Peace is our mission

Keynote address by NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller at the US Stategic Command Deterrence Symposium in Omaha

  • 01 Aug. 2018 -
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  • Last updated: 06 Aug. 2018 09:07

Thank you General Hyten, I am delighted to be back at the Strategic Command’s Strategic Deterrence Symposium, which draws together so many senior experts and officials—it is always an important venue for debate and discussion.

And good afternoon everyone.

It is an honor for me to be here today, at the very heart of the place where the United States delivers strong strategic deterrence.

This Command plays a vital role in safeguarding the security of the United States and all NATO Allies.

As a proud American who also serves as a senior NATO official, I must confess that coming to Omaha is a homecoming.

It’s not only because I come from a Mid-West farm family, from Ohio. It’s also because Omaha played an important – but largely unheralded – role in the creation of the NATO Alliance.

It’s an interesting story.

It seems that in early 1949, President Truman’s new U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Acheson – and an Undersecretary named Robert Lovett – were determined to draft the NATO treaty with such clarity and brevity that “a milkman in Omaha” could understand it.

Reading the Washington Treaty today, I would say they passed the “milkman in Omaha” treaty-drafting test with flying colors: it is short and succinct, and zeroes in on the crucial points: an attack on one ally is an attack on all; and all allies must share in the burden of mutual defense.

Those negotiators created a durable transatlantic Alliance – the most successful military alliance in history – dedicated to preserving the peace and defending the safety and security of the American people, and the citizens of all NATO allies.

Today, that means a total of nearly one billion people.

All told, the 29 NATO Allies represent one-half of the world’s economic output, and one-half of the world’s military might.

From the day the Washington Treaty was signed, on April 4th 1949, Allies have been stronger and safer standing together than they standing alone.

One of the pillars of our safety and security is this very Command.

The threats posed by nuclear proliferation and nuclear modernization among our adversaries mean that nuclear deterrent capabilities – as embodied by the work you do day-in and day-out here at StratCom – continue to play a central role in our deterrence strategy.

Your StratCom motto captures it well: 

“Peace is our profession…”

Those four words sum it all up.

All Allies are all grateful for everything you do to preserve the peace.

And preserving the peace through effective deterrence and defense is a good description of NATO’s fundamental mission.

Today I want to talk with you about what NATO has been doing recently to strengthen our collective deterrence and defence in an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world. And I want to talk about what more we need to do to ensure that we can continue to deter and defend in the face of evolving threats.

One of the hallmarks of our Alliance over the course of nearly 70 years has been our ability to adapt as the world changes.

And our ability to adapt has certainly been on display over the past four years.

Leading up to the Brussels Summit last month, NATO has implemented the most significant increase in our collective defense in a generation.

I think of the decisions made – the dramatic transformation of NATO over these four years – as an arc that has grown in effectiveness.

The arc began to develop in 2014 – a watershed year for NATO – with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the emergence of ISIS as a major terrorist threat.  

At the Wales Summit that year, we enhanced our ability to respond quickly by increasing the size of the NATO Response Force and creating the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.

In 2016, the Warsaw Summit saw profound advances to our deterrence and defence, especially the creation of the enhanced Forward Presence – launching four battlegroups to deter aggression in Poland and the Baltic countries; and the tailored Forward Presence with the same purpose in the Black Sea region.  

Most recently, at the Brussels Summit the progression continued:

With the immediate response in place – as well as  the deterrence and defense tripwire, we are now focusing on how to reinforce, if necessary, to defend the transatlantic space.

What we see throughout the past four years is that NATO delivers.

It’s a no-brainer that increasing our deterrence and defence and also stepping up our role in the fight against terrorism require that we invest more in defense.

You may have seen something about this in the news.

You should know that all Allies have heard President Trump’s message loud and clear, about the need to spend more and to intensify efforts to share the defense burden more fairly. 

After the Cold War, all Allies cut their defense budgets, and took the so-called peace dividend.  The Great Recession of 2008-09 did not help.

But we have turned the corner.  All NATO Allies have stopped the cuts, and all Allies have started to increase.

After years of decline, when Allies cut billion from their defense budgets, now we are adding billions every year.

Since President Trump took office in 2017, European Allies and Canada have added an additional 41 billion dollars to their defense spending.

By the end of this year, European Allies and Canada will together have spent an extra $87 billion on defence since 2014. 

And Allies are also stepping up with greater contributions towards NATO missions and operations. 

In the nuclear deterrence realm, allies share the risks and responsibilities by deploying Dual Capable Aircraft, and by supporting the mission more broadly, through ground support, air escort operations, site security, and other tasks. 


And so as we consider deterrence at this conference, we can take heart in the work that NATO allies have done so far: the capabilities that we have developed, and the cooperation that makes us greater than the sum of our parts.

But we also must look beyond traditional notions of deterrence and confront less traditional or emerging threats such as in the cyber arena.

Such asymmetric techniques are not new: they are as old as the Trojan horse.

But new technologies have been a game-changer in their potential impact. The information technology revolution and the advent of social media are prime examples.

It is practically impossible to imagine any conflict in the future that does not include a substantial asymmetric dimension. 

Such techniques are about blurring the lines between peace and crisis, spreading alternate facts, creating confusion and chaos, sowing the seeds of doubt and division: they are designed to weaken our resolve.

Cyber-based threats are versatile. Employed maliciously, software can turn the Internet into a viral pathway to infiltrate and infect, to debilitate and destroy. 

This versatility – as well as the relatively low cost of cyber tools – makes them an attractive option for those who seek to harm us or undermine our cohesion. 

They are seen as low-risk and potentially high-benefit because they usually fall outside the recognized bounds of armed aggression and they are often difficult to detect in real time. 

All of this means that NATO must be just as effective in the cyber domain as we already are on land, in the air, and at sea, building up our ability to deter and defend in every way that we can.

How do we at NATO think about deterrence in cyber space? First, we have concentrated on the basics, steadily developing declaratory policy to deliver a clear message: we can and will respond.  In just the past three summit meetings, you can see a maturation in NATO deterrence messaging in the cyber arena:

  • At the Wales Summit in 2014, Allies stated that the impact of cyber attacks “could be as harmful to modern societies as a conventional attack” and affirmed that cyber defense is part of NATO’s core task of collective defense: an attack in cyber space may call forth an Art 5 response.  The allies also recognized that international law applies in cyberspace.
  • At Warsaw in 2016, NATO leaders recognized cyberspace as a domain of operations in which NATO must defend itself as effectively as it does in the air, on land, and at sea.  They also adopted a Cyber Defense Pledge to strengthen their national cyber defenses.
  • Finally, at Brussels in 2018, NATO leaders agreed to employ the full range of capabilities, including cyber, to deter, defend against, and counter the full spectrum of cyber threats, including those conducted as part of a hybrid campaign. Allies also agreed on how to integrate sovereign cyber effects, provided voluntarily by Allies, into Alliance operations and missions.

This steady evolution in NATO deterrence messaging in the cyber arena can leave potential adversaries in no doubt: if it must, NATO is resolved to respond to cyber attacks in a way that is consistent with our nature as a defensive alliance.

Of course, we all recognize that strong deterrence messaging must be backed up by capabilities to respond.  NATO does not generally own capabilities, no matter what the domain of operations: allies provide the tanks, aircraft, ships, and the personnel to operate them.  That is why it bears repeating: at Brussels, allies agreed on how to integrate sovereign cyber effects, provided voluntarily by Allies, into NATO operations.  But the full range of alliance capabilities, not just cyber tools, may be used to respond to a cyber attack.

Another aspect of an effective deterrent is the ability to withstand attacks, so that an adversary cannot gain the objective he is seeking.  Here too, NATO has striven to build up the resilience not only of NATO’s own systems, but also the resilience of allied systems.  The meaning of the Warsaw Cyber Defense Pledge, renewed at Brussels, is that Allies must concentrate on this task as a matter of priority.  Resilience in the alliance revolves around:

  • Redundant, robust networks;
  • Capabilities for rapid detection, identification, and mitigation, to ensure networks continue to perform;
  • And basic cyber hygiene for every participant across every network.

By acquiring strong resilience, NATO is raising the costs for any adversary considering a cyber attack on the alliance.

So NATO is adapting, building up its ability to deter in cyber space.  The job is not done, and never will be, because this threat will continue to rapidly evolve.  Nevertheless, by focusing on basic tools—I’ve talked today about sound declaratory policy backed up by solid capabilities, and strong resilience—NATO can and will adapt its deterrence posture to cyberspace.


To conclude: The drafters of the NATO Treaty wanted to ensure that it would be understood by “a milkman in Omaha.”

Fortunately, they succeeded. For nearly seven decades, that Treaty – and the Alliance it engendered – has stood the test of time.

NATO is at the heart of the vital bond between Europe and North America.

Peace is your profession here at StratCom.  Preserving the peace is NATO’s mission, too.

We have succeeded in that mission because, when the world changes, we adapt.  That is what we have always done.  It is what we are doing now.  And it is what we will continue to do in the future. 

Thank you.