by Mircea Geoană, NATO Deputy Secretary General at the conference on ‘Preparing NATO and the Allies for the Future Challenges’

  • 27 Oct. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 27 Oct. 2020 16:57

(As delivered)

MIRCEA GEOANĂ [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you so much Yordan for inviting me. I say hello from Brussels headquarters to the distinguished panel. The Minister, Mr Popov, because parliaments are always important and, of course, the Deputy CHOD from Bulgaria. Thank you, thank you for having me, and I would like to congratulate you for organising such an important conference in very complex times.

Also, we are very happy to see the Crisis Management and Disaster Response Centre of Excellence, which is doing such an incredible work being associated with this effort. Of course, the Sofia Security Forum and Nikola Yonkov Vaptsarov Naval Academy for organising this very important and timely conference.

Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung of Bulgaria and our own NATO Public Diplomacy are part of this great event. And let me also say my words of appreciation for the work of Ambassador Dragomir Zakov and his wonderful contribution to the common agenda here in NATO Headquarters.

And, of course, I want to thank Bulgaria, an important Ally, for its contributions to the security of our Alliance, because Bulgaria is an essential Ally. You make concrete contributions to our missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq. And I thank you for your leadership and efforts here in the Black Sea Region. Bulgaria is an integral part of our air policing mission. And as it was said just a few minutes ago, with the investment, in the new F-16 fighter jets, you will significantly boost your capabilities. And of course, I want to salute the commitment that I heard also today on defence spending investment and the two percent threshold.

Of course, today we cannot meet in person and I regret this – I love Sofia, I love Bulgaria – because of this pandemic. It has indeed changed the entire world in ways we could have never imagined just a year ago. First and foremost, this is, of course, a health crisis around the world. Almost 40 million people have been infected and more than a million people have died.

But it’s also had a terrible impact on our economies and our societies, on our way of life, on the way we work, the way we meet, the way we operate. And it’s affecting our life and the way in which our kids are going to school or universities. And it’s also shaping our security. No doubt about that. NATO’s main task during the pandemic is to make sure that the health crisis does not become a security crisis. And throughout, we have remained ready, vigilant and prepared to respond to any threat.

We have done what is necessary to keep our forces safe, to maintain our operational readiness and sustain our missions and operations, from our presence here in the Black Sea Region to countering terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. And in the battle against COVID-19, almost half a million Allied troops are supporting, like Bulgarian troops do, the civilian response at the national level.

NATO is ready with stockpiles of medical supplies and a trust fund to purchase and transport what is needed quickly and efficiently. Throughout October and November, NATO Allies - Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia - will receive ventilators and around 1.5 million Euros from the NATO’s Pandemic Response Fund. As always, NATO adapts and prepares for whatever challenges we face. And we do face many challenges. We face an arc of instability across North Africa and the greater Middle East. I recently rejoined, with great pleasure, the President and Prime Minister of Bulgaria at an event, virtual, hosted by the King of Jordan for the Aqaba Process, which seeks to enhance global cooperation in the fight against terrorism and extremism.

Instability in the Western Balkans continues, where we see a confluence of threats from nationalist, Islamist, radicalist and Russian interference. Russia continues to seek to dominate its neighbours here in the Black Sea Region and all along NATO’s eastern flank, expanding its military presence on NATO’s borders, conducting vast exercises like the recent Kavkaz-2020, and being a party to protracted conflicts on the territory of NATO partners such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. We also see the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, political upheaval in Kyrgyzstan and the protests in Belarus, where people are being denied their right to choose their own future.

Our security landscape is changing in so many ways and also, not least, because of rapidly-evolving technologies. Technology has always driven security, from the bow and arrow and the gunpowder to the machine gun and, today, the nuclear missile. We are involved in a new technological race where conflicts are increasingly defined by bytes and big data and AI as the minister has said, as much as by bullets and battleships. And NATO is driving innovation. Our Science and Technology Organisation runs a network of over 6,000 scientists and engineers from across the Alliance. They’re dedicated to integrating the most advanced technologies in NATO and Allied platforms such as next-generation early-warning aircraft and autonomous maritime vehicles for minesweeping.

We are happy – and I’m personally happy – to have Professor Galia Angelova, from the Bulgarian Academy of Science, sitting and doing a great job on our Advisory Board on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies, and I would like to thank Galia for the work she does for all of us.

Throughout NATO’s 70 years history, we have mostly dominated the technological race, but now that dominance is being challenged. Other nations like Russia and China, countries that do not share the same values as we do, are developing new technologies: from hypersonic missiles, to autonomous systems, through artificial intelligence and cyber warfare.

We risk a second Sputnik moment, where we suddenly find that we have been outpaced. It is essential that NATO Allies redouble our efforts to maintain our technological edge. And, of course, we can. We have the best universities, the best scientists, the best engineers. And most importantly, we live in societies where people are free to challenge and to choose, to explore and innovate – something that closed societies do not offer.

All Allies must work together and coordinate their new technologies. A ship from one Ally can sail next to a ship from another, but if they cannot share information, if their radar and tracking systems cannot communicate, then they may as well be in different oceans. So interoperability has never been more important and we must make sure that we do not create an unbridgeable technological gap between Allies. This is why and where NATO plays a central role, agreeing standards across all Allies. So we are not 30 separate nations, but one united alliance.

Essential to maintaining our edge is making the most of the extraordinary talents of our people, our young people in particular, including here in Central and Southeastern Europe. They can help and they are helping us, transforming our societies and ensure that our economies and militaries remain strong. It is vital that we invest in them, for the benefit of us all.

Our security landscape is also changing because of major geopolitical shifts, and the rise of China is one of those. China will soon be the largest economy in the world. It already has the world’s second largest defence budget and is a global leader in new technologies. It is clear to all that China does not share the same values like we do. We see this everywhere: in so-called re-education camps where tens of thousands of Uyghurs are imprisoned; in Hong Kong, where the new security law threatens its autonomy and the liberty of its citizens; and in their use of artificial intelligence and facial recognition to monitor and control their own citizens.

We also see it in China’s actions abroad, such as in May, where imposed sanctions on Australia, after this important partner of ours calls for an independent inquiry into the origin of COVID-19.

This is a clear pattern of authoritarian behaviour at home and increased assertiveness and bullying abroad. Of course, China raises also important opportunities, especially for our economies and our trade. So we need to both engage with China and also be cautious about the rise of China. China is not an adversary to NATO, but we must fully understand what its rise means for us, for our security, and act accordingly.

There are also other challenges. Terrorism, proliferation of nuclear weapons, threats to our critical infrastructure, from the ocean floor to the outer space. And there may be, well, things that we have not yet seen coming, much like this pandemic.

But one thing we do see coming, and this is climate change. Extreme weather, such as prolonged droughts, floods, storms and heatwaves are making people’s lives increasingly difficult all over the world. Last month, our Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, gave a speech on the very real and growing security implications of our changing climate, which is putting pressure on basic resources like food, water and energy, fuelling conflict and increasing existing threats. It is a threat of terrorism, like we see now in the Sahel.

NATO is directly affected by a warming planet. For example, our Training Mission in Iraq, this summer in Baghdad, temperatures regularly went above 50 degrees Celsius. Just imagine being in that sort of heat, let alone wearing full combat gear.

All of these changes are compelling countries around the world to reassess their defences and security strategies. We must make sure that our Alliance is prepared for an uncertain future. This is why the Secretary General is leading a process called NATO 2030. It aims to look to the future so that NATO can continue to protect our almost one billion citizens in the coming decade and way, way beyond. NATO 2030 is about keeping the Alliance strong, literally, by continuing to invest more in capabilities we need to deter and to defend ourselves on land, at sea, in the air, in space and cyberspace.

Also making NATO stronger politically, by bringing more issues that affect our security to NATO’s table – even if sometimes, as we see, these very days, discussions may not be easy.

And also, third, taking a more global approach. This doesn’t mean a global presence, per say, because NATO remains a regional organisation by definition and by treaty. But working ever closely with our partners around the world to defend our values and way of life. And this is paramount for our continued success.

So a strong military, a strong political Alliance is essential. But this is not enough. We also need strong societies able to prevent, to endure, to adapt and bounce back from whatever happens to them. In the years ahead, we have to put a much greater emphasis on resilience.

NATO Allies have already agreed high standards for resilience 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 European Union, with the private sector, with civil society and academia on all these, because ultimately, although resilience is a national responsibility, it is also a collective effort.

As part of NATO 2030, we want to go further and agree stronger requirements for resilience at the meeting of NATO heads of states and governments next year.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, we face a great many complex and difficult challenges. No one nation, no matter how powerful, can face these alone. But that is the beauty of the NATO Alliance. None of us are alone. Our commitment to each other, to each other’s security, has kept these nations and people safe for 70 years. It has protected Bulgaria for the last 15, 16 years now. And it will continue to do so for many years to come. Our nations stand united across two continents for a single, simple and powerful reason: our values, our freedom, our democracy, our human rights, the rule of law.

Many of us from this part of the world – and I’m coming from neighbouring Romania – will remember a time when these were denied to us, when we lived in fear under a communist dictatorship. And we know what that is like and we don’t like it. We know that it’s our duty to do everything we can to protect these values and invest in them and believe in them and promote them and speak up for them, because this is, in fact, the very fundamental foundation of our great Alliance.

Thank you again for inviting me. I look forward to answering any questions. And congratulations to the organisers and the participants. This is not an easy moment to organise conferences in a combination of physical and remote, but I think that we’ll be meeting next year, hopefully in person. Thank you so very much. And I’m all yours for questions and I’m happy to answer all of those. Thank you very much.

YORDAN BOZHILOV [President of Sofia Security Forum]: Thank you. Thank you, Mr Geoană for addressing this really global audience, because we have participants not only from NATO member countries, but also from partner countries around the world. There are already several questions addressed to you. And I will start with the first one … [break in transmission] politicians from NATO, that, for example, NATO is ‘brain dead’ or NATO is ‘obsolete’. How do you answer? What is your response, actually those these critics?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Sorry, could you repeat the question? There was a small delay in the transmission. I heard a little bit of the last word. Could you repeat Yordan, please?

YORDAN BOZHILOV: Yes. Can you hear me now?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: It’s better now.

YORDAN BOZHILOV: The question is about unity. The question is about unity within NATO in the future.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Oh, thank you. You know, our countries have joined the Alliance in the last, basically, two decades. But this Alliance was founded 71 years ago. And in this long history already, we have been confronted as an alliance with situations where not all Allies were seeing eye-to-eye. This is not new. I mean, our forefathers probably still remember the Suez Crisis in the 50s. Speaking of the Eastern Mediterranean, the crisis in the 70s around Cyprus.

We have seen situations where we had disagreements amongst Allies. But again, the beauty and the unique role of this Alliance, that in the end we are able to find a way forward. And I think the second pillar of Secretary General Stoltenberg’s a vision of NATO 2030, on making NATO stronger politically, this is not by accident that he chose this formulation.

‘Stronger politically’ is also a way for us to encourage Allies, all 30 Allies, when there is a problem, even complicated and even sometimes divisive, that affects our security, to bring it to the table. We’re not encouraging everybody to input into NATO all issues that might have in disaccord with other countries. This is not the issue. But when it comes to affecting our security, NATO is the indispensable platform in addressing those things.

Because in fact, NATO is the only platform when we have North America and Europe together. And when I say Europe, it’s not only EU, because sometimes there is a sort of a slight terminological confusion around this, EU is very important, our countries are members of the EU, very proud of that thing, absolutely. But even now, UK is out of the EU. We have Norway, the country of origin of my boss, or we have Turkey, which is, you know, a very important country and a NATO Ally to the south, encompassing a much broader geography.

So this is also an alliance of democratic nations. This is not the Warsaw Pact, somebody dictating from the top down. So I do believe that unity, when it comes to common challenges, is something that we can always forge. Sometimes there is more difficulty, sometimes we have some hiccups. But in the end, through dialogue, through a sense of solidarity, also with a sense of shared interests, not only values, I think we can forge a way forward. And I am also looking forward – and I think all of us do – to the 2021 meeting of our leaders. It could be a summit, could be another meeting of our leaders like we had in London in 2019. And we are very confident that this new high-level meeting will be giving an impetus to both NATO’s solidarity, but also a clear direction for the way forward.

YORDAN BOZHILOV:     Thank you. I see the hand, a hand over there. Could you please come to the microphone and ask your question?

QUESTION: Hello. I study law in one of Sofia’s universities. My connection . . . my question is connected with the idea of conscription. I’ve seen people . . . I’ve seen politicians from many European countries starting to play around with this idea to use conscription to actually expand military capabilities in NATO. So, history has shown us. So, history has shown us many times, from the Siege of Masada to Battles of Austerlitz, Vienna, Friedland and the British . . . and during the First World War, when the professional British and British Expeditionary Force managed to stop a much larger German advance. We’ve seen many times how professional soldiers have managed to actually outplay and outsmart their counterparts relying on conscription. My question towards every single one of you is: does conscription really have a place in the modern military?

YORDAN BOZHILOV: Thank you very much. Obviously, young people would like to have an answer to this question. Mr Deputy Secretary General.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Absolutely. I think it’s a legitimate question from, you know, a young Bulgarian intellectual.

But my first answer is that there is no one-size-fits-all in the Alliance because 30 countries with different models, so, different legacies, historical legacies with different needs and geographies, we don’t have one model. We have countries like the US and also others in Europe having National Guard. Others are having a system of reservist forces that are trained periodically. It’s not a NATO country, but Switzerland is one example, when there is a sort of a quasi- . . . across the society investment in . . . in military training. We also see, especially because of the situation in Europe on the eastern flank after the invasion and occupation, illegal occupation by Russia of Crimea and also the situation in eastern Ukraine. You see also Nordic countries, Baltic countries, thinking and operating with various concepts.

But I would say one thing, which I think is in a way, the silver lining across the Alliance. And these are also the lessons learned, from the pandemic and also from this global, complicated geopolitical environment: that in the end we have to invest in the resilience of our societies and to find the right mix between civil and military cooperation, to find the right mix between professional armies, like many of the nations do have today, and some form of mobilisation in case of need.

We also have natural disasters, not only conflict. We can also have, God forbid, other forms of disruptions like we have this pandemic today – and you see the important role that our military, our medical doctors, our medical nurses, have been playing in assisting in the frontline, you know, heroes of our nations.

So I say to everybody, it’s a national prerogative. What we really offer in NATO is, irrespective of the national model, standard . . . high, high standard of military education in our NATO Defense College in Rome, in all our military schools, the Centres of Excellence like the one in Bulgaria, that is co-organiser of this great conference is also a portion of spreading, if you want, knowledge. And in the end, the most important thing is to make sure that irrespective of the model of national organisation, that we keep interoperability, including in face of new technologies on board.

So I love your historical reference to the era of Napoleon Wars and the British example. But again, 30 nations’ models could be different. The logic is the same.

YORDAN BOZHILOV: Thank you, Mr Geoană, I’m trying to summarise some of the questions which we received already. The question of Lieutenant Colonel Sergio Barretta, from European Union military staff. He asks how NATO intends to push and promote the full interoperability, because, according to him, interoperability is not limited to the technological sector, but also in terms of procedures, human education and training, etc. And I would like to add to this question also the issue about NATO- EU relations and your thoughts on further development of this relation?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: No, NATO has developed over decades a very comprehensive and powerful set of common standards. And again, we are not imposing things on the Allied nations, but we offer the best practices and the best lessons learned from . . . in every single field of military and national security horizon. And I think this is the power of NATO, because . . . and also this is . . . also this is part of the NATO brand, if you want. I remember meeting, speaking of NATO partners, Secretary General Stoltenberg asked me to pay special attention to the partnerships of NATO – and we have 40-something partners all over the world. Of course, in the Black Sea, Ukraine and Georgia are very, very important, and Enhanced Opportunity Partners in the Black Sea.

But I remember receiving a delegation from one successful and, you know, ambitious African nation, from sub-Sahara. And they came to NATO and said, ‘Listen, we would like to do more with you.’ And guess what? He said, it was a minister of defence from that country, saying, ‘We have already adopted, with no connection to NATO whatsoever, the NATO standards for our military, because they are the best in the world.’ So, speaking of interoperability, I think this is, in a way, that, let’s say, functional connectivity amongst the way we do things.

And, of course, military doctrine is evolving. Deputy Minister mentioned the fact that when it comes to AI and big data in quantum computing, human enhancement, human-machine interaction, these are things that are also bringing complicated legal, ethical and political questions, especially in democratic societies. But I believe that NATO’s powerful engine of making sure that, irrespective of the field, irrespective of the domain, we have a common vocabulary and operating rules, is something that makes this Alliance so unique, so successful and so enduring in the end.

NATO-EU, this is something, again, that I pay special attention on behalf to the Secretary General Stoltenberg, also probably because I’m coming from a country that is both NATO and EU, NATO Ally and member state of European Union. Of course we have, since our leaders decided a few years ago to establish a strategic partnership between NATO and the EU, there are lots of things we do together, 74 different actions.

But I think there is room to do even more. Resilience – I mentioned resilience in my introductory remarks – it’s a topic where NATO has already an established body of expertise on the seven baseline requirements for resilience. EU is also developing, especially after the pandemic and the lessons learned, a toolbox of instruments that are, in a way, complementary to what NATO does. So I do believe there are places when NATO and the EU could do even more and could be even more ambitious.

Speaking of partnerships, today, NATO and the EU has, in the Middle East, one country - that is Tunisia – where we are working together. The other two are Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Moldova. I personally believe that we could do even more and think together with the EU, NATO and the EU, how can we put the defence capability toolbox of NATO, which is a superb thing that we offer to our partners all over the world, especially in the more, let’s say, fragile parts of our neighbourhoods. And what the EU can put, because EU has also a set of instruments and sometimes resources that are very important.

And then I think there is also something that NATO and EU can do together when it comes to the UN. I believe that sometimes we can also think of, let’s say, the multilateral institutions around the world cooperating like we do in Afghanistan. I personally take part in World Bank and UN-led donor conferences for Afghanistan, other than the trust fund that we have in NATO for the Afghan military forces. So I think there is a big, big, big, big . . . you know, area of cooperation amongst multilateral institutions.

Then there are other institutions like the G7 or the G20. Next year, United Kingdom will be chairing, presiding over the G7. And I understand that economic security will be a main topic that our British friends and Allies will be proposing for the G7. Nor Bulgaria, nor Romania are not part of the G7 and probably will not be anytime soon, but it doesn’t mean that we are not coordinating also with the other organisations.

G20 – Italy will be presiding over the G20 next year. That’s a very important Ally that is also bringing NATO, EU, UN.

We also have countries that are sitting permanently or by rotation on the Security Council of the UN. Now have Estonia, we have Germany as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. OSCE – an organisation that I cherish and I presided over some years ago as Foreign Minister of Romania, this is also offering, despite its complicated, let’s say, membership sometimes, important things into our common work. OECD is another organisation that is doing tremendous work on fragility. And I think that’s an organisation that we have to engage even more.

So I’m giving you this more complex answer, saying one thing in the end about NATO-EU: we are two sides of the same coin. We are part of the political Democratic West, and I think the more cooperation, the more synergies, the more complementarity, the less duplication, is good for both organisations because nobody can do it alone, nor the US, nor Europe, nor the European Union. In this complicated world, the challenges we face, we need each other more than ever.

YORDAN BOZHILOV: Thank you for the answer. The next question is very much related to the question of interoperability and capabilities. And the question comes from … [inaudible], Chairman of the Board of NATO Communications and Information Agency.

QUESTION: Thank you. Dear Ambassador Geoană, my question is about the role for NATO agencies in development of NATO capabilities and the criticality of the . . . of the governance of the agencies, that is the responsibility of the nations. How do you see opportunity to raise the political level of governance in order to strengthen NATO’s capabilities in this environment and really to further extend cooperation, practical cooperation with EU? You mentioned a lot about . . . about this, but when it comes to real work on the level of research, on the level of procurement of capabilities through . . . through the NATO agencies? Thank you.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Thank you very much for the question and for your work on the board of the NCIA. We call this, you know, this collection of NATO, various components, ‘The NATO enterprise’, and there are 43 or something. And, of course, there are many, many places in NATO when we see the civilian side, the military side, the intel part, Centres of Excellence. We have these two big military commands, one is Allied Command Operations in SHAPE, led by SACEUR; we have also an Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia, leading our work on innovation and all these things.

So I’m a big believer in, in a way, creating more synergies amongst the entities of the NATO enterprise, because sometimes there is a tendency – and it’s normal, in a way – to work in silos. And, of course, concentrate on the work at hand. But some of the issues and the challenges I was referring earlier are so complex that you just cannot afford to work without, let’s say, more synergies amongst us. Of course, respecting the rules of engagement, the governance systems – that’s why we created a system of governance. But, in a way, also my role, and the role of the Secretary General, is to bring the whole NATO, let’s say, collection of talent and capabilities together.

I personally, I chair the Innovation Board of NATO, where both, you know, our military colleagues, NCIA, is a very important part of that, you know, ACT is a very important part, many other corners are part. I’m also leading the cyber adaptation and resilience in NATO. That’s again, NCIA has a critical role to play and will continue to play a very important role in our continuous adaptation when it comes to cyber challenges that we are not an exception on that one, too.

So I want to say that I fully respect the contribution of our agencies NCIA, and NSPA in Luxembourg doing procurement. They’ve done a fantastic job in this very difficult period for all of us, and they really enhance the reputation of NATO as an organisation that can really come to the support and rescue of fellow citizens in times of need.

So, yeah, this is something that we take very seriously. We want to invest in capabilities. We want to make sure that, also, when it comes to budgets and the resources, we offer the conditions that our highly-talented colleagues in our agencies and all around the NATO enterprise do deserve, and we are doing our utmost to provide all the ingredients for continued success.

YORDAN BOZHILOV: Thank you. It’s very much related to what . . . what you have said. The question is, again, related to new technologies, but with some political implications. Will NATO have a common position on such issues as construction of 5G networks or development of military capabilities based on artificial intelligence?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: I mentioned in a previous answer to one of the questions that NATO is not a rule enforcer, but a standard setter. So last year, I think during one of the defence ministerial meetings, I remember that NATO has upgraded, even before the pandemic, our resilience baseline requirements, addressing the issue of 5G from an angle which is not directing to any nation or any specific company, but saying, ‘Listen, we have to make sure that the security of our communications systems, when it comes to NATO and national defence and national security, it has to be protected.’ This has not an immediate compulsory impact on individual nations. It’s still up to national entities, to national governments, national parliaments to decide what’s best.

And you see also, the case in point, the importance of NATO-EU cooperation. I remember just a few weeks ago when I received the visit of a very high-level senior official from the State Department dealing with 5G. And he had a meeting with me and us here in NATO. But he went also on the other side of the city in Brussels, meeting Thierry Breton, the Commissioner, that is also, and his services, are developing a 5G EU toolbox. And now you see country after country realising and adjusting to this concern.

So I do believe that there is a power of standardisation. But again, when it comes to implementing and creating, you know, compulsory … [inaudible] the EU is better equipped because it has regulatory powers that NATO does not have. This is why I believe that in sensitive topics, we have to keep very close together to learn from the best lessons we can learn from national level. That’s another important issue. But also creating a system where standards, regulations, acquisitions, scrutiny of potential vulnerabilities in our systems is done in a homogeneous way. This is where NATO is very strong, because we set standards and we said the best practices. And also nations individually, then they can draw from our body of expertise and make decisions at the national level, that makes the most sense and are good for everybody, nationally and collectively inside NATO.  And even beyond.