by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană in the Spring Meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly

  • 17 May. 2021 -
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  • Last updated 21-May-2021 15:43

(As delivered)

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you so much President Connolly, for this very kind but also very forceful introduction.  And let me take this opportunity to again congratulate you on your appointment as President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.  We count on your leadership, on your wisdom, and we count on the entirety of the Assembly to continue to be our indispensable partners in forging the way forward for our great Alliance.  Let me also thank Karin Angström and the Swedish Delegation for formally hosting this spring session.  We all look forward to the moment when we can meet again in person and thank you for reminding me the wonderful moments I spent as a Romanian MP in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, it’s a great group of leaders and my heart and also my full support, and Jens Stoltenberg’s support is in our ever closer relationship with this very Assembly.  Because that's indeed a very important year for millions of citizens from Allied nations and also for the so many partners that this Assembly represents, not least as we start to turn the tide in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.  This is also a pivotal moment for NATO, as Jean, you have also said, as we look forward to the Summit in Brussels in just four weeks’ time, we are very happy to welcome in person President Biden and all the leaders of the Alliance.  We must seize this unique opportunity to reinforce our unity and solidarity, accelerate our ongoing adaptation and prepare our Alliance for the future.  And this is why the Secretary General has launched NATO 2030, and we welcome the input coming from the Assembly on the reflection process and look forward to engaging with you on the way, after the Summit, up to the 2022 Summit, as we’ll be updating our strategic concept.  Because indeed, since 2014, NATO has taken significant steps to adapt to a changing security environment.  We have strengthened our collective defence, we boosted our readiness of our forces, modernised our capabilities, and we did increase defence spending.  But to stay successful, NATO must continue to adapt to today's and tomorrow's challenges, to deal with a world of growing global competition, advancing authoritarianism and continued instability in NATO neighbourhoods.  Looking to 2030, we face increasing challenge and change.  As we are drawing down in Afghanistan, we are stepping up our response to other global challenges: from Russia's pattern of aggressive behaviour to brutal terrorism, ever more sophisticated cyberattacks, disruptive technologies, climate change and indeed the rise of China.  All of these challenges are too great for any country or any continent to face alone.  But together, through NATO, the nations of Europe and North America are not alone, and together we are adapting again to face a more unpredictable world.  In a nutshell, this is what NATO 2030 is all about.  At our Summit in June, we'll have an ambitious and forward looking agenda, to strengthen our unity and commitment to defend each other, to broaden our approach to security, take a more global approach to safeguard the rules based international order, and yes, as you have mentioned, President Connolly, to recommit to our shared democratic values.  To strengthen our cohesion and unity, we must use NATO even more as the principal platform for Transatlantic consultations on security and defence.  We must further strengthen our Alliance as the foundation of our collective defence, by keeping levels of defence spending up and our deterrence and defence posture strong.  We also need to broaden our approach to security by focusing, among others, on resilience and innovation, to ensure that our societies, supply chains and infrastructure are more resilient and to retain, indeed, our technological edge in an ever more competitive world.  We must also address the security implications of climate change, a defining challenge that has a profound impact also on our security.  So NATO can, and should, play its part in reducing global emissions.  Finally, NATO 2030 is about safeguarding the rules based international order against those who seek to undermine it, like Russia and China.  So, we should deepen our partnerships and forge new ones with like-minded countries and organisations from around the world, to set international standards and norms that reflect our values and ensure others play by the same rules.  At the Summit, I expect Allies to task the Secretary General to update our strategic concept dating from 2010 and to chart a common course going forward.  The challenges to our shared security are great, so our ambitions must be high.  Meeting our level of ambition requires more resources.  For this, Allies must continue to spend more and better on defence.  We should also collectively fund more of NATO's core tasks.  Over the years, we have agreed to do substantially more together, from collective defence to crisis management and to cooperative security.  But common funding did not keep up with these increased tasks.  A substantial increase in common funding would send a powerful political message of cohesion and resolve.  And for this, our leaders will need your support as representatives of our democratic nations.  These NATO 2030 priorities will form the core of an ambitious and forward looking agenda for the Summit on June 14th.  It will be a unique opportunity to future-proof our Alliance, to re-energise the Transatlantic bond and to demonstrate our commitment to Transatlantic solidarity, not just in words, but in deeds.  NATO 2030 is also an important opportunity to recommit to our values, strengthen our democracies and protect our institutions and values.  This starts with you, the defenders of our democratic ideals and the linchpin between our elected governments and the people you represent.  So, thank you again for your ongoing commitment to our Alliance.  Thank you for your interest and active engagement in the NATO 2030 initiative and thank you for ensuring that our resources match our levels of ambition.  We all look forward to a very successful Summit in June and we are confident that this will be the case.  And then we'll have, together again, to continue to successfully adapt our Alliance, through NATO 2030, to keep our people safe, to safeguard our values, and to make sure, as President Connolly has so aptly said, that we're not just a military Alliance, but we are an organisation based on a foundation of principles, of shared values, of rule of law, of democracy, and of course of shared interests.  So like always, I'm privileged to be with you and I look forward, I know, to a very lively discussion in the next few minutes.  Thank you so very much.  Congratulations, President Connolly, for your leadership, we count on our partnership and friendship.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: You certainly have that and thank you, Mr Deputy Secretary General, for your very thoughtful remarks.  We're now going to open it to questions.  I'm going to ask everyone to limit their questions to one and a half minute time limit so that we can try to get everybody in and I'm going to call delegates to ask questions in groups of three, if that's all right with you, Mr Deputy Secretary General.  And after the questions being asked, we'll of course ask the Deputy Secretary General to reply.  The first three questions are from Attila Mesterhazy from Hungary, Marietta Giannakou from Greece and Linda Sánchez from the United States.  Attila?

Attila Mesterhazy: Thank you very much.  It was an excellent presentation, Mr Geoană.  Good to see you again.  And I have just a short question then, could you tell me something about the Western Balkans?  What are the next steps for Kosovo or Bosnia?  So, if you could just elaborate something on this issue that how we can go on, how we can do the next steps for that region?  It's quite important for us as a security issue, of course, and as a Hungarian politician, of course it's very important for me personally also.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]:  Thank you, Attila.  Marietta?

Marietta Giannakou: One of the most important threats the international order faces is the threat to democracy and the rule of law, NATO's core values, along with individual liberty.  However, in contrast to the European Union, which is arguably in a better position to address democratic backsliding through a number of tools at its disposal, NATO has no legal provisions for suspending or expelling an Ally who violates the Alliance's founding principles.  Also, the fact that NATO operates by consensus means that any punitive action against the offending Ally risks incurring action on normal NATO business.  What do you think must be NATO's role in helping defending democracy and thus strengthening democratic resilience?

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you very much, Marietta.  And Linda Sánchez, you get the third question.
Linda Sánchez: Thank you so much, Deputy Secretary General.  What a pleasure to hear from you.  We've been talking about a lot of themes and the theme of resiliency is one that continues to come up.  Would you agree that through NATO 2030 reflects... the NATO 2030 reflection process, NATO must rededicate itself to one of its core founding mandates, which is a commitment to share democratic values? And if so, what are some of the proposals NATO is considering to make democratic institutions in Allied and partner nations more resilient against threats to liberal democracy?  Thank you.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you, Linda.  Mr Deputy Secretary General?

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you so much for the questions.  Attila, my good friend, good to see you again.  As President Connolly also has mentioned, NATO is a vivid example of adaptation and open door policy, and we are very, very happy to see two of the newest Allied members, the Republic of North Macedonia and also Montenegro joining our ranks.  Today, Secretary General Stoltenberg is meeting the President of Serbia.  We are working together with the European Union on Bosnia and Herzegovina.  So, our interest and our focus on the Western Balkans remains very, very strong.  And we hope also that the pattern, positive pattern of successful and successive enlargements of NATO first, and you following after, will also be completed in the Western Balkans.  Each of us, starting after the fall of communism, all the enlargements of NATO, it was joining NATO first, the first three countries in 1999, seven of the countries in 2004 and so on and so forth, and then after a relatively short period of time NATO enlargement was also conducive for European Union enlargement.  So, in our view, the Western Balkans belong and, if the nations in that region want to join the Euro Atlantic family of communities, we should support them, and this is what we are doing every day.  And we are trying to complete the work of a Europe whole and free and democratic.  Now, speaking of our values, this is an Alliance based on common values and also on common interests and, of course, being an organisation that works on consensus, not every single time we see eye to eye on every single issue, but we cherish all our Allies and we try to make the political role of NATO even stronger.  And when there are differences, the unique platform that NATO represents for also bringing things that Allies sometimes do not see eye to eye.  That's why we encourage nations to bring to the NATO table issues that are pertinent to their security, but also we discourage nations to bring on the NATO table all the issues that sometimes do appear in their bilateral or regional relationships.  As you have mentioned, we have no instruments per se in basically looking into the implementation of these standards.  But I think there is a sort of a positive peer pressure and there's always a desire among all Allied nations to preserve this unity.  We cannot have unity without a common foundation of values and a common foundation of joint interests.  We are also working very closely with the European Union.  We work together with the EU on fighting disinformation, fighting lots of fake news and propaganda that is coming from all over, all over the place.  But I think that NATO 2030, in essence, is the reconfirmation.  And one of the proposals that we are making is for this Summit or the next Summit, a strategic concept to have basically a solemn reconfirmation to our values and I think this is very important, and I believe this is something which is also leading the way towards keeping NATO united, cohesive, and also based on the same strong foundations of democracy, rule of law and respect for individual freedoms.  Now, when it comes to Representative Sánchez, you know, I think our leaders in NATO were very much anticipating the trends in global affairs because we started to work on resilience in 2016 and we decided... our leaders decided to task NATO to work on what we call baseline requirements on resilience in Warsaw at the Summit.  So, it's already six years, five, six years.  This is why in NATO 2030 and the NATO Summit, we are proposing even more ambitious and more precise indicators to measure our resilience.  And of course, that's a national prerogative in all our countries.  But we believe that the body of experience that NATO has really developed over time, in identifying societal resilience, which encompasses much more than the traditional military definition of resilience, is something that we should all do.  Also, our more vulnerable points, if there are some issues that are in terms of our supply chains, in terms of our FDI screening, in terms of foreign ownership, when it comes to telecom and 5G, when it comes to energy security, when it comes to democratic resilience, these are issues that are basically a much broader definition of both security and also resilience.  This is why we are welcoming the fact that many Allied nations and partner nations, like Sweden and Finland, my home country of Romania has proposed recently a Euro-Atlantic centre for resilience, looking also into the democratic side of these things.  I think that we encourage and we know that we will work with your Assembly just to make sure we mature this conversation as we move forward.  We are also leading and the Secretary General has asked me to also look into NATO/EU relationships, we have identified resilience as one of the topics for additional partnership between NATO and the EU.  We hope to be able to have a high-level dialogue on resilience between NATO and the EU, and I do believe that bringing also institutions and partners that share our values into such a conversation is something which is very, very useful.  We take the issue of resilience very seriously.  It's a very broad concept.  It's a combination between national, subnational governments and international organisations, and it's more and more a matter of societal resilience and not a whole of government resilience.  So, we count on you because you also feel the pulse of your public opinions and your societies to help us craft the most precise, the most effective and the most, if you want, synergistic approaches to resilience, and we count on your support and your political leadership in this.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you, Mr Deputy Secretary.  I would just add, I know... I hope it's very clear, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly believes that while expressions of support, of course, for democratic values and resilience are important, we believe it has to be institutionalised.  After 70 years, it is time for NATO institutionally to have a locus and a focus on what does it mean to share democratic values?  What are those institutions?  What are best practices?  What kind of benchmarking can we and should we do?  What kind of resources can we make available to member nations and would-be members?  And we believe that has to be actually institutionalised in NATO; that it can't just any longer be a verbal commitment or, you know, an expression of universal buy-in.  And frankly, from the American point of view and many others, after the experience we went through on January 6th, what is very clear is that we cannot take those values for granted, even in democratic societies.  There are threats both from within and without, and we need to defend those values in a way that is as rigorous as, for 70 years, we've defended our collective security.  The next three questions are Karl Lamers of Germany, Osman Bak of Turkey and Adao Silva of Portugal.  Karl?

Karl Lamers: Yes, thank you, President Connolly, for your opening, and thanks for your address, Deputy Secretary General.  My question addresses Afghanistan.  The peace process under way in Afghanistan is to be welcomed, although it is recognised [inaudible] as the evolving process requires careful monitoring.  What role do you see from NATO in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of military forces?

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you, Karl.  Osman Bak of Turkey.

Osman Bak: Thank you.  Thank you, Mr President,.  Can you hear me?

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Yes, we can hear you, Osman.

Osman Bak: Yes, thank you, Dear Deputy Secretary General, thank you for your presentation.  I want to bring the situation in the Middle East to your attention.  There is a fire in the Middle East every day, dozens of children are dying.  Innocent civilians are being killed in Gaza.  Currently the humanitarian situation in Gaza is alarming and it is deteriorating every moment.  We must put out the fire immediately.  We must at least think of innocent children and civilians.  My question is, what role can NATO play in order to de-escalate the situation?  What should individual Allies do?  Thank you.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you, Osman.  And the final questioner in this set is Adao Silva of Portugal.
Moderator: Sorry, we're just having a technical issue, if we could ask Mr Silva to request the floor again.  And we'll bring you... and so we're trying to bring Mr Silva up.  Yeah.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: I see him now.

Adao Silva: Thank you very much.  Mr Deputy Secretary General of NATO, I take this opportunity to ask you for your comments on how do you think Transatlantic relations will evolve in the coming years? Do you consider that the cooperation in the Atlantic will be strengthened?  I would like to point out in this regard that the Azores, and particularly the largest field in Azores, may play a pivotal role in enhancing the cooperation in the Atlantic due to its unique geostrategic position and the contribution it can give to the reinforcement of NATO's capabilities in the Atlantic Ocean.  Thank you very much.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you so much, Adao.  Mr Secretary General?

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you so much.  And President Lamers, so good to see you, Sir.  I remember your visit to Romania when I was president of the Senate in Romania and the Parliamentary Assembly visited my country.  Listen, we have invested so much in Afghanistan for already 20 years and if a decision to leave with our forces, Afghanistan, was something that was coming, one way or another, you just cannot be open ended in such complicated situations.  But even if we leave and we are now in a very deliberate and orderly way moving our troops out, US forces, NATO forces, partner countries’ forces, and that's a very important process, we are not leaving Afghanistan per se.  Afghanistan will continue to be for NATO, and I know that for the international community, a destination for our permanent attention and support.  As we speak, we are drafting potential ways in which NATO would eventually continue to be of support for the Afghan national security forces, like we have done successfully over the years.  We are, of course, interested in making sure that the progress on women's rights, on girls’ rights, on things that were achieved with great sacrifice and treasure and blood, by so many of us coming in support of our American Allies after 9/11, will not be wasted.  So, what do we know? This is a complex moment, we are not shying away from the fact that there are also risks there, we all know about those things.  All of us should encourage an inter-Afghan peace process and dialogue and also the international community, NATO, our partners, the other players in the international arena, the regional players around Afghanistan.  We all have an interest in making sure that Afghanistan is not becoming, again, a safe haven for terrorists, but just the opposite, a responsible and respected partner of the international community.  There are so many things that can be done.  There's so many things that we can open this country and that region for commerce, for investment, for trade, for stability and security.  It’s not easy, but the fact that we are withdrawing the Resolute Support Mission and we are putting an end to this already two-decade long international operation and NATO operation in Afghanistan, does not mean the end of our interest and support, active support, generous support, synergistic support for this country, which is a linchpin for stability and security for a much broader area.  Now, speaking of the Middle East, of course NATO has... and the situation now in Israel and in the territories, NATO is not involved directly into this.  We also call for restraint and de-escalation.  There are many Allied nations that are now, as we speak, trying to be supportive of such an effort.  It's a very important discussion for the broader implications for stability in the greater Middle East.  This is something that we also are joining our voice, asking for restraint, asking for de-escalation, asking for a resumption of dialogue because, in the end, this is the only way to forge a political solution for a very complex and long standing issue.  Now, when it comes to the importance and the strategic importance of Portugal, of the Azores, let me give you just one example.  One of the most important NATO exercises, Steadfast Defender, just started in the Atlantic on the shores of Portugal, and this is a massive operation, a NATO operation, a NATO exercise, also a US-led exercise, that will be going from the Atlantic all the way to the Black Sea.  I will be present at the end of Steadfast Defender in my country, my home country, Romania, just for the closure of this very big, big military exercise.  But when we speak about the future of the Alliance and also cohesion and unity, we also are now working, as we speak, to the most important transformation of our concept of deterrence and defence in generations in NATO.  Our military leaders, of course upon instruction from our political leaders, are working on one of the most important 360 degrees analysis and adaptation of military planning to a very complex international situation, not only from all geographies, east and west and south and north, but also across domains, as you very well know, now we have the fifth operational domain in NATO, which is space.  Cyber was declared an operational domain in 2016.  Of course, the traditional air, land and maritime were already part of traditional thinking of this.  So please stay assured that in terms of defending and protecting Allied territory and population, we are very serious and, like always, NATO is leading the way in making sure that we always adapt to an evolving and more challenging international security situation.  So, this is also part of the process of adaptation on deterrence and defence and the role of all NATO Allies- larger, smaller, North Atlantic, Western European, Southern European, Eastern European or Northern European- are equally important for us, and we are taking actions accordingly.  And we appreciate the critical role that your country, Portugal, is playing in this direction.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you so much, Mr Deputy Secretary.  Our next three speakers are Oudekki Loone from Estonia, Theo Francken from Belgium and Christian Tybring-Gjedde from Norway.  Oudekki?

Oudekki Loone: Yes, thank you.  Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Secretary General, of this very interesting overview and presenting here to us.  Still, dear colleagues, I would once more like to draw your attention to the most important change in security-related technology in 21st century, namely the development of lethal autonomous weapons.  Such systems are gradually becoming central to contemporarily military strategy, especially thanks to the leaps of the AI field.  Yet they create a moral hazard by incentivising aggressive postures. The illusionary perspective of less human casualties might blur military and political decision-makers’ choices and might deceive public opinions into supporting wars of aggression, that are international crimes, as we all know, and are against all democratic values we share.  So, this class of weapons should be thoroughly regulated by the means of dedicated international treaty.  And the NATO Parliamentary Assembly could create a special report on this matter but, for example, we could start with having an international conference on this.  Why not together with the North Atlantic Council?  So, I would love you to comment on this issue and how NATO in the future could dedicate more time and effort and on this regulation.  Thank you.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you so much, Oudekki.  Theo Francken.

Theo Francken: Yes, yes, thank you.  Thank you, Mr President.  Thank you, Mr Deputy Secretary General.  Are you hearing me OK?

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Yes.

Theo Francken: Perfect.  So, maybe four little questions or points, but first of all, on Afghanistan, Professor Lamers already questioned you about the issue, I want to point out one single thing about the Afghan interpreters and fixers for NATO for the last 20 years in Belgium, but also in other NATO countries.  We're talking about repatriating them and granting them visa.  So is this a program that's what is the vision of NATO? What is your point of view? Is it… it is an official question of NATO to do this because we are discussing this in Belgium parliament as well.  The second point is on Iraq.  Where are we with the increase of troops in Iraq for the moment? So maybe we can clear out the few points I want to make as well.  First, on our Iran Islamic Republic of Iran, we are very concerned about this.  Also, when we see all the problems in the Middle East so it can lead to more address their role in the Middle East and the role, their role in international terrorism, the Vienna agreement can be a threat as well.  We cannot be naive on this point of view.  So that's the question or points I wanted to make.  Thank you very much.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you, Theo.  And Christian?

Christian Tybring-Gjebbe: Yeah.  I just have to show you this ribbon, this Norwegian ribbon here, this is Norwegian Independence Day or Constitution Day today, so Mr Deputy Secretary General, you have to say hello to Jens and say that I hope that he is fine. [laughs] Very good.  My question is about the occupation of the Crimea and the Russian occupation there.  We have the same statements every time we meet and then they all agree on it, that that's an illegal annexation or occupation of Crimea.  [inaudible] is there any progress in any way?  I mean, [inaudible] Russia is going to withdraw? And it also does look like the people living in Crimea is very... I don't hear about this great protests or anything, but maybe we are not informed.  Could you inform us on if that's an issue and you talk to leaders around the world in NATO about this issue and what they think for the future of the sanctions that we have now in Russia because of the occupation of Crimea?  Thank you.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Deputy Secretary, I think it's important to remember that it’s a little difficult to have, you know, rallies and protests amass in Crimea when they are occupied by Russian troops.  And it's also important to know that it took fifty years for the Baltics to regain their independence from the then Soviet Union, and we stuck with them and it paid off.  And they're not members of NATO.  So, you know, historic perspective is sometimes important with respect to things like this.  And the final point we've made in NATO PA is, if you somehow acquiesce or turn a blind eye to Crimea, then everything else is just quibbling over territory.  Eastern Ukraine.  You know, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia, Moldova and anything else Putin may want to get his hands on.  So, it's one of the reasons why we've been so stalwart in making a strong line on Crimea, just the other point of view that we have expressed in NATO PA over the years.  Mr Deputy Secretary General?

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you very much.  The question on autonomous systems and AI and new technologies, we call them here in our jargon, emerging and disrupting technologies.  It's a very critical and complex topic.  I'm chairing the Innovation Board in NATO on behalf of the Secretary General, and I'm working with my colleagues to develop a roadmap on these new technologies.  And AI is one of the most complex and actual topics that we are discussing.  And I think you're right that when we speak about our values, sometimes we speak mainly about democracy, the rule of law, in one specific situation.  But when we speak about our values as a transversal issue and not geographical issue, we have to make sure that when we address the issue of military and security use of new technologies, AI in particular, that also our values are embodied in the way in which we operate and regulate the systems.  Of course, NATO is not the European Union, we don't have the power to regulate things.  But we have a fantastic power, which is the power of standard setting, because NATO is recognised around the world, including by the ones who do not like us that much, that we are representing the gold standard when it comes to military and security issues.  That's why we are working very actively, also the European Union, we are also engaging with the UN, speaking of international treaties.  If it's a global treaty, you need also the UN to be involved.  And this is why we are very, very attentive in making sure that the adaptation and adoption of new technologies, when it comes to military warfare and security issues, is done with the respect of these fundamental democratic values that we embody.  That's a very complex issue.  That's a very important issue.  And I welcome the interest of the Assembly in working with us, in trying to find the right balance and the right way forward in something like this.  The other issues that we are discussing on new technologies, other than AI and big data, and we have now a dedicated AI strategy in the making, as we speak, in NATO, there are other issues that are coming like quantum computing, that's a massive transformation of everything we’ll do, both in economic terms, in civilian terms and military terms.  There is a big, big conversation about biotechnology and human enhancement.  There is, again, lots of issues when it comes to values, when it comes to norms, when it comes to the way in which we embrace this kind of new technologies.  There is also the issue of space.  Biotechnology is another big issue and a new technology that is basically fundamentally shifting the conversation across our societies.  So, when we speak to democratic nations and to democratic parliaments in NATO and with our partners, we have to make sure that we keep our values at the heart of what we do.

Now, when it comes to Afghanistan, of course, individual nations can and should take decisions.  It’s not a NATO policy, per se, but we are very, very careful in making sure that they are not only military personnel, there are lots of civilian contractors, many of them in Afghanistan, as we speak.  We also have to make sure that the ones that we have trained and the ones we have invested in, in many, many corners of Afghanistan, will be able to continue to operate safely.  And this is something that, of course, we encourage.

On Iraq, we have a decision to basically gradually continue to beef up our presence, we’ll do it gradually, in full accordance and only upon the request of the Iraqi government.  So, the NATO mission in Iraq is now in the process of adaptation.  We are transferring some of the training and education missions from the other big operations, big operation in Iraq.  And also we are counting also on our partners, not only NATO countries, to contribute to the stability of Iraq, a very important country.  When it comes to Iran, per se, you know very well that we have lots of partnerships around the world, we have, I think, more than 40 partnerships around the world, we have a very strong system of partnerships in the Gulf region, which is called the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.  We have a very important system of partnerships in North Africa, in the Middle East, which is called the Mediterranean Dialogue Partnerships.  We are also working directly or indirectly with like-minded partners of ours and of course with Allies and other organisations, just to make sure that we find the best answer to the risk of terrorism and the risk of destabilisation, which is unfortunately still very present in that region.  Happy anniversary to Norway, that's a great Ally, not only because you're giving us this great Sec Gen, and I will convey to Jens your best issues.  And I think President Connolly gave the best answer to the Crimea question, there's no way in which we will ever be moving away from our position of never accepting and making a huge political, strategic and moral mistake to sanction such an illegal, immoral gesture from Russia against a sovereign nation.  This will be opening a Pandora box for many things to come.  So, our position is very clear, never recognise this, making sure we help our Ukrainian partners in any possible way we can, helping our Georgian partners in the Black Sea to become stronger.  And we count also on our partners, not only NATO countries, also on our partners, to making sure that we help these partners of ours to withstand a massive Russian pressure.  You've seen the recent build-up of Russia in and around Ukraine.  They've left only partially, they retain a massive military presence in and around Ukraine.  All of us have to be sure that we continue to support our partners and never accept such positions of diktat and imposition of force on sovereign nations.  Never, never.  And I think the parallel with the Baltic countries and the fact that the West and America has never accepted- over decades and decades of Cold War and many problems- ever, ever accepted an illegal deviation from the natural rights, of sovereign rights, of nations to choose the Alliances and the systems in which they want to operate.  The spheres of influence for NATO is a word that doesn't exist in our vocabulary.  We’ll never recognise spheres of influence per se.  We can recognise geopolitics.  We can recognise situations that limit our action or influence sometimes, but never, as a principle, accept the diktat against a sovereign nation by anybody. That's... speaking of values, this is also something that our founding fathers, the Washington Treaty, the foundation of this Alliance, is based upon, and I just cannot say how much I agree with President Connolly's presentation on this very important topic.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you so much, Mr Deputy Secretary General, and for that very strong and forthright answer.  Our next three questioners are Paolo Formentini of Italy, Sorin Moldovan of Romania and Utku Cakirozer from Turkey.  Paolo?  Paolo, you need to unmute.

Moderator: And so, Paolo, we can't hear you.  Perhaps while we try to get Paolo’s sound, we can get the second questioner, so Sorin Moldovan.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]:  From a very special place, Romania.

Moderator: Indeed.

Sorin Moldovan.  Hello, can you hear me?

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Yes, Sorin.

Sorin Moldovan: Perfect.  We are all looking forward to the next Summit of Allied leaders taking place next month.  So, the agenda of the event is focusing on today's and tomorrow's challenges, such as Russia's aggressive actions and threat of terrorism, cyberattacks, emerging and disruptive technologies, the security dimensions of climate change and the rise of China.  Although the agenda is very comprehensive, the impact of the pandemic on the security agenda is not very clearly expressed.  So, the main organisation handling this subject is the World Health Organisation.  The input of the military, whether through MODs or NATO, was of great importance, facilitating distribution of sanitary materials and overall support for the pandemic crisis situation.  Given the challenges met and tackled during this pandemic, shouldn’t we include on the Summit agenda a topic regarding lessons learned and possible measures to improve cooperation through Allied mechanisms?

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you so much, Sorin.  Paolo, are you with us?  Paolo?

Moderator: No, they still... Paolo, perhaps refresh and request the floor again, and we'll try to bring you up while we take the third question from Utku.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Utku?

Utku Cakirozer: Hi, Mr President, Mr Deputy Secretary General, thank you very much for the presentation.  As we all know, NATO has demonstrated our collective power against extremist terrorist organisations like we did against al-Qaeda and ISIS in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  In order to defend our core values- I'm talking about democracy, rule of law, peace, security and stability- we should focus on the root causes of how those extremist movements, terrorist organisations, gather their manpower despite our efforts.  In this context, I think one of the root causes is the failure of the international community to find a fair and permanent solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The tragedies Palestinian people are suffering for decades, [inaudible] aggression has been one of the main arguments of those extremist terrorist groups in gathering new cadres for their violent terror attacks to our civilisations.  In this respect, we as NATO Parliamentary Assembly should encourage the international community to speed up their efforts to find a fair and lasting solution for this problem.  In the meantime, we cannot and should not keep silent while innocent Palestinians, including children, are being killed under indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks of Israel.  We, the citizens of a member state, Turkey, which is very close to the region, are gravely concerned by the recent escalation of events and violence in Palestine following the restrictions and attacks [inaudible]. The world must act to stop this Israeli aggression against unarmed civilians, including journalists and media buildings.  Of course, we should condemn Hamas rockets, but we should definitely condemn the disproportionate activities of Israel.  Would you agree with me that the international community and specifically our platform, NATO PA, should make a call to Israel to stop these attacks, which will cause further loss of civilian lives and to prevent settlers from entering the Holy Mosque? The international community needs to display the necessary action to put an end to Israel's disproportionate and indiscriminate actions.  Thank you.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]:  Thank you.  Paolo, are you with us?

Moderator: We'll try to bring him up, Mr President, let's see if this works this time.

Paolo Formentini: Do you hear me?

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Yes.

Paolo Formentini:  Right, thanks.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: As they say in Latin, [inaudible] we can hear you.

Paolo Formentini:  [inaudible] also.  [laughs]  How can NATO contribute to China containment, according to you?  And we have seen recently the Royal Navy is sailing towards the Indo-Pacific.  We are strongly convinced the Indo-Pacific has to remain free and open.  According to you, the future of democracies of the Western democracy will be decided in Taiwan's water?  Thank you.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you so much, Paolo, and thank you for your patience.  Mr Secretary General?

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: That's why I love so much engaging with the Parliamentary Assembly, all questions are right to the point and very complex.  Let me start with the... in the order, so [inaudible] Listen, the pandemic and the lessons learned from the pandemic is with us as we speak.  Everything we do is a consequence of the way in which we are filtering and understanding the implications of the pandemic.  But for us, the consequences of this massive global crisis are not only related to health issues or even to the indispensable role of our military colleagues in helping civilian populations all over NATO.  I think we had half a million of our military personnel, men and women, in uniform, helping medical doctors and nurses, and they were the first line of defence.  And we are very grateful for that.  And we do that, of course.  But when we speak about the implications of the pandemic and post-pandemic, to the geopolitical competition which is intensifying, to the adoption and transformation that new technologies are bringing to everything we do, when it comes to climate change, when it comes to cyber, when it comes to hybrid, when it comes to space, when it comes to the challenges to our democratic societies that was a very, you know, present topic in our conversation today, we NATO, we have to make sure that we bring coherence and rigorous actions in addressing all these things.  So, the fact that we don't have a specific lessons learned from the pandemic in the Summit decisions is not meaning that we are not incorporating the lessons learned of this transformed security environment in the world, in everything we do.  And in a way, the pandemic was... some people call it an accelerator of trends, pre-existing trends, some people say it was a magnifying lens to structural trends that are there, other people say it was a major distortion of history because we know, from history, that sometimes history is linear and all of a sudden you have a big, big moment of trepidation, of convulsion, of shift that is curving, if you want, the trajectory of history into unexpected, uncharted territory.  And that's what NATO is all about.  This is... we are the Alliance which is the most successful in human history.  No offence to our Italian and Roman Empire, I'm also coming from that, you know, community of neo-Latin nations in Europe.  But this is the most successful Alliance in history, on a serious note, just because we are always able to adapt and adjust to new situations, that’s what we do and we thank our military colleagues for showing again how indispensable they are for the wellbeing of our societies, in crisis or in situations that we have all witnessed.  When I answered, I think, on the question about our call for de-escalation and resumption of dialogue, when it comes to Israel and Palestinians, let me also address the issue that you alluded when it comes to the capacity of terrorist organisations to basically adjust, and look to the, if you want, the geographical evolution of terrorist movements.  We started 20 years ago in Afghanistan because of the 9/11 attacks and al-Qaeda, but you see how they are able to use sometimes very fragile states that are not in the situation to basically resist this very pervasive way of doing things, and also have to recognise that they continue to recruit, to raise money, and they are also very brutal terrorist organisations.  So, I think on encouraging political dialogue and addressing protracted conflict is one important piece, but the other piece is how can we make our neighbours that are vulnerable, that are fragile, that have a resilience index, speaking of resilience which is not very high, how can we all of us, all of us nationally, bilaterally, through NATO, through the EU, through whatever mechanism we can have, to strengthen these countries?  Because if we don't find together a way to strengthen the capacity, national capacity of these countries, to withstand the risk of terrorists, they will continue to be in a very difficult situation and we’ll be in a situation to be sometimes the direction of attack of such groups.  So, I fully agree with your concerns, but I also say that we have to look to the broader picture and try to do a better job together.  And this is why in NATO 2030, speaking of the Secretary General's proposals, we are putting even more ambitious interest on our partnerships with like-minded Nations that share our values and strong partners- high end, very capable partners of NATO- but also for the countries that are more fragile, countries that need to strengthen their national security institutions.  And here I think we have to do much more, let's say, cooperative work together.  And I think international cooperation in this direction is key for moving forward.  Now, when it comes to China, we are not seeing China as an adversary, we're just witnessing one of the most significant shifts in human history in the last centuries.  And speaking of our Italian friends, I think it's... you invented, in a way, the Silk Road in one direction, now it’s coming back in a different direction.  But the rise of China is one of the most complex shifts in geopolitics, in generations.  And this also brings opportunities.  It's a big country, it's a big economy, there are lots of things where China is a very important player economically, commercially, in international affairs.  They seem to be quite active on climate change, working together.  They are an important international player.  But also the rise of China and also the build-up in their military capabilities is of concern.  And it poses also challenges, not only opportunity, but also challenges to NATO and to our interests.  They are coming closer to our geography.  We are not going... NATO is not becoming a global organisation in terms of membership.  But the rise of China is also posing significant challenges.  They have today, at least in quantity, the largest fleet in the world.  They have today, in quantity and quality, the second defence budget after the United States, in the world.  They are investing in high-end capabilities.  They are now becoming very, very active and ambitious in their space programmes, together with the Russians on the moon, alone on Mars.  So, the rise of China is both an opportunity and also a challenge.  And this is why I also believe that, inside NATO, we have to find a common answer to this problem.  Together, NATO and EU, we have to find a way to better coordinate when it comes to the rise of China, when it comes to our infrastructures, to foreign direct investment, to telecommunications, the things that are of concern to us.  So, finding the right balance between challenges and opportunities is something that all of us have to do.  And this is what we do actively, including through NATO 2030.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]:  Thank you, Mr Deputy Secretary.  I understand you have a hard stop at 11:55 my time and that means, if we're disciplined, maybe we can fit in one last group of three questions, if you're amenable.  Thank you so much.  So, the last three questions, unfortunately, I know there are others, we just cannot get to them because of the schedule of the Deputy Secretary, who's been very generous with his time.  We have Andrea Orsini from Italy, Irakli Beraia from Georgia and Yehor Cherniev from Ukraine.  Andrea?

Andrea Orsini: And I say this piece in Italian.  [Spoken in Italian]

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you, Andrea.  Our next questioner is Irakli Beraia from Georgia.

Irakli Beraia: Thank you very much, Dear Mr President, Dear Deputy Secretary General.  My question relates to the Black Sea security.  The illegal activities of Russia in the Black Sea region in recent years, such as [inaudible] Georgia and the occupation and [inaudible] annexation of Crimea, extensive military build-up in Georgia's occupied regions and continues provocations in Eastern Ukraine, have clearly demonstrated that Euro-Atlantic security cannot be complete without a secure and stable Black Sea region.  We all see that the Alliance has made several decisions aimed at stepping up its support for Georgia and Ukraine, and its engagement in the Black Sea.  However, the growing challenges require a comprehensive NATO Black Sea strategy.  In this context, we wish to see more joint exercises in the Black Sea region, more frequent support visits by NATO vessels, and more practical engagements in building defence capabilities of like-minded nations in the region, including in the framework of resilience, especially in the context when the Black Sea states are facing continuous and very intensive hybrid threats from the Russian Federation.  Taking into account all the security challenges in the region, to what extent is the Alliance considering further extending NATO presence in the Black Sea, as well as taking additional decisions to more increasingly engage Georgia and Ukraine in the Allied efforts toward strengthening Black Sea security and supporting those states? Thank you.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you, Irakli.  And our final questioner is Yehor Cherniev from Ukraine.  Yehor?  There you are.

Moderator: Yehor, if you can hear us...

Yehor Cherniev: Yeah, yeah.  Dear Deputy Secretary-General, Dear Mr President, first of all, thank you for your strong position about Crimea and support of Ukraine.  I think I hope that one day we will conduct Parliamentary Assembly in Crimea.  Ukraine [inaudible] -

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Only under Ukrainian control.

Yehor Cherniev: Of course.  Of course, only under Ukrainian control.  Ukraine highly appreciates the fact that NATO member states remain committed to the Bucharest Summit decision about Ukraine’s and Georgia associate membership in the Alliance, and seven years of ongoing armed aggression by the Russian Federation forced Ukraine to drastically and qualitatively change its armed forces right now.  We spend more, over almost 6% of our GDP on the defence and national security sector to make it more closer to NATO standards.  And Ukraine implements their annual national programmes which cover all spheres of life de facto, actually, this is the implementation of the map, however, as a signal of the common position of NATO members, of adherence to their open doors policy, which we discussed this session also, and ignoring the influence of the Russian Federation on decision making inside NATO, it would be granting map to Ukraine, the [inaudible] actually, and of course, [inaudible] it's not a membership, it's far away from NATO membership because we know the examples of Northern Macedonia or... Montenegro and North Macedonia [inaudible] 1999 and became a member in 2020.  So therefore, we will have enough time between receiving the map and the membership itself in order to meet all the necessary criteria.  So, my question about our future, about map to Ukraine, thank you.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Thank you so much.  Mr Deputy Secretary General?

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you very much.  When it comes to the question from our Italian colleague, that's always very important for moments of acute tension, like the ones we're witnessing these days, to be de-escalated and that dialogue replaces confrontation.  That's the essence of the international community, what António Guterres, the Secretary General of the UN has also made... President Biden has called both sides.  We also know that things are far more complex and we always encourage political dialogue and a solution moving forward.  I mentioned the partnerships that NATO has, we have a very strong partnership with Israel inside the Mediterranean dialogue process.  We also witnessed some of the openings recently in some of the Arab countries, when it comes to Israel.  So, it is very important to look to the broader situation and we encourage de-escalation and resumption of dialogue on this very, very critical topic.  Now, speaking of Georgia, Georgia is a very important part of NATO in the Black Sea, I would say probably has one of the most comprehensive packages of cooperation with us.  We also are very happy that also Ukraine was granted Enhanced Opportunity Partner status for us, which is opening the way to be doing even more.  I mentioned earlier that in our partnership, a new approach, we’ll be in the situation to offer even more to our partners.  And of course, Georgia and Ukraine are such critical partners of NATO in the Black Sea and they’re so close to what we do.  Politically speaking, I will be meeting the chairman of the Georgian Parliament in the next few days, here in NATO Headquarters.  I will be also meeting again one of the Deputy Prime Ministers of Ukraine, also here.  We had Foreign Minister, Kuleba, just a few days after the massive build-up of Russian military presence in and around Ukraine.  And I have to say that even short of map and fully respecting the decisions on open doors that the Bucharest Summit has adopted a few years ago, look a little bit at how much the joint position of the friends and partners of Ukraine did represent during the recent Russian massive military build-up in and around your country.  Look how much the unity of the political west represents in such situations.  And I'm convinced that working together, continuing on the path of reforms domestically, because that's also something important, I come from a country that has been going through a very complicated process of transformations before we joined NATO and then EU, so I think it's a matter on the one side for you to keep the pace of reforms, that's indispensable not only for NATO's sake or for the European Union's sake, but for your country's sake and your citizens’ sake, there's no way towards prosperity and fulfilment of your dreams without a functioning economy and democratic system.  Of course, NATO is an organisation that works by consensus.  We have to make sure that we build a political momentum around your aspirations.  But speaking of Black Sea security, and now I'm answering both to our partners in Georgia and friends in Georgia and Ukraine, in Ukraine and Georgia, you can count on us that we will be there to support you, encourage you, and I'm convinced that as we speak about deterrence and defence in the Black Sea and in all geographies of NATO, we're not forgetting our very close partners in Ukraine and Georgia.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: Mr Secretary General, er, Deputy Secretary General, we want to thank you for your generosity of time, your candour in responding to our many concerns and questions and for hearing us out.  We wish you every success at the Summit.  We regret we can't be there but we understand in the pandemic there's limited participation and a truncated schedule.  And so we wish you every success and certainly stand ready to be supportive in any way and every way we can be.  Thank you so much for your time this morning and for your commitment to this Transatlantic Alliance.  We appreciate it.  Thank you so much.

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you very much and I look forward to Sec Gen and myself being in person again with you.  And I remember that, before the pandemic, I was already on the schedule to go to Ukraine, I think, for a NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

Gerald Connolly [President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly]: That’s right.

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: We are in your hands, Mr President.  We are receiving with great pleasure, your leadership.  And let's talk after the Summit and work together.  Also, Roksandra, thank you so much for being such a formidable friend and helping to also have this conversation.  Let's stay and work together and let's find the best possible way for our exceptional partnership.  You have in me, and in Jens Stoltenberg, true loyal friends.