by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee following the Military Committee in Chiefs of Defence Session
As the coronavirus pandemic continues across the globe, I am struck at the fortitude and community spirit that has emerged.
In times of trouble, people have come together, focusing on what unites them and not what separates them, to help those in need.
Our friends and colleagues in Italy had worked diligently to put together this year’s Conference, while dealing with the extraordinary measures that COVID-19 brings to planning any event.
It was therefore a matter of deep regret that we were unable to travel to Rome.
I would like to take the opportunity to once more to thank the Italian authorities for their support and understanding – we stand together in solidarity although sadly we are not geographically collocated this time!
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We have just concluded the NATO Military Committee in Chiefs of Defence Format, this is the second time this meeting has been conducted virtually which in itself demonstrates our resilience.
The Military Committee has a vital role to play within NATO and its advice is crucial to the North Atlantic Council.
It is tribute to the flexibility and adaptability of this group that we can continue to deliver this vital function of this committee in spite of the restrictions that we are all currently facing.
Speaking virtually to the thirty Allied Chiefs of Defence today , I was encouraged by their interaction - the coming together of friends, colleagues, all united in their effort to provide the best possible military advice for NATO.
This family of Nations, this family of Chiefs of Defence, has shared best practices for the pandemic, identified lessons, pooled resources and through our Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre, assisted each other and our partners.
These are challenging times. State and non-state actors have kept up their efforts to manipulate, disrupt, deny and exploit in order to achieve their aims.
But the Alliance has not been idle – we have been closely watching, analysing, improving our understanding and when needed, reacting in a transparent way and always in accordance with international law.
Discussions today focused on what we have achieved so far, our ongoing work, and the necessary resources and plans required to be better prepared in future.
The Chiefs of Defence began the day with an exchange of views on NATO’s operations, missions and activities - our missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, our multinational battlegroups in the east of the Alliance, our Air Policing, and our maritime deployments.
They were briefed by Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Tod Wolters and briefed on the status reports of all NATO-led missions.
Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan was a key point of discussion with the peace efforts ongoing and the encouraging progress being made.
The Chiefs of Defence reiterated their continued support for Afghanistan and stressed that the military presence of the Alliance and its partners in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan will remain conditions-based.
To support the peace process, we have reduced our troop presence to around 12,000 troops, while retaining the structures and capability necessary to support the Afghan security forces
A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in everybody’s interest. NATO’s Allies and partners will continue to play our part.
Regarding our NATO Mission Iraq - training local forces, training Iraqi security forces, building local capacity is the best way to prevent the resurgence of terrorism in the region.
The Chiefs of Defence discussed our continued engagement with the Iraqi authorities.
NATOs Kosovo Force marked its 21st anniversary this year – Allied CHODs confirm their full commitment and that mission remains unchanged.
Based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, about 3400 troops provided by 27 NATO members and partners continue to contribute towards maintaining a safe and secure environment in Kosovo and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo.
We regularly assess our KFOR mission and it has been agreed by Allies that we should maintain the current strength
The Military Committee were assured of the necessary measures taken to protect Allied armed forces, and that our operational readiness remains undiminished during the coronavirus pandemic.
They welcomed the hard work by NATO’s military medical staff, and I pay particular tribute to all our medical staff, who have remained vigilant and who are monitoring any potential impact for our NATO troops deployed in our operations.
Chiefs of Defence then focused their discussion on two new concepts underway – the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic area and NATO’s Warfighting Capstone Concept.
Following on from last year’s new NATO Military Strategy, the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic area concept helps set out NATO’s military priorities and approach to current and future threats.
NATO’s Warfighting Capstone concept is based on a 20-year view from a warfighting perspective,
The Chiefs of Defence emphasized the need to have the resources in place to ensure we have the right expertise, the right personnel and the right capabilities in the future.
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NATO’s relationship with Russia is complex.
We have been adversaries, partners, and colleagues in countering terrorism but since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, our relationship has entered a new phase.
There has been a pattern of destabilising behaviour from Russia, including aggressive actions against their neighbours, election interference, and cyber-attacks
Russian propaganda outlets have falsely accused NATO of creating and spreading COVID-19.
We have seen that Russia has now made hypersonic weapons operational. They are developing new cruise missiles as well as new sea-based systems.
These systems are clearly a concern for this committee.
We will maintain our deterrence and defence, and we will not mirror Russia’s actions
The Chiefs of Defence however stressed the need to remain vigilant and to keep in mind our core task - to ensure peace and stability for our people.
The guidance offered today by the Chiefs of Defence will go directly to the Secretary General and the North Atlantic Council ahead of next month’s Defence Ministerial meeting.
As Allies we remain stronger and safer when we stand together.