by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the Spring Conference, organised by the Atlantic Forum

  • 09 Apr. 2021 -
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  • Last updated 12-Apr-2021 11:52

(As delivered)

NATO Deputy Secretary General, Mr. Mircea Geoană participating in the Spring Conference, organised by the Atlantic Forum.

Jeoffrey Houvenaeghel: I would like to welcome NATO Deputy Secretary General, Mircea Geoană to the Atlantic Forum Spring Conference. Mr Geoană, thank you for joining us live from the NATO headquarters. We are honoured for you to be here, and I would like also to thank our friends at NATO Public Diplomacy Division for supporting this event. Ambassador Geoană, the floor is yours.

NATO Deputy Secretary General: Thank you, Jeoffrey.

It's a great, great pleasure to speak once more the event organised by the Atlantic Forum. I congratulate you and your colleagues on a wonderful programme over the weekend. But I wanted to get back to you [inaudible] because part of the responsibility of leadership, is to prepare those who will one day follow in your footsteps. Take up the mantle and shape the world, hopefully, for the better.

This is why the Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and I myself, we take every single opportunity to reach out to speak with those at the beginning of their careers, and encourage them, and encourage you, to stand up and be vigilant and be active in defending the values that NATO has defended for so long; our freedom, our democracy and the rule of law.

Last year, for this pivotal speech on the security implications of climate change, Secretary General Stoltenberg chose to speak with a network of 10 universities all across the Alliance. In November, we organised NATO's first ever Youth Summit. And we invited 14 young leaders to formally contribute to the NATO 2030 initiative, which today is taking shape, on the way to the NATO Summit in June.

These young leaders share their ideas and advice on how to shape our Alliance in the decade ahead.

Your voice matters. Your intellect and your fresh ideas, do matter and we are always on the listening mode,  from our side of this partnership.

Later this year, the first intake of NATO's Young Professionals Programme will begin their NATO careers.

For three years, these 12 young leaders will work across different parts of this large organisation of ours, in different countries, gaining an insight into what NATO has to offer. And in the process, make a genuine contribution to keeping our nations and our peoples free and safe.

Because NATO is committed to diversity and inclusion, regardless of gender, or race or sexual orientation or background, and I encourage you all to look out for the next recruitment round when it comes. We need, and we encourage fresh young talent to join our ranks.

But one of the reasons we are so keen in reaching out to young people is because the Alliance we represent, is an Alliance of democracies, and the trust and support of public opinions is paramount to everything we do, especially with the younger generations who have not lived during the Cold War, or the long transition that countries in Eastern Europe have witnessed. The young leaders, the young generation may question, which is the raison d' être of this Alliance which is already 72 years old. 

Only last Sunday, we celebrated our 72nd anniversary.

I think the answer is quite clear; in a turbulent world of intense geopolitical rivalry and multifaceted and intertwined threats to our security, peace and prosperity, NATO is more relevant than ever. And our common values and interests on one side and the permanent adaptation to a changing world on the other, have been always and are today, and will be in the future, the ingredients of the most successful Alliance in history, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

It is our common sacred obligation to continue on that constant path of adaptation. The world never stops , history never stops. Change is always there, but we have been so successful over time, because we have been so agile and heavy in our DNA code, this permanent adaptation gene.

And I have to say, that we always have been open, not only to agility, but also to new ideas and fresh ways of thinking and working, because doing a better job inside NATO and adapting to a changing world, outside of NATO, this is again, key to our enduring success. 

We can never stand still. Because the world around us moves too fast.

And see, today, the myriad of complexity around the security situation in Europe and around the world. Russia militaristic adventurism, the rise of China, deep changes that cyber, hybrid, resilience, space and emerging and disruptive technologies, and yes, the security implications of climate change, all at the same time, are bringing challenges, but also the obligation of NATO to permanently adjust.

And this is why the sacred mission of NATO, to protect and defend the peace, security and prosperity of the 1 billion people that live in NATO allies, in the 30 nations in our Alliance, is the sacred oath that we all have, and is the fundamental mission of this Alliance.  

Of course, the times, this bewildering mélange, that now makes our reality can test our very beliefs, our own citizens trust and faith in governing systems. You can test our resilience as communities, societies or individuals as human beings.

But yes, indeed, they also transform the very definition of security.

The challenges are too big for any country or any continent for that matter, to face those alone, but together, through NATO, the nations of Europe and North America, we are not alone.

And together, we must continue to adapt, to be ready, to face, and will be ready to face, any challenge that might arise.

This is in fact, what the NATO 2030 initiative is all about. And we are so happy that we had input from young leaders and young generation, because this is the way to future proof, our Alliance from all these big, big facets of security today I would like to choose two, because I believe they are relevant, not only for NATO, but for us, for you, for our democratic societies, because they also have a defining impact on how the Alliance adapts towards the next decade. I will speak a little bit about resilience and then about technology. 

First resilience.

Later this year, NATO leaders will come to Brussels in person, for the first NATO Summit, to agree an ambitious and forward-looking transatlantic agenda.

This means having a stronger, more responsive and more sophisticated military. But increasingly, our security relies on more than just having strong militaries. As our first line of defence, we also need strong, resilient societies and economies with robust infrastructure, with transport and telecommunications, including 5G and undersea cables. And we also need safer, and more diverse supply lines for fuel for the medical supplies, and the medical has shown how quickly and how deeply, our societies can be affected by a sudden shock. 

This time it was new to a natural event. Next time it could be different, it could be manmade and deliberate.

Imagine the impact of an attack that shuts down the internet or wipes clean our financial systems. This is why together as allies, we must be able to identify our vulnerabilities, to mitigate any risks and hold each other together accountable for increasing your resilience, for example by screening for investment, ownership and control of our critical infrastructure and assets.

Because these are not just economic decisions. They are equally crucial for our security. And we should never trade our long term security for a short term economic gain. As part of the NATO 2030 initiative, ensuring our ongoing resilience, will be a central part of our Summit decisions at a central part of the Secretary General’s propositions for this very Summit.

As I was alluding before, developing resilience is increasingly a whole of society effort, not only whole of government, not only one agency or another, one ministry another, one government or another. It's the whole of society because current threats, aim to undermine the very foundation of our democratic societies, they try to dig deep, at the core of our values and the future of our society is at stake. We need to find our way throughout all current and eventual challenges will lucidity, with effectiveness, and always upholding values which fuel the progress of our societies and also make sure that this is the ingredient, in keeping our people safe and secure.

Resilience is so important and is the buzzword in every corner, we talk about resilience. There is also another structural element that is impacting on our societies, on our way of life and our way of doing business and our way of defining security, and this is technology.

Of course, technological progress is a historical evolution, but the pace, the depth, the disruptive way in which technology is changing fundamentally every aspect of our lives, has never been seen before. A trend that has been turbocharged by the pandemic. It is also changing the nature of conflict with cyber attacks, information warfare, and we see so much manipulation on a daily occurrence.

As a result, the lines between civil and military, between conflict and non conflict, are increasingly blurred.

Throughout NATO's history, our nations have held a significant technological advantage over our competitors, and that's another ingredient of our enduring success. But today, that advantage is being challenged by nations that do not share our democratic values, and we are not shy in saying that China and Russia are in that category.

When it comes to developing new technologies, we still lead the world. And look, from Eastern Europe to Silicon Valley, from the newest NATO members to the founding members of NATO, in all our geographies, we have the best companies, and the best universities, and the best talent, and the best intellect in operating and thriving, you know, in free and open societies.

But we need to go further and make sure that our armed forces, adopt these technologies at scale and at the pace, that our governments and our societies as a whole, take advantage of these new technologies and are not themselves taken advantage of.

When NATO leaders met in 2019, I remember it was my first Leaders Meeting in my new capacity as NATO's Deputy Secretary General, Allies agreed the comprehensive roadmap on emerging and disruptive technologies, including on things that are changing everything around us; artificial intelligence, something that will be changing everything around us, quantum computing, and something that is already the huge transformation in civilian and military life, autonomous systems.

This will help speed implementation, protect our industries from potential adversaries, and more importantly than anything else probably, build public trust, by developing common ethical standards. And I will stop here in saying that cooperation between NATO and the EU for that matter, the two organisations that are two sides of the same coin is vital, in making sure that the power of regulation that the European Union has, and the power of standardisation that NATO has, will work together in making sure that our values, the ethical principles that many young citizens of our societies are asking us, will be embedded in everything we do, and reassure that our various remains at the heart of our technological future.

This means not only cooperation amongst institutions, but amongst allies themselves as nations, also NATO's partners, NATO has today 42 nations, as partners all over the world. I mentioned of course European Union, United Nations, the OECD and many other organisations that are so relevant in this conversation. 

It also means greater collaboration between our governments and the other sides of the triad of the good society which is public sector, private sector and academia and NGOs. That's also part of our strength, that our competitors do not have a vibrant private sector, a vibrant academic sector, a vibrant and free civil society.

This is where governments and the other entities in our open societies have to cooperate more than ever, because once governments drove innovation. We remember the days when the internet was the innovation coming from the Pentagon and many other things that came, outer space, they're coming from governments. Today, things have changed.

More than 90% of the innovations and new technologies that are also used in defence and security are produced by the private sector, both by the big tech companies, but also by the startups and venture capital firms. This is done by the private sector. We have to play together in this important effort in maintaining our security. It's not just security from a purely military way, it's also security from a much broader perspective.

This is how we will maintain our technological edge. And not only that, but shape the future rules and norms, a multilateral system of norms around technology, in line with our values.

This is an important issue that I know that for the young generation is also important because values matter as much as economic and technological progress.

In a way of concluding because I also want to be able to engage with you and to eventually answer some of your questions, if you have any. For more than seven decades, by the way, in 2024, NATO will be celebrating 75 years since the inception 1949. NATO has embodied the deep bond between Europe and North America for all this period of time. In difficult times, in complex times, in more sunny times. And of course, 30 nations, 30 democracies, we do not always agree on everything, but that's natural in a democracy.

And I want to say also something, when you hear also in the media or in public conversations or social media there are sometimes a plurality views inside and among NATO. This is not a sign of weakness, my dear friends, it is a sign of strength, because this is always the ingredient, that when despite different opinions, different interests, different geographies, when NATO allies, agree on something, on whatever subject we agree upon together, this is something which is binding us together so powerfully in showing the enduring strength of our values and our fundamental commitment to defend each other if, God forbid, an attack would occur.

To stand side by side. One for all and all for one.

This is important today probably more than ever, because we work together to tackle the challenges of today and of tomorrow. And we always look into the future.

And to be honest, even if I’m still relatively young, looking at the future, I think your generation has even a greater stake in what is going to happen, then my generation and myself, do now. Because as I said at the beginning, one day, and that day will be soon, the responsibility of leadership will fall on you and your generation, it will then be up to you to look into the future, as we are trying to do now. To set the agenda to anticipate change, and always to maintain the security of the 1 billion people who live in NATO countries. And I have every confidence that our future is safe in your hands. 

So thank you so much Jeoffrey, thank you dear friends, for inviting me, inviting so many colleagues from around NATO headquarters over the last few days, and I'm looking forward to your questions.

Jeoffrey Houvenaeghel: Thank you very much for that speech, it was are fantastic. 

First, my first question, you've discussed, Russia and China. And of course Russia and China are investing in new technologies, we could see the hypersonic missile, which is a big threat coming on, just to gain a competitive advantage. Would this have an impact on the role of deterrence in a traditional way and do we actually need to rethink the concept deterrence.

NATO Deputy Secretary General: I mentioned, thank you Jeffrey, that's a very relevant question, I mentioned that permanent adaptation in what we do, our bread and butter which is deterrence and defence, is in the DNA code of our lives.

 As we speak, with the blessing of our political leaders, our military leaders are working on the most important transformation of the very essence of deterrence and defence of the transatlantic space in decades, in generations. And when we say in our jargon, we are looking at security from a 360 perspective, from all over, we're not speaking only of 360 geographically.

We're also speaking of 360 transversely, across domains. A few years ago only, we had five years ago, we had the traditional three military domains, land, air, and of course, the sea. Five years ago, at the Warsaw Summit I remember I was not a NATO at that time, I was still active in politics. I remember that our leaders decided, and our military leaders started to operate, on cyber as the fourth operation domain in NATO.

And in London when our leaders met, that time I was in NATO, our leaders decided and instructed us and we are working very, very actively on space as the fifth operation domain. So I want to really send this very strong message, that NATO is up to our game, our political and military leaders are doing everything it takes for us to protect the 1 billion people living in our countries. 

Of course permanent adaptation, we are concerned about some of the evolutions we see in our competitors, but stay assured that our Alliance is always and will always be ready to respond, to any potential threat.

Jeoffrey Houvenaeghel : My next question is, what you've said about permanent adaptation. But however, we've seen that COVID-19 and the pandemic is testing the limits of governments, it has forced governments to make difficult decisions, choices. Importantly, the pandemic has played a significant burden on national budgets, including defence. 

What countries committed a 2% and 20% of defence budgets to major investments, and how can we keep encouraging countries to honour that commitment, in this current say time of pandemics and crisis. Would COVID hamper, potentially, permanent adaptation, or is it, do we need to have a different mindset here?

NATO Deputy Secretary General : It is of course a relevant question because in difficult circumstances, political leaders have to respond to the questions and pressures coming from the public opinion, from the private sector, from societies, but let me give you three sub-answers very relevant question.

First, look at the admirable way in which military personnel, men and women across the Alliance have come to the forefront of our common fight against the pandemic. In the last year or so, half a million of NATO military personnel have helped national governments in fighting this pandemic and together with medical professionals, military personnel were there, so it's also proof that the military is useful also in civil military shocks, like the pandemic. 

Secondly, as I mentioned in my speech, the fact that the pandemic has exacerbated so many of the fragilities and the problems and the competition globally, this only amplified, did not diminish, the combination of traditional risks with the new security threats that we are now witnessing. So if you want the canvas that governments, including for the budgets, they appropriate in defending a much broader definition of security would mean that we need to continue to invest in our security and defence. 

And the third part, that in order for our defence establishment, including  NATO but also the national level , to be able to cope with this new definition, revised definition of security, we also have make sure that the way in which we conduct the business of transforming our militaries, in introducing new technologies, in making sure that the money is wisely and professionally spent, every cent, every penny, every centime,  of the resources from our taxpayers have and are spending wisely, in making sure that we do this.

Let me give you a simple answer. Without peace and security nothing else in our lives can exist. That's the foundation of everything we do, that’s the basis of NATO, ensuring this foundation on which our lives, our private initiatives, our dreams, our frustrations, can be expressed in freedom and in security, so I do believe the nation's understand this, we have not seen any sign of backpedaling from the track, continue to invest more, but also invest better and also invest in a logic that also helps the broad set of economic and security challenges that our nations face.

Jeoffrey Houvenaeghel : As we have some time limitations of course, I'm going to do the last few questions. The first question is mostly about competing interests and then the last question, will be just about young professionals. 

So, for the first question. The Alliance is highly diverse, of course, and countries have competing interests. We've seen examples in Libya and Turkey highlighting France withdrawal from Operation Sea Guardian, how do you ensure that NATO promotes solidarity in regards to these competing interests and different views. Especially it shows the role of NATO as a platform for transatlantic consultations, do we need to build an alternative tool to facilitate the convergence of views among allies.

NATO Deputy Secretary General: As I mentioned we are an Alliance of democracies and we had difficult moments, you know, in our long already history. I remember I was not even born, but I read in the history books the Suez Canal crisis and then we had the American missiles in Western Europe, the situation in the 80s and then and then and then,  there's always a possibility that allies differ on the way in which they interpret the situation and their national security interests, and the Alliance. But the beauty of NATO, is that we are the only political platform where such differences when they occur, can be debated, as between allies, and people that share the same common interest to defend each other. 

Nobody can afford to weaken the Alliance, and that's why we are the platform of choice for discussing also things that are not there, we had a difficult moment a few months ago between two allies; Greece and Turkey. NATO offered, Secretary General offered to both leadership's of these two very important allies, the NATO platform for military de-confliction mechanisms in order to make sure that we avoid incidents in the Aegean Sea. 

So, this is how democracies do work, sometimes things differ. But again, when it comes to the fundamental purpose of NATO, we always find in the end, through negotiation and compromise, and protecting this sacrosanct commitment to defend each other, a way to move forward and overcome, eventual difficulties when they occur.

Jeoffrey Houvenaeghel : So, to my last question, and this is to wrap things all up. We've seen the importance of youth, we've seen the importance of youth in NATO 2030. Given your extensive professional experience. What advice would you give young people trying to shape Security and Defence, in the next five years, or just building up their career?

NATO Deputy Secretary General: This is something which is so, so, so close to my heart. I've been doing and trying to invest in leadership in young generations for most of my adult political and professional careers. I founded the Aspen Institute in Romania, because Aspen is about leadership. 

So, probably I'm a little bit biased here. But I would say, I have no doubt that the young, gifted, ambitious and sophisticated young leaders will find a way to excel in the line of work they are preparing for, but there is one thing when it comes to leadership; is the value based leadership.

And I'm encouraging all the young friends that I encounter, and I was so happy to speak to Jeoffrey and to the forum, is that when it will be a moment for you to have a doubt, for you to be called to lead, to make difficult decisions, to adjust, to be able to be resilient. In the end,  will come to the values that you embody. 

So as you invest in yourselves, in your professional skills, in your multifaceted education, never, never forget that at the core of who we are as human beings, are our values and try to define those values, not that should be a uniform thing, each of us has sensitivities, each of us are more inclined for community work, for political leadership, for community service, being a leader doesn't mean that you become the President of United States of America or President of Romania. 

Being a leader means you make a difference in your life, in your family's life, but also in your community's life. 

So my strong appeal; always try to define who you are, in what you believe, and let that be your North Star, and this will be leading you in the right direction, no matter the challenges that would appear. Because life is always full of opportunities, but also of challenges, so that would be my passionate encouragement to our young audience and to youngsters all over the world.

Jeoffrey Houvenaeghel : We have to end it here, as we no longer have any time. On behalf of the Atlantic Forum, I would like to thank you for your time and I hope to see you back here again. Thank you.