by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee
Thank you for joining me for this online press conference.
Just a few minutes ago, the Chiefs of Defence of our Alliance concluded their first meeting via secure video conference, proving once more that NATO has the means to respond to evolving security and challenging security environment.
This was a historic meeting – the first official meeting for our newest member, North Macedonia who joined our Alliance in March.
As I chaired this virtual meeting, I was reminded of what makes our Alliance truly exceptional. Over 70 years ago, NATO was born out of a global crisis and the desire to instil a transatlantic and European sense of solidarity.
Today, 30 Allies, including our newest member North Macedonia, are able to benefit from an unrivalled level of support, aid and collective defence.
These are challenging times, unprecedented in recent history.
As Nations deal with the health, social and economic implications of the global pandemic they do not face these challenges alone.
NATO Allies and Partners are standing together and acting together in solidarity.
Together we endure, persevere and overcome.
In these troubled times, it is more important than ever that NATO remains ready and able as potential adversaries will look to exploit the ongoing crisis to further their interests.
We have seen an increase in disinformation aimed at sowing division in the Alliance and in Europe as well as undermining our democracies.
We have seen a continued pace of Russian military activity. Over the last couple of weeks, the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission has been deployed numerous times to intercept Russian aircraft.
Afghanistan has been brought back, tragically, into focus this week. And we condemn the attacks this week against medical facilities and the security situation in the country remains fragile.
Although, we have seen, with guarded optimism some encouraging signs of the intra-afghan negotiations which are the solution, a political solution for the people of Afghanistan.
In Iraq, the situation remains unstable. The fight against ISIS is not over. Coalition forces are working hard to safeguard the progress and gains achieved.
So as much as ever, NATO’s core mission remains paramount: to ensure peace and stability.
Our forces remain ready, and our work continues.
Today’s meetings allowed the Chiefs of Defence to take stock of the progress we have made since we met in January.
The resulting decisions will frame the Military Committee’s advice and recommendations to the North Atlantic Council ahead of next month’s Defence Ministerial meeting.
In the first session today, the Allied Chiefs of Defence reiterated their unwavering commitment to NATO.
They assured that COVID-19 would not affect their contributions to Collective Defence, including our multinational battlegroups in the east of the Alliance, NATO Air Policing, our maritime deployments, and our missions from Afghanistan to Kosovo.
We have implemented special measures to ensure the health and security of all our personnel but our operations, missions and activities continue. Our ability to deter and, if necessary, defend persists.
The Chiefs of Defence received an operational update from the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, General Tod Wolters.
Our peacekeeping mission in Kosovo continues in accordance with the UN mandate. 19 Allies and 8 Partners are contributing roughly 3,500 troops to our peacekeeping mission.
KFOR provides a safe and secure environment for all people and communities, and is an important contributor to the stability of the Western Balkans.
Our Resolute Support Mission continues. We are training, assisting, and advising our Afghan partners. And we support the recent efforts to achieve a sustainable peace for all Afghans.
We will continue to adapt our presence in Afghanistan through a conditions-based process, in close coordination with all Allies and importantly our Partners.
Although we have reduced our footprint in Iraq for security reasons, we are still present. We continue to provide support to the Iraqi security forces and help them to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
When the conditions permit, and working with the government of Iraq, we will resume our training efforts as well as increase our activities by taking on some of the training activities of the Global Coalition.
Following clear political direction from NATO Ministers in April, the Chiefs of Defence discussed new ways to contribute more to the security in the Middle-East and North Africa Region while remaining complimentary to existing efforts and with the support, of course, of local governments.
NATO must continue to ensure that it is ready to deter and defend against all potential threats and maintain its operational readiness to continue to provide security for our people.
Responsibility for NATO’s transformation and adaptation is part of our primary role as a military Alliance.
This is why this time last year, NATO Chiefs of Defence approved a new military strategy to promote a common understanding of NATO’s goals, intended approaches, and resource requirements.
This work is being refined and made operational through our work on the Concept for Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area, supplemented and complemented by the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept which looks forward 20 years and sets a vision to support Allies’ efforts to develop military forces.
Today, the Allied Chiefs of Defence refined these concepts and continued to develop them; and they will be presented to NATO Defence Ministers for political consideration at their next meeting in June.
These concepts will improve the future alignment of existing mechanisms, processes and activities as well as the procurements requirements resulting from our continuous process of adaptation. It brings coherence to all our military activities.
The Chiefs of Defence noted the development of the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept, presented by the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, General André Lanata.
This concept identifies gaps and provide the necessary recommendations to ensure NATO exploits opportunities and innovative approaches, including the use of emerging and disruptive technologies, to maintain our military advantage.
In the final session of the day, the Chiefs of Defence focused on NATO’s Response to COVID-19.
I invited the Chairman of the EU Military Committee, General Claudio Graziano to participate in this session and he provided us with an update on the EU’s support and relief efforts in this pandemic. And yesterday, I supported him at a virtual meeting of the EU Chiefs of Defence.
Subsequently, the Chiefs of Defence reviewed existing NATO measures and mechanisms which have already facilitated:
over 150 missions to support and transport medical personnel, supplies, and treatment capabilities;
the construction of more than 50 field hospitals and alternate care facilities;
and the addition of more than 35,000 treatment beds;
supported by the deployment of the deployment of 5,000 military medical professionals in support of civil authorities;
numerous international aero-medical evacuations with critical care teams;
And more than 3,500 Allied citizens are repatriated from around the world.
We concluded the meeting after an in-depth discussion about the effects of this pandemic and a discussion on resilience and the importance to capture lessons that can be implemented to better prepare for any future health crisis.
Thank you and with that, I am ready to take questions.
Well thank you for joining us – those who could and I would like to conclude this virtual press conference by thanking you for supporting our Nations during this pandemic.
I particularly want to pay tribute to all healthcare providers and in that I, of course, include our serving personnel assisting in civil efforts.
And thank you to the journalists who are working tirelessly, as you have just demonstrated despite the communication difficulties, to dispel disinformation. Now more than ever that is important.
So thank you to everyone who is helping us through this. The military personnel of your countries are not immune to a virus and therefore we should all work together at this time.
And thank you for joining me at this virtual press conference.