Virtual conversation

with NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană with the President of the Brookings Institution, John R. Allen, in the EU Defense Washington Forum

  • 09 Jul. 2020 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 10 Jul. 2020 11:24

(As delivered)

NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană  in a virtual conversation with the President of the Brookings Institution, John R. Allen.

THOMAS WRIGHT [Brookings Institution]: Thank you so much to the High Representative for those remarks and for joining us here this morning. I think to me what really jumped out was the necessity of complementing soft power with hard power and the evolution of European foreign policy. And we now have a really terrific conversation to follow that. So we will be joined by my colleague, John Allen, who is President of the Brookings Institution. And he interview Mircea Geoană, who is the Deputy Secretary General of NATO. And Mr Geoană served in previous senior positions for the Romanian government, and he is the first senior official in NATO, the first Deputy Secretary General from one of the countries that joined after the end of the Cold War. So we are particularly delighted that he can join us this morning. So with that, John, may I pass it over to you?

JOHN R. ALLEN [President of the Brookings Institution]: Thank you Tom. Dearbhla. Thank you very much. And my sincere thanks to the High Representative for those marvellous contextual remarks that sets the day off so well.

But now we turn to NATO. So, ladies and gentlemen, it’s wonderful to be with you again today. It’s a great pleasure for me to have the honour of introducing our first panel and our distinguished guest, the NATO Deputy Secretary General, Mircea Geoană. Appointed to his current role in October 2019, Deputy Secretary General Geoană has long advocated for the transatlantic bond and the importance of the NATO Alliance, both as a seasoned diplomat and statesman. He spent his career representing his country, Romania. Amongst his many accomplishments includes serving as the Chairperson in Office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as a member of the Romanian delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. He’s been made not only a Commander of the National Order of the star of Romania, but also holds the distinction of the French Legion d’Honneur and the Italian Stella della Soliedarita.

We are honoured to have you with us today, sir. And we’ll go for about 30 minutes concluding this interview and the questions 45 minutes after the hour. So thank you very much for joining us today, Deputy Secretary.

Sir, my first question is that Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced in the NATO 2030 initiative, and it’s aimed to make NATO, quote, ‘strong . . . stay strong militarily, but more united politically and take a broader approach globally. NATO 2030 promises to prepare the Alliance for challenges of the coming future.’ Mr Deputy Secretary General, could you please describe what those challenges are and how the NATO-EU cooperation fits into the 2030 vision?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: General Allen, the pleasure and honour is all mine. You have here in NATO and all over the world a remarkable reputation and we owe you a great debt of gratitude for what you have done for us, leading NATO and American forces in Afghanistan, transforming them into . . . for a different role. We owe you a great debt of gratitude, sir.

JOHN R. ALLEN: Thank you, sir.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: So here in NATO, you’re home. Now, I listened to Josep Borrell with great attention. And it was all a bit intense when he said that Europe, the European Union – because he’s representing European Union foreign policy and security – has stopped being naive. I think all of us, after the fall of communism, believed that the defeat of Soviet Union, the demise of the Soviet-style communism would be somehow the end of history. We all believed that we’ll be enjoying liberal democracy, freedom and an ever-expanding world of harmony. But history is a . . . is a tough teacher. And we learned the hard way that history never stops, that global competition never stops. And now we are at a critical moment of our world history. I would say just one word, and it comes for NATO and EU: there is no way, but no way, neither for Europe, nor for our friends in North America, US and Canada, our dearest Allies, for us to cope with the changes in the world alone.

Together, the US and Canada and European Allies, we still represent 50 per cent of global GDP. We still represent . . .  and we represent one billion people. Speaking of technology – and I’m reading with great interest, General Allen, what you’re writing on A.I. and on these kind of things – 28 of the first 30 universities in the world are still in Western . . . in the Western world. Open societies are more conducive for innovation and freedom. I strongly believe, coming from Romania, that it is the essential ingredient for success.

And if we add, speaking of NATO this time, the 40-something partners that we have, also in the Asia-Pacific, with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, the many partners we have in the Gulf, in the Middle East. Even in Latin America, in Colombia. I think that this political West is something that we have to keep together. Because if not, it would be very difficult, even for the US, which continues to be the leading nation in the world, continues to be, despite difficulties that we are seeing, you know, in these recent weeks and months. We cannot do it alone.

So when Borrell, Josep Borrell, who I know for many, many years and decades, also as former Foreign Minister of Romania, former ambassador to Washington, by the way, when I learned the ropes of American politics and diplomacy, when he said that Europe is stopping being naïve, I also say that there is no way for Europe alone, without our friends in America and for the other Allies in Europe that are not EU members. If we look at the numbers of defence spending today, the non-EU members of NATO are investing 80 per cent of the total defence spending in the Alliance. 80 per cent. Eight Zero. Because we have now the UK outside of the EU. We have Norway, the country of my boss Jens Stoltenberg. We have Turkey. We have many other nations that are not part of the EU.

So, where also I would like to say one word. I think that not only this pandemic, but the recent, if you want, two decades or so from 9/11 on, also showed us that it’s not only about hard and soft power. It’s about a broader definition of security. And we, speaking in NATO in a different jargon, because that’s our . . . that’s our codified way of speaking, of ‘non-military means of power.’ Without strong, credible defence, without strong, credible innovation, without strong military and intelligence, we just cannot work only with the other tools of power.

But I think that also more and more we see that this pandemic shows that we need investment in resources. We have to rethink global supply chains. And this is where I think NATO continues to be the cornerstone, not only of transatlantic security, but an indispensable part of global order. And American leadership is needed. And American leadership is something that is, you know, our strong interest and also, I think, a strong US and North America-European cooperation is paramount for the interests of all of us, Europeans and North Americans and freedom-lovers and democracy-believers all over the world.

JOHN R. ALLEN: Thank you, Deputy Secretary General. That was a tremendous answer. Now we’re facing, as you have mentioned and as the EU High Representative mentioned, we’re facing the dilemma of the COVID-19 pandemic. You know, it’s infected millions, it has killed hundreds of thousands and it has devastated economies around the world, almost to a level, in the United States in any case, of the era of the Great Depression.

And what it has done, in many respects, it has caused nations to retract in their thinking, orienting on the domestic challenges that they face and often the issues of foreign policy have ceased to dominate their thinking.

So at a moment like this, an international organisation such as NATO is of extreme value, I think. And how do you . . . how would you imagine that NATO can be of value to the broader community of nations during this global pandemic?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Thank you, General. That’s . . . that’s a critical question. And I do believe that one thing we should do together, this community of democracies, this . . . these nations of ours, is to make sure that the lessons learned from the pandemic, but also the lessons unlearned from previous difficult moments, should not lead to further divergence across the Atlantic. I think we have to really think hard and . . . and also sometimes even with realpolitik, not only with naive, as Josep Borrell was mentioning, but in real terms. And we have to think hard and making sure that we realise that only putting our resources together, we can be strong.

Where NATO has done a tremendous job – and I think we are the leading organisation, I would say, I would dare say, globally – is on resilience, because now ‘resilience’ has become the buzzword of the moment. Everybody speaks about ‘resilience’. But since the Warsaw NATO Summit, you remember the summit in Warsaw, which was a pretty successful one, the leaders of the Alliance decided that NATO should strengthen our, what we call in our jargon, again, ‘the baseline requirements for resilience.’ Seven fields, from infrastructure to energy to civil military emergency, all these kinds of things.

Defence ministers of NATO, just two weeks ago, where Josep Borrell participated, when the defence ministers of Sweden and Finland, one of the closest partners of NATO in the EU, participated. And for the first time, the lady defence minister of Australia took part in a defence ministerial of NATO. And we upgraded the baseline requirements for resilience.

This is what we are offering our EU colleagues and friends, as we speak. Because also in the EU, the lessons learned are showing to them that resilience is a subject of interest also to the EU. EU is not a defence alliance. It’s a different kind of model of institution. So they are looking, probably in a complementary way with us, to supply chains, to healthcare chains, things that are more of an economic and business nature, rather than the ones that are relatively, in a narrow sense, security from a NATO standpoint.

So from the 74 common actions that NATO and EU are currently doing, and the report jointly presented by Jens Stoltenberg and Josep Borrell just a few weeks ago, we could really put lessons learned and resilience as a complementary tool box and then reach out to our friends and partners from all over the world, democratic partners, I think: Japan and Australia and New Zealand and South Korea. I’m mentioning the Asia-Pacific countries, so this is where I believe we have to make sure that the introspective way of looking at things, the national, let’s say, interest, which is reflected by leaders all over the world, is not leading to further disaggregation of our . . . of our community of democracies.

So I believe the lessons learned and resilience could be a very practical tool, because all of us, from America to Canada and from Romania all the way to Norway, all of us, all national governments need to cope with this kind of thing. And this is where NATO, I think, would be an exceptionally useful organisation. And our skillset, together with the EU and together with national instruments, could really be of great help to nations.

JOHN R. ALLEN: That was a tremendous answer. And you made the point about we are seeing a moment of divergence. And NATO really does have the capacity, with that toolbox of capabilities, not just to build in resilience in whatever follows COVID, but also to reverse divergence and create unification of the community of democracies. It’s a tremendous point.

Now, NATO’s success has been because of the shared understanding of democratic values. And unfortunately, questions arise of burden-sharing, and they often overshadow that mutual understanding, and has been pushed by many, including President Trump, to take dramatic steps to force the issue at hand.

Mr Deputy Secretary General, how can NATO encourage Allies to be more proactive for their defence spending, while still advancing our same mission?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: General, you . . . you know this better than I do. I remember in my career, and listening, and also sometimes physically seeing American presidents from President Clinton, to President G.W. Bush, to President Obama and now to President Trump and then whoever the American people will decide to . . . to put in the White House, that every single American president and American leadership has asked European Allies to step up our game. And I think this is something that we need. And this is not just a sort of a favour, a sort of a thing that we do just to please the person that is in the White House at a certain moment in American history and political cycles. This is also for our own interests.

Now, I’m heartened to see that despite this economic downturn and the difficult choices that leaders need to take in their national capacity, we are seeing more and more Allies reconfirming the target of 2 per cent. My country, Romania, has put it in the National Security Strategy. The UK has reconfirmed this recently. I was taking part in a webinar with our friends from Central Europe and I heard, in a similar conversation, the Czech Prime Minister reconfirming the target for 2 per cent.

Now, inside the 2 per cent, the question is – and this is where we need the . . . the experience of people like you, General, and many others – is how to spend the 2 per cent better. How to make sure that we transform the way in which we are preparing for the warfare of tomorrow.

Speaking of the Secretary General and NATO 2030, how we remain strong militarily, because also things are changing. Also, the lessons learned that I mentioned earlier could be a way for us to start spending more and smarter into defence. So I do believe that this thing of burden-sharing that has, in a way, been seen sometimes in a more narrow way, in fact, is the foundation for the transatlantic unity and also for something that our military commanders and our men and women in uniform whom we respect and we admire and we . . . we always show our gratitude. This is about interoperability, just making sure that big Allies like the US will be able to continue to fight with smaller Allies with smaller resources in the, God forbid, the wars of tomorrow.

So this is why I believe the 2 per cent, the burden-sharing thing is more than just the 2 per cent figure – which is important and it’s indicative of a certain political will – but the real question is: how do we spend better? How can we put the public money and the taxpayers’ money into better, let’s say, usage? And also, how can we incorporate the lessons learned from this pandemic and also from a changing world?

I strongly believe that Allies will continue to invest in defence and security, just because security has become more complicated with the pandemic. Things are the same. Russia is ever-more aggressive. China is coming up. We have things all over us that are complicated. Competition in space is increasing. New technologies are accelerating a shift in global power. So we just cannot afford not to invest in our defence. That’s the precondition for peace, General Allen, and you know this better than anybody else. And that’s why I believe that NATO will continue to invest in defence and nations will continue to understand that this is the best interest, individually and collectively.

JOHN R. ALLEN: I hope everybody was listening very closely to that answer, because it couldn’t have been better. The whole idea of spending on modernisation and investing in the new technologies will be what keeps NATO strong and interoperable, Mr Deputy Secretary General. Thank you, sir. Great answer.

Let me ask – it’s a more pointed regional question, but I think it speaks to a larger issue – you know, we’ve had some reports recently of Russian-backed Taliban stalking American troops in Afghanistan. And it’s left many sceptical of the recent Afghan negotiations for peace. Moreover, the scheduled withdrawal of US troops from the region leaves questions of the future of that country unanswered.

Sir, what are your thoughts? What does NATO anticipate as its role in Afghanistan going forward? And how does that square with the NATO 2030 initiative?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: General, you know Afghanistan better than any one of us. And you’ve been leading the US forces and also the NATO forces in ISAF a few years ago. So I have to say that I’m exceptionally proud of the incredible unity that not only NATO, but also our global partners from all over the world, have shown, they have shown, to our commitment to Afghanistan.

Of course, the announcements coming about, let’s say, a gradual downsizing of American presence creates. The US is the backbone of the whole operation. But I have to say that we had just last Friday, I think, just a few days ago, we had a meeting here in NATO and also Secretary General Stoltenberg met with Secretary Esper. General Miller, one of your successors was here. Ambassador Khalilzad was doing an incredible job in trying to bring intra-Afghan talks to a better outcome. And I have to say that it was NATO and partners, and there was basically absolutely no indication of a lessening of the commitment of the whole Alliance and our global partners to the future of Afghanistan.

It’s not going to be easy. For the time being, we stay. With the announcement of American downsizing into the current posture, speaking of NATO, of course, our military commanders, you know this very well, are planning ahead. We are also trying to help, directly and indirectly, the intra-Afghan talks.

And also something that we’ve been doing and I’ve been doing personally, in a very intense way, is to making sure that we also talk to the rest of the international community that has an interest, and also investing money into the economic and humanitarian development in Afghanistan. So as we speak, NATO, EU, UN, the World Bank, the international donors, we are working to a set of conditions that will be both conducive for intra-Afghan negotiations, but also making sure that when we’ll be in a different military posture in Afghanistan, that we find the means to keep this country safe.

And I’m also saying something, speaking of Russia and even China and other regional players around Afghanistan, that’s a . . . that’s a tough thing, but an Afghanistan that is stabilised and is also becoming part of the global international community and . . . and an economic player is also good for these countries, because they have experienced . . . that’s . . . that’s critical for the peace and stability in Eurasia. So this is why we are calling, also, on the other players who are not with us in NATO and not our partners in this great, almost more than two decades, coalition of nations for Afghanistan, to stay the course. Because a stable Afghanistan is not only good for NATO or for the US, it’s also good for Russia, China and also Pakistan or other regional players.

JOHN R. ALLEN: And let me, if I may, just take a second and say, as the former Commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, how proud every NATO member should be of the performance of their magnificent troops on the ground in Afghanistan. It is something that I think the Coalition should be deeply proud of. And the members of the NATO Alliance individually should be deeply proud of how their troops performed, both as individual soldiers, but also as a . . . as an entity, as NATO, as a command.

And I’d also like to say that one of my greatest partners, while I was the Commander, was the EU. And so this was a real opportunity to see NATO in action with the deep partnership of the EU, at the very edge of conflict. And it was a wonderful thing to see, Mr Deputy Secretary General.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Let me also echo what you have said, that there’s nothing, there’s no word that can describe the gratitude for the sacrifice and courage of our military personnel in Afghanistan and all over the world. I think the people at home sometimes don’t realise how much we owe as civilians, as normal citizens, to our military people. And I echo what you have said with the same . . . with the same intensity and the same sense of gratitude.

JOHN R. ALLEN: Thank you, sir. Thank you. In recent months, there have been some instances of impressive coordination amongst . . . between NATO and the EU, and the Allies, of course. And we’ve also seen internal tensions, though, for example, between France and Turkey in the Mediterranean. And this dispute has led France to suspend its participation in NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian.

How can NATO ensure that internal disputes do not impede the ability of our Allies to work towards shared goals? And what should NATO’s role be when Allies violate those rules and principles of the Alliance?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: General Allen, let me . . . let me start with one, let’s say new, or relatively new, area where NATO and the EU and also other global players, G7, the UN and others, we’ve been working together is in fighting disinformation and these counter-narratives that countries like Russia or China or non-state actors, Iran also, are abusing of this pandemic to . . . to basically put a seed of discord within democratic societies. And NATO and the EU have been working exceptionally closely together in fighting this thing.

Now, coming back to your question, which is always the political question: how can we inside NATO and inside the . . . the system of global democracies cope with the tension between two members of the same alliance that have different interests and views on one specific point, which is the case in point, let’s say in Libya. You mentioned this thing. It’s not only Turkey and France that have interests that are divergent. We also see with grave concern Russia, directly and indirectly, meddling also into the western Mediterranean, after having a stronger footprint in Syria in the eastern Mediterranean.

So, what we are trying to do – and this is what, also, Secretary General Stoltenberg has been doing, all of us have been doing – is to make sure that, number one, we try, through political dialogue and openness and frankness sometimes, to prevent such situations from occurring. And then if, God forbid, they do occur, because life is tough and not every time 30 nations can see eye-to-eye – there are situations when they don’t see eye-to-eye – they also use the political strengthened value of NATO, which is in NATO 2030 to do this.

As we speak, our military professionals have been looking and have issued a report about the incident which was reported. We are trying to find a way, and also making sure that these things do not happen, because sometimes it’s not easy for us as an international organisation working by consensus. You know, the Washington Treaty, our, let’s say, our foundation that speaks about values, of rule of law, democracy and . . . and freedom, we are not in the business of . . . of telling one Ally or the other how to . . . how to behave. But we are trying our best and we need the support of capitals of Allied nations to making sure that we keep NATO strong militarily, politically, and also adapting to a changing world.

JOHN R. ALLEN: Well, to that very end, Defender-Europe 20 was set to be one of the largest American military exercises in Europe since the end of the Cold War. And it involved extensive EU, NATO and US cooperation. However, the exercise, as you know, Deputy Secretary General, was scaled down dramatically due to COVID-19 concerns.

But with that as context, how do we have to think in the future about our model of cooperation for NATO and the EU and the US? How do we evolve our responses to these kinds of challenges, to the new reality that we’ll face as we continue to deal with this pandemic and other security threats, such as cyber-attacks and the strategic influence operations that we have seen being wielded against our democracies? How, as we go forward in the future, do we need to be thinking about this model of NATO, EU, US cooperation going forward?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Let me give you another indication of the intimacy between NATO and EU, also with another number. It’s a statistic, but it’s relevant. We have today 22 countries, nations, that are both NATO Allies and member states of the European Union. 90 per cent, nine zero per cent of the population of the EU today in 27, without the UK, are also part of the NATO Alliance. So what we are trying to do, and this is what we are doing, is making sure that we stay convergent in analysing threats to all . . . to all of us.

What NATO has been doing – and this is a process that we applaud, as we applaud the determination of the United States to continue to invest in real terms into the security of Europe –  Defender-Europe 2020 was downsized because of the pandemic. But the very intention to do such a massive display of interest and support for Europe is as strong as the exercise not being downsized. We also see the US leading battlegroups in the Baltics. They’re present in my country, Romania. They are present in Spain. There’s many other things that are showing this commitment.

What we have launched, and our defence ministers approved and our chiefs of defence also had a big role, and SACEUR, and our Commander for Transformation in Norfolk, General Lanata and General Wolters, we are working now on a new concept which is called ‘deterrence and defence for the Euro-Atlantic area’, which is the first comprehensive, all-domain, all-directions, 360, including space, including hybrid, including cyber, including, let’s say, new technologies, more traditional threats. And this is something that will be transferred into the operation way in which both NATO, and also this is something we … [inaudible] to our EU friends, will be, I think, in a way, speaking of being naive, will be not a great idea to duplicate. If NATO is good at doing something, I believe that the EU should be doing things complementary to what we do.

So I’m confident, and we are confident here at the NATO Headquarters, that we take, like always in the last 71 years of existence of our great Alliance, threats, old, new and future ones, very seriously. And this body of expertise, this fantastic capacity of our military people to work together is also an encouragement for the EU to step up their game, to continue to invest in defence, and also making sure that across the Atlantic we stay strong and also we cope with any crisis. Because, as I mentioned at the beginning, history never stops and global competition is raging. And the rise of China is also a fact. And there . . . a Russia that is trying to use and abuse some of its instruments of power to disrupt the political West is something that we have to take into account.

So, yeah, not always easy, but I think we have a sense of common understanding of the threats. And the strategic culture across the Atlantic is also becoming far more modern and also far more global, if you want.

JOHN R. ALLEN: Deputy Secretary General Geoană, it was a real honour to have the opportunity to speak with you this morning. These answers were a true tour de force of what NATO stands for, what NATO has done for our peace and security, but I think, more importantly, you’ve given us a glimpse into what NATO will do in the future for all of us. It is a global entity that will have effect for many years to come.

We’re so grateful for your service as the Deputy Secretary General and for the role that NATO plays now in cooperation with the EU and certainly with the United States. And I want to thank you for your time this morning, very, very greatly thank you for your time this morning. Let me now, if I may, turn it back over to Tom and Dearbhla.