by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the Riga StratCom Dialogue 2021

  • 06 May. 2021 -
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  • Last updated 07-May-2021 09:14

(As delivered)

In a world of significant global challenges; from an increasingly assertive Russia and terrorism, to disruptive technologies and the rise of China, the Transatlantic Alliance is more important than ever. How does NATO continue to adapt to new security environments? And what opportunities does the US Administration present to strengthening the Transatlantic bond?

Moderator: Welcome back to Riga STRATCOM dialogue 2021. Horsey talk from NATO was the move to the new NATO headquarters. It seems that NATO has received new boost of energy, new boost of transformative energy, which has already materialized in the new vision for NATO 2030. Within a month from now, Heads of State and Government of NATO countries will meet in Brussels for a Summit meeting, which will eventually outline the level of ambition, and the horizon also for the new Strategic Concept.

Therefore, we are very pleased to welcome our next speaker, Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Mircea Geoană , dear Deputy Secretary General, thank you for your time and your interest, to participate in our conference. We know how tense and important is the time just preparing for the Summit, in a few weeks before that, so we really appreciate your time with us.

And thank you, and please share your thoughts.


Deputy Secretary General NATO: Thank you so, so very much. Good afternoon to our friends and Allies in Riga.

Jānis we get energy not only from the new Headquarters that I invite all of you to visit whenever we can travel again, but also from dialogues like this, because the beauty of our Alliance, is that we have so much energy, and so much synergies, and so many things to work upon together.

And I'm so, so privileged to be your guest today and please count me as your permanent friend.

I would also like to thank also, you Jānis, but also your colleagues in the STRATCOM Center of Excellence, you're doing an amazing job. And thank you, thank you for your excellent work on behalf of all, Allies, and all of us, inside NATO.

In the Baltic region and across the Euro Atlantic area, NATO Allies stand together to keep our nation safe. This is true, you know, in the air, on land, at sea, in cyberspace - as we decided some six years ago - but also in space, as we decided in London in 2019. 

And in Ādaži, soldiers from North America and Europe joined the Latvian forces in a multinational battlegroup, led by our important ally Canada.

This is a true demonstration of Alliance unity and strength, and Latvia, the host country of this excellent operation in STRATCOM, makes very important contributions to our Alliance. Leading by example, spending 2%. of GDP on defense, and participating in operations and missions. Also, on a personal note and professional note and political note, we are very proud to have Ambassador Baiba Braže.

And thank you, Latvia, for lending Baiba to us, she's a great colleague, she runs our Public Diplomacy Division, and all of us here in NATO Headquarters are very happy to have Baiba on board; so that's another contribution of Latvia, for the success of our Alliance.

And I also believe that NATO has been, is and will continue to be, such a successful Alliance, sort of a unique exercise in human history in a way, because of some key ingredients. Of course, key ingredients represent our values, the bond, the glue, the foundation that keeps all of us together.

Because we are not just a coalition of nations, we are an alliance of nations based on fundamental common values that's so, so important. And also in STRATCOM and in communications, I’ll come back later to this point, reflecting our values is an essential part and key ingredient of NATO's enduring success.

Of course another big success, another big ingredient to our enduring success, is the permanent capacity of adaptation; a certain agility of NATO to adjust, to adapt, to ever changing circumstances.

And history is not static. History is not linear. History, like we're witnessing in these very complex times, is always producing different situations, pleasant or unpleasant surprises, and the capacity of NATO to be able to permanently adjust, to be proactive, to help show agility. This is also in the genes, in the DNA of our great organization.

So these two ingredients, to my mind, are vital. And as long as we keep them, this Alliance will go forward. And not only 72 years of existence but many, many, many, many decades to come ahead of us.

But also the job to keep 1 billion citizens living in NATO, allied nations, safe, is also becoming, and will continue to be, the dominant mission of our Alliance.

And, as you have said in your introduction, I also listened with great attention to the last part of the conversation before I was invited to join you virtually. We are also seeing a combination of old, more traditional threats. They are still here, they're still very complex, and we have to always keep the eye on the ball, as we say, on traditional threats and challenges of more traditional nature are here with us, and they will continue to be with us.

As I mentioned history probably as long as history exists, and nations will exist, they will also have some form of traditional military threats that NATO is, and will continue to be, very, very much reflecting and adapting to those traditional threats.

But we also see today, a broader definition of security, the pandemic has only accelerated some existing trends. And I mentioned just a few because I also chaired the Innovation Board here at NATO, and Secretary General Stoltenberg asked me to be a sort of a champion of innovation inside NATO, the new technologies and the revolution in technologies, also introduce a very complex and far more diverse security landscape.

We are also seeing a huge spike in the intensity and scale of hybrid activities, including disinformation. And again, the pandemic has just only boosted, turbocharged if you want, some existing trends. But today, if we look at the world now and in the future, in this quest for permanent adaptation, we see that the very definition of security has become more complex, more transversal, and this is something that NATO has - and is -  responding to, because that's the job that our citizens have entrusted us in doing.

In the last past 18 months only, COVID-19 has shown us how disinformation and propaganda, can be used to sow distrust, undermine science and threaten lives and our security.

We have seen dangerous disinformation campaigns about the origins of the Coronavirus, cyber attacks on hospitals, and online espionage on medical research centers working on vaccines and treatments.

Also, last year only, the NATO battlegroups in Latvia, in Lithuania and in Poland were the targets of a coordinated disinformation campaign, to sow discord within the Alliance.

Such hostile activities, seek to undermine our democracies, our institutions, our shared values on which our Alliances is founded, but also something equally important; to undermine the trust of our citizens in the very institutions of democracy, because this competition, global competition that never ends, historically, is today also a competition between [inaudible] is also the return of ideas.

The question is, our democratic open societies are the best to organize human societies, or the counter proposition coming from other countries that say that autocratic regimes, strong men regimes, are the solution for efficiently run organizations and societies? So this is something that we have to keep in mind as we move forward with our important endeavor.

And the most important part, however, is what do we do about this; not only to describe this phenomenon worrisome and concerning. And I think we must continue to invest in our strategic communications capabilities to ensure that we continue to meet the challenge in a highly contested communications space.

This means more investment by NATO, and we are trying to do that, but also more investment by Allied nations. And I think this linkage between what we do in STRATCOM, in NATO, and what nations do with their own national capacities are doing, it is also part of the success of our common endeavor.

And also we must develop our ability to understand the information environment.

Our information environment assessment capability must have well trained staff, supported by the right technology to be able to navigate this highly complex field.

So I would like to thank again the Center of Excellence for helping establish the training standards for our teams, it is a critical element in the capability development process, and also must continue to engage through objective-driven, proactive, communications, not just the response to the increased volume of attacks on our institutions, our people and our values, but also to start becoming even more proactive in what we do.

As a value based organization, NATO uses fact based, credible communications to tell our story, we draw on the full spectrum of communications activities, in media engagements, communications, face to face events, social media of force, and many other tools to make sure that our publics, our partners and our adversaries, hear NATO's story first.

We have seen in the last 18 months, again, just how important proactive communications are in our response to the pandemic.

NATO has shown that we remain ready and able to defend our nations, that allies are supporting each other, and also our partners, and that investing in our Armed Forces is an investment in the strength and resilience of our societies, given the vital role our troops play in supporting civilian efforts in fighting this deadly pandemic.

Taken together, this will help us build the resilience of our societies and building resilience in our communities, requires a whole of society approach.

Everyone has a role to play; the media, the private sector, academia, civil society, of course the whole of government, but also all the relevant groups in our societies, just to ensure that our societies are equipped for today's realities, feeding cyber information in the economy, in the realm of values, in the real world of ideas, and in many other fields.

The final action of this broad spectrum of proactive attitude coming from us as an Alliance, is to also amplify the cooperation and coordination with like-minded partners, institutions, and nations alike.

Of course, I mentioned the European Union, a natural partner, a strategic partner for NATO. And here, Baiba Braže and our team, have been working in this very difficult pandemic period with our colleagues in the EU just to fight together disinformation. I know that she's also working with the G7 STRATCOM group. And by the way, the UK Presidency of the G7 is such an important moment in the broader alignment of like-minded nations of democracies, not only in Europe, in North America but around the world.

We've been in touch of course with our with our colleagues in the UN. And this is something that we need to continue to spur and to harness and to invest into.

So we must work in concert with our partners to strengthen our collective ability to prevent crisis and address challenges, because in a way, we have to also be very clear that no nation alone, no continent alone, can cope with the magnitude of the challenges that we are now facing as democratic societies.

So cooperation, collaboration, synergies and a right division of labor and complementarity amongst our democratic political West if you want, is paramount. And this is something that NATO will continue to encourage.

 Our unity and our ability to adapt is even more important as we face a more unpredictable and rapidly changing war. We face evermore sophisticated cyber attacks and disinformation, a more assertive Russian, brutal terrorism, nuclear proliferation, disruptive technologies. The security impact of climate change, so important for own public opinions, and where NATO is embarking energetically in that direction. And of course, the most important game changer in global affairs in many, many decades, or probably centuries, is the shift in global power, global balance of power with the rise of China.

All these challenges are too big for one country, as I mentioned to cope alone with. So this is why we need to stick together. NATO nations, EU Member States, NATO and EU, the G7, and all the other institutions and nations around the world, sharing our values and being part of the same team.

And together, we are and will continue to, adapt and face any challenge irrespective from what direction, from what geography, that challenge might come.

You mentioned in the introduction, NATO 2030 and Secretary General Stoltenberg’s vision, bold vision for an Alliance that is adjusting to a changing war. And, indeed, we are looking forward on June 14, to welcome Allied Leaders in Brussels, here in this Headquarters, NATO Summit.

We also welcome the first participation of President Biden.

We were very much encouraged by the very strong, and full of meaning words, coming out from Washington, from the new administration on the importance that America attaches to its alliances, to NATO and to a global system of order.

And this NATO Summit, in a few weeks from now, is a unique opportunity to strengthen our Alliance for the future, and set an ambitious transatlantic agenda for our security and defense, through NATO 2030.

Because NATO 2030, in essence, is about reinforcing our unity, broadening our approach to security and strengthening our global partnerships, to uphold the rules-based international order.

In order to strengthen our cohesion and unity, we must use NATO, even more, as the unique platform, bringing Europe and North America together every single day, to discuss and defend our shared security and our shared values.

 We must strengthen our commitment to our collective defense and fund more on deterrence and defense activities on NATO territory together. This could cover for instance, parts of the cost for the multinational battle groups here in the East of the Alliance including in your country, which are currently borne, only by the Allies taking part in that specific operation.

Keeping our people safe relies on NATO staying strong militarily, but you also need strong societies as our first line of defense. So, NATO 2030 is also about broadening our approach to security, as I mentioned earlier.

This means making sure that we have more resilient societies, more resilient supply chains and infrastructures, and that we invest more together in new technologies to maintain our technological edge in a more competitive world.

We also need to address the full spectrum of threats to our security including coming from climate change. The Secretary General has proposed that Allies adopt clearer and more measurable national resilience targets, including for communications, undersea cables, energy and water supplies, and that we regularly review our critical infrastructure and technologies for vulnerabilities, including those stemming from foreign ownership and influence.

Finally, NATO 2030 is about strengthening our global partnerships and forging new ones with like-minded countries, to safeguard the international rules based order against the authoritarian pushback, by countries like Russia and China.

And we know that these countries are not sharing our values.

We must work more closely with countries also in other geographies than the transatlantic area, like the Asia Pacific, as well as strengthening the capacity of our partners to stabilize our neighborhood.

And of course, this includes working even more closely with organizations like the European Union.

As part of NATO 2030, the Secretary General has stated that the time is right to update NATO’s Strategic Concept, to reaffirm our commitment to our shared values, and to chart a common course, as we address the challenges of today and tomorrow. And we are confident that NATO leaders at our Summit in a few weeks from now, will give us and the Secretary General, the green light to start working on an adapted, revised, or even a new, Strategic Concept for our Alliance.

So, in concluding, and also, coming back to the topic of our discussion today, NATO 2030 and communications, and the importance of communications in the very existence of our Alliance. .

Allies are currently discussing the range of proposals, so we expect a substantive and forward looking agenda for the Summit. Proactive communication and outreach is central to our NATO 2030 agenda.

This is our opportunity to recommit to our values and what the Alliance stands for, so that we can continue to defend  our nations our people, and continue to do our job in a very uncertain world.

So I count on all of you to play your part, to play your part together, in this broad concert of nations and institutions of like-minded citizens and individuals, to strengthen NATO's unity, and also to strengthen NATO's narrative.

And this is something that we need to do also, for audiences and publics that are not always exposed or do not know well enough, what NATO stands for, and the real mission of our Alliance. Because there's one thing which is pretty simple to communicate, that without security there is no foundation for decent lives, for economic activities, or for fulfillment of individual or collective dreams and ambitions, there's no way in which you can build a prosperous, democratic society without ensuring the foundation of security in the broader sense of that term.

This is the storyline.

This is something that we have to communicate in a proactive way to our public opinions, but also  to our potential rivals, or adversaries. So, investing in strategic communications, conducting proactive communications, building societal resilience and cooperation with like-minded partners are just the key ingredient to our effort, so that together as NATO, as Allies, and also together with our partners around the world, we can continue to tell NATO’s story of freedom, of liberty, of giving nations and individuals the fundamental right to choose their own lives and their own destinies.

This Alliance is about freedom, and I think our nations coming from behind the Iron Curtain, I think we appreciate and our public opinions, including the young ones, appreciate that strong narrative, that NATO is about security, but it's also about values, shared values, shared interests, it’s the time for all of us, to step up.

And again, with so many creative Latvians, and also such a great Center of Excellence, we feel confident that the way ahead, will be successful. And I'm counting on you and all your colleagues, to continue to be our very valuable partners in that endeavor.

Thank you so very much and I look forward to eventually exchanging some comments with you.



Moderator: Thank you so much, Deputy Secretary General, for your strategic perspective, and I know that STRATCOM echoes what you have to say about the strong narrative on our shared values and freedom. We have several questions already come in from our audience, which is great. So I'll move straight on to those.

So, should NATO perhaps consider a member nations’ efforts to build resilience against disinformation, to be part of their 2% GDP defense spending goal, so, over to you.

Deputy Secretary General: Thank you very much, as I mentioned in my presentation and also as Secretary General Stoltenberg made very, very clear, we want to build upon the excellent work that NATO has already done on the topic of resilience, in a sort of anticipation and foresight, and our Leaders decided at the NATO Summit in Warsaw in 2016, to introduce what we call baseline requirements on resilience, basically helping Allies to measure themselves against a number of criteria, in order to address points that are strong, also points that are weaker, and we have done an excellent job and our colleagues here in Headquarters have been doing a great job, in that direction.

But the pandemic also showed to us, that resilience is not just the whole of government business, it becomes a whole of society. So this is why we are proposing, and we hope that our leaders of the NATO Summit, will endorse the proposals, advanced by Secretary General Stoltenberg, in making sure that to become even more ambitious, that we define even more precise indicators, metrics, analytics, in order to help Allied nations to cope with this huge pressure on the resilience of our societies.

Now, we also speak about not only spending more, but also spending better. So, I'm absolutely convinced that as nations start to measure, to set themselves against some precise indicators of resilience, there'll be some logical decisions to be made at the national level, for national budget, through regional budgets, through private sector budgets, through hopefully NGO budgets - hopefully they will be ever, ever, stronger, and together to decide what can we do and should we do at NATO.

And this is something I believe would be reflected one or another, into the way in which we invest.

This is not spending - this is investment.

And of course, as we are changing in a way, the way in which we do our defense planning processes, with the help of NATO, and we are trying to introduce new technologies into that kind of exercise, I'm convinced that resilience or indicators on resilience, will also be part of also defense planning processes be it at a national level, or hopefully also at NATO level.

So I'm confident that nations realize the complexity and the urgency of this effort, and that NATO can and will continue to play a vital role into this, in cooperation also the EU.

We are talking to the European Union, when Jens Stoltenberg was invited by Ursula von der Leyen to attend for the first time, as a NATO Secretary General, to attend a College of Commissioners meeting last December only. And when they looked, and we're looking together at our levels with our EU partners and friends, what new topics should we introduce on the NATO-EU cooperation agenda, resilience came first.

Many others space, the rise of China, new technologies, many other things, but I think the resilience is an issue that inside NATO, inside the EU, between NATO and EU. I was even reading an OECD excellent report produced for the G7 presidency of Britain, on economic resilience, and I encourage, also the ones watching our conversation to have a look into that to see the complexity, the diversity, [inaudible]. So yes, the answer is yes, we'll have to reflect the way in which we invest in our security, the dimension of resilience.

Moderator: I fully agree with you. Resilience is a process rather than one time and state. But here, especially when we look also in your portfolio, emerging technologies and how fast they're transforming this landscape and once again, how profound the changes they bring not only to the government or military, but to the whole society, how can we adapt to this speed, because of course we all know bureaucracy have a tempo of their own and NATO in my book is probably the best of the international bureaucracies as far as speed  is concerned, but how we bridge this from a building resilience perspective, ability, to adapt as a change happens.

Deputy Secretary General: Thank you, that's a very relevant question, and I was speaking of the DNA of NATO permanently adapting, adjusting to a changing world and the changing environment. And it's true now, it's self evident, that the speed of innovation and technology implementation is just immensely fast, and even a lean and efficient bureaucracy like our in NATO, thank you for the compliment by the way, also we struggle to make sure that we maintain the pace, not only of adapting to these new technologies, but also adopting these new technologies, and not only in terms of defence and security but also in the way in which we work. The processes.

So when [inaudible] asked me to chair the Innovation Board and to help my colleagues in making sure that NATO is adjusting to this very fast transformation of technologies.

I was also encouraged by the fact that our Leaders, the NATO High Level Meeting in London in 2019 they instructed us to start working on a implementation strategy for, what we call, emerging disruptive technologies EDTs. We are talking now and we are starting to implement an AI strategy for NATO. Things need to be done.

Because now, more than 80% of the innovation with security implications, they are produced by the private sector, it’s not Government anymore in the driver's seat, of course there are some portions, segments of our defense needs, that Governments and Government funding and research and innovation continues to be very important.

But in most of the others, we are basically, you know, following in a way the vitality of our private sector. So this is why, keeping together, and this is what I'm trying to do; a homogeneous NATO innovation ecosystem across the Alliance is something which is paramount. Not only for adopting new technologies, but also making sure that we don't face an interoperability gap between some very advanced Allies, huge capabilities, very, very complex economies, very deep financial sectors, huge venture capital resources, exceptionally well funded universities because that's the third part in this triple helix between public, private, and academia and NGOs.

So, this is in a way, my job and our job in NATO, just to make sure that we keep all nations connected to this innovation ecosystem. And if you look into the EDT implementation roadmap, you will see that we are working with hubs, with accelerators, with small startups, or some of the big tech giants, because innovation is coming from everywhere, you can find a unicorn of multi-billion dollar stock valuation in Latvia, or I don't know from Romania, the country I'm coming from.

And, and this is the beauty, of course, of this issue and let me end on one thing, I'm convinced that in the end in the competition also for the technological supremacy in the world, because we have specially in China, a formidable competitor. This is not an easy thing, they are investing methodically, huge amounts of resources in a very disciplined way. Sometimes, of course, in more licit or less licit means but, in the end, they are a formidable player.

I'm convinced of the fact that open societies with free citizens, being able to speak up their own minds, in the end, our societies are more conducive for innovation and technology and progress than closed societies – I’m convinced of this.

So, harnessing the talent in our societies. Bringing our universities together, bringing our scientists together, bringing our top experts, and also embedding in our technologies, our values and our ethical and moral code is something, which I believe is paramount, and that's why I'm optimistic.

And I’m very very confident of the fact that we'll continue to keep our edge, and also keep our societies safe.

Moderator: Okay, thank you if you've got time for one more question, we could go to another one or is that your final statement?

Deputy Secretary General: No one could take one more, I’m looking at my colleagues there.

Moderator: We’d love it if you could do it.

Deputy Secretary General:  Baiba, I hope she’s watching [inaudible]

Moderator: One from the audience then, if we may. Strengthening the transatlantic link has always been repeated in Summit declarations. What actions go with and support this statement, how do we make this essential element of NATO's grand strategy, more visible in public?

Deputy Secretary General: Listen, there are big things like the NATO Summit, by the way, in the NATO 2030 proposals of Secretary General Stoltenberg, he is also proposing to our leaders, I hope that they will accept his proposal and our proposal, is to have annual NATO summits.

Because when you see 30 Leaders from 33 proud nations, coming together on a more regular basis, this is also a huge STRATCOM opportunity. But I know that Baiba and her colleagues in our Public Diplomacy Division and all of us, and also with you and others, will be making sure that this is a moment, not only of big decisions but also a moment for Strategic Communications of the highest level, of the highest of our strength and political influence, because that's what NATO Summits represent.

But we should not wait only for NATO Ministerials or for NATO big public events, or for our Summits, we have to find a way for us to be on a daily basis, not even on daily - on a daily and nightly basis - in a proactive mode because competition is fierce. Our adversaries are using instruments that our open societies are sometimes more exposed to. We are not turning down the internet, we are not shutting down Twitter if we don't like something, or somebody could mobilize a protest against one of our Governments or whatever cause they might do, so in a way we have to have a permanent logic of proactive communication, and sometimes not only communications in the traditional sense – like now communicating with you.

But sometimes, actions, and not only words, deeds, and not only words, do represent communication.

Today the European Union has decided to allow, and to encourage, three non EU important Allies to join military mobility PESCO projects, US, UK and Norway, I think, are the three countries that today the Defense Ministers of the EU, 21 of those are also NATO Defence Ministers, and they will be meeting on June 1st, to prepare together with the Foreign Ministers the NATO Summit.

So I'm saying that communication is not just an issue that you communicate in a traditional way. It's an ecosystem of gestures.

Sometimes of silence, sometimes a very creative thing, sometimes using unusual ways to communicate with our public opinions. And I know that the NATO Summit will be one of those moments, the NATO Summit in 2022 will be also a very important one because we hope and we are confident that we will have a new Strategic Concept by that time, if of course our Leaders will agree now in June.

This means that we have now, in a very complex time,  and I would also offer you because you're the Center of Excellence there and you have such right minds and creative people, let's think at least for one year, because between June 2022 or the next NATO Summit when we have this new Strategic Concept, let's think together.

Let's train our teams better and more clearly together in making sure that we have state of the art, fast, credible value based, relentless communications in defending our values, that's what we are. That's why I'm so happy to be with you my friends and congratulations for having me and [inaudible]

Moderator: Thank you, Deputy Secretary General for your time and we've been really happy to have you here. And what one thing I take away from this conversation, is how much NATO is looking forward, how much NATO is ready to take the future, whatever will come, and is ready to be right on the spot on the challenges and opportunities that the world will bring, and as you said, this world group will bring many things, many things, some of them will be unexpected, but as one of my teachers once taught me, one stroke can be broken easily. If you put a bunch of them together, you can't.

And that's the concept of NATO, and if it's not only strong being together but also strong in looking forward, introducing innovation, understanding the realities and technologies of the today, I think all of our citizens are safer because of that. Thank you very much. Thank you for your time and good luck in preparation of that Summit, I'm sure it is going to be great success.

Deputy Secretary General: Thank you so very much. Keep up the good work.