NATO in a changing world – Now and in the future

Remarks by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the 67th Annual Anciens’ Seminar of the NATO Defense College

  • 16 Oct. 2020 -
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  • Mis à jour le: 16 Oct. 2020 16:03

(As delivered)

Commandant, Anciens, chers amis, merci pour votre aimable introduction et permettez-moi de vous féliciter une fois de plus pour votre nomination à la tête du Collège de Défense de l’OTAN.

And I switch to the other language of the Alliance.

I certainly look forward to visiting you when and all your collegues it will be easier and safer to travel again.  Nobody can say no to a visit to Rome! And a visit to the NATO Defense College is no doubt educational but also very very timely.

Because the College enjoys a stellar reputation – both to the NATO, and more widely. 

Many of the Alliance’s military and political leaders have been educated and trained at the NDC.  That includes many of you - members of the Anciens

Through education, we became more aware of the world around us and of the plethora of threats and challenges.  We are better able to keep up with the fast pace of these changes.

We have seen this over the decades. The education and training that the College has provided, has been key to the adaptation of our Alliance to all possible and evolving circumstances.

And this continues to be the case today. In these very challenging and dynamic times, our leaders need the best knowledge to make the right decisions. The courses you teach, and the research you do, are most valuable to prepare our leaders - and our Alliance - as best as we can for an uncertain future. 
And this is why from the outset, I would like to thank on behalf of myself and the Secretary General Stoltenberg the College for its lasting contribution to our Alliance. The faculty, its leaders and of course everyone attending the wonderful courses of the NATO Defence College. And I also want to thank all of you, and your nations, for appreciating what the NATO Defense College has to offer – what it teaches, what you learn and what you experience, including in this interpersonal network of relationships.

And the theme of this year’s Anciens seminar ‘what type of NATO do we need in a post-COVID world?” is a very important question.  And it also does reflect the way (we share?) here at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, we are looking to the very challenging moments lying ahead of us.

And I would like to say just one word because this conversation is about a broader reflection which we here call NATO 2020, launched by Jens Stoltenberg just a few months ago and this is something that is an indispensable conversation for our Alliance to be, like always, ready for the unexpected.

Gearing it up to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow.

And the pandemic is of course one of the most important and disruptive experiences we had. It is changing the world and having a deep impact on all of us.

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

It is also shaping our security - even the idea of what security means. It’s not only about military attacks and terrorist attacks, it’s also about deadly viruses.

General Rittimann, I read with great interest your recent Policy Brief on NATO and COVID-19. And the lessons we are learning from that. These are lessons that will help us better prepare for the future and they are important as an input on our reflection, our common reflection on NATO 2030.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to talk briefly about 3 aspects that will have a defining impact on how the Alliance adapts towards 2030 and beyond.

These are: resilience, innovation and indeed unity.

Let me try to go through these three topics a little bit in more detail.

First, resilience.
No matter what challenge you can think of, the first line of defence is a strong, resilient society. Able to prevent, endure, adapt and bounce back from whatever happens to them.

So we need to place a far greater emphasis on resilience in the years ahead, including on our citizens as part of this very important effort.

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 years.

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

Of course when that document was drafted, many were concerned with an armed attack from the Soviet Union. But today we need to be resilient against a far broader range of threats. From military activities to disinformation campaigns, cyber incidents, and now also pandemics. 

That is why, in 2016, NATO leaders made a commitment to ensure their national resilience.  They agreed a set of ‘baseline requirements’ to better resist and recover from shocks and surprises.

These cover areas like energy grids, telecommunications, transport networks, food and water supplies, and health systems. All of which need to continue to operate during a crisis. A crisis that may come with little or no warning.

AND COVID-19 is testing us like never before. We are learning that we need to make our health care systems better and stronger, but also our societies as a whole, our critical infrastructure and supply chains more resistant to threats and attacks.

And this is not something that NATO with all our strength, with all our formidable capacity, even NATO can not do this alone. That is why we are working very closely with other international partners, countries and organisations – in particular the European Union. And also with the private sector, with civil society and academia. Because resilience is very much a collective effort.

And collectively, we need to do even more.

If COVID-19 can disrupt our societies to the extent it has, think of the impact of a cyber-attack that takes out the power supply for weeks or months. Or if we suffer a series of droughts or floods that affect our food supplies or force millions of people to seek shelter elsewhere.

Resilience must be at the very core of our societies.

Importantly, we need to boost our resilience in these virtual and digital times. This means that we need to adapt to rapid technological advances and absorb the impact they are having on our security.

And this brings me to my second point, innovation. I’m also chairing the innovation board in NATO.

NATO’s ability to innovate is what has guaranteed our military and technological superiority for the past seven decades.

But NATO and the West, the West in a political sense, may now be on the verge of a new ‘Sputnik Moment’, moments where a non-Western power, not sharing the same values as we do, might actually overtake us. 
We are competing with authoritarian regimes that misuse and abuse these new technologies. They attempt to destabilise us, and to manipulate and disrupt our free and democratic way of life.  

And we just cannot let this happen.

So here too, we must re-double our efforts to retain our technological edge and remain competitive in a more contested and competitive space.

For this, we need to focus on investments on new, cutting-edge capabilities. Because we just cannot fight tomorrow’s threats with yesterday’s tools. And this why also at the NATO Defence College we have to adjust and adapt to the understanding, the full understanding of the complexity of this transformation. We keep the need to equip our militaries with the latest technologies and make sure that we keep our edge.

And as NATO Allies develop these new technologies, we want to be sure they also remain interoperable. 

A ship from one country can always sail next to a ship from another. But if they are not able to share information, their radar and tracking systems cannot communicate, they may as well be in different oceans.

To stay ahead of the curve, we also need to expand our partnership with the private sector.  Because private companies, from big tech to small start-ups, are driving technological innovation. So, we want to work closely with them.

In doing this, we need to leverage the comparative advantage that NATO has as an Alliance.

Together, our 30 countries have an abundance of world-class academic institutions like the college, the finest scientific researchers, and amazingly creative start-ups. This is where a great potential for new synergies across the Euro-Atlantic area can happen, from Silicon Valley to Estonia.  And there is a lot of talent that we can tap into.


Not only do we have incredible universities, researchers and companies – across North America and Europe.

But also our 30 Allies together, we represent nearly one billion citizens, half the world’s economic and military might.

NATO is unmatched.

And this is leading to my third point, unity.

Because indeed, together with our values, unity is our greatest strength as an Alliance. Alone, we are not as resilient and we are not as innovative and we are no as secure.

We have a unique advantage as an Alliance and we must seize the opportunity that it represents.

Especially when we face challenges that are far greater than any country can tackle alone.

In these turbulent times, we need each other as much as ever in the fight for our security and our values.

And unity starts at 30, when all Allies discuss, decide and when needed, act together.  But it reaches also way beyond the borders of our Alliance. 

To tackle global challenges, we must also unite with those countries and organisations that share our values and our way of life. 

This includes countries in the Asia-Pacific region, like Australia, Japan, New Zealand or the Republic of Korea. We have close partnerships with those countries and many other countries around the world. More than 40 partnerships around the world. Many of the young elite and future leaders of some of those countries are asking and are looking forward to attending courses at such remarkable institutions as NATO Defence College.

This is a way to work closer with them and in the future create a mechanism which is NATO but also more global to safeguard our security and protect the rules-based international order.


Ladies and gentlemen,
In a post COVID world, we need a NATO that is resilient, innovative and united.

And this is the answer and my answer as a NATO leader, but also as a citizen of Europe, a citizen of a country, Romania, where I’m coming from which is both a NATO country, an EU country, and I know that this is one of the important contributions that all of us have to bring with a heart to this seminar.

But of course there are many other topics that we could think about. I do believe that the importance and the contribution of the NATO Defence College is to continue to foster strategic leadership and innovation in a way in which we approach all these challenges.

And I’m very grateful that mon Commandant, mon General vous m’avez invité de partager quelques vues de ma part et (de son coté?) General avec vous. Je peux vous assurer, et tous les Anciens, all the Anciens, que je serais avec vous prochainement, je l'espère, quand les conditions vont permettre.

And also I’m counting on your leadership through the difficult times. Because protecting our values and rule-based order is what keeps us safe. I’m very very proud of the organisation, I’ve been investing in leadership for many many years and I do believe that a partnership with you and a continuous positive influence of the NATO Defence College all over the world is something that this Alliance needs more than ever.

Merci à vous, thank you all. And if you have an interest in the exchange of views with myself, I’m all yours.