by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the Matthiae Mahl dinner in Hamburg
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, with pleasure I announce our foreign guest of honour, NATO Deputy Secretary General, Ambassador Mircea Geoană.
Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General] Danke guten Abend. Because I still see a few musicians up there, let’s give them a round of applause, they’re wonderful performers, thank you so very much. And also for the many people assisting with this great event, let’s give them a round of applause, because without them there will be no speech. Thank you all.
First Mayor Tschentscher, Mrs Tschentscher, Madame President of the Hamburg Parliament, Members of the Bundestag and European Parliament, representatives of the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a unique pleasure and honour to be here with you tonight.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. And as somebody who has come from oppressed Europe and somebody who is the first high-level official in an international organisation coming from former Communist Europe, I can say that I feel at home here. And you know why? Because I can smell freedom. I can feel freedom. I can touch freedom. And Mr Minister Heiko Maas, dear friend, thank you for your passionate encouragement for us to stand for our freedom.
This is the city of freedom. It’s always an honour to be here with you. Minister Maas just returned from the UN, at the Security Council where Germany’s doing such an incredible job. And of course, there, like he did tonight, he called for an end to the suffering in Syria. And the fast-moving events in Syria, in Afghanistan, also meant that Secretary General Stoltenberg . . .
I also have here the Ambassador of Norway. Thank you, sir. He [the Secretary General of NATO] was in the . . . impossibility to be here with you. I hope he sends somebody that can fill in his big shoes. And I hope this will be the case tonight. Yes.
When you enter this magnificent temple of freedom, this unique construction of a unique experiment in human and European history here in Hamburg, of course, you have to look to the motto. To the golden embroidery that encapsulates the philosophy, the heart and the spirit of this great city of the world. And in English, because in Latin it’s probably even better, but in English, it sounds like: ‘The descendants shall seek worthily to maintain the freedom achieved by their forebears.’
This is what we’re also doing after 600 years tonight, the same incantation for freedom, the same desire to respect the fundamental values of human beings. This is how, I believe, this motto could have been the motto of the NATO Alliance. And I think this can be and it is in fact the motto of the free world.
We should never, ever forget that this is the fundamental ingredient of our prosperity and the way of life that we in NATO and all of us are defending. The idea that people should work together to defend their values and protect their interest is not new.
From the 12th Century here, in this part of Europe, the Hanseatic League brought cities together in the pursuit of peace, prosperity and trade. Local rivalries were put aside for everyone’s collective benefit. For protection, Hanseatic ships were often well-armed. Not because they wanted to fight, but because they wanted to deter an attack. And those ships sailed together in convoys, because they knew that there is safety in numbers.
The same idea lies at the heart of NATO. We are well-armed, not to fight a war, but to deter war, and we stand together because there is safety in numbers. There is safety in numbers. And even probably more importantly, NATO Allies are tied by shared values, share security and collective action, by the bond between Europe and North America. Just like the Hanseatic League, NATO’s main task is to maintain peace and security. So that the one billion people that the nations that belong to our great Alliance, the one billion people can thrive and prosper. For there can only be prosperity if there is first security.
Without security and peace, nothing can be built. No human endeavour, no business enterprise, no construct of liberty. Security, indeed, comes first. And a trading city like Hamburg, a major global metropolis like Hamburg, understands this more than most. And while NATO is not as old as the Hanseatic League, we are only 70 years old now. The transatlantic bond has maintained peace and enabled prosperity for so many decades in Europe.
Yes, Hamburg was at the centre of the Hanseatic League and Hamburg has long been at the centre of NATO. You were on the frontline of the Cold War, just a short distance from the border with East Germany and the rest of the Communist world. Today I had the privilege and the honour to meet senior officers at the Bundeswehr General Staff College here in Hamburg, bearing the name of a great former Secretary General of NATO, Manfred Wörner.
For me and the people in my part of Europe, he was the one who opened the doors for NATO enlargement, and we always will bear his great name at heart, as we all of us are bearing at heart the teachings of Clausewitz. And the Clausewitz barracks here in Hamburg are an invitation for military leaders from Germany, from Allied nations and from all over the world to continue to invest in our security in order to ensure peace and prosperity. And as we speak, the frigate FGS Hamburg has just returned from the Aegean Sea. There, it was part of NATO’s deployment to deal with the migrant and the refugee crisis.
But perhaps the most important way that Hamburg has made a difference to NATO is through one of its most famous sons, Helmut Schmidt. He was at the forefront of the development of NATO’s double-track approach to the Soviet Union: of strong defence, combined with meaningful dialogue. For this great statesman, we’ll always be grateful. For this kind of leadership, we should also learn from. And in a very different world, this is the same fundamental idea that underpins our approach as NATO to Russia today.
Unfortunately, for many years and especially the last few years, we’ve seen a disturbing pattern in Russian behaviour. The illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of a sovereign nation in eastern Ukraine, a massive military build-up. And cyber-attacks and hybrid attacks, disinformation campaigns, attempts to interfere with our democratic processes. And of course, something that is indeed worrisome, the deployment of new nuclear-capable missiles that can reach cities all over Europe, including, right here as we speak.
Of course, NATO had to respond. And we implemented the biggest boost in our collective defence since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And Germany is an important part of this. As we speak, Germany leads the NATO forces in Lithuania, in the Baltic region. Germany is increasing its defence spending. And we are very happy to have instituted a new NATO command in Ulm on the Danube River that I also love so very much. But at the same time as strengthening our deterrence and defence, we remain committed to dialogue with Russia.
This month, Secretary General and myself, we met with Foreign Minister Lavrov in Munich, because dialogue is important. Also, we have held, so far since 2016, 10 NATO-Russia Council meetings. We are preparing and I’m preparing, together with the Sec Gen, the next NATO-Russia Council. We have to engage. We have to discuss. And discuss difficult issues like Ukraine. And also to discuss transparency and risk reduction and yes, Minister Maas, also to discuss the world architecture, arms control and disarmament after the demise of the INF Treaty.
These are things that are important to all of us, including for the Russian people. And today, unfortunately, the whole arms control regime that have been developed over many decades is in jeopardy. So arms control has to be part of our dialogue with Russia. We continue to aspire to a better relationship with our biggest neighbour. And dialogue is the only way to rebuild trust, ensure transparency and have effective arms control.
The double-track of Helmut Schmidt is the dual-track today. We’ll stay committed to defending our nations, but also we are willing to engage in a meaningful conversation with this big European country. Dear friends, another big challenge we face is terrorism. And I have also to add my voice expressing sincere condolences for the horrible attack in Hanau.
NATO Allies remain committed to fighting terrorism in all its forms. Against all those who use fear to undermine our free and open societies. Whether they hide behind a twisted version of religion, or behind a racist ideology, terrorists are all cowards and criminals and we have always to defend our way of life. This is the cause we are engaged in. But this is not an easy task. Because tackling terrorism requires the whole of our societies and the whole of the international community to come together. It needs teachers, police officers, development workers and diplomats. And also sometimes, yes, it needs soldiers too.
Together, Europe and North America have made great progress in the fight against ISIS. In Iraq and Syria, ISIS no longer controls any territory and millions of people have been liberated. But the threat continues to be here. This is why we are training local forces in Iraq to ensure that ISIS never comes back. And we are looking at what more we can do to bring stability and security to the broader region. Indeed, we have and we face challenges as an Alliance, but solidarity is what makes us strong.
This morning, following a request by Turkey, the North Atlantic Council of NATO had consultations on Syria. In Libya, I welcome the efforts by Germany in the Berlin Process. Once again, this shows Germany’s strong contribution in promoting international peace and security.
In Afghanistan, while many challenges remain, we are now closer to a peace deal than ever before. It’s still fragile. It’s still complicated. But we are the closest to the beginning of a peace process in this war-torn country for decades than ever before. And Germany has made, is continuing to make, a vital contribution in Afghanistan for so many years, both as a lead nation in the north and as one of the Allies that has offered to facilitate the second stage, hopefully, of the political settlement in Afghanistan, which is the inter-Afghan negotiations.
All NATO Allies, all the 29 Allies and many of the global partners of NATO, we have been there since the beginning. We are interested not only in a peace solution, but in the future of Afghanistan, safeguarding the gains we have made together at such great cost and blood and treasure, and ensuring that it never again becomes a safe haven for terrorism. And also call on the neighbours of Afghanistan and also the other big international players, to come together and help this country be part again, also, of the global community and be part of global trade and solve once and for all a wound that has been there for many and too many long decades.
These are challenges: terrorism, assertive Russia, but there is also in the background something even more intense and more potentially turbulent and disruptive than geopolitical trends, and, of course, this is technology and the impact of geopolitics on geo-economics and vice versa. This is probably in the history of mankind, and this big city port of Hamburg has seen so many things in your fantastic history, that probably this is the most condensed form of time transformation in human history, ever.
New technologies, artificial intelligence, automation, facial recognition. They are changing our societies with incredible speed, they’re changing . . . changing the way we work, the way we live, the way in which we make democracy, the way in which we elect people. Never, ever before such a transformation was having such a rapid and dramatic impact on the way in which human societies are constructed.
And yes, China is leading in many of these areas. It is the second largest economy in the world. Many of you and many of us all over the world and here also in Hamburg, Hamburg has, in China, the largest trade partner. That’s a big economy. Transporting tens of millions of tonnes of goods between Europe and China every year. It is clear that there are enormous opportunities that come with the growth of China. But also, we have to take into account the potential challenges that do come with an arrival of such a big global power.
China is also now the second largest military spender in the world. And sometimes we don’t see eye to eye when it comes to democratic values. That’s an understatement. So we need to respond, adapt and engage with China. This is why the Secretary General and myself, we met for the first time, with the Chinese Foreign Minister in Munich. It was a good meeting, it was good that we talked to them.
And to help increase the understanding of each other, there is real potential for dialogue in areas of common concern, such as in the Middle East, Afghanistan and, indeed, arms control. So, yes, the world is changing, but I remain fundamentally optimistic, also because of the enduring desire of human beings to live in liberty and freedom, but also because of the enduring strength of our values and of our transatlantic bond.
When we stand together, Europe and North America, we are half of the world’s economic might. When we stand together, Europe and North America, we are half of the world’s military might and we are a force for good in the world. And we, NATO, are stronger with Germany at its heart.
Germany is not only a big trading nation, it’s not only the biggest economy in Europe, Germany is also doing a lot. But we all know the challenge for Germany is to do even more, to take more responsibility for its own security, for the transatlantic and European security. This means, indeed, difficult choices in investing more. They’re not because anybody says so, but because Germany has committed to doing so.
It is in the German interest, it is in Hamburg’s interest. It’s the interest of every single German citizen and every single European citizen. German leadership is vital to the success of our Alliance and not just when it comes to defence spending, but also in promoting multilateral institutions.
I loved hearing Minister Maas putting so much emphasis on multilateral institutions and world governance, especially the European Union. When Germany assumes the Presidency of the EU Council this year, I am sure that it will further strengthen not only this great historic experiment, which is our Union, but also the transatlantic ties.
As former Foreign Minister of Romania, I have my signature on the original of the European Constitution, which was signed in Rome in 2004. We have an obligation to continue to believe in Europe. We have an obligation to continue to invest in this exceptionally important project, and we know that Germany will continue to lead this indispensable effort.
Because NATO and the European Union are two sides of the same coin, with shared values and shared interests. 21 of the EU Member States are also NATO Allies. I very much welcome the EU efforts on defence. But there is a simple fact, and sheer numbers, that are telling that the EU cannot replace NATO and should not replace NATO.
As we speak today, 80 per cent of the NATO defence spending today comes from countries outside the European Union. From the US, from Canada, from the UK, from Norway, from Turkey. As the Secretary General said in Munich, and I quote, “I don’t believe in Europe alone, just as I don’t believe in America alone. I believe in Europe and America together, because of whatever challenges we face and whatever differences we have, we are stronger together.”
We are stronger together. Despite all difficulties that sometimes arise. In the last few years, NATO and the European Union have been able to lift our cooperation to new and unprecedented levels in the Western Balkans, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and the Mediterranean. I am proud to say that NATO-EU cooperation is now stronger than ever before and will become even stronger during and after the German Presidency of the European Union Council.
Dear friends, ladies and gentlemen. In this temple of freedom. The motto written on the frontispiece of this fantastic town-hall, challenges us to be worthy of those who came before us. And also calls on our duty to make sure that the generations coming after us all enjoy the same level of freedom and prosperity, the same vibrancy, the same sense of a global human community. This is, in fact, the mission of the NATO Alliance. This is in fact, what we stand for.
For centuries, the Hanseatic League, united cities for peace and prosperity. Times have changed and many things are different. But one thing remains unchanged and will never change: and this is the power of unity. So the NATO Alliance will continue to unite the nations of Europe and North America to preserve peace and create prosperity for all and for many, many generations to come.
Thank you so very much.