by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the Czech Republic’s 7th National Conference Jagello 2020 (Videoconference)
JAKUB LANDOVSKÝ [Permanent Representative to NATO, Czech Republic]: Mr Prime Minister, First Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers, distinguished guests, the keynote speaker that I’m about to introduce briefly reinforced NATO leadership almost a year ago. And what a year it was. Starting with the London Summit, constant changes of the security environment in the Middle East, Afghanistan, changes in arms control. In times like these, when you realise that our security cannot be taken for granted, we need both skilful diplomats and strong political leaders. Luckily for us Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană has an ample of both. He served his country as an ambassador in Washington and led Romania to NATO. He served his country as a minister. He was a president of the upper chamber of the parliament. And he is a true leader and a skilful diplomat. With nothing further to ado. I will hand over to Brussels and I will give the floor to Mircea Geoană.
MIRCEA GEOANĂ [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you, Ambassador Landovský, dear Jakub, you are too kind. But let me say how privileged I am to be with you today. I would like to thank the organisers. Minister Metnar. Mr Prime Minister, Mr First Deputy Prime Minister. Our warmest greetings to all the Visegrád defence ministers and to the Jagello 20 Conference.
For 21 years, your four countries have been at the heart of shaping NATO’s policies. You all have made invaluable contributions to all that our Alliance does. Of course, every human being would regret not being able to be in Prague in person. I am among these ones. I really would have loved to be again in Prague. But still, new technologies are allowing us to be together today. After all, this demonstrates that a pandemic is not preventing us from taking forward the important work of the Alliance.
I listened with great interest to the message of President Zeman and the substantive address by Prime Minister Babiš. And the Prime Minister is right. We just cannot take security for granted. He made important comments and reaffirmed the Czech Republic’s commitment not only to defence spending, but to a robust engagement both in Europe and across the Atlantic. This is a kind of leadership that we need in these complicated moments.
I commend the Czech Republic for your generous support to the Alliance and to the Allies, including donations of medical equipment to Italy, Spain and North Macedonia. The Czech Republic has used NATO-supported airlift to import key medical supplies for domestic use, highlighting the benefits of Alliance multinational programmes.
Your country, your nation, has also led the way with scientific innovation, an issue very close to my heart, including with your development of 3D-printed respirators and new masks. And your new smart quarantine system will help to track and trace infected citizens. We all need to ensure that this health crisis and economic downturn will not become a security crisis. The threats we face have not gone away. They are amplified, magnified and sometimes distorted by the pandemic.
I want and we want here, from NATO Headquarters, to thank the Czech Republic for its continued commitment to NATO deployments, from Afghanistan to Iraq and to our multi-national battlegroups. Your Centre of Excellence, the NATO Centre of Excellence in Vyškov also helps Allies develop the right tools to counter chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. The Czech Republic has continually shown how NATO solidarity is helping to deal with this crisis and save lives.
I also have to commend all the other Allies, including the Visegrád nations, for contributing to this effort of solidarity. Slovak medical doctors, civilian and military, helped our Italian friends and Allies. The Medical Medicine Centre in Budapest, another Centre of Excellence of great quality, has done its part in helping us cope with this great crisis.
I would like to commend all of you and also the rest of the Alliance in assisting our partners Ukraine – our newest Enhanced Opportunity Partner, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova. We owe all of you a debt of gratitude. This solidarity is what will help us overcome this crisis and stand ready to respond to new waves, God forbid, if they might occur and increases the spread of the virus. Medical experts warn us that we have to be prepared. So we must continue to work together and support one another and also our partners in Europe, in the Middle East and around the world.
At the defence ministers meeting last week, Secretary General Stoltenberg, warmly welcomed donations from Allies of medical equipment to a stockpile that we agreed to establish and contributions to a new fund that will enable us to quickly acquire medical supplies and services. This offers a sign of Allied unity and solidarity. This is also a sign of both strengths and confidence.
Unity and solidarity are also important to enhance resilience. The COVID-19 crisis is testing our resilience and teaching us the hard way that we need to make our healthcare systems stronger, but also our society as a whole and our critical infrastructures more resistant, more resilient to threats and attacks. This is something that NATO, despite our great experience since the Warsaw NATO summit, when we decided, our leaders decided, to embark on resilience. This is something that NATO cannot do alone. This is why we are working so closely with our international partners, countries and organisations, and in particular, the European Union. Because resilience is very much a collective effort.
Also last week, defence ministers agreed to update NATO’s guidelines for national resilience based on the lessons learned from this crisis. These guidelines ensure that we have robust supply chains, also, for medical supplies and fewer vulnerabilities in our strategic industries and critical infrastructure. And I do believe that Central Europe and the Visegrád countries will be at the forefront of this effort. All of this will help our societies better prepare for future crises, but also to recover faster and to ensure that others do not take advantage of a crisis to advance their own interests.
Our resilience is also measured by our ability to adapt to rapid technological advances and absorb the impact they are having on our security. We must ensure we keep our technological edge. This is the essence of NATO’s credibility. This is the essence of NATO’s success. This is the essence of the success of the political West.
NATO is already taking action to instil a culture of innovation across the Alliance. I have been entrusted by the Secretary General Stoltenberg to chair the Innovation Board in NATO. And in London, in December, NATO leaders agreed to develop a common understanding and approach to emerging technologies. And we have to say one thing very loud and clear. Democratic systems and democratic nations are the best place for innovation. Open societies where people are free to think, to explore, to collaborate, to express their opinions, are more effective and more creative than closed societies. We need to continue to work closely with the private sector. Most of the research, including for defence purposes, is today done by private sector defence companies, tech companies and start-ups. We have to open up to venture capital. We have to embrace, somehow cautiously, but also to embrace risk. And Allies need to honour their commitment to acquire modern and sophisticated equipment to ensure that our armed forces can perform better and faster and be able to be interoperable all across the Alliance.
So, boosting resilience is also about strengthening our cyber defences and countering disinformation and propaganda. We have seen a sharp increase in cyber-attacks and disinformation since the start of the crisis. Hospitals and other healthcare services have suffered cyber-attacks in the midst of a global pandemic, including here, in your nation, in the Czech Republic last April. This is dangerous and irresponsible. It can cost innocent lives. We have to take all these threats very seriously. And our cyber experts have been in close touch with Czech authorities throughout these incidents, offering support and sharing information.
Earlier this month, NATO Allies issued a joint statement calling for respect for international law in cyberspace. This was an expression of our mutual support for those dealing with the consequences of attacks. We are also actively monitoring disinformation and propaganda campaigns by both state and non-state actors that are trying to sow division, undermine our democracies and our ability to act. And here the NATO-EU joint cooperation on disinformation is something which is robust and we will continue to invest mutually in this great partnership.
Russia, China and others are not only mispresenting information, in some cases their claims are outright lies. For example, in April, a fake letter was sent in the Secretary General’s name, claiming that NATO would withdraw its troops from Lithuania. There have been stories about COVID-19 in NATO’s battlegroups in Latvia and about US forces in Poland. None of this is true. We have to fight back with truth, with evidence and be showing solidarity against this wave of disinformation.
Disinformation is something none of us should tolerate in our open democratic societies. Especially in a pandemic, it can endanger lives. So we are fighting back. Countering false narratives with facts, with our values, and with concrete actions which demonstrate NATO’s readiness and solidarity. Cyber threats and disinformation are on the rise indeed.
And, at the same time, other threats that existed before the pandemic have not disappeared. And the title of your conference is right to the point. Around the world, terrorism continues. Authoritarian regimes challenge liberal democracies. Nuclear weapons are proliferating. The security situation in Afghanistan and Iraq remains fragile. And we see a continued pace of Russian military activity. So we need to be even more vigilant. For this, NATO has to remain ready to defend all Allies against any threat, today and tomorrow.
Earlier this month, when he launched his vision for NATO in the next decade, NATO 2030, Secretary General Stoltenberg talked about keeping our Alliance strong militarily, making it stronger politically, and becoming even more global. Indeed, we cannot take security for granted. The pandemic will add, not subtract, to the existing security challenges. It is for this reason that all our defence ministers, in their meeting last week, they focussed on NATO’s deterrence and defence, as well as our missions and operations. State and non-state actors continue their attempts to destabilise, disrupt and divide Allies.
So NATO’s job is to remain ready to defend all Allies against any threat. And to adapt our policies and strategies. We have to continue to invest in our armed forces and modern military capabilities. We have to bring all the issues that affect our security to NATO’s table. Even if NATO will not be the one taking, alone, action in one field or another. But we have to work with our close partners from around the world to defend the global rules and institutions that have kept us safe for decades.
I’m confident, of somebody who knows and cares about our region, that the Czech Republic and the Visegrád countries will join in this effort to make our strong Alliance even stronger. I cannot say how much we appreciate here at NATO Headquarters what the Czech Republic and the Allies from Central Europe are doing for our cause. We count on you. I salute the workings of your great conference. And myself, and Secretary General Stoltenberg are eager, hopefully very soon, to be able to visit in person with you. Good luck with your conference. And we are privileged to be your partners.
JAKUB LANDOVSKÝ: Thank you for your remarks, Deputy Secretary General. And please allow me a question. The COVID crisis and its significance for the CBRN, opening of the new domains like space and cyber, forces us at NATO to adapt. Is it useful to start a discussion about a fresh view of the military expenditure leading to the 2 per cent? In the view of these changes?
MIRCEA GEOANĂ Listen, there is a legitimate question in many corners. During a significant crisis like the health crisis that a pandemic has put on all of us, an economic downturn – hopefully this will be short lived and we’ll see a rebound of our economies.
There is always a question on what’s best for political leaders to do in such moments. And, of course, we have to protect our populations. We have to strengthen our health care systems. We have to give incentives for our economy, for our businesses and for the employees to be able to cope with this issue. What we are saying here in NATO, and I think it makes sense, and I heard your Prime Minister mentioning this in his speech, that we have to make sure that whilst we direct resources toward stringent necessities and emergencies, we are not losing sight to the fact that on the security front, things have become even more complicated.
Now, how to spend, not only how much to spend, that’s the question that you, Mr Ambassador, dear Jakub, have asked many times also around the North Atlantic Council table. And I think that in our defence planning efforts, we have to incorporate also lessons learnt from the resilience. We have to incorporate lessons learnt from the innovation and transformation of technology when it comes to defence and security. We have to make sure that we keep our military strong. And this is something we have to continue to do. But also prepare our national security establishments, our military, our economies, our societies, to resist and to weather any storm it might encounter.
So I’m convinced that the conversation going towards the next fiscal cycles, not only one [a] year, but also the next fiscal cycles, would have a stronger conversation around these things. But I think keeping our promises from Wales, aiming and reaching the 2 per cent threshold, investing better, smarter into defence. Also making sure that nations that have stronger industrial and innovation capabilities will not be creating differences in interoperability with nations that have smaller economies, is something that has to be kept in mind. So I think what the Visegrád countries are doing, pooling resources together, encouraging better spending in defence and related areas is the way to go.
So I think we’ll be seeing not only interesting times, but also more creative times in terms, not only in the volume of defence spending, which is paramount, but also in the quality and sophistication and the continuous adaptation of the way in which, how we spend money. It’s taxpayers’ money and it’s the obligation of all of us in nations and here in NATO to make sure we make the best out of this.
JAKUB LANDOVSKÝ: Mircea, thank you very much.