Opening remarks

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the annual Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence

  • 12 Mar. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 15 Mar. 2021 12:56

(As delivered)

Thank you so much, Gordon and Francoise.

Merci aussi à nos hôtes, l’Institut de la Conférence des associations de la défense, pour avoir amené le monde entier à Ottawa pour discuter notre sécurité et défense.

Malgré la pandémie, je suis très très heureux d’être avec vous et de continuer notre dialogue.

Gordon was - I loved his plea for political longevity. I think for any politicians that's music to our ears and is my pleasure and my privilege to be sharing this panel with Secretary Wallace with Minister Sajjan.

Best regards from Jens Stoltenberg, and also welcome your fantastic contribution to the last Defence Ministerial of NATO when so many important decisions have been approved by you, sanctioned by you, paving the way towards the NATO Summit in the next few months.

So from myself and Jens our warmest regards and appreciation for your leadership and your steadfast commitment to our Alliance.

I think also the topic is quite relevant because indeed Canada and the UK, are the longest standing and most steadfast allies. The two nations were foundational in the creation of our Alliance, I think, in April, we'll have 72 years since the Alliance was founded. And the contributions your nations are making to our shared security is just immense.

Canada today, leads our multinational battlegroup in Latvia, the United Kingdom leads the battlegroup in Estonia. And these are essential contributions to our deterrence and defence against any aggression in the east of the Alliance.

But British and Canadian ships and jets, also help keep the Allied seas and airspace, safe, and your personnel play a vital role in NATO missions and operations, including our training missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Your donations are also at the forefront of driving transformational change in our alliance, including on cyber, on innovation, on new technologies. And we are grateful for both allies for leading us to their participation in the NATO Advisory Group on emerging and disruptive technologies. I chair the Innovation Board in NATO and the fact that two of your best experts, top experts worldwide, Professor Kash Khorasani from Canada and Deeph Chana, Professor Chana from the UK are a formidable intellectual inputs to what we do, Deeph Chana is also the chair of this advisory group - and if there is something a sort of advertisement from my side - they just published and is public on our website, the report and the recommendations on innovation and new technologies for NATO.

I think it's worth for such a distinguished audience to have a look. This will make our Alliance even more fit for purpose. We have taken on board many of the contributions from UK and Canada. Also on the topic of today's panel, which is NATO 2030. We all know that Secretary General Stoltenberg launched his NATO 2030 initiative last year. It's about making sure that our strong Alliance becomes even stronger, that we remain ready to face any future challenges, that we are looking 360% around us. Also in a security environment that is so more complex, and is more contested than ever before.

Because the lines between peace and war are increasingly blurred. And the very means by which war is waged are changing. Hence, why this conference is talking about a thousand cuts is also in the metaphor, very physical, and sometimes cruel metaphor of the new definition of security in the world today.

I also read a great interest survey that CDA, just put forward ahead of the conference, because you also have to keep in mind also public opinions and understanding what's on the mind of the Canadian people is also very important. And I think this is not very much different from concerns from allied nations in the 30 countries of our Alliance, the pandemic is of course top on the list, cyber attacks, climate change, terrorism. The rise of China, Russia's destabilising actions. Because we have to realise one thing which is so self evident; that no country or continent, no matter how big, they can tackle these challenges alone.

We need each other, more than ever, because today's threats transcend national borders. So we need to find common solutions to the global challenges we all face, and they are complex and transversally in many, many ways.

Also we have a chance with a new US administration, because we have a unique opportunity to open a new chapter in our transatlantic relations, and to set an ambitious and forward looking agenda, when our leaders will be meeting for the Summit in Brussels later this year. This is also the heart of the Secretary General’s vision on NATO 2030. What basically are our three core priorities just to simplify politically our conversation.

Number one, reinforcing transatlantic unity.

Second broadening our concept of security.

And third, how can we protect the rule-based international order.

And I'm happy by the way that the Defence Minister of Japan is joining the conference later today because we need like-minded nations from all over the world, together with the allies, just to be able to preserve our values our unity in our way of life.

So first unity, the unity between Europe and North America comes from the common promise to defend each other. We must continue to strengthen our commitment to our collective defence, including through fairer burden sharing. And here there is good news. And after years of cuts to defence budgets, all allies have reversed the trend and increased spending. In the last seven years now since 2014, Canada, European allies have added 190 billion US dollars for Defence, that's a big sum.

As part of NATO 2030, our Sec Gen has also proposed using more common funding for our core deterrence and defence activities on NATO territory, including air policing, maritime deployments and exercises, I know and we know this is a bold, ambitious proposition. But I think this is a necessary bold ambitious proposition.

Because we have also not only to state our commitment and solidarity to each other's defence, but also to prove it in concrete terms. Such approach would also mean that countries like Canada or the UK that lead our multinational battlegroups to the east, but also have not to have, to bear the full cost of those deployments alone.

That's a symbol of solidarity, our unity also comes from the way we consult, and decide questions of our security together and NATO is, and we have to reaffirm, the unique role of NATO, bringing together NATO, North America together every day. And we should agree to use it more, to agree on way forward, on all issues that affect our common security and even if we don’t agree every single time, this is not a case we are democratic nations, things happen. We have to use NATO, as the platform on also differences or sometimes even more complicated issues can be addressed, collegially, between allies, friends, and colleagues.

This is why we welcome the US interim national security strategy which postulates that US will reinvigorate and modernise their alliances and partnerships around the world. And also commit to reaffirm, investing and modernizing NATO. This is music to our ears and we are ready to engage with the Biden administration as we already do, on the way to the Summit and beyond.

To chart a common course and reaffirm the fundamentals of our Alliance. Secretary General Stoltenberg has also proposed something which is I think necessary and useful to update NATO's Strategic Concept.

We remember the last one was 2010 [inaudible] and the team were very instrumental into this. Now, if our leaders will give us their blessing and their greenlight at the Summit, at NATO later this year. We could after that, and also by the way I'm looking, we're looking forward to the succession of Defence Ministerials also after the Summit, just to make sure that we start looking, and working together on a new Strategic Concept of NATO, that is needed. Because as I mentioned before, the world is changing, the definition of security is changing, and the implications of geopolitical competition, are impacting many things that we need to modernise and update.

This is why we are also looking into the idea, and how to address the full spectrum of new threats, including the security impact of climate change. We also welcome the leadership of the United Kingdom and Italy, who have assumed the Presidency of COP26. As for NATO, I echo the Secretary General's statement that NATO should set the gold standard on how we reduce emissions of our militaries contributing to a goal of net-zero.

NATO needs to monitor and track climate change, much more closely. We need to fully integrate climate change into our military planning and exercises. As we have seen over the last year, keeping our people safe relies not only on our strong militaries, but also on strong societies. On resilient societies.

So we need to ensure the security of our critical infrastructures, supply chains, communications, and yes, undersea cables are where they should be.

We also need a broader much more integrated and better coordinated approach to resilience. Because the Alliance already has a resilience framework to build upon, based at the inception of the Alliance on Article three, but also the great work, and I would say, with pride, that NATO probably is today one of the most advanced international organisations on resilience because our leaders, in their anticipation and foresight, five years ago with the Warsaw Summit, instructed us to start working on the baseline requirements and resilience so today we are reinforcing that, and I'm convinced that the NATO Summit of this year will take resilience to the next level.

And we are counting on nations, allied nations, and our public opinions and our governments, in our societies to support this effort. Because resilience is now the name of the game, and has so many implications for the way in which we live, we work, and we protect each other.

Also the fact that the UK, G7 Presidency of this year, is also taking economic resilience - is such a timely and necessary endeavour and I congratulate the United Kingdom for choosing that topic. Because the G7 also has the potential, the role to play, in helping develop a common understanding of how global interdependencies and openness, have both contributed to the progress in the economy and our lives, but also are challenging, sometimes our economic resilience. So I look forward to the high level meeting of the G7 leaders, next June.

Also, as I mentioned, I'm chairing the Innovation Board in NATO, I play an active role in cyber adaptation in NATO. We have to make sure that we retain what we call already generically our technological edge in a more competitive world.  This is why we are proposing, the Sec Gen is proposing, a NATO defence initiative on innovation. That should serve as a catalyst for transatlantic cooperation and accelerate, not only the issue of innovation and technology, but the adoption of technologies, a culture of innovation across the Alliance.

And again, I welcome the UK leadership also in the process of adjusting the way in which we make defence planning across the Alliance. That is a massive piece of work. This is where we need all of us, we also need the triple helix of public, private sector, and our academia, we still have this competitive edge. And I strongly believe as someone in that comes from a former communist country and now a proud member of NATO, Romania, is my home country, that open societies, free societies will always be more conducive for innovation, because free people, and the freedom to innovate, to think, to speak up your mind is always better for innovation, then, whatever fusion between government and private sector that some of our competitors might be looking into this.

So that's the third very important proposition of NATO 2030. I'll also mention something that is important, and I hope will be also a bridge towards the distinguished panelists, and our dear colleagues will be saying right after that. In the NATO 2030 proposal by the Secretary General, and we hope that our leaders will endorse that, It's also a new level of ambition on the partnerships of NATO.

I mentioned this earlier, we all know that we'll be needing to invest far more wisely and ambitiously, in working with our partners, the immediate partners of NATO to our east, to our South, but also our global partners. This is something that we need to do. This is something that we need to work upon, because if we say, and we do, to protect the international rules based order, we'll need to join forces with like-minded nations around the world, and like-minded organisations from around the world. This is in a nutshell, the level of ambition that we are, you know, proposing to the allies in the future.

The rise of China is not a small thing. It's a massive transformation of geopolitics, probably the most transformative geopolitical shift in decades or even centuries. This is why we need our allies and our partners from Asia Pacific from the Indo Pacific. We need our allies, to the south, we need our allies to east, we need our allies, even Latin America, Colombia is one of our partners into this. And by the way, I will be looking forward to receiving Ghana, the first Sub-Saharan potential new partner we are contemplating this together. I was very pleased to see how leadership of Ghana come to us one year ago, one and a half years ago, saying we are so concerned about the risk of spillover from the Sahel of terrorism.  We want to embrace the gold standard that NATO represents. For all of us.

The gold standard of NATO is what we are. The gold standard of NATO is what we must preserve. The gold standard of NATO is something that we have to invest for the next decades for our great Alliance. So that's basically if you want the thrust and the political drive, which is motivating us here.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Listen, at NATO, we have the language and the decisions of our leaders in London when they last met in December 2019. And there, we basically describe, and our leaders, and that’s policy at NATO, that we see China both as a challenge and also as an opportunity. So we’re not seeing, at NATO, China as an adversary, but we are seeing not NATO going towards the geography of the Indo-Pacific, but China coming closer to our geographies. If we speak of geography, Africa, many other investments, including in dual-use infrastructures, in ports, in airports, we see a fantastic competition for new technologies, innovation, sometimes in licit, sometimes in illicit ways.

We see the lessons learnt from the pandemic in terms of supply chain.

We see the lessons learnt of the pandemic when it comes to disinformation, fake news, on hybrid.

We’re also seeing, in NATO, of ever more intense competition also in space. This is why also in London, our leaders decided to add to the already four operational domains of NATO land, sea and air and cyber, now space is an operational domain in NATO. So, when we engage with China, we also say something coming also to arms control.

Today, China has the second largest defence budget in the world after the US. Today, China has the largest fleet in the world. Today, we see a modernisation of China’s arsenal, in many directions, that is complex and important and creates, you know, repercussions. So what we also say, with the status of great power that China already possesses, also it comes responsibilities.

So when there are discussions about arms control, we have to convince China to be part of those conversations.

So the China work at NATO continues.

As I mentioned, we are seeing this is a challenge, we also see it as an opportunity. And I’m convinced that our leaders at the next summit will discuss again, of the many fronts, including on China.

And by the way, Ben, Secretary Wallace, we are looking forward with great anticipation to the release of the Integrated Review next week. And I’m convinced that, you know, in-depth, like always, briefing and distillation of this important piece of strategic work will be done with Allies, like you always do, in every single important opportunity and occasion.

GORDON VENNER: …Let me just now go to some questions from the floor, because we’ve got people logged in from all around the world here. And one of the questions we’ve been asked is about NATO’s role in the Arctic.

And NATO’s - I referred in my opening comments to the fact that it traditionally had an eastern-oriented agenda. More recently, we’ve seen NATO take a much more active role in the South, particularly with the NATO Training Mission in Iraq.

But the North has always been there. We have long experience, both Canada and the United Kingdom, of operating our forces in the North, including the Franklin expedition sinking in the North.

So I would like to ask all three of you to maybe talk a little bit about whether or not there is a bigger role for NATO to play in the Arctic and maybe the Deputy Secretary General Geoană, you could bring us up to date on any consideration of that.

And then we’ll go to the two ministers.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Thank you for the question. And I mentioned that the very definition of security is changing, and I was very much, you know, pleased to hear from Secretary Wallace this metaphor of a tapestry of capabilities.

But also we are here to defend one billion of our citizens, one billion people live, work and are protected by NATO in NATO countries. So as we speak, NATO is in the process of one of the most significant adaptations in recent history. And the two defence ministers know this very well, because they sanctioned the beginning of a renewed military and political analysis of the deterrence and defence for the transatlantic area.

This is not only about East – we know Russia’s aggressive behaviour – and we are stepping up our game responding to the Russian threat.

But our political leaders, our military leaders are looking to the geography of NATO, 360 to the north, to the south, and, of course, now in space and cyberspace. So, as we speak, NATO is underway. And the political leadership of our defence ministers is a driver for this transformation, for this renewed, adapted, 360 analysis of threats.

And also the fact that as, again, it was mentioned in our conversation, that we are driven also by threat assessment. We are also driven, also, by foresight and anticipation of things to come. And when it comes to, let’s say, to the High North – we don’t speak of the Arctic in NATO because that’s a specific issue, we don’t have, today, a mandate to go there – but we do talk about the High North when it comes to northern European issues. And in terms of anticipation, climate change will obviously change the dynamic and the geopolitics and geoeconomics of the High North and of the Arctic.

So that’s what I’m here to say, on behalf of all of us in NATO – NATO Allies, our military colleagues and leaders, our political leaders – that we are now in the process of the most profound transformation of the way in which NATO is continuing to defend the one billion people from any threat, from any direction, at any time, in any condition.

So what we are now not trying to say, that one geography is more important to NATO than the other. No, all geographies, all domains, all threats are equally important for this Alliance. And for that, we have to harness the strength of this Alliance. We have to harness the strength of our partnerships and friendships. And sometimes in individual cases, like the Five Eyes community or the Commonwealth or the US having treaty alliances with countries in the Indo-Pacific – the US has treaty alliances with Japan, with Korea or Australia – all these things are not always done through NATO.

But where NATO is indispensable is to bring all of us together, because the strength of this Alliance is just formidable. And the business we are now in – and the NATO 2030 initiative by the Secretary General – is basically making sure that we do this in every single way. Also, in terms of defence and new technologies, defence ministers, just a few weeks ago when the two ministers were virtually meeting in our defence ministerial meeting, they also sanctioned a transformation from a military angle on new technologies.

We also have a stream of work which is approved again by the defence ministers, just the other . . . the other few weeks, on EDT – Emerging Disruptive Technologies – Implementation Roadmap already, after we have been given the marching orders by our leaders in London in December ’19 on EDTs, we are now in the process of implementing a roadmap for new technologies: from AI to quantum and from biotechnology to human enhancement and from space to anything else which is of relevance to our security.

It’s not going to be easy. Transformations will be needed, in terms of the culture of innovation that we have to instil across our Alliance.

But when we are seeing eye to eye and when we are sharing the same values, the same interests, NATO will continue to be a formidable force, not only for protecting the one billion people of our citizens, but also to be a force for good and peace and security around the world.

And that’s a process of massive historical proportions. And I think we’ll be up to do this very important task.

CLOSING REMARKS: MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Very, very succinctly, this is not a matter of security and defence alone, what we are talking about.

It’s about how our societies, democratic societies, will look into the future when our kids and grandkids and their grandkids will be living – in what kind of society will they live?

And I think the obligation that we have, all of us – political leaders, journalists, our military colleagues, our citizens, our citizenry – we have to realise that this is one of the most formidable challenge we’ve been faced as the political West, in decades, if not centuries. And this is why we need to harness everything we have together to be able to continue to defend and protect our way of life.

We want our kids and grandkids to live and thrive in open societies, in freedom and democracy. Everything we do from defence and security, from anticipation of threats, from global competition, from climate change, everything in the end comes to this. Can we reconnect with our public opinions and be the leaders that all of us need in order to safeguard our security, stability and our way of life? I think we are up to the task. But what we are doing now, today, will be influencing the world and the way in which we live for many generations to come.

This is one of those moments in history and hopefully we are up to the task. And I know we will.