Keynote speech

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the Atlantic Forum’s conference ''Transatlanticism 2020''

  • 02 Oct. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 05 Oct. 2020 11:14

(As delivered)

Lauren Speranza: Good morning Ambassador.  Good afternoon to you.  Good evening, I suppose.  Well hello everyone and welcome.  Thank you all so much for joining us.  As Mika just said, I am Lauren Speranza, Director for Transatlantic Defence and Security at the Centre for European Policy Analysis, or CEPA for short.  So, I'm coming to you from Washington DC today and I'm thrilled to be a part of this event, focused on the future of the transatlantic relationship.  And as my colleagues have sort of outlined, you know, as we look around us, we're facing an increasingly contested world, with unprecedented challenges, and this demands changes from our political leaders, our security institutions and our publics.  And while nothing is certain these days, one thing is for sure and that’s that none of us can go it alone, so our future will certainly demand stronger cooperation from allies and partners and especially through our NATO Alliance.  And to discuss this further, I am honoured to have the opportunity to kick off today's keynote conversation with NATO Deputy Secretary General, Mircea Geoană .  Ambassador Geoană took up his current role in October 2019 as the first Deputy Secretary General from any of the countries that joined the Alliance after the end of the Cold War.  Across his distinguished diplomatic and political career, he's served as Romanian Ambassador to the United States, Minister of Foreign Affairs, President of the Romanian Senate, and a presidential candidate for Romania.  He is President and Founder of Aspen Institute Romania and he's worked closely with the OSCE as well.  He's been a relentless advocate for transatlantic cooperation and really an inspirational voice for his home region and beyond. 

Mr Deputy Secretary General, it's a privilege to have you with us today at a forum like this, to speak with the leaders of tomorrow, some of whom I would argue are already serving as leaders today.  And to all of you tuning in here via Zoom, I'm told that the chat function is open, so if you would like to pose a question at any point, please type it and submit it there, and I'll try to incorporate some of those toward the end, as time allows.  But Ambassador Geoană , we were hoping you could start us off by sharing about your vision for the future of the Alliance, especially as NATO undergoes its forward looking Reflection Process, to help best position NATO looking to 2030.  So, please Sir, over to you.

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Oh, thank you Lauren.  Good to see you again.  Congratulations for your new position and thank you all for starting this great initiative, I'm fully behind it.  I love to be described like an established, experienced leader, seems like a sort of a segregation alongside the age, but let me tell you something that I strongly believe in; there is no age for leadership.  Leadership is not waiting for the age.  It's something that one nurtures, one believes in, and I think the time for leadership, value-based leadership, is more important today than ever, because in uncertain times you see, you know, some of the taboos that we believed are unshakable becoming contested, and that’s a period of great, great competition. 

Let me start with something that is not necessarily the transatlantic bond like some of you before me described so well. I have nothing to add that to that, but I would argue that in fact there is a bond that is basically far more profound and far more important and far more far-reaching than the traditional description of a transatlantic relationship.  Because of course we speak about North America and Europe, we speak about security, defence, deterrence, political cooperation, deterrence and defence, missions, operations, our military, our leaders' vision for the future, but in fact I think it's something that we have to reflect a little bit, on the far more profound source of this commonality.  And this comes basically to the very foundation of what we call today the Political West, the [inaudible] of civilisations, the values that painfully, over history, developed towards what we think today is the democratic free society, are the values that basically we believe are, and are the foundation of this very Alliance.  Because when you read the Washington Treaty, you have to start from the beginning of the Treaty.  People rush to Article 5, which is of course fundamental, it's sacrosanct, it's the very foundation, it's the musketeer pledge to each other, for defending each other.  But in fact, we're speaking about values, about those things that are… and because this… at this point in history, human history, we are facing for the first time in many centuries a competition from alternative models and powers that are basically trying to unravel all this system of values.  I think is one of those times when we have to revisit the foundation of our bond, to nurture it, to replenish the reservoir of trust, as you said before, you said it very rightfully, and also try to also be a little bit more creative and just staying on the laurels of the past. 

70 Decades, exceptionally successful.  We say with pride here at NATO, and I think all of you that believe in transatlanticism, we are very proud that we are the most successful in human history.  This is not a small feat.  That’s huge.  But in order to maintain this, to continue to be relevant, to continue to change the destiny of human mankind for the good, we have to replenish this, we have to give it the full dimension of what it is, was, and will be.  Because there is something very simple, also with my kids, they are grown ups now, I tell them about Communist Romania, and say listen, there were rations and you couldn’t get that thing and it was awful, it was cold, it was dark, it was, you know, awful.  And my son tells me a few years ago, Dad, and if there is nothing to eat, to buy from that store, why didn’t you go to another one?  Well, we told them that in Communist Romania there were only two hours of TV per day, in the 80s.  He says, oh that’s great, it means that you have time to go to the internet all day long.  There was no internet at that time, of course.  So, what I'm just trying to say, that there is something which is the very foundation of this relationship.  And also there's something for the younger generations because we are all democratic nations, we depend on our public opinions.  You mentioned elections, elections come and go, but the public opinion is there to judge.  To judge and also to choose, and I think we have to make sure that we also keep up with the expectations of the younger generations.  The ones who have now lived the horror of the Second World War, who have now lived through the Cold War, now lived through communists, like 100 million new members, proud members of this very Alliance of ours and the European Union, all of them, NATO enlarged first, EU followed, should not we forget that.  But for the younger ones, these are stories that are not always relevant to them.  Yes, they care, I do believe they care, and this is I think your role, as an Atlantic forum and your network of professionals, your academy, your work with young journalists, the wonderful things that you're trying to accomplish and that’s why I'm here, just to tell that we support you, we count on you and believe in you. 

But we have to also make sure that there is a more profound transformation, not only in geopolitics, not only in geoeconomics, not only in geotechnological competition, but also for the first time in many centuries, there is a competition for the [inaudible] heights of the values and societal organisation propositions. 

For the first time, we have competitors that have both the scale, the volumes, the economy, the technology, the military might growingly, but they are proposing an alternative system of organising societies, and we have to ask our young guys, our young people, our youngsters, would you like to live in a closed society?  Would you like to have a big brother watching you and telling you what to do, and having you limited or almost no freedom?  Or would you like to continue to live in an open society?  We also have to make sure then, because our young people are dissatisfied also with governments.  There is a lack of trust in institutions of democracy.  There is something we have to revisit; democracy is perfectible.  Democracy is not a given thing in time.  People become far more, and youngsters become far more demanding of their leaders of the institutions.  They expect justice, they expect transparency, they expect, you know, a different way of conducting the business of politics.  They're also expecting ethical issue.  This what NATO puts, and Secretary General Stoltenberg, myself, all my colleagues are putting a lot of emphasis, not only in the quality of our defences, which is something we have to do, that’s our mission, we do that very well, but also in these new technologies, disruptive technologies, there is also a conversation about the ethics of this, AI, big data, how are they used?  How will the defence utilisation of this technology would be used?  And I think NATO and the Political West, we have to be the ones leading the debate, for making sure that transformations in our society, technological changes, are also embedded in our values and our ethical values, international law, international norms, standards.  All these issues that are important.  You mentioned climate change, it's something that all of us care about.  You mentioned the speech that Jens Stoltenberg just gave the other day; I was so proud of him, he engaged with ten universities at the same time, that’s the small good part of this situation that we have to be talking to each other via virtually and not physically.  He spoke to 1200 students at once, in ten universities, about how NATO and how he has a vision about climate change.  And he has a record for this, as Former Prime Minister of Norway, Special Envoy of the UN, on climate change, so I think he adds not only the NATO voice, but also his formidable experience into this. 

And the last point about what I really believe we should do, I think we should start, like you are trying to do, to make sure that what was that natural tendency between our young leaders, from both sides of the Atlantic, you know, there are scholarships in Europe, there are scholarships to go to America, there was a sort of an… intimacy, can I call this, between our young generations.  And of course, the young generations are free to choose whatever they wanna do, nobody can tell them, you know, go to Europe or go to Asia, that’s in… their own decision.  But I think we have to recreate the conditions for our youngsters to meet, to know each other, to talk to each other, to be able to have different opinions.  It's not a monolithic issue, it's a spectrum of ideas and philosophies of life that have to be nurtured and have to be respected.  So, I think that your forum, your transatlantic… let's say passion, is something that is… I hope it is contagious, in the good sense.  And I hope this effort of yours, that I applaud and we applaud and we support, will be doing this. 

You mentioned my own experience with the Aspen Institute, that I founded 15 years ago, we've been doing leadership, value-based leadership.  That’s what we do.  Aspen US, Aspen Romania, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, UK now, there's a new one, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, and I'm very proud that there is something I've done in my life, other than some things in diplomacy and politics, and of course this important job at NATO, I'm very proud that we, in our modest way, we could really harness the talent of the young ones; hundreds and hundreds, and thousands and thousands of leaders that are exposed to this question about values, who we are, in what kind of society you want to live.  And there is no society, there is no economic development, there is no friendship, there is no love, there is no tension, there is no passion, if there is no… not a foundation of peace and security.  And please, through your help, let the younger ones know that the business of NATO of course is deterrence and defence, but our business is to keep people at peace and safe, and create a foundation when you can build you life, a foundation where you can build your own community, your own dream, your own expectations and hopes, or fears, of the future. 

So, in the business of keeping this Political West together, I believe that Europe and North America are two sides of the same coin.  I believe that NATO and EU, I think we have to do even more together.  And I do believe that also, the true democratic nations from all over the world should be part, as we do in NATO with our partners, part of this exercise.  So, I'm so happy, Lauren and Dear Friends, to be with you and count on me, on all of us here, to be your loyal friends and we are just looking forward for you to just really take the lead, not only in intellectual and emotional terms, but also in physical terms.  Get it done.

Lauren Speranza: Well thank you so much, Ambassador Geoană , that was a fantastic opening and we're extremely thrilled to hear your support for the next generation.  And a lot of what you said really resonated with me, in terms of the need to bring in next generation leaders, so I want to come back to that towards the end of our conversation, but first, kind of your more fundamental comments about values and the kind of societies we live in, I think really are triggering a discussion in my mind about something we hear about on the news a lot these days, which is the challenge of China and, you know, I know this has come up as part of Secretary General Stoltenberg's vision for NATO 2030, about how the Alliance needs to stand up to China, to defend our system as you talked about it.  And of course, you know, China is not primarily a military threat to NATO right now, but it poses many kinds of security related risks for Allies.  And I think we talk about it in lofty terms, but we often gloss over what those risks really are, so I wondered if you could say a few words about how you think about those risks and what tools the Alliance actually has to contribute to a broader transatlantic approach to China?

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you for the question, Lauren.  In political terms, our leaders, the leaders of our Alliance, last December in London, when they last met, they basically decided and instructed us to look into the rise of China with basically a double set of lenses. China as an opportunity but also as a challenge.  And if we look across the city here, downtown Brussels, to our colleagues in European Union, they also had something that is a little bit, let's say, less elliptical than our description of this approach of ours, and basically they describe China both as a partner, a competitor and a systemic rival.  So, I think if you look to what NATO is saying, EU is saying about the rise of China, I think you have a more complete understanding of how we approach this thing. 

China's rise is a formidable transformation of world affairs, it's a big country, huge population, the last decades have been spectacular in terms of growth, of catching up and also technologically, and politically and militarily, they are becoming, you know, a challenger to the Political West, including for the United States, which has been for many, many decades, you know, the leader in all these components.  So, when there is such a big transformation, of course it comes with opportunities, business investment, that's a big market, but also with problems, including security problems.  And if we… we are not in the business of going into the South China Sea, as NATO, because we are, if you want, a regional alliance.  China is coming to our shores.  They're coming in cyber, in hybrid, they are coming through their strategic investment, in our ports and airports.  Look at this conversation about 5G and communication and data, look at the conversation in the US about, you know, who's… what's the governance of big technology and apps, businesses that are also in the business of collecting data and using it, in a way that is not always very transparent.  So, this is basically I think the two sides of the same issue and I think that this is an issue that will become even more complex.  And this is something that I believe deserves our full attention.  We are also witnessing member states of NATO, Allied nations but also European Union member states, intensifying their national security [inaudible] any of these issues, because it's not only NATO doing this, we are just a composite, a reflection of 30 Allies and the national policies as well.  We see also European Commission developing, you know, instruments because, in some respects, the European Union has a little bit instruments in terms of having teeth to look into these kind of things.  They have a toolbox for 5G, I believe.  They have a toolbox for cyber.  Of course we also develop our own cyber hybrid issues. 

Where NATO is also exceptionally important in this conversation is because our Alliance is well developed when it comes to resilience.  This is now a buzzword, it's a sort of a mantra, everything speaks about resilience, but no, our leaders, five years ago when they met in Warsaw, at the Summit in Warsaw, they instructed us to look into resilience.  It was five years ago.  It was not the pandemic, it was before.  They were lucid and far reaching and that’s why NATO has developed seven baseline requirements for resilience, that’s a sort of… that’s the logo of this, and we've just updated this.  We added to this, of course secure telecom, infrastructures, supply chain, foreign ownership of key assets, intellectual property, patents, all these kind of things that come together, into this broader context.  And also in defence, China is developing its military capabilities, nuclear arsenal is growing, it's… you know, military is growing, they are more assertive, as we speak, in many parts of Asia, South China Sea, in the Straits of Taiwan.  So yes, we have to be very, very, very attentive.  Again, we are not looking for finding an enemy or anything like that, it's not the Cold War, it's a different kind of ballgame, but it's a global competition, including on the values part.  And that’s something I will like to close this thing, because in the end, you know, competition between big nations is nothing new.  You always measure, and especially young professionals like yourself, you tend to measure power, your GDP, your defence spending, how much military, how much technology, but I also would add to that thing something which is a little bit more intangible than that, it's the cultural, the philosophical, the… if you want, the ideology of a free society, which I believe and I'm convinced will prevail in this competition also, for the way in which we organise our societies. 

So, this is no ordinary competition, this is also a competition for our way of life.  And I think for this, we need to be together, all of us, and engage when there is something constructive to be done, on climate change, on other things, there are things that we should cooperate with China.  But also there are things when they pose also a significant security risk and also challenges to our way of life, and here we have to vigilant.  And that’s what NATO does.

Lauren Speranza: Absolutely.  Those are excellent points and I think, as you alluded to, even if NATO itself doesn’t have all the tools, you know, and the EU plays an important role, nations play an important role, at least using NATO as the platform for coordination, to bring all of those stakeholders to the table and to discuss those issues, so very important.  I wanted to pick up on one of the questions that one of our participants asked here, which was something I was thinking through too and, you know, this notion of using NATO more politically.  I think we do have a lot of political divergences to overcome, to be able to do that, and especially when we look at right now, most recently what's happening in the Eastern Mediterranean, where we risk, you know, two Allies kind of turning against each other.  And, you know, even political tensions between the US and Germany, for example. How do we prevent those kinds of internal disputes from dividing the Alliance and detracting from our focus on collective defence?  And I know there's some recent news from Sec Gen out about the Eastern Mediterranean, so maybe you could say a word about that as well.

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you, Lauren.  I think that’s the question and that’s why you referred to the Reflection Process, this is what Secretary General Stoltenberg expressed in his vision for NATO 2030.  We are working with a group of wonderful leaders that are advising the Secretary General on this thing, Wess Mitchell, Thomas de Maizière are the co-Chairs of this wonderful group.  Marta Dassù.  Many, many others, wonderful people, Hubert Védrine, wonderful, wonderful group. 

But when Jens Stoltenberg mentioned the three pillars of his vision on the future of the Alliance up to 2030, he mentioned to stay strong militarily, which is vital.  Because if we continue to be strong militarily, deterrence, peace and security comes almost, if not automatically, it's a sort of a… it's a natural consequence of being strong militarily.  We have to continue to be strong militarily.  We have to continue to invest in our defences.  We have to continue to be at the top and continue to lead technologically also in defence. 

But also he mentioned the second pillar, which is fundamental, because we are a political alliance in the end, political military alliance, but it's politics and it's political leaders and nations inside, to be stronger politically.  What I think he means by that and what's… what they are trying to do as we speak; it doesn’t mean that 30 nations would automatically agree on everything, we are democracies, we also have various interests.  Our strategic culture is somehow, you know, impacted by our geography and our history and our, you know, our memories.  You cannot ask new Allies from the East to be relaxed about Russia, because they cannot be and they have no reason to be relaxed, because Russia is, continues to be, you know, a formidable challenger and a problem, not only on the Eastern Flank, but now in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East.  And I do believe that what we mean by being stronger politically is to encourage Allies to bring even problems where they defer, around the NATO table for political consultation, negotiation and a solution to do forward.  This is why I'm very proud, the fact that in this very complicated period, when two Allies were going through a difficult moment, hopefully this will be addressed, also European Council that happened yesterday and today, is also part of the conversation.  Chancellor Merkel played a very constructive role also as… in her own name, as Chancellor of Germany, but also as presidency of the European Council.  So, we encouraged Greece and Turkey to come together in this de-confliction military mechanism, which is NATO business, we’ve done this before and we are very happy that they agreed.  And that’s why Jens Stoltenberg yesterday tweeted this good piece of news, and this is something that we encourage all Allies to do that. 

So, stronger politically means that we should not… we cannot agree every time.  During the Suez Crisis, when… before… way before you were born, even before I was born, it was a long time ago, you can imagine, there was tension.  We had tensions also when the… the… you know, the Cypriot issue, of Cyprus, and the division that still continues on the island was also a big problem.  There were moments.  Iraq, that was a big problem.  So, we always had the strength to come as, you know, leaders of the free world and democratic nations, to confront these issues and try to solve them together. 

And the third pillar of NATO 2030, which I believe is relevant also to your conversations today and tomorrow, is let's say a more global NATO, not in terms of geography per se, but in terms of engaging global problems and things that can affect our security.  And I think it's only smart to be doing that.  And to give you an example of the NATO brand. I was so proud yesterday, can I say that?  I have my colleague… OK, I will say that.  I'm, you know, sometimes we work with more classified things, but I will say that, we are between friends, come on.  I had a second call I think with the Ministry of Defence of Ghana and we talked to them, they are one of the strongest democracies in Africa.  They are trying to cooperate with us and of course, as much as we possibly can, we will do the same.  And he mentioned something that really made me proud; he said listen, in the military of Ghana, we are using NATO standards across the board.  And until recently, they had no connection to NATO, no formal connection to NATO.  So, I'm giving you that also, the NATO brand, the quality of what we do, the formidable professionalism of our military people, the way in which they invested themselves in this during this pandemic, side-by-side with the medical personnel and everybody else. 

o, there is a global brand and I think we should capitalise on that.  Engage, discuss, inform, and continue to defence the one billion people that live in our 30 Allied nations, and continue to protect and be a beacon of peace and security all over the world.  That’s the vision that Jens Stoltenberg has put forward.

Lauren Speranza: Thank you.  I think that’s a very important point and especially being able to leverage NATO’s value, especially on the softer security threats like threats to global health, technologies, you know, that affect a broader global community, not just NATO nations.  And being able to leverage NATO's value in that context, I think is really important.  Well I know we're coming down to the end of our time here, but I wanted to ask one last question.  Given that we're in a nextgen forum today and you talked a lot about it in your opening comments. You know, apart from the commendable work that’s going on right now to engage these individuals, in nextgen specific formats, I'm wondering if NATO is also thinking about how to bring these individuals into NATO proper.  And to your point earlier, you know, especially for those of us who have not lived through World War II or the Cold War experience, I think it's so important to create opportunities to employ rising leaders inside our institutions, to help create new shared experiences and a sort of, a shared sense of ownership, you know, across generations.  So, maybe you could say a word about how NATO is thinking about, you know, integrating next generation individuals.  And then just a kind of last thought, you know, having once served as the youngest ambassador in Romania's diplomatic corps, perhaps you could offer a piece of advice for the leaders of today, you know, trying to bring out… build out their transatlantic careers.

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Listen, on November 9th I believe, Secretary General Stoltenberg will have his first Youth Summit and I hope that your wonderful network and your wonderful initiative, I'm convinced will be part of that exercise.  So, not only in terms of public diplomacy or engagement, we are trying to talk to young audiences. 

I'm also Charing the Innovation Board in NATO, there are lots of youngsters that are interested in the developments of technology, quantum computing, biotechnology, human enhancement, ethical issues, as I mentioned before, coming with those things.  So, I believe it's not just about telling the stories of our immediate or more distant past, it's to basically engage the young generations, even in the process of decision- making, what we call in the Innovation Board the triple helix of public, private and non-governmental sectors, academic sectors, and that’s where I think you would be a formidable contribution to our thinking.  Because sometimes, you know, between older generations, you start to believe that with experience you also get wisdom and the knowledge of everything.  It's wrong.  The world is so turbulent, things are so fast.  Uncertainties are so complex that I think we have to engage more and, again, any suggestions from your side as well.  It's a two-way street. We could think of we are doing this, but I think come with suggestions to me, to us, to Jens, to our leaders.  I mean, our military leaders, they're wonderful people, they are great leaders and I believe that they could be, on the one side a source of inspiration, but also your input will be very important. 

My lesson from my own experience is be prepared for the unexpected.  Unexpected can come in good forms or in not that positive things.  Be ready because, in any second of your lives and your careers and your evolution, which never stops, never stops, you could really be in front of an opportunity to lead something relatively small in size but impactful, something very large in size, like an alliance like this, to become an ambassador, to become a leader, and even if it's the title is not that, you know, extravagant, you can and you should and you will make a difference wherever you go.  Wherever you go.  So that’s why, be prepared.  Invest in yourselves, not only professionally, which is superb in what I hear from all of you and what I read from your CVs, that’s wonderful, that’s fantastic, but also invest also in yourselves, in terms of leadership, in terms of the values that will drive you, that will make you personal examples for the others, and opportunities will come.  They will come.  They will come.  And I feel in your… also, even virtually and in such a remote thing, that I see the drive and the passion in your eyes and in your non-verbal communication to me.  So, keep it up.  You are the natural leaders of this wonderful collection of democracies that NATO is represented and we count on you to rebuild, to harness, to give a new sense of vitality and destiny to our transatlantic community.  So, I applaud you and I'm so happy to be this morning in Washington and this afternoon here in Europe with you guys.  Keep it up, the good work.  Count on me, count on us.  We are here to be your friends.

Lauren Speranza: Well thank you so much for being such a vocal advocate for this and for next generation leadership.  I know we’ve reached the end of our time, so let me thank our terrific keynote speaker, Deputy Secretary General Geoană .  You’ve given us a great deal of food for thought, some inspiration as well, and it's extremely important, I think, for this group to hear directly from you on these issues, so we really appreciate you making the time to join us.  Thanks to our audience and for our participants, a couple of those great questions, and many thanks to Atlantic Forum for hosting this important event.  And with that, let me close…

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Lauren, I want to thank you and, for the ones who are not speaking Romanian, Italian or Spanish, to tell you that Speranza means hope in Italian, in Spanish and in Romanian.  So, keep up the good hope for our common work.  Thank you Lauren, thank you all.

Lauren Speranza: [laughs] Grazie mille.  And thank you to everyone.  And, with that, let me hand it back to our host and look forward to many interesting conversations to come later today.  Mircea Geoană , thank you again.

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Bye now.