Keynote speech

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the "NATO 2030: NATO-Private Sector Dialogue", organised by NATO and GLOBSEC

  • 25 Nov. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 25 Nov. 2020 14:16

(As delivered)

Thank you Robert. And thank you to GLOBSEC for partnering with NATO to host these crucial private sector dialogues under the banner of NATO 2030.

And I am delighted to kick off this series of events, which will explore the role the private sector can play in making our strong Alliance even stronger. Today, for the next decade, and beyond. 

The reason we are unable to meet in person is of course due to the Coronavirus. This health crisis has changed the global landscape in ways we could barely have imagined a year ago.

It has forced us all to rethink the way we live and work. To adapt and yes, to innovate. And to seize the opportunities technology offers to find solutions to our most pressing challenges. And today’s virtual dialogue is a great example of this.

Future of warfare

The pandemic is not the only thing having a dramatic impact on our societies. We are on the cusp of unimaginable technological change. At a pace we have never witnessed before.

The Coronavirus is often referred to as a black swan event. High impact, but highly improbable. Whereas emerging technology is more like a grey rhino. High impact and highly likely. We all see it coming. Ignoring it – it will be at our own peril.

The small smart phone in your pocket is only just entering its teenage period, it was I think 13 years ago the first iPhone was issued. But it already has hundreds of thousands of times more processing power than any of the NASA computers had that put the first man on the moon.

Technology has always been key to deterrence and defence. From the bow-and-arrow to the battle-tank, the machine gun to the nuclear missile. Technological dominance has ensured our supremacy, on and off the battlefield.

Throughout our 70-year history, NATO Allies have dominated this race. But today that dominance is being challenged, by countries who do not share our values or play by the same rules. Nations like Russia and China are racing to develop new technologies – from hyper-sonic missiles to autonomous systems, to Artificial Intelligence and cyber-warfare. We cannot risk a second ‘Sputnik Moment’, where we suddenly find ourselves outpaced and, God forbid, outgunned.

We have to continue to compete in this new battle space, where conflicts are as defined as much by bytes and big data as by bullets and battleships. In a world where digital borders matter as much as physical ones, our sovereignty is not just about geography any more. And our security is no longer assured by military means and actors alone.

As the pandemic has highlighted, so much of the security we take for granted depends on thriving economies and yes, resilient societies – able to adapt, to bounce back and innovate. We rely on civilian infrastructure to ensure our military operations. Not only the roads, railways or ports that ensure military mobility, but increasingly the undersea cables and overhead satellites that allow us to operate, communicate, navigate.

Patterns of innovation are also changing. Traditionally, developments in defence technology have been driven by the military sector, large defence corporations and governments - from nuclear, to GPS and to the internet.

But today it is often the private sector, universities and start-ups that lead the way. Artificial Intelligence, facial recognition, biotech big data. These are extraordinary technologies that have the potential to make a revolution out of our lives and tackle our most intractable problems – from curing disease and tackling climate change, to rebuilding our economies.

But they also have the potential to transform the way future wars will be waged and ultimately won. We must make sure that these new technologies work for us. And not against us. Or worse for our competitors. Our future security depends on our ability to understand, to adopt and implement emerging and disruptive technologies. And also at speed and at scale. So it is essential that NATO Allies re-double our efforts to maintain our technological edge.

NATO at the forefront of innovation

Because our 30 Allies have an abundance of world-class universities, the finest researchers, innovative start-ups, and a mature well-resourced financial ecosystem. We have indeed also open societies that are so conducive to innovation and talent retention. Yes we have great talent to tap into, from Silicon Valley to the Baltics, to Central and South East of Europe. All 30 Allies have something to offer in this great endeavour. And huge potential to deepen transatlantic cooperations and synergies even further.

Our open democracies, educational models – they all bring levels of creativity and disruption that other forms of government cannot. Large companies compete with start-ups to generate fresh thinking. This drives innovation, encourages healthy competition, and builds societal resilience. It creates a competitive advantage that closed societies cannot offer.

NATO is at the forefront of innovation across our Alliance. When they last met in December 2019 in London, NATO Leaders endorsed a roadmap on emerging and disruptive technologies, and we are now working on a strategy for its implementation. We have produced important white papers on Artificial Intelligence, autonomous technologies, quantum and bio-technologies, which are helping to shape our policy decisions.

We have a long-standing engagement with industry through NATO’s Industry Forum. In NATO I chair the NATO Innovation Board, which coordinates policy and cooperation on innovation across the NATO enterprise. And we have appointed an advisory group of exceptionally bright experts, intellectuals and leaders of emerging and disruptive technologies which feeds into this very board of innovation in NATO. And I am delighted that Silvija Seres, who sits on this group, is joining us today in this conference.

Our Science and Technology Organisation runs a network of over 6,000 scientists and engineers, dedicated to integrating the most advanced technologies into NATO and Allied platforms. This is the largest ecosystem of the sort in the world. Such as next generation early warning aircraft and autonomous maritime mine-sweepers.

Our plans to replace NATO’s early warning aircraft in 2035, include many of the technologies we are talking about today, such as autonomous systems, Artificial Intelligence or big data.

NATO 2030: fit for the future

So NATO is already preparing today to maintain our technological edge tomorrow. But we can and must do more.

We are facing a new technological race. The race to implement and adopt new technologies at speed and at a scale. This means having the right people, the right money, and the right structures in place.

So these are some of the questions I hope you will address in your dialogue today. How can we develop innovation ecosystems, including NATO across the Alliance ecosystem, novel financing mechanisms, and a resilient innovation pipeline across the Alliance? How can we better partner with the private sector – large and small – to learn from best practice, and seize opportunities while mitigating risk? And how can we embed our values, our values, our most fundamental ingredient, keeping this great Alliance of ours, into this formidable state for the last seven decades or so, how can we embed values in our technology that is shaping our world, through standards for the safe and ethical use of AI?

Implementing new technologies quickly and at scale – and in line with our values – this is not just about maintaining our technological edge, it is about ensuring our peace and security and the kind of freedom we have in our societies for many generations to come.

Whether – and which tech - to pursue is ultimately not only a commercial but a political choice. It has profound implications for our strategic direction and for our security. And for the one billion citizens who are living in NATO countries. In the past, these choices were largely the preserve of governments. But increasingly they are made – or shaped – by the private sector.

This is why the public sector needs to be more “tech ready.” And the tech sector needs to be more “security ready.” As NATO Allies we need to think about what kind of technologies we need to keep us safe in the future. And the private sector, we encourage them and I encourage you to think about what kind of societies they want to serve in 2030 and beyond.

That is why these series of dialogues are so timely and so very important. I do not promise and I do not think we should except from one dialogue to have all the answers. But through these private sector dialogues we hope to ask the right questions and shape the right answers.

And again. We are so privileged to partner with you for the NATO 2030 vision of Secretary General Stoltenberg because staying strong militarily, becoming stronger politically and having a more global NATO in what we do, in the kind of topics we embrace and here technology and the new technologies are the heart of our enduring success of our Alliance. Thank you so much for making this Alliance strong and also even stronger for 2030 and beyond. Good luck.