is the time to build on that progress and to turn our relationship into a real partnership.  We have to ensure that the capabilities our militaries depend on are high-performing, deployable, sustainable, interoperable and, most importantly, affordable.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.  Industry is a key player in cyberspace, since the private sector owns the majority of the world’s information systems and provides technical solutions for cyber defence.  Simply put, industry is often our first line of defence; it is industry that has the ‘tanks and the soldiers’ for cyber defence.

Earlier this year, a study by the NATO-Industrial Advisory Group recommended the creation of a NATO-Industry Partnership on cyber defence.  At Wales, Alliance leaders endorsed a NATO-Industry Cyber Partnership to encourage voluntary engagement between us in open and inclusive manner.  And only two weeks after the Summit, that partnership was launched at the NATO Information Assurance Symposium which brought together some 1500 industry leaders and policy-makers.

Likewise, last year in Istanbul we launched the Framework for NATO-Industry Engagement and this afternoon Patrick Auroy will explain where we are with its implementation.  So clearly, the voice of industry is not only being heard; it is also producing action by the Alliance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In today’s unpredictable world, NATO must remain a source of stability.  To keep our Alliance strong, we need the right capabilities.  That means we need the right level of defence investment, distributed fairly across the Alliance.  But we also need the right connections.  And that means we need effective partnerships not only with other nations and organizations, but also with industry.

At Wales, NATO leaders recognized the importance of inclusive, sustainable, innovative, and globally competitive defence industries:  in particular the need to develop and sustain national defence capabilities, as well as the defence technological and industrial base in Europe and in North America; and for our newer Allies, the need to engage more effectively with Small and Medium-sized Enterprises.

A closer NATO-industry partnership will be good for NATO.  And it will be good for industry.  We have already seen what industry can do. In the ISAF theatre, the sharing of cyber security information voluntarily among industry providers led to enhanced situational awareness for the coalition and greater protection for our networks and systems. In long-standing projects, too, industry has manifested this partnership spirit in arrangements to ensure that the AWACS fleet remains modern and adapted to Alliance needs.  These two examples illustrate the type of relationship we want with all industry – a collaborative undertaking for mutual benefit toward shared goals.

This Industry Forum is a unique opportunity to make further progress towards such a mutually beneficial partnership.  I want to thank you, Mr. Minister, and the Croatian authorities once more for hosting our meeting.  And I want to wish you all an interesting and productive meeting.