Opening remarks

by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee at the 183rd Military Committee in Chiefs of Defence Session

  • 14 May. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 14 May. 2020 11:28

(As delivered)

Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach

Good afternoon,

Later today, the NATO Military Committee, NATO’s highest military authority, will hold its first ever virtual Chiefs of Defence session.

 This historic 183rd meeting of 30 Allied Chiefs of Defence is being held via secure teleconference and demonstrated that despite the challenging times that we are all currently facing the core mission of NATO continues unchanged: to deliver credible and effective deterrence and defence.

We have implemented preventive measures to ensure the security and health of our personnel and our vital core mission continues – we are ready and we are resilient.

Our Resolute Support mission, in Afghanistan, is committed to supporting the Afghan security forces with training and funding, as they fight against international terrorism, and create the conditions for peace.

In Kosovo, our KFOR mission provides a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo.

Our naval deployments continue. The NATO Standing Forces are being deployed to the Baltic, Black and the Mediterranean Seas. And we continue to exercise regularly with Allied and Partner Forces.

Our Baltic Air Policing mission continues, with Allied aircraft are patrolling, and intercepting if required to do so. And we continue to do Air Policing specifically over the Baltic Sea.

Our Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups continue to act as an important deterrent on the Eastern flank.

We must maintain our defensive posture, as potential adversaries would look to exploit the situation to further their interests as we have seen through the increase in disinformation activities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shocked the system which will clearly have long-term consequences for all of us, in all walks of life, including for NATO.


With over 4 million people infected around the world, including 1.7 million in North America and 1.5 million in Europe.

Can I express my condolences to all those who have lost loved ones; and my deepest sympathies to all the victims and those affected.

But despite the high rate of mortality, there are signs of hope.

The daily rate of infection is starting to slow, thanks to the safety measures set up by individual nations and their medical responses.

Doctors, medical teams and experts, including military, are working relentlessly to develop vaccines – with some already beginning trials.

We have also witnessed humanity at its best.

Ordinary people are taking extraordinary actions to help their neighbours. Healthcare workers, in particular, are demonstrating unwavering dedication and true professionalism.

This is a global health crisis, and NATO is playing its part. Allies are standing together and acting together in solidarity.

Allied national armed forces are supporting national civilian efforts and are playing a key role in slowing the pandemic.

And on behalf of the Military Committee, may I add my thanks and voice our support to all providing front-line services in this crisis.

To the medical staff and emergency services and to our Service Personnel who are playing such a vital supporting role.

The road ahead remains unpredictable and difficult.

But throughout history we have seen the impact of pandemics and crisis.

Our own organisation, this alliance, was born out of a global crisis.

Older generations remember that humanity has endured and persevered, and will do so again.

Our Allies have demonstrated their resilience and adaptability. 

NATO is not the first responder in a health crisis but the Alliance, nonetheless, has delivered important support.

Using NATO mechanisms, skills, infrastructure and personnel coordinated between Allies.

In coordination, for example, with Eurocontrol, a dedicated NATO call sign is now being used for military relief flights.

Military forces from across the Alliance have flown more than 100 missions to transport medical personnel, supplies, and treatment capabilities as well as facilitated the construction of field hospitals adding tens of thousands of treatment beds.

Over 4,000 medical personnel from the Armed Forces have been deployed in support of civilian efforts.

The Alliance’s disaster response centre has been coordinating the delivery of urgently needed medical supplies, following requests from NATO Allies and partner countries.

Allies are helping each other. And Partner Nations are reciprocating by supporting each other as well as NATO Allies.

So our Alliance is helping to get the right support to the right place at the right time. Helping our nations, our Allies save lives.

This is also a time when our resilience is being tested.

Resilience is enshrined in our Treaty and in Article 3 which states that Allies are responsible for the resilience of their societies and subsequent ability to deal with a crisis.

Our resilience guidelines include basic requirements on issues such as healthcare, dealing with mass casualties, infrastructure, transport and mobility, communications, decision-making and many other areas.

This means that NATO Allies will have greater resilience as they have worked together for years on enhancing their preparedness across the whole of government.

We will learn lessons from this crisis to be better prepared for the next one.

This pandemic has also required an increased level of adaptability and creativity.

We have seen industry across the Alliance adapt their core business and factories to produce materials.

NATO Support and Procurement Agency has developed a method of converting diving masks to ventilator masks.

NATO has tapped into its very important resource of defence scientists – the largest such network in the world – to support the COVID-19 response.

NATO was created to deal with crises.  That is what we are doing.

Values such as solidarity, resilience and adaptability are the reasons why NATO remains so attractive to potential new members, after 70 years.

Nations such as the Republic of North Macedonia, our newest member, have already benefited from the assistance of multiple NATO Allies since the beginning of this pandemic – which emplifies Allied Solidarity.  

Together we will endure, persevere and overcome.

Security challenges have not diminished because of COVID-19.

As the Secretary General has said, we must continue to work hard to ensure that this health crisis does not become a security crisis.

So while we continue to take all the necessary measures to protect our armed forces, our operational readiness remains undiminished.

And our forces are ready, vigilant and prepared to respond to any threat.

NATO's core task remains to preserve the security of our almost 1 billion citizens. So therefore we must maintain our deterrence and defence.

Which is why we continue to meet regularly in different formats.

In a few moments, I will convene a virtual meeting of the 30 NATO Chiefs of Defence supported by General Tod Wolters, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and General André Lanata, our Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation.

We will also be joined by the Chairman of the EU Military Committee, General Claudio Graziano – underlining the importance of close coordination with our partners in the European Union. 

The programme will begin with a meeting between the Chiefs of Defence and the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg who will set the political context for today’s discussion referring to recent Foreign and Defence Ministers meetings.

These decisions will define the work of the Military Committee for comings months as it sets out to achieve NATO’s political and military agenda ahead of next month’s Defence Ministerials.

The Political guidance we will receive from the Secretary General will frame our subsequent discussions on NATO’s operational commitments, particularly our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Earlier this year, following progress in the intra-Afghan peace negotiations, the Alliance agreed to reduce its presence in Afghanistan within NATO’s Resolute Support Mission to 12,000 troops.

At the same time, our mission continues to train, assist and advise the Afghan security forces. We maintain our current configuration, with our headquarters in Kabul and four regional commands.

Our priorities in Afghanistan are clear: to create the conditions for peace, to protect our troops, and ensure that Afghanistan will not once again become a safe haven for international terrorists.

The Chiefs of Defence will discuss the importance of preserving the gains achieved in the last 19 years and any possible future engagement with Afghanistan.

On the 24th of April, the North Atlantic Council issued a statement reaffirming its longstanding commitment but also encouraging both sides, the government as well as the Taliban, to continue the peace process, lower the level of violence and work together for the sake of the people of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

In addition to our role in Afghanistan, NATO is also present in Iraq.

Its training mission which aims to continue to strengthen the capacity of the Iraqi forces, so that they can defend Iraq’s sovereignty and fight against our common enemy, ISIS.

Allied Chiefs of Defence will explore additional avenues to fight terrorism, build stability and expand NATO’s role in the wider region.

The next session will provide the opportunity for the Chiefs of Defence to discuss with Generals Wolters and Lanata ongoing work on the Concept for Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area and to develop the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept.

These complimentary approaches set out NATO’s military priorities as well as offer a coherent approach to current and future threats.

And we will ensure that the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture remains credible, coherent, and resilient, whilst maintaining our technological edge, modern capabilities and well-trained personnel.

In the final session of the day, NATO’s Chiefs of Defence will address NATO’s role within the response to the COVID-19 crisis and the opportunities to  further support Allies, Partners and countries in need.

As I conclude the opening remarks for the 183rd Meeting of the Chiefs of Defence Session, I would like give a particularly warm personal welcome to the Chief of Defence of North Macedonia, Lieutenant General Vasko Gjurchinovski as he will be virtually and officially participating for the first time as NATO’s 30th member.

I would also like to welcome our other first-time participants:

  • the Bulgarian Chief of Defence, Admiral Emil Eftimov;
  • the Croatian Chief of Defence, Admiral Robert Hranj;
  • the Greek Chief of Defence, General Konstantinos Floros;
  • the Slovenian Chief of Defence, Brigadier General Robert Glavaš;
  • and the Spanish Chief of Defence, General Miguel Angel Villarroya.

We will meet again in person once social distancing is no longer required.

Today’s meetings will deliver the military advice and guidance and allow us to move forward on the important tasks that lay ahead.

Thank you.