Opening remarks

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

  • 18 Sep. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 18 Sep. 2020 15:30

Bonjour à vous tous.

Bienvenue à la dernière Conférence du Comité militaire de 2020.

On nous apprend au début de notre carrière à planifier en fonction des attentes, à nous préparer aux imprévus et à prendre des décisions difficiles.

Cet ancien axiome a prouvé sa pertinence cette année ; 2020 peut être qualifiée d’inattendue et de tumultueuse. Elle a exigé toute l’agilité pour laquelle l’OTAN est devenue célèbre.

Depuis plus de sept décennies, cette agilité, soutenue par les liens entre l’Europe et l’Amérique du Nord, fait de l’OTAN la plus forte alliance de l’histoire.

We are bound together by our history, common values and shared goals.

Together, we work to prevent conflict and preserve peace for one billion people.

Our solemn commitment to each other is that an attack against one Ally is an attack against us all.

This bond guarantees our security and prosperity, and allows us to live in freedom.

The strength of NATO is that in spite of our differences, we are able to unite around our core task: to defend each other, and to keep our people safe.

NATO forces are on duty across operations, missions and activities, managing ground, air and naval operations in many environments in every domain. And we have sustained our activities and missions and operations throughout the pandemic.

We continue to adopt our posture, our plans our strategy and concepts against old and new threats, and many have made the ultimate sacrifice.

I would like for us all to pay tribute to all our serving military personnel, and remember the sacrifice of those men and women killed or wounded in the line of duty.

Before we begin the Conference, I want to express my personal gratitude and thanks on behalf of the whole Military Committee, to Italy. To General Enzo Vecchiarelli.

This Conference was due to be held in Rome, Italy.

And we greatly appreciate the efforts of the Italian military and civilian staff involved in preparing for the Rome event.

Enzo, I want to recognise the extra level of effort and complexity that has faced your team and I offer my own personal thanks to those who worked so hard to pull together the Conference.

But regrettably, it was not to be.

The Conference would have seen Chiefs of Defence travel from across the Alliance.

And so we had to make a difficult decision and you can see the current data from the World Health Organisation.

General Vecchiarelli, Italy has always been there for NATO and your country plays a key role in our Alliance.

So can I thank Italy for all that you have done and continue to do.

The pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge to our nations, and continues to have a profound impact on all our people and our economies.

The Alliance continues to stand with all those affected by the crisis, and is deeply grateful to all the healthcare services, first responders, essential workers and research institutes.

I paid a visit to the Centre of Excellence for Military Medicine in Budapest in July. And I have to say, could I ask the Chiefs of Defence to thank all the medical personnel in uniform for all that they have done across the Alliance throughout this crisis.

It has demonstrated we are resilient, and united.

NATO – our member Nations and partners are rallying in the face of uncertainty, change and a fluid security environment.

NATO Defence Ministers agreed a new plan this June – Operation Allied Hand – under the guidance of SACEUR to ensure we are ready to help both Allies and partners.

This involves a new stockpile of medical equipment, a new fund for the purchase of supplies to provide immediate assistance to assure assistance gets to the right place at the right time.

We work closely and continue to work closely with the European Union, other partners, and increase our broad preparations to respond to health crises now and in the future.

NATO and Allied militaries continue to play a key role supporting the civilian response to COVID-19 – airlifting supplies, transporting patients, and constructing field hospitals.

It’s also worth remembering our deployed forces.

NATO and our partners are also helping local authorities in locations where we are deployed, including Afghanistan and Kosovo.

As well as offering assistance to our other partners like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Ukraine, and the Republic of Moldova.

The pandemic however continues to claim lives and cause social and economic hardship throughout the Alliance and across the world.

Therefore we have established the Pandemic Response Trust Fund.

It is a multi-million euro Trust Fund, which is scalable to complement the efforts of Allies and other international organisations.

COVID-19 however has changed our lives in ways we did not anticipate magnifying existing trends and tensions.

Russia continues its military activities unabated; ISIL and other terrorist groups are emboldened, with both state and non-state actors actively disseminating disinformation and propaganda.

There are also wider security challenges for economic and technological supremacy, and increasing competition against both our values and way of life.

Global competition never stops; state and non-state actors continue to jostle for advantage.

NATO’s experience and expertise, acquired over seven decades allows us to learn, adapt, and strengthen our capabilities.

We have strengthened our military posture from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea.

We have combat-ready troops in the eastern part of our Alliance.

We are raising the readiness of our forces, increasing our ability to move them and modernise our military command structure.

We have delivered NATO Readiness Initiative, and we continue to strengthen our hybrid and cyber defences to remain at the forefront of technological change.

Just yesterday, our Joint Force Command in Norfolk, in United States reached Initial Operational Capability. And congratulations to them.

A crucial link within the Alliance to achieve enhanced domain awareness in the Atlantic.

Our collective success hinges on our ability to work together and share information and experiences to ensure regional security and stability.

The Command in Norfolk will focus on Joint and multinational operations in the Atlantic with close coordination across all domains.

Space was declared the fifth operational domain for NATO – alongside the others.

Part of our daily lives, while space can be used for peaceful purposes, it can also be used aggressively: satellites can be jammed, hacked or weaponised.

We have also enhanced our resilience by updating baseline requirements for telecommunications infrastructure, including 5G.

We are addressing the rise of China, as both a challenge and opportunity. And as the Secretary General, who will speak to you later, says– they are coming toward us.

We remain committed to strong deterrence and defence, while remaining open to meaningful dialogue with Russia.

We are responding to Russia’s missile systems in a defensive and coordinated way and remain committed to strengthening both effective arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.

We are working with over 40 partners across the globe as well as of course closer to home, the European Union.

History has taught us we are stronger together.

That is how our Alliance has become the cornerstone of transatlantic security.

This Committee provides strategic military advice to the North Atlantic Council.

We are responsible for translating political decisions and guidance into military strategy and recommending measures considered necessary for the defence of the Alliance.

We play a vital role in strengthening the Alliance’s resilience.

Defence Ministers agreed this April to update Alliance baseline requirements for national resilience.

The pandemic has made that an urgent task.

These requirements cover critical sectors such as energy, transport, and communications, as well as new technology.

They address cyber threats; the security of supply chains; as well as foreign ownership and control of infrastructure.

Any vulnerability in these areas can be exploited by potential adversaries.

Today’s agenda will focus on NATO’s Operations, missions and activities, the Fight against terrorism, the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro Atlantic Area, NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept as well as a discussion with the Secretary General.

We will begin with our NATO-led missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo.

Our Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan is a testimony to the Alliance’s longstanding commitment to Afghanistan and the Afghan security forces, with both Allies and partners fighting shoulder-to-shoulder in pursuit of security and stability.

An enduring and comprehensive peace agreement should put an end to violence, safeguard the human rights of all Afghans, uphold the rule of law, and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists.

Our military presence and that of our partners in the Resolute Support Mission is conditions-based.

We continue to consult and, if conditions allow, adjust our military presence to support the peace process.

In Iraq, we have maintained our presence.

Canadian Major-General Jennie Carignan is commanding our advisory and training mission from within the country. 

Due to COVID-19, we have suspended training, but our mission is getting back to business and we are planning with our Iraqi partners.

Closer to Europe, our KFOR mission continues to make an important contribution to stability in the Western Balkans.

In line with its UN mandate, our KFOR mission continues to provide a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo.

We regularly assess our KFOR mission, and all Allies agree that we should maintain the current strength of roughly 3,500 troops.

We have enhanced our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, with multinational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

They are combat-ready, and demonstrate the strength of the transatlantic bond.

We have a presence in the skies with our Air Policing missions - defensive missions that see Allied aircraft patrol the airspace of Members nations.

Our Standing Naval Groups are present in our waters from the High North and Baltic to the Aegean and Black Seas.

The multinational, integrated force is continuously available to perform tasks ranging from participation to exercises to conducting NATO missions. This is what we mean when we talk about the Allied Response Force.

We have patriot missiles deployed in Turkey, we provide AWAC support to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and when required, carry out disaster relief operations and missions to protect populations.

We strengthened our cyber and hybrid defences to remain at the forefront of technology.

Working with our nations we are exploring what more NATO can do to fight terrorism, build stability and strengthen partnerships.

We actively monitor both disinformation and propaganda which tries to sow division and undermine democracies.

We counter false narratives with facts, with values, and with actions.

Later today we will discuss Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area.

The Alliance is reforming its command structure, increasing the readiness of its forces to deliver credible and effective deterrence and defence.

As part of this, we have developed a new military concept. This helps us set out NATO’s priorities and approach to current and future threats.

It brings together current military thinking so we can face a more unpredictable world and deal with the consequences of a changed security environment.

We will exchange views on Russia.

Russia’s aggressive actions and willingness to use force constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security.

NATO has a dual-track approach to Russia: deterrence and defence, and dialogue.

We are delivering on both tracks. We have enhanced our deterrence and defence, at the same time, we remain open to dialogue with Russia, including in the NATO-Russia Council.

However, Russia’s posture, doctrine and rhetoric remain a concern.

So we remain vigilant.

The Secretary General will join us and may wish to discuss NATO 2030, a reflection process which he launched this year.

It is an opportunity to look at how our Alliance will be ten years from now.

It is about making the Alliance stronger politically and more global; from a strong military base.

Staying strong militarily means we have to continue to invest in our armed forces and in modern military capabilities.

Therefore, the Committee will focus on the future, and discuss NATO’s Warfighting Capstone Concept, which supports adaptation of the Alliance.

It provides for us a Warfare Development framework for a 20-year horizon and you, the Chiefs of Defence, have directed this work.

Before we proceed with our meeting I would like to welcome the new faces on the video link today:

The Albanian Chief of Defence, Major General Bajram Begaj
The Belgian Chief of Defence, Admiral Michel Hofman
The Norwegian Chief of Defence, General Eirik Kristoffersen

Welcome to this unique body Bajram, Michel and Eirik. I look forward to your contributions and receiving your advice.

Today, as you can see hopefully by camera, we are supported by our two Strategic Commanders:  General Tod Wolters – Supreme Allied Commander Europe, SACEUR and General André Lanata – Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, SACT, in the room.

As the Chiefs of Defence your role is to offer everyone, particularly this Committee, your advice and guidance on current and planned activities to enhance security and stability.


On conclusion of this meeting, I will capture your comments and advice, pass it directly to the Secretary General and the North Atlantic Council ahead of the next Defence and Foreign Ministerial meetings, as we do after every meeting.

This concludes my opening remarks. We will now reset and begin our first session.