The Geopolitical Implications of COVID-19
Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA)
Thank you so much, Amrita.
And good morning from Brussels. It’s great to be together will you all today.
A few weeks ago I launched NATO 2030.
To reflect on where we see our Alliance ten years from now. And how it will continue to keep us all safe.
One of my main message is that NATO must become more global. So today I will focus my remarks on three examples of why NATO needs a global approach. COVID-19, terrorism, and the rise of China.
First, COVID-19. A global crisis that shows how something that started on the other side of the world can have huge consequences for us all. Also in NATO.
NATO’s main task during the pandemic is to make sure the health crisis does not become a security crisis.
And throughout, we have remained ready, vigilant and prepared to respond to any threat. We have done what is necessary to keep our forces safe. To maintain our operational readiness. And sustain our missions and operations. From the battlegroups in the Baltics to countering terrorism in Afghanistan.
Beyond that, we have also been able to provide support to civilian efforts to cope with COVID-19.
Across NATO, we have seen the vital role that our armed forces have played to help save lives.
So far, some 350 flights have delivered hundreds of tons of critical supplies around the world. Across the Alliance, almost half a million troops have supported the civilian response. Constructing almost 100 field hospitals. Securing borders and helping with testing.
For instance, the Bundeswehr airlifted ten million face masks through a strategic airlift arrangement enabled by NATO.
And Germany has helped other Allies by providing medical supplies and transportation of patients.
NATO is currently preparing for a possible second wave of the coronavirus. We have agreed on a new operation plan to provide support to our Allies and partners.
A new stockpile of medical equipment and supplies. And a new fund to enable us to quickly acquire further supplies and services. Many Allies have already offered to donate to the stockpile. And contribute to the fund. In a clear sign of Alliance unity and solidarity.
But the virus has exposed weaknesses in our resilience.
For example, we have relied far too much on global supply chains for essential medical equipment. And so allies recently took decisions to strengthen requirements for national resilience. Taking greater account for cyber threats. The security of our supply chains. And the consequences of foreign ownership and control of critical infrastructure. Such as transport hubs and energy.
The pandemic has also led to an increase in disinformation and propaganda. Aiming to undermine our democracies and deepen divisions. Even insinuating that NATO Allies are responsible for the virus. And that authoritarian regimes are better than democracies at keeping their people safe.
NATO has been countering with concrete actions of solidarity. With clear facts and myth-busting. And also by cooperating with other international actors – such as the European Union, the G7 and the United Nations.
These disinformation efforts target all of us, and the rules-based international order.
And we all have a stake in telling the truth, and upholding our values through global solidarity.
The second reason why NATO needs a global approach is the instability and terrorism beyond our borders. One of the lessons from our experience in Afghanistan, where Germany has a leading role,
has been the importance of training local forces. So they can better stabilise their own countries.
Of course, NATO must be able to intervene with large numbers of combat forces when we need to. But prevention is always better than intervention. By focussing on training and building local capacity, by being a training alliance, we can reduce the likelihood that we will ever have to intervene.
Look at ISIS. In recent years, the international community has made great progress. ISIS no longer controls territory in Iraq or Syria. But it remains a threat. We must do all we can to support our partners.
So that it can never return.
That is why we are training local forces in Iraq. So they can better fight ISIS. Without the need for a large scale NATO presence.
We are also working with other partners, such as Tunisia and Jordan. To increase stability and security. For them, and for us all.
And a third reason why NATO needs to take a more global approach is the rise of China. China will soon be the largest economy in the world. It is a global leader in new technologies. And it also has the world’s second largest defence budget.
China’s rise presents opportunities, especially for our economies and our trade.
So it is important to continue to engage with China. China is not an adversary to NATO.
But we must fully understand what its rise means for us – and for our security.
It is clear that China does not share our values. Democracy, freedom, and the rule of law.
We see this in Hong Kong, where the new security law undermines its autonomy. And the liberty of its citizens. With the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Uighurs in so-called ‘re-education camps’.
With the use of Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition to monitor and control Chinese citizens.
And just last month, we saw it when China imposed economic sanctions on Australia after it led calls for an independent enquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
I remember when I was Prime Minister, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese government froze political relations and imposed sanctions in retaliation.
So there is a clear pattern of authoritarian behaviour at home and increased assertiveness and bullying abroad.
The best way to face each of these global challenges, to keep our societies secure and our people safe, is for Europe and North America to continue to stand together. And for us to take a more global approach.
Working even more closely with our international partners to defend our values in a more competitive world. Partners near and far - like Finland and Sweden. But also Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
The aim of ‘NATO 2030’ is an Alliance that is strong militarily. Stronger politically. And more global.
To support me with this, I have nominated a group, co-chaired by former German Defence Minister, Thomas de Maizière.
This is part of a consultation process that will inform my recommendations to NATO leaders when they meet next year.
We do not need to reinvent NATO. But we do need to ask how we can make our Alliance stronger and more effective.
Germany has an important role. As the largest economy in Europe, with the biggest defence budget in the European Union, the leader of a battlegroup in Lithuania, a contributor to operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, and from tomorrow, the holder of the EU Presidency.
Germany has a key responsibility to help strengthen NATO for the next decade. Those next ten years will be challenging for us all. But when Europe and North America stand together, we are strong and we are safe.
The NATO Alliance is 30 democracies. Each with their own politics, history and geography. We will always have our differences. But NATO remains the cornerstone of our collective security.
And through NATO, we can continue to live in peace and freedom.
Thank you so much.