Keynote address

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the NCI Agency’s NITEC Connect 2021 conference

  • 16 Jun. 2021 -
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  • Last updated 21-Jun-2021 08:29

(As delivered)

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, it is my greatest pleasure to join you this afternoon albeit only virtually.

I would like to begin by thanking you Kevin, for the invitation to address the NITEC Connect.

I would like to recognise all the Agency is doing to support Allies, our partners, NATO's military authorities and the Headquarters here in Brussels.

This is indeed a very important event, strengthening our partnerships with the private sector and academia, are vital for our defence and security, and now more than ever.

And this year, your conference could not be more timely.

We are at a historic moment for our Transatlantic Alliance. Just this week, NATO Heads of State and Government agreed to an ambitious set of proposals put forward by the Secretary General, as part of his NATO 2030 initiative.

Our Leaders set the direction of travel for the next decade, ensuring that it remains strong militarily, that we strengthen our political cohesion, and we take a more global approach to defence and security.

This is what is required in a new geopolitical reality of increasing competition.

NATO Leaders agreed to strengthen their commitment to collective defence, with more funding for core deterrence and defence Allies’ initiatives and activities. They also agreed to raise the level of ambition, when it comes to resilience with more concrete targets, and a joint assessment of any vulnerabilities, including in our critical infrastructure, transportation hubs, telecommunications, 5G technologies, and our supplies; the fuel, food and medical equipment.

The COVID 19 pandemic has highlighted the immense importance of our preparations in all of these areas, preparations that depend on collaboration with industry and academia and with other international players, including European Union.

This will lead on progress made over recent years, where NATO has stepped up our work to agree and implement seven baseline standards for resilience. We see a growing dependence on civil and commercial assets, such as IT infrastructure. To preserve NATO's technological edge, Leaders agreed to promote defence innovation, support interoperability and boost transatlantic cooperation.

This will deepen our collective engagement to the industry and with academia, on both sides of the Atlantic and support the development, testing, evaluation, and adoption of dual-use technologies.

Allies also addressed the security implications of climate change, including the need to reduce vulnerabilities in, and emissions from, the military sector and Leaders also agreed to update NATO’s Strategic Concept, the document that outlines NATO's enduring purpose and defines the Alliance's core security tasks. With this update, and Allies will recommit to our values and ensure we equip ourselves to better address existing and emerging challenges.

Because today, potential adversaries are using all the tools at their disposal, military, political, economic, information to challenge our institutions, to weaken our societies, to undermine our democracies. And yes, to undermine our security. 

Our unity and our ability to adapt, is even more important as we face a more unpredictable and rapidly changing world; sophisticated cyberattacks and disinformation, disruptive technologies, terrorism, the security impact of climate change and the shifting global balance of power that includes the rise of China.

All of these challenges are too big for one country or one continent, for that matter, to face alone, but together through NATO, European and North American Allies are not alone.

We stand together and we promote, combine and leverage the comparative and competitive advantage of our industries, of our national expertise for the security of our nearly 1 billion citizens living in Allied nations.

This is why I strongly welcome your discussions over the next two days. Now is the time for us to deepen our partnerships, to work collaboratively and creatively in a manner that reflects our shared values. This is our collective advantage, working with industry and academia is a major part of our response to these challenges.

Today the speed of technological change is immense, to stay ahead we're engaging with all Allied innovation ecosystems and networks. This is not only about technological development, NATO Allies are also in an adoption race with our competitors.

Earlier this year, NATO Defence Ministers endorsed an implementation strategy to foster and protect emerging and disruptive technologies, and help maintain our edge. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, or quantum computing are at the forefront of a new industrial revolution. Their development underpins modern, secure, and resilient IT systems that are vital for NATO operations and missions, and for the modernization of our very Alliance. The NCI Agency and its partners are key to ensuring that NATO can deliver on Allied ambitions in all these areas.

We also need to ensure that our workforce keeps pace with these changes.

These are not only business and industrial challenges, developing and improving the skills of our people has immense potential and promise for the defence and security of our societies. Achieving our aims will also mean changing our mindset when it comes to taking a managing risk and for big bureaucracies, this is not an easy proposition. 

Here too, there is plenty we can learn from the private sector. Technology companies and startups are natural risk takers. Our partnerships with industry will help us institutionalise experimentation. So if we fail, we fail early and fail small, but learn quickly, and scale fast when we succeed. 

Much of this can be done by continuing to adapt the way we collaborate. Our direct context between our troops and our partners in industry and academia; this agile approach helps us manage risk, solve complex problems, and support rapid adoption of new technologies, often with transformative and disruptive applications. 

This has strategic implications dictating how quickly and how well NATO can react and overcome different challenges. One specific area where the Agency is already supporting Allied ambition is in outer space. This is the fifth operation domain agreed by our Leaders in London in 2019. Here, technological progress has historically been the domain of public sector research and development, Governments were in the driver's seat. Today, that is no longer the case. Private companies are often leading the way, investing, experimenting and exploring in space. Space is essential for our ability to navigate, to communicate and gather information.

While some nations are developing systems that can blind, disable or shoot down satellites, NATO's aims in space are defensive.

We seek to increase awareness of what is happening in space and to ensure reliable and resilient access to space based services. To achieve that and to improve our readiness in space will increasingly rely on our partnerships with industry.

We also need to harness the transformative potential of Artificial Intelligence. This begins with setting principles of responsible use and ethical use, principles that align with our democratic norms and values and respect for International Law.

This will be the bedrock of the Alliance's new Artificial Intelligence strategy.

The potential application of AI is virtually endless.

Machine learning to identify cyber threats, automated imagery, and data analysis for intelligence, logistics support and operational readiness, support for decision making, and the list can go on. All of these applications, and many more, are of direct relevance and support to NATO's core tasks.

Resilient telecommunications networks are also essential to save your NATO's political and military strategic interests. To enhance the security of NATO's existing, and next generation communications networks, we are reviewing technical procurement and security policies and regulations to ensure that telecommunications capabilities can be delivered by trusted suppliers.

NATO is also modernising his digital backbone to connect Allies, partners and all elements of our Alliance ecosystems; from civilian offices to field deployments, from deep sea to outer space and everything in between. Exploiting crucial emerging technologies and safeguarding our decision making abilities.

Individual allies are making significant strides in these areas. 

In the US, to give you some examples, in the US, the COVID recovery plan earmarks more than 1.6 billion US dollars for critical IT infrastructure and National Cybersecurity and we see every day, the complexity and the importance of this domain. 

Allies such as the Czech Republic are exercising alongside the private sector to strengthen the resilience of critical industries against supply chain disruptions and nefarious influences. 

In France, the Government is partnering with the private sector to launch a new defence Innovation Fund, 400 million euros for quantum, AI, and other dual use technologies, as part of a Global Innovation Development Strategy.

Of course, for NATO, the operational effectiveness of all of these technologies, depends largely on interoperability, a key word for NATO, ensuring our systems are compatible, and can talk and interact to one another. With support from industry, NATO is a leader in setting standards for new technologies, developing and implementing these standards help us to guide and spur on technological innovation for a future that is digital and interoperable by design. We can achieve this, and we can not achieve any of this to put it in the opposite side, alone.

Our cooperation and collaboration with industry and academia, are almost as old as the Alliance itself.

But we need to deepen expand these partnerships to constantly engage with the triple helix constituted by the public, the private and the academia sectors. Decision taken by NATO Leaders earlier this week, decisions that have set our direction of travel for the next decade, depend on this important interaction.

I would like to close by congratulating the Agency for organising this event, like we have always done, and thanking you all for taking part in this year's NITEC Connect.

I know that we all look forward to a time when we can meet again in person. But for now, I wish you all the best for the stimulating creative and collaborative debates over the course of the next two days, and I'll talk to Kevin and our wonderful colleagues in NCIA, to have all the input from you, and make sure that we transfer this to the important work that we are doing here at NATO. 

Thank you all.