Keynote speech

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the Bucharest Forum: ‘Resilience, Pandenomics and the Great Acceleration’

  • 08 Oct. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 08 Oct. 2020 14:52

(As delivered)

Thank you so much Terry and, I’m so, so very happy to be with you today.

You know how much the events and everything that the Aspen Institute Romania does is close to my heart.

And also let me thank again the German Marshall Fund and The Bucharest Office for supporting this prestigious forum.

And also I welcome participation of so many great speakers, moderators from all walks of life and also a very large number of European and global network of Aspen Institutes.

It’s a little bit counter-intuitive because for the first time since its inception in 2012, I am (and we are) not physically present for this 9th edition of the Bucharest Forum. 

But the fact that we are able to meet virtually underlines our ability to adapt in face of adversity. To be resilient. And this is the very topic I want to focus on today.

Because we all need to be resilient. And we need to be prepared for the post-pandemic economy and geopolitics, which appear to be leading the world into a new, more turbulent, historical cycle. Or as the title of the forum aptly coins it, an acceleration of history.  Listen, just before coming into this discussion, our presidential advisor to the UNESCO mentioned on behalf of President Johannes the fact that Romania’s national defence strategy for 2020-2024 puts resilience at the core of the principles of good strategic governance. The efforts to enhance the social resilience and critical infrastructure must be calibrated in order to generate the capacity to respond to new types of threats which are amplified by current global intricacies and developments including technological advancement.

I would also like to thank to Prime Minister Orbán, not only for his remarks at the beginning of the forum, but also because he understands, like we all do, that resilience is also a whole of Government angle.

And also I would like to thank Romania, here from NATO Headquarters, for the concrete contributions to the broader Allied efforts. Because Romania is indeed a vital NATO ally.  Its commitment to our Alliance is continuously demonstrated by the central part our country is playing in the overall deterrence and defence posture of the Alliance. Its contribution to Allied operations and missions, as well as the truthful involvement in the debate about the future of the Alliance – you see the logo and NATO 2030 just behind me.

Ladies and gentlemen, this year has been an extraordinary year of change. The coronavirus has had a deep impact on all of us.

Most obviously this is a health crisis, but it has proved to be so much more than that. The global lockdown, and the restrictions that we live with every day affect us politically, economically, socially and strategically.

The economic impact of COVID-19 will be far greater than that of the financial crisis just over a decade ago, from which many of our nations and communities have only just recovered. And it will be unfortunately felt most by the young and the have-nots in our societies.

The full implications will not be known for many years, but they will be profound. It is fundamentally changing the way we work, where we work and how we interact with each other. It is affecting the way our children go to school, how we socialise with our friends and our families and how we organise our lives.

It is also shaping our security - even the idea of what security means. Traditionally, security issues discussed at conferences like these, and dealt with in the corridors of NATO, have focused on military operations, troop movements or preventing terrorist attacks.

There is still much to discuss of these kinds of things. Especially here in the Black Sea region. Where we see Russia continuing its attempts to establish a sphere of privileged influence with its military build-up, exercises like the recent Kavkaz 2020, the frozen conflicts on the territory of close Partners of NATO, like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova – and also, this was highlighted by a recent study on ‘Russia, NATO and Black Sea Security’ which was just published by this great organization. And, of course we see these very days, the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Also we see the protests of people’s right to choose in Belarus. And political upheaval in Kyrgyzstan.

But the nature – the very definition – of security threats is changing. Today, competition between nations often becomes in more subtle forms. Disinformation campaigns, election interference, cyber-attacks, foreign direct investment. This is the return of political warfare.

Military and non-military threats overlap with each other – and they also compete for political attention and resources.

We are also now more concerned than ever about the security implications of climate change. The NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, just gave a speech on this subject only last month, in which he set out the very real security threats that emanate from our changing climate.

Drought, floods and other extremes of weather are making life increasingly difficult for people around the world. Fuelling conflict, exacerbating existing threats, adding pressure on natural resources like food, water and power, and, yes, driving migration.

The fall in the price of oil we have seen this year, which looks set to continue, will have a dramatic impact on those nations that depend on the sale of oil and gas to fuel their economies. Especially, as more countries commit to achieving net-zero emissions and moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable forms of energy. How those countries will react remains to be seen, but there are, also, certainly risks in this realm too.

These changes are compelling countries across the Alliance and around the world to reassess their defence and security strategies. They are reaching beyond the traditional defence matters to issues of the economy, health, climate, disruptive technologies and critical infrastructure. And ensuring their nation’s resilience is a top priority.

Also, at the level of the European Union, they engaged in a similar process - their Strategic Compass is a good example of the work done on the other side of the city. It is important that NATO and the EU continue to work in an ever-closer strategic partnership. And that the lessons learned from this crisis brings more convergence on our strategic culture.

NATO too, is looking to the future.

Last December, NATO leaders asked Secretary General Stoltenberg to reflect on how to make our Alliance even stronger, even more successful. So earlier this year, he launched a process called ‘NATO 2030’.

It will help our Alliance to be stronger politically, bringing more issues that affect our security to NATO’s table, even if sometimes, discussions are not easy. We should continue to be even stronger militarily, so we have the capabilities to deter and to defend ourselves whenever necessary – on land, at sea, in the air, in space or cyber-space.

And we have to be more global in our approach. This doesn’t mean a global presence of NATO, but NATO of course remains a regional organisation, but working ever closely with our partners around the world to defend our values and way of life is paramount for our continued success.

This is essential as we deal with an increasingly broad definition of security. With threats not only coming from any point of the compass, but affecting the entire world at the same time. Like we see today COVID-19 or climate change.

If we are to weather these storms and meet the challenges of the future, then the transatlantic relationship that has been the beating heart of NATO for over 70 years must deepen even further.

Because the challenges we face are far greater than any single country can meet alone, no matter how strong. But the beauty and value of the NATO Alliance is that no country is alone.

Together, we make up half of the global economy, we are almost a billion people and we are at the forefront of new technology.

In fact, if there is a positive to be taken from the current crisis it is the acceleration in the adoption of new technologies, which benefit our security.  NATO’s challenge – and our opportunity as well – is to ensure we fully adopt and exploit these new technologies and gain their maximum benefit. While also planning and preparing for additional vulnerabilities they may bring.

NATO’s ability to innovate is what has guaranteed our military superiority – including our technological edge – for the past seven decades. But NATO and the West may now be on the verge of a new ‘Sputnik Moment’. A moment where a non-Western power, not sharing the same values as we do, might actually overtake us. 

So we must re-double our efforts. And focus our investments even more on new, cutting-edge capabilities.

We also have to ensure that NATO Allies coordinate as they develop the new technologies. Never before has the issue of interoperability been more important. A ship from one country can always sail next to a ship from another. But if they are unable to share information, if their radar and tracking systems cannot communicate, they may as well be in different oceans.

Beyond our efforts within the Alliance, we also have to engage with those who are driving technological innovation in the private sector: with the defence industry, the big tech companies and, sure, with the small start-ups.

Science and technology is increasingly becoming a formidable instrument of political power. Maintaining NATO’s technological edge is key for the enduring success of our Alliance.

This also means making the most of the talents of all of our people, including and especially here in Central and South Eastern Europe. We have so many talented people, young people, smart people, who can not only help to transform our militaries, but also our societies.

It is vital that we invest in them, train them, support them and encourage them to stay in their home countries – and also to return to their home countries – for the benefit of all our people.

But no matter how strong we are militarily, it alone is not enough. No matter what challenge you can think of, the first line of defence is a strong, resilient society. Able to prevent, to endure, to adapt and bounce back from whatever happens to it. So we need to place a far greater emphasis on resilience in the years to come.

NATO Allies have already agreed high standards for the resilience of our societies, in areas including the continuity of government, secure transport and communications, including 5G; energy, food and water supplies.

And we are working closely with the EU on these because ultimately, although resilience is a national responsibility, it is also a collective effort.

As part of NATO 2030, we want to see how we can strengthen these requirements. We will discuss this at the meeting of NATO defence ministers later this month and look forward to agree further requirements at the next NATO Summit in 2021.

I very much welcome the study on national resilience presented by the Aspen Institute Romania for this forum. And I am also especially pleased that the Aspen and GMF young professional from our networks will participate in the first ever NATO Youth Summit this November; where Secretary General Stoltenberg will be addressing the young generation of our community.

So, resilience is like a muscle. It needs to be trained and exercised to keep it strong. And NATO has been working these muscles for many, many years.

Article Three of the Washington Treaty, NATO’s founding document, places a duty on all Allies to work to make themselves more resilient.

When the document was drafted, of course, they were concerned with an armed attack from the Soviet Union. But today we need to be resilient against a far broader range of threats.

Resilience must be at the very core of our societies and of our security. But this thing, and the thing that is most important, that most sets a robust, resilient society, a robust citizenry, apart from one that will crumble when under pressure, and things that are keeping us together, the glue of our Alliance, the glue of the political West, are our values.

Because a society that is based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law; where people are free to act and choose as they will; a just society where people trust the institutions and the people who govern them. That is a resilient society.

We know this well in Romania and other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. After the fall of the communist system, the prospect of membership of NATO and European Union helped transform our nations and societies. We strengthened our democratic institutions, improved respect for minority rights, established civilian control over our militaries, and resolved border and ethnic disputes peacefully through dialogue.

All of this made our nations, our societies immeasurably stronger and more resilient. Just as the absence of any of these things made the communist bloc so brittle that it collapsed almost overnight.

We must constantly be on our guard for the erosion of our values – from without or from within. Freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law. Without these values we place ourselves at risk. And we cannot allow that to happen.

The challenges of our free societies in the political West face now are greater than any in living memory. This is why our values are so important. Why our unity is so important. And why our NATO Alliance is so important. Because when we stand together, work together and protect each other, we are stronger and we are safer.

Next year, the year Aspen Institute Romania will celebrate its 15th anniversary and the Bucharest Forum its 10th edition. We are counting, and I am counting, on all the Aspen global network to continue to spur transformational and value-based leadership, continue to stimulate an educated argument-based debate on topical issues facing our societies. And continue to put the work of the unmistakeable Aspen method with the triple helix of public, private, and civil society sectors interact and build lasting and resilient solutions for the challenges of today and of tomorrow.

I want to thank you again for inviting me, and having me for this great conference, and Terry, sorry for being a little bit too long, but I wanted a little bit to give, if you want, our thoughts and our reflections on this very topical conversation that you are starting today.

I am all yours, ready to engage in a conversation and, I understand, taking questions is even more important than anything else.

So I am in your hands now Terry.