by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the Delphi Economic Forum 2021

  • 10 May. 2021 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 11 May. 2021 11:06

(As delivered)

MIRCEA GEOANĂ [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you so very much. I would like to thank the Delphi Economic Forum, such a prestigious international and global platform, for inviting me and inviting through me the organisation. Greece is such an important Ally. I would like to thank Mr Tsomokos for the kind words and also Angelos, I look forward to a conversation and also I look forward to the questions that might be addressed to me after my short intervention. Indeed, NATO is an organisation that is already 72 years old. And in our DNA, in our genes, we have a combination of factors. On the one side, the values that bind us together. And also the interests that bind us together. And like in many other difficult times in the last few decades, NATO also has in its genes, we have in the genes as NATO Allies, the gene of permanent adaptation to an ever-changing security environment. There was an illusion at the end of the Cold War, when the Berlin Wall collapsed, that we will be witnessing, somehow, an end of history. And I do not think that in Greece we can . . . we can speak about something like that. There is never an end of history; history is sometimes more linear, sometimes it’s more agitated, as we have seen recently. But history never ends. And this is why NATO has this permanent adaptation gene in our very body. And let me first thank Greece, such an important Ally in our organisation. Greece has, is and will bring to NATO so many contributions. Your troops play an important role in NATO Missions, from Afghanistan all the way to Kosovo. Your jets help keep the skies over Montenegro safe. And your naval forces are an important part of NATO’s maritime posture. Greece is key to help guarantee the security in Southeast Europe, but also in the Mediterranean. And you also lead by example when it comes to defence spending: investing more than two percent of GDP for your defence and our common defence. So Greece is a very valued Ally within the NATO family. It has an important voice at the NATO table, including now as we prepare the Alliance for the future, as we are heading towards the June 14th NATO summit. And as we are preparing, speaking of adaptation and permanent adaptation, to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. And there are many such challenges around us. The pandemic has only magnified, amplified, sometimes distorted, but in the end, I think we all can agree that the very definition of security is today much broader, much more complex and much more intertwined between traditional defence and security and more novel forms of security for our nations and also for NATO. A more assertive Russia, brutal terrorism, nuclear proliferation, disruptive technologies that are bringing so much change in our societies, but also in the way in which we prepare for defence and deterrence. The security impact of climate change, as was referred to a little bit earlier, and also probably one of the most monumental shifts in global balance in centuries, the rise of China that is introducing a major element of complexity to the global geopolitical situation. All these challenges are too big for any country or any continent, for that matter, to face alone. But together, through NATO, the nations of Europe and North America, we are not alone. And together we are adapting again, like we have done in the past, like we’ll do in the future, to face any challenge in these unpredictable times. So the core mission, of course, is collective defence, but in a much broader sense of the term: to keep our people, our values, and our democracies safe. And this is what NATO 2030, you see the logo just behind me, NATO 2030 is just about all of these. At the upcoming NATO summit, Allied leaders will have a unique opportunity to strengthen NATO even more and set an ambitious transatlantic agenda for our security and defence through the process that we hope, and we are confident, the leaders would give their blessing to just in a few weeks’ time in Brussels when they will meet again. NATO 2030 is about reinforcing our unity, broadening our approach to security and strengthening our global partnerships to safeguard the rule-based international order. In order to strengthen our cohesion and unity, we must use NATO even more. It’s the unique platform bringing Europe and North America together every single day to discuss and defend our shared security. We must strengthen our commitment to our collective defence. We must recommit to increased defence spending, following the example of Greece and a few other Allies. And we must also spend much more together and, of course, in more efficient ways. Keeping our people safe relies on NATO staying strong militarily. We already speak with pride, and this is a pride that goes to every single nation in the NATO family, that we are the most successful military alliance in the history of humankind. We need to keep our military strong. But we also need strong societies as our first line of defence. So NATO 2030 is also about broadening our approach to security. This means making our societies more resilient, making our supply chains more resilient, making our infrastructure more resilient 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 climate change. Finally, NATO 2030 is about strengthening our global partnerships. Today, NATO has 40-plus partnerships around the world. And we need to invest even more in forging the existing ones and also new ones with likeminded countries, like India, the largest democracy on the planet. Together, we must safeguard the international rule-based order against the authoritarian pushback by countries like Russia and China that do not share our values. Russia and China have substantially increased their presence and hybrid activities in southeast Europe, in the Middle East, in Africa. And these activities affect the security of our southern Allies, including Greece. So we have to maintain vigilance and collectively deter all these threats. As I mentioned before, we have to strengthen even more our partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region, where Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea are very precious partners of NATO. And should strengthen the capacity of our partners to stabilise our neighbourhood. And you will see many of these propositions made by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the NATO 2030, hopefully on the agenda and approved by our leaders in a few weeks’ time. And of course, we have to work much . . . even more closer with likeminded institutions, not only nations - and the European Union comes to mind as the natural partner, strategic partner, to our organisation. And Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg asked me, because I’m coming from a country, Romania, that is both an Allied nation and also an EU member state, to pay even more attention, and he leads and we lead an effort of an ever-closer relationship between NATO and the EU and other organisations that share our values and can be helpful to this international rule-based order that I was referring to. Also - and this is on the way to come to something which is fundamentally important to all of us - as you might remember, the existing Strategic Concept of NATO is from 2010, remember Madeleine Albright and many others helping our organisation to come up with a Strategic Concept. But so many things have changed since 2010. This is also why we hope that our leaders will give Secretary General Stoltenberg the mission to adjust, to adapt, and renew the Strategic Concept. And we are ready to engage with all Allies and also with likeminded partners in the [inaudible; 00:09:39 audio cut-out] NATO in 2022, to be able to sanction the new Strategic Concept of our organisation, to reaffirm our commitment to our shared values, and to chart a common course as we address the challenges of today and of tomorrow. So as I mentioned in my first words to the Delphi Economic Forum, NATO is a very strong Alliance. It’s sometimes with difficult moments. We are a united Alliance, an Alliance that is ready to tackle security challenges that we all face. As we look into the future, we want the Alliance to become even stronger, even more united and even more prepared for the unexpected. And the pandemic is, if you want a vivid and tragic proof, that things can also occur other than the black swans that we anticipate, we have to be ready to face, also, the unexpected. We count on Greece. We count on all NATO Allies to play an important role in this endeavour of ours, through words and through deeds and to keep our nations safe and free, not only now, not only for one more decade, as the logo behind me indicates, but for many, many, many decades and for many, many generations to come, because make no mistake, without security as a foundation, we just cannot build safe, democratic, prosperous societies. NATO is also in the business not only of keeping us collectively secure, but also to be that unique foundation on which we can build better lives, to nurture the dreams of our citizens and be able to cope with the imponderables of tomorrow, as the planet is in such a massive transformation as we speak. So not only for one decade, but for many, many decades to come. And we count on Greece, we count on all of our Allies to be part of this formidable journey of this great organisation of ours. Thank you so very much. I just wanted to set the stage for a conversation with the distinguished forum, and Angelos, I am in your hands now for the moving, if you agree, to the Q&A part. And I will be ready to entertain a few questions from you or from the audience.

ANGELOS ATHANASOPOULOS: Sure. Mr Geoană, thank you so much. Actually, my first question concerns the monumental shift you just mentioned, the monumental shift of power towards the Asia-Pacific and China. I wonder how NATO fits in countering China - not necessarily as a threat, but mainly as a challenge. And if you consider that China is a collective defence issue, or something more hybrid, if you like?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Thank you for the question. That’s a very important question, because, as I have seen and we have all seen, the rise of China is one of the most consequential transformations in global affairs in many, many decades. Some people say that it’s after a few centuries where the political West was dominating and is dominating the world, China is coming back to the forefront of world affairs. And in a way, it’s . . . it’s remarkable the progress that China has achieved in only a few short decades - that’s also very important. But in NATO, we do not see China as an adversary. And our leaders, when they met in December 2019 in London, I think they put it, also, in the final communique - and this is official policy from NATO - that we see China both as an opportunity but also as a challenge. An opportunity because it’s a massive country, it’s a big economy, there is lots of trade, lots of cross-investments that are very useful for the global economy. And many European and North American nations, members of NATO, do entertain, also, economic and commercial ties with China, which is a part of the global game. We also need China to be an important part of a system of norms that will keep the world predictable and safe. And we were encouraged to see that when President Biden invited many leaders to the Climate Change summit, virtual summit, a few weeks ago, a few days ago only, the President of China responded to that . . . to that call. John Kerry, the Special Envoy of President Biden for Climate Change, visited Beijing, also he visited Moscow. So there are things where China is an opportunity and is a partner on many fronts. But also the rise of China raises, also, challenges to us, including in security terms. Today, China is investing massively in its build-up of its military forces. It has the second largest budget in the world after the United States. It already has the largest fleet in the world. And speaking to our Greek audience, who are basically at the very beginning of this trade, historically, and also a massive maritime power as we speak, you can recognise the significance of such . . . of such a reality. They’re also investing in high-end sophisticated weaponry and systems. We see that they have now ambitions in space. And this is . . . this is a fact. So we have also to look how this rise of China is affecting, also, our interest and potentially our security interest. So we want to see a balanced approach to China, as an opportunity on one side and also as a challenge on the other side. And this is a kind of, if you want, [inaudible; 00:15:49], that NATO is entertaining. Also, when we speak about strengthening our resilience, we also speak about infrastructure, supply chains. The pandemic has taught us some lessons, I believe. Some of them quite tough. Supply chain, FDI - all these issues are also part of our economic well-being, but also part of our economic security. And also if you look to the G7, the UK presidency and the topics they’re debating, economic security is also part of the conversation that we all have in Europe and across the Atlantic. So, yes, it’s a big shift in global affairs. We have to treat this attentively and carefully. NATO is not in the business of, of . . .  in the business of trying to get new adversaries or rivals. No. But we are a defensive Alliance and we are also seeing China moving closer to, also, to our geography, be it in Africa, be it also sometimes in Europe. So that’s the line that NATO is pursuing as we speak.

ANGELOS ATHANASOPOULOS: I would dare to say that Russia is an even more difficult player to handle. First, it is closer to us. Secondly, they have been . . . they have a resurgence over the last few years, both militarily, but also by, in a way, intervening in European societies through disinformation tactics and also by trying to . . . to attract closer to her, even some NATO Allies like Turkey. So my question would be twofold. First, how dangerous is Russia towards NATO these days? And secondly, how NATO’s going to . . . to handle certain Allies - and by certain I mean Turkey - who are actually too close and too friendly to Russia? Don’t you think that maybe NATO should be a bit more firm towards Turkey?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Well, indeed, Russia has become far more assertive. I was mentioning the Strategic Concept of NATO in 2010 - in 2014, they illegally annexed Crimea, they started a totally, out of any international norm, de facto occupation of Eastern Ukraine. Look at the pressure they’re putting on Georgia or the Republic of Moldova. It is not the only pressure on the eastern flank of NATO, it’s also more to the south. Russia is present in Syria, is present directly or indirectly in Libya, in many other places. And this is a reality that we have to take into account. That’s why deterrence and defence is the name of the game. This is why NATO is adapting to this new situation that we don’t encourage. I have to remind all of us and also our . . . our Russian interlocutors, that when we decided to create the NATO-Russia Council, we imagined a two-track approach. Deterrence and defence, as I mentioned, and we are doing this actively, that is the job - one billion people living in the 30 NATO Allies’ nations, that is our business, to protect them against any interference to our security and this is what we are doing. But also a dialogue with Russia I personally offered, I think, three or four times, Russia, in my capacity as a senior official in NATO, the invitation to reconvene the NATO-Russia Council, which is the second track approach to the dealings between NATO and Russia. They refused every single time. Now, after the build-up, they had and still have around Crimea, of course, talking about the situation in Crimea, the Black Sea, and how it can also reduce the risk of tension and undesired escalation is something that we should engage with Russia. So this is something that we are keeping in mind, that on the one side, Russia is far more assertive. They play a very complex role from the High North and the Arctic to the eastern flank, with the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, to Africa, to the Middle East. So that’s a challenge, which is not only of importance to the eastern flank NATO Allies - who, by the way, I think they are meeting in a Bucharest Nine summit today, where Secretary General Stoltenberg will be speaking - but also to the south and also for the space and also in cyberspace, disinformation you mentioned. So Russia has opted for an aggressive stance against the political democratic West, and we have to stay together and defend our interests, while hoping that Russia will realise that dialogue is also part of the same, if you want, package of problems that we all face. You also mentioned Turkey. For NATO and for us, the leaders of the Alliance, for Jens Stoltenberg, for all of us, all Allies are equally important and relevant. And Greece and Turkey for their geographies and the immense strategic importance that Greece and Turkey, individually and together, do represent for our Alliance, this is a very important part of the interest of NATO. And, of course, we also recognise that some of our Allies, including Turkey, sometimes they do . . . they do face pressures. Also, Greece has been facing and is facing a huge pressure coming from refugees, also Turkey has to face, also, an important terrorist threat, like probably no other Ally is faced with. Sometimes when it comes to decisions like acquisition of S-400, we are not seeing eye to eye with our Ally, Turkey. And Secretary General Stoltenberg said at the very highest level in the Turkish establishment that we do not see S-400 as being in any way compatible with the NATO missile defence systems. We are not deciding in NATO which equipment one Ally or another should acquire, that’s not our business, this is a sovereign decision for each Ally to make. So, when they do these kind of things, we also want to make sure that the unity of NATO is kept. By the way, we are very, very heartened and very pleased and want to thank also Greece and also Turkey for accepting the de-confliction mechanism mediated and offered by NATO for maritime, the deconfliction. And it worked well. Also, I salute the fact there are some exploratory talks between Ankara and Athens, Athens and Ankara, as we speak. So we do hope that through dialogue we’ll be able to overcome sometimes situations that are tense. And I think NATO is the unique platform for Allies to discuss things, even if sometimes they do disagree, they don’t agree with everything. And that’s the beauty of NATO that we can be also a political platform, not only a collective security platform.

ANGELOS ATHANASOPOULOS: What do you answer to the people who say that maybe we have now a deconfliction mechanism, but at the same time we have an Ally which is threatening the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of another member state, another Ally? De-confliction sounds nice, of course, but many people here in Greece believe that NATO should be, let’s say, more . . . more clear on who is right and who is wrong. Do you think that NATO could do this, or this is totally out of the question?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ:  Listen, we are encouraging Allies to bring to the NATO table, in a political conversation, issues that are relevant to their security. But not everything which is brought to the NATO table can be addressed and resolved by NATO. The long-standing history of continental shelves and the limitation of airspace and also energy resources, because that also was, and is, one of the issues that are creating a little bit of tension, is not for us directly to solve. But we can be that platform where such differences can be brought and eventually ironed out. But NATO is not the exclusive way in which things can be done. We are also encouraged by the fact that the European Union is engaging with Turkey on some of these issues and hopefully this will lead it. There is also a UN mechanism when it comes to the older issue of Cyprus. So there are many other places where things like this can be addressed, according to the, if you want, the specialisation of each organisation. But politically, again, when it comes to security, NATO is the unique platform in doing this. And even if we don’t have all the answers, we can also bring that kind of more, if you want, more serene environment, where our leaders can meet and even, sometimes, if they disagree on issues, it’s not the first time that Allies disagree in the history of NATO. Remember the Suez Canal crisis and the missile crisis in the 80s? There were lots of moments where allies did not see eye to eye. But in the end, our common interests and the need for us to . . . to have our common security protected by NATO is far more important than some issues that sometimes can make countries, including Allied nations, differ on a few issues. We are here to assist dialogue and political dialogue, but it’s also, if you want, a concert of mechanisms that can be used and should be used and are used, as I understand, to addressing some issues that are thorny. But with political will, there is always a way forward.

ANGELOS ATHANASOPOULOS: We are approaching the end. But I know that as a charismatic speaker, you can answer me very, very quickly the following question: EU-NATO cooperation - what would be your advice on how the working relationship can be better in the future? We have one minute.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Listen, this is a topic very close to my heart, as I mentioned in my former incarnations as foreign minister of my country, I was working to get my country both into NATO and the EU and we know how important these two organisations are. Of course, there are political limitations in terms of the composition of each of the organisations. This is something which is a reality, a political reality. But also, there is so much room for doing things together. This is why for the first time, when the Secretary General of NATO was invited to the College of Commissioners by President von der Leyen, Jens Stoltenberg was there, he discussed with all the commissioners.  I’m going, he’s going to the European Parliament, we are talking to the EU institutionally. And this is why, on the topic of resilience, on the topic of military mobility, on the topic of new technologies, on the topic of the rise of China, on the topic of space, on the topic of climate change and the security implications of climate change, I give you, if you want, a number of topics that we believe and we see natural synergies between NATO and the EU. And where there are some political limitations on the one side, we have to be respectful of that, but also be creative and find a way forward. NATO and the EU - that’s my final point - are two sides of the same coin. We are part of the same family of values. We are part of the same family of democratic nations. We are here to be synergistic and avoid unnecessary competition, complementarity, synergy, and I see an even brighter future on the NATO-EU relationship in the years to come.

ANGELOS ATHANASOPOULOS: Dear Deputy Secretary General, thank you so much for this discussion, this very thorough discussion. And I hope that we will manage to meet in person in the NATO summit in mid-June. Thank you so much.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Thank you and good luck with the forum.