Panel discussion

‘Lining up the Europe’s Defence’ at the Bled Strategic Forum with participation of NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană

  • 02 Sep. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 06 Sep. 2021 16:34

Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this very, very timely session titled 'Lining up the Europe's Defence' in partnership with the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Slovenia.  As a matter of fact, the Slovenian Defence Minister, Matej Tonin, he will be joining us in just a few moments.  He's running late, but I suggest we get started because there's a lot of ground to cover, no shortages of topics here.  And for those who were just attending the Mediterranean session, it seems a bit of a déjà vu, still the same moderator, same seat, but definitely different speakers.  And a different tone we will have, I would assume, considering the gravity of the situation.  Delighted to have with us the Deputy Secretary General of NATO.  Please welcome, Mircea Geoană is with us.  Lovely to have him with us.  Also delighted to welcome the Minister of the Armed Forces of France, Madame Florence Parly.  And last but certainly not least, delighted to be joined by the Minister of National Defence of Portugal, João Gomes Cravinho.  Lovely to see you back.  Last time we were on stage at the Munich Security Conference, long before the pandemic hit, better times.  And better times is also, Mircea Geoană, what brings me to the topic that we have to start with when we talk about defence security.  It is Afghanistan, of course.  It is a topic, I would assume, that it's preoccupying most of your time, most of your thoughts these days.  Events are unfolding very, very quickly.  How do you assess the situation, how it unfolded?  The US announces retreat and where we, as Europeans, was NATO perhaps dumbfounded more by the decision?  What struck you about how events unfolded?

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Listen, this is not an easy situation and for us, international community as a whole, we've been there for 20 years, all of us, most of us.  It's also a tragedy for the Afghan people and this is not an easy moment.  So, what I believe we should do and this is also I discussed on the invitation of our Slovenian hosts and friends, to discuss over a working lunch with the EU Defence Ministers, is that we have to, number one, make sure that we continue to help Afghans in need.  We've been able, with a massive effort, and here I would like to say that we should really be grateful to the people in uniform, civilians that have been working relentlessly, to extract 120 something people in record time.  I'd like to thank nations, Allied nations like France, like Portugal, and many others, that have been part of this fantastic effort.  I want to express my deep, deep sorrow and condolences to our American friends and allies for the losses of the 13 men and women there.  It was a very tough moment.  We were able to have evacuated from Afghanistan, a large number of the Afghan colleagues that work for NATO.  Now they are in process of moving towards a temporary stage, for vetting and processing, and then they will go to the final destinations of the nations that are willing to welcome them.  But we have an obligation also for the ones who were not able... we were not able to do to get out of Afghanistan, to continue to use all our common leverage, all our common leverage, to make sure that the new government in Kabul that is soon to be formed, to see which shape, which will be the level of difference from the previous Taliban reign will look like, we have an obligation to use all our common leverage as the international community, as Europe, as US, as all of us, as NATO.  We're also very much encouraged by the recent Security Council resolution which was adopted.  I'm also personally very grateful to the 100 nations that signed that statement, encouraging the new leadership in Kabul, not only to allow the Afghans that are in difficulty and in jeopardy, to be able to be evacuated, but also to make sure that on the broader issue of human rights, of women's rights, of girls' rights, of ethnic groups being protected, or religious, other groups than Sunnis, not to be persecuted.  Of course, we have to be watching the Taliban by their deeds not their words and, to be honest, they've been quite savvy in public communications.  So, we need to stay together in this thing.  And this is something that we talked today.  A last point on this one, Secretary General Stoltenberg, and all of us in NATO, and I'm convinced that this is something that's going to happen also in other forum, in the EU, the national level, or the multinational level, we are very committed to have a honest, humble, lucid and transparent lessons learned process, not just to speak about this, but to do it.  And in NATO, we have a dual track to this thing.  Our military colleagues are doing the assessment from the military operation in Afghanistan, but politically we need to do this, and we owe this to the international community, to the Afghan people and also to the future of NATO's missions and operations.  Because the world we are living in is exceptionally complicated.  It's one of the most critical, delicate... not only because of Afghanistan, it's a sort of a turbocharger to an already very complicated International, aggressive Russia, the rise of China, new technologies, cyber, hybrid, space, terrorism.  This is one of the most complex moments, so we need to make sure that we learned the lessons.  And we look forward also to receiving the Defence Ministers of NATO in October.  I know that this topic, among others, will be top part of this thing.  So, we take this thing very seriously.  We suffer a lot and we want to make sure that we get out of this difficult situation strengthened, more lucid, but nonetheless, committed as ever, to protect our people and protect the freedoms and values we share.

Moderator: Absolutely, a grave situation, no doubt that is unplaying in a very, very complex world.  And you've already laid out many of the issues that undoubtedly we will touch upon throughout this discussion, Minister Parly, but I do want to stay on Afghanistan just for one second because, at the end of the day, this situation that we're seeing on the ground, and the leaders panel yesterday, on day one of the Bled Strategic Forum, discussed this also in detail.  It's multi layered, we're seeing the retreat of the US once again from the world stage, we're seeing Afghanistan being... potentially being used again, once again, as a safe haven for terrorists.  We're seeing all the accomplishments that NATO, the US and other countries have, quote unquote, accomplished there in 20 years, being undone at a very rapid pace.  You must be quite concerned, looking at the situation.

Florence Parly [Minister of the Armed Forces of France]: Of course, we're concerned.  First of all, we're concerned because we were part of this joint fight in Afghanistan.  France was present from day one, up to 2014, so 13 years fighting with ninety, nine zero soldiers who lost their lives.  And so this is something which... this event that we faced in the last weeks, is something that removed deeply our military community and more than that, our public opinion, for sure.  So yes, we were part of the story.  We were part of that fight.  We started by solidarity, because we found that the United States were attacked in a savage manner on September 11, so there was no question in my memory, it was obvious that we had to be part of this fight against the Talibans.  It is also something which concerns us because today, we are confronted as Europeans to terrorism.  And maybe it's not the Afghanistan which worries us most.  Before Kabul was taken under control by the Talibans, our focus was much more on the Sahel, of course, and in other areas such as Iraq, President Macron was in Iraq last weekend, and we know that the stability in the Middle East is not guaranteed.  So yes, we have a question, how can we deal in an efficient manner with terrorists?  How can we prevent them from threatening our European Union, our countries and our people?  So, I think that we have to be very transparent and lucid in the reflection, we must lead.  I think that we have to be careful about something which is key, which is about sovereignty.  In Sahel, we did not try, and we do not try to change any regime.  We have answered a request coming from a sovereign state, which asked for help against terrorist groups.  And I think that this is very important, because it's different to come and fight against terrorists to... as a revenge, from coming and answering to a request expressed by a sovereign state.  And that's a challenge.  Those states are weak.  Those regimes are not necessarily democratic regimes.  But can we impose a regime change?  Is it our role?  Or is our role to fight against a threat which put at risk the civilian populations of these countries but also potentially, our population? 

Moderator: Absolutely, tough questions indeed, and tough conclusions and lessons to be learned from this particular scenario.  And we will dive more into the subject matter.  But Minister Cravinho, what started nearly 20 years ago to the day, with the attacks on the World Trade Centres in New York, unleashed really a turn of events, which brings us to today, to September 2021, where we're seeing, after 20 years in Afghanistan, the mission, at least as we had understood it and wanted to accomplish it, unfortunately had to be left undone.  How do you, as a minister, as a defence minister and member of NATO, assess the situation on the ground there?

João Gomes Cravinho [Minister of National Defence of Portugal]: Well, thank you very much.  Great pleasure to be here to see you again, of course, to share the stage with Florence Parly, with Mircea Geoană.  Well, you know, 20 years, when we look back... and I think it is appropriate to be looking at, you know, the very short term experience that we've had in the last few weeks and take lessons from there, the slightly longer experience, since February 2021, when the agreement was established between the US and the Taliban, and to look at the whole 20 years.  And I think that it's interesting that both Mirceă and Florence used the word lucidity.  I think that we've been lacking some lucidity over these 20 years.  We went in, as Florence pointed out, out of solidarity with our US Allies were attacked.  It was an invocation, for the only time in NATO's history, of Article 5.  And it was... I think there was no hesitation in anybody's mind that this was the right thing to do.  Recently we have heard that nation building was never the purpose, and that's a little bit bewildering because, of course, for many of us, the idea was that, in fact, we were going to be there in order to create institutions that would permit the sustainable peace and an inclusive peace system of governance in Afghanistan, that would allow for the country to be reasonably democratic.  But as everybody remembers, in 2003, all of a sudden there was this frankly disastrous decision to invade Iraq.  Everything changed in terms of the objectives and our lucidity has not really been very present.  If we ask ourselves what we were doing there for the last 20 years, I think what we were doing there was what we first went in to do, which was to show solidarity with our Allies.  But does it make sense to be there just for the purpose of showing solidarity with an Ally over 20 years, when the initial objectives had been achieved and there was, at the minimum, a haziness about what we were doing there.  So, this word lucidity is very important for us to be bearing in mind, in anything that we do in the future.  And quite frankly, it is not enough simply to be showing solidarity to our Transatlantic Ally, who had also lost, frankly, sense of lucidity over these years.  I think that's a major aspect that we will have to be focused on, what is the strategic relevance for us at any given moment of what we are doing, because the strategic relevance changes.  And we didn't, we weren't paying attention to that.

Moderator: Yeah, it's a fluid process indeed, Deputy Secretary General, and I just hosted a panel here with esteemed Foreign Minister prior to this, and we of course also had to talk about Afghanistan.  And the unified decision and conclusion was that nation building does not work.  That was the conclusion on the part of the Foreign Ministers, saying Afghanistan clearly shows that next time around we have to be more realistic about what aspirations we go into and what missions we go into.  Would you concur?  Would you agree with that sentiment?

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Listen, I cannot prejudge this, as I mentioned, very honest and very, you know, humble, realistic, lessons learned process, because all of us need to really reflect.  And of course, now we are all under the emotional, political and strategic impact of what's happened in the last few weeks.  But when you internalise conclusions, with an impact for the future, and the future is not only the future of missions and operations of NATO, of EU, peacekeeping of UN, lots of things that we do all over the world, is not only implications on the way in which we invest in what we call, in our jargon, capacity building.  We'll need to continue to invest in helping.  As Madame La Ministre just said, sometimes governments call for our support.  Then, NATO is now engaging, and the decision of our leaders at the Brussels Summit on NATO 2030, that is looking not only to missions and operations, but is looking to the overall adaptation of NATO to a changing nature and definition of security.  We need to continue to defend our territory and our populations, one billion people, 30 nations, across the Atlantic.  We have, in Madrid, and I'm very grateful to our Spanish Allies that they offered to host the NATO Summit in Madrid, will come with a new Strategic Concept.  So yes, we have to internalise and then make operational, the difficult process of learning the lessons of everything we are discussing now.  But I would also warn against having only such a difficult situation like Afghanistan, and I'm not trying to underestimate it, just the opposite, we all in this, this is not the only backdrop against we are speaking about the adaptation, not only of NATO, but us as the political West, us as European Union, I'm a European Union citizen as well, us as people that believe in freedom, democracy and the rule of law, people that do believe that corruption is corrosive and fragilises states, thus making them more permissive to crime, to trafficking, to drugs, to terrorism.  So, this is a very complex conversation that I think we should have all of us together.  And something that I'm getting out from this very interesting... again, I thank our Slovenian friends and hosts today for inviting not only NATO, which is something that we do regularly at the defence ministerials at the EU, and they come,  Joseph Boyle comes to our defence ministerial meetings, we do this regularly, but also the UN.  It was very instructive to have Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who's running peacekeeping for the UN, at this discussion.  Because many of the participants, and not all of them are members of NATO, some of them are non members of NATO, we all realise that we need to really put more synergy and more collaboration in what we do.  Sometimes we work in silos.  NATO goes and does capacity building in one place, the EU does something there, the UN does something, nationally we do things.  So, we have to find also more synergies and more practical ways to assist these things.  And for Europe, our neighbourhoods continue to be very complicated.  I'm coming again to the thing that we have to also recognise something, and I think we will not be lucid if we don't recognise, that we are also in the midst of great power competition, by the book, with all the implications of that.  So, we have now such a complexity of the challenges, the drivers of insecurity, probably like never before.  For that, we need to stay strong, to stay united, to go back to our founding principles of values, of really showing solidarity.  And I think that all of us... I was Foreign Minister when 9/11 happened, all of us, not only NATO, not only Europe, the whole democratic world were there.  Japan, Korea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, all of us have been there for 20 years, not only NATO and EU and the Americans.  And for us in NATO, and I'm doing a lot of partnerships on behalf of Secretary General Stoltenberg, we are also interested in keeping, if you want, in a practical way, this huge global coalition that is the largest ever on this planet, in history of human mankind, we never had a larger global coalition than the one in and around Afghanistan.  So, we have to make sure that this difficult situation Afghanistan will not jeopardise or inhibit, or discourage, this kind of colossal cooperation.  The fact that we were not able to achieve all the goals that we wanted, the fact that we all have these difficult conversations that we have to continue to have, should not be a discouragement for us to try to create synergies and cooperate, because things are so complicated.

Moderator: Complicated indeed, it's a term that we keep coming back to because it is, of course, this is untangling in such a rapid phase, and so multi layered issues.  Way too soon perhaps, to draw conclusions, Minister Parly, about what lessons to be learned indefinitely from the situation.  But at the same time, people already are speaking about the loss of authority of NATO, loss of authority of European defence capabilities.  Is that something that you fear, as far as in the long term perception is concerned, that our credibility and our respect is on the line here, when it comes to Afghanistan?

Florence Parly [Minister of the Armed Forces of France]:  Well of course, if we think as if we were our own competitors, of course, they probably consider that it is a major failure and that, in the struggle for power at international level, this is not positive for democracies, if I say it, in a nutshell.  So as we know that we are in a strategic competition worldwide, of course this is not positive.  But you can also see positive consequences of such a tragic event.  And as Europeans, I think that this is not new but it is something which comes at a moment where the Europeans are working more and more on the defence and security issues.  Some say that it is a kind of wake up call.  I do not consider that it is a wake up call, because it rang a few years before.  It is a milestone, a difficult, a very sad milestone, but it is a milestone in a process of getting more autonomous regarding these security and defence issues.  And we are... I think that the United States were very clear, have been very clear for years now, that Europeans should behave more like adults and that we have to take a better... to share the burden, as I said, and also to take care of our own security.  And I think that we have started for years and now, this Afghanistan case, should speak... put a stronger pressure on the Europeans and speed the process of getting a more effective European Defence.

Moderator: Minister Cravinho, if I want to pick up on that, the issue of strategic autonomy from the United States, of course, is anything but a new topic, but Minister Parly is saying, but it might get accelerated now by events in Afghanistan showing us once more, and once and for all perhaps, for all those dreamers who thought that Trump is an exception, that we Europeans have to stand on our own feet when it comes to defence.  Is that also your understanding of the situation?

João Gomes Cravinho [Minister of National Defence of Portugal]: Oh, absolutely.  And I agree that this is not a wake up call but, in some sense, it's a convergence called.  And today, it's very interesting, in the EU defence ministerial, that there was a very strong convergence.  And the reason why I think, in the past, there has not been such strong convergence is perhaps exemplified by the preposition that you used.  You said strategic autonomy from the United States.  The problem is really strategic autonomy for us, not from, for us to be able to do things, things that we need to do, things that others won't be able to do for us, or don't share as a priority.  And that is the essential objective that I think we all have recognised very clearly this morning in our meeting.  And so, in this sense, it is a factor that is going to be working, I hope as a catalyst.  We are living through a very specific moment which is the writing of our Strategic Compass and, as we discuss how we should be addressing issues relating to our European defence identity, nothing better than this cold shower to help focus our minds.  So in that sense, that is some silver lining.  That is something positive that can and should be taken from this.  And I'm confident, from what I heard today, that the next few months of discussion, which are always going to have some minor polemics, are actually going to be taking us in the direction of really crystallising this notion of a European defence construct.

Moderator: Sometimes it takes a tragedy, an unfortunate event such as this, perhaps, for eureka moments, for politicians to really understand the gravity of the situation.  Because, Deputy Secretary General, you know better than anyone the discussion about Europe standing on its own feet, about increasing military spending, about being more autonomous, perhaps not from the US, but for itself, is not a new phenomenon.  And I think for those who were hoping that America is back, as Joe Biden said, at the Munich Security Conference, can we lay that to rest once and for all?  Can we say this is the 21st century, America will be an Ally, and transatlantic relations will be important, but it is certainly no longer at the top of US foreign policy priorities.

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: I strongly believe, and this is not just public communication, that America, President Biden himself, I know him from 25 years, I was Ambassador in Washington when we were much, much younger, I think America realises that one of its greatest assets, in this very harsh, global competition for supremacy, is that America has many Allies around the world.  That's an asset, it's not a liability.  So, US, and us in NATO, have been telling European Allies for many years, that Europe and European Allies have to be more capable, in complementarity to what we do in NATO.  Because believing that even this wake up call, if this... let's say push for, let's say more investment, this is also about money and taxpayers' money.  And for many, many decades, Europe was basically staying Western Europe first, and now us coming, after the fall of communism, into NATO and EU, most of us.  We were basically very comfortable for the US to foot the bill and for us to concentrate on soft power.  So, great power competition means that also Europe has to really become stronger, also in terms of our defence.  How to do it in a way not to create duplication and unintended competition between NATO and EU, that's a question that I believe we can and we are finding the right answer.  This is why in NATO we are not concerned about the discussion that Defence Minister of EU had today.  That's good.  If Europe, European Union, can have less of a fragmented defence market, this is something we'll applaud because this also means more efficiency.  But also let's make also one observation, which is about numbers and realities.  As we speak, from the total defence spending in NATO, 30 nations, EU 27 member states represent 20% of the total of NATO defence spending as we speak.  Of course, because of US, which is massive, but also Canada, also the UK, also Norway, also Turkey, also a few others who are not members of the EU.  So, we are encouraging this.  And there is also this parallel strategic reflection that takes normally place in the EU, with the Strategic Compass, that we encourage strongly, and the Strategic Concept revisited, or upgraded or new, that NATO is doing.  This is why we will be welcoming, I will be welcoming Stefano Sannino, the Head of External Service, and Charles Fries, his Deputy, to brief the North Atlantic Council on the Strategic Compass.  I'm available anytime to go and brief our EU colleagues on where we go, because they should not be identical, they should not be separate things, but we have to make sure that we have complementarity and synergies between the two.  And let me make one observation here, Ali, if I can.  Our resources, as the political West, are by definition finite.  And we have to make sure that we also respond to the needs of our societies, of our public opinions.  The lessons learned from the pandemics, we have not all of them internalised yet, resilience.  Look at the cyber.  Look at the grey zones on hybrid.  Look at intense competition in space.  And I wanted to welcome the fact that France, our strong Ally, has offered to host the Centre of Excellence of NATO in Toulouse on space, that's great.  So, I'm just trying to say that when we decide where and how to invest the finite resources that we have, on economic development, on technological competition and supremacy that we need to retain, in making sure that we protect our way of life, speaking in European jargon, then we have to make sure that we invest the finite resources we have in the best, most intelligent and most effective way.  There's no way to substitute a transatlantic bond.  There is no way, I'm convinced, for the US not to continue to invest in its Alliances around the world.  With Europe, first and foremost, but also with the other Allies that America has.  That's a huge advantage for the US and I think it's a huge advantage for the political West to continue to... and we'll get over this very difficult moment, I'm convinced that this is tough, we have to learn the lessons, but the world is so complicated that we need each other more.  And the more EU does on defence, the better off the Alliance would be.

Moderator: Nonetheless, of course, this too shall pass, but of course the lessons to be learned and the consequences to be drawn, they are real.  And you, Minister Parly, you said already Europe has to grow up, we have to be the adults in the room.  The numbers that the Deputy Secretary General just provided are shameful in a certain way for Europe, as far as the contributions are concerned.  And it does echo the conversation that the leaders' panel had on Day One of the Bled Strategic Forum, namely that Europe must make the transition if it wants to be taken serious in the strategic power competition, from soft power to hard power.  Now that is something that is being heard often but, at the same time, US politicians, you have to go and sell it to your people, to your voters as well.  Do you think the European countries, as different as they may be, who have been cuddled by the US for many decades, are ready to wear this new hat, to share those new responsibilities?

Florence Parly [Minister of the Armed Forces of France]: For sure situations may be different within European countries, but I will talk only about France.  We are very committed to increase our defence spendings and investments.  And that's probably the first political decision made by President Macron, before being elected as president, to increase our defence investment because the analysis is very clear.  We are living in a world where competition is very harsh.  So, if we want to preserve our values, if we want to make prevail these values, then we have to be able to protect ourselves and, not only protecting ourselves within our borders, national or European, but also by being able to project ourselves out of our borders to do so.  So yes, we need to increase our defence expenditures, European members are doing so, Allies have committed in 2016, in Warsaw to do so, we are improving.  But of course, it takes time.  It takes time, especially in a period where we are confronted with very difficult issues, such as a pandemic, with a need to invest in health systems, in social security, and so on.  We have to face an economic crisis, which is a huge one.  So yes, it may happen, a kind of competition between public expenditures, but the direction is clear, at least for our country.  We are implementing our military programming low, year after year, according what has been planned.  So, I fully agree it's not only a question of level of investments, it's also a question about how can we put together all our efforts in order not to jeopardise the financial investment we do.  When European countries invest in different equipments, is it the most efficient way to invest?  Probably not.  And that's why the decision made by the European Union, to have a European defence fund, to try to converge in terms of kind of equipments, is a very structural one.  So, it will not deliver immediately.  But these decisions had to be made and they have been made.  So, now we have to make it happen.

Moderator: And certainly, there are vast differences even within European countries of course, within the EU.  At the end of the day, Germany, for instance, where I'm from and where I am based, we have a heated election campaign, but the issue of Afghanistan is coming up more in the context of refugees and not so much about where Europe is standing economically.  Mr Cravinho, I would just... I would take opportunity and authority vested upon me as a Moderator, to ask you to step up, because I think we of course will be delighted if the Slovenian Minister is joining us but, for the time being, I'll have you closer to me and we can discuss these arrangements as we go along.  Because let's not kid each other, we know very well that NATO's performance, Europe's performance, is being watched very closely by countries like Russia.  It's being watched very closely by countries like China, and perhaps even with [the doses] of Schadenfreude, showing yes, this is what we've been telling you all along.  And they see an opening and they see a vacuum, a vacuum that they want to step in.  Is that something that you think is sufficiently on the radar of many European countries, in terms of defence?

João Gomes Cravinho [Minister of National Defence of Portugal]: Well, as a non German speaker, even I know the meaning of that word, and it's something that of course, in international politics, happens often.  But it's usually short lived.  It's usually short lived and I think it would be very unwise of Russian and Chinese to be taking pleasure from something that is also going to be very complicated for their geostrategic realities.  But having said that, I think that clearly we have to... it's not that we have a credibility problem, we have a capacity problem.  You know, there's no question of having credibility if evidently we don't have capacity as EU.  My expectation is that we move, in the next couple of years, quite fast on developing capacity, then we can, you know, we can talk about the credibility at the next point.  But with capacity, we can have relevance.  You can't be strategically relevant without developing capacity and I think that a number of ideas are being generated about how to do this and, as Florence Parly mentions, it's not just about amounts of expenditure, it's about what... the quality of the expenditure, the kind of expenditure that is being made.  And we need to be thinking about that collectively and not individually, because if it's individually, we'll have 27 different kinds of options and no coherence.  So, strategic relevance comes from capacity, but also from a sense of purpose.  What do you want it for?  And that means looking at aspects, like what are the vital strategic interests for us.  I would include the Sahel there as a region, to which we have to be paying attention as Europeans.  Nobody else is going to be doing that work for us and it is vital for us.  So, that's one evident example and there are a couple of others.  But the point is, we need to develop capacity and know what we want to use it for.

Moderator: Minister Tonin, I want to take the opportunity to welcome you to this round, it's lovely to have you with us.  After all, this session belongs to you.  This is your session and we've been... just to keep you up to date, up until now, hardly surprising, we've been talking very intricately and passionately about Afghanistan and the fallout of the performance on the part of NATO and Europe and the US's  detachment, and what that all means.  It's certainly not a new debate that you have to engage in on a daily basis, but one that I would like to take you... get your assessment about anyway, now that you're here and happy to hear from you and let you chime in the debate.

Matej Tonin [Minister of Defence of Slovenia]: Good afternoon.  First of all, I have to apologise that I'm late.  I'm late because I had a press conference together with the High Representative Borrell, after Defence Ministrial.  Probably were talking only about Afghanistan, as we did as well.

Moderator: So you didn't miss much, is what you're saying.

Matej Tonin [Minister of Defence of Slovenia]: Exactly.

Moderator: You were well prepared.

Matej Tonin [Minister of Defence of Slovenia]: Exactly.  Those two days were absolutely dedicated to Afghanistan and I think that it's necessary an appropriate thing.  We had some other plans to focus a little bit on Strategic Compass, but what has happened in August, it is obvious that we had to focus on the issue.  My three colleagues are all very competent in the issue, they were present there, but I would take at least, let's say three lessons learned out of the Afghanistan.  One is number one, that for peacekeeping missions, you need a long term presence.  That's, I think, obvious.  20 years, even though that seems a long period, it's a short period in comparison with how long American troops are stationed in South Korea, for example.  And there are some other places where the presence is much, much longer.  Then, when we are talking about our defence credibility, we can see that our capability are on the level that we will be able to run a very complicated operations in the complicated theatres, like Afghanistan.  And this is definitely something we have to improve.  We have many mechanisms, at least European Defence Fund, European Defence Agency, so it is a matter of money.  And if we are willing to spend for the defence, then we can establish capabilities, probably the others were already speaking about, that it's more or less a political question, a political will, and sometimes Defence Ministers, we have tremendous problems how to convince our home public that it is worth it, that we have to spend money for defence.  And the last takeaway, I would say, look, we need more efficient mechanism to deploy European forces somewhere.  We have European battlegroups, probably spoken about that, they were never used.  And because we have mechanism, but we have problems with the political decisions, decision making, this is definitely one of the things which was discussed at the ministerial.  At least some states proposed, they will come with the proposal, how we can renew this concept of a European battlegroup, especially how to fasten the decision making.  I'm sorry, maybe I'm repeating the things, but...

Moderator: No, no, no, it's all in line.  It's all in line to what has been said indeed, it just reaffirms the position that we've been trying to convey here throughout this panel.  And indeed, for you politicians, for you ministers, it is an uphill task to convince a population that perhaps wants to see spending go in a different direction, especially once you're used to that someone else is picking up the bill.  Mircea Geoană, we cannot talk about Europe's defence, especially at a time like this, of course, without mentioning Russia.  At the end of the day, this is... Afghanistan comes... if any, ever there was an inopportune time, there was never a good time for it, but now it actually comes at a time when already NATO and Europe is not able to counter Russian aggression in Central and Eastern Europe.  Perhaps, or even to the extent we have Sviatlana Tsikhanousakaya here with us at the Bled Strategic Forum, looking for help, looking for assistance, looking for support, in order for democracy to thrive.  What do you tell people who say NATO is a wonderful construct, it had its moments, it had its purpose, but it's no longer delivering in the 21st century?  What's your point, particularly when it comes to Russian aggression?

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: I think you ask the questions to our Baltic friends, to our Polish friends, to our Romanian friends, to the 30 Allied nations.  And just as a point of comment on the previous discussion, we have only one set of forces, each nation, NATO, EU, we have one set of forces, just one.  We have one budget, just one.  We have one public opinion in each country, just one.  We have one political establishment each country, one.  So the question is, how can we be capable and then decide which is the right and the most appropriate, the most efficient, the most, let's say, politically and strategically intelligent way to eventually use those capabilities?  Of course, I represent NATO, I say that NATO is the natural place to do things together.  But if EU, like today, there's a decision to go I think in Mozambique, with peacekeeping from the EU.  This is not something that NATO does.  But many Allied nations, member states of the EU, with the same set of forces, are deciding to use those forces, hopefully well equipped, hopefully having all the enablers doing the work.  I want to say that, if we decide to send our military personnel, also police, Gendarmerie, Carabinieri, to UN peacekeeping operations, that's part of the same national forces we have.  So, how to make sure we use those properly, that's something.  Now, coming back to Russia, we have to recognise that we are now at the lowest point in our relationships with Russia in the last 20 something years.  Speaking of battlegroups, the way in which NATO reacted to the illegal occupation of Crimea and the occupation of Eastern Ukraine has been a remarkable sign of solidarity.  As we speak, many of the nations represented here are part of the forward presence in the Baltics and in Poland, or the presence to the Black Sea.  So, NATO has been adapting to this challenge.  We didn't want this.  But once a country in Europe today is basically taking by force territory, illegally, from one neighbour, that's a big issue.  We still want... and we want, and I have invited Russia, Francoise knows this very well, I've invited, we've invited Russia to come back to the NATO-Russia Council also for the dialogue track, multiple times.  They still refuse to come back for dialogue.  So, that's a very complex issue and this is not only a matter of the Eastern Flank, Russia now is highly active and aggressive in the north, in the high north, from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, in Central Africa, in Syria, in many other places.  So, that's an issue that we have to tackle.  And speaking of the credibility of the Alliance, for the NATO members, Article 5 is all members.  So, Article 5 is the sacrosanct commitment to each other to defend each other, when one of us is attacked by someone else.  And I have to say that for the 30 nations in the Alliance, this is very credible and this is something which is the bedrock of our Alliance.  So, deterrence and defence is important.  I also hope... and this is why I believe that trying to engage Russia also constructively, on things that they also have a common interest with us in the West, fighting terrorists, they have a problem with that too.  And I agree that the situation in Afghanistan might create trouble also in the southern belt of Russia's interests.  We also have arms control, nuclear dialogue, a system of international norms, when it comes to existing arms, but also to the novel generation of arms, hypersonics in space, many things that are now new generation of issues.  And this is something that we have to engage with.  The same thing with China.  In the existing Strategic Concept of NATO, of 2011... by the way, at that summit in NATO, when we adopted the last... the current 3G concept, President Medvedev was present at the NATO Summit.  OK?  And in the Strategic Concept that we are now revisiting and upgrading, there was not a single reference about China, not zero, zip, nothing.  So, the fact that we are adjusting to a changing world doesn't mean the fact that NATO remains, you know, solidly anchored to our deterrence and defence of our nations.  And I make, again this call of making sure that the finite resources that we all have are used properly and intelligently, with the most efficient results for all of us.

Moderator: Hardly surprising, when you have an issue like Europe's defence, there's absolutely no shortage of topics and issues to be tackled here, in such a short amount of time.  But we have approximately 20 minutes left, before we wrap up the session and I do want to take the opportunity to bring in the audience as well.  Many more questions that I have here myself on this on this piece of paper, but I do know that there might be some issues and questions from the audience members as well, which I want to give them an opportunity.  So, can we have a microphone to the gentleman here in the second row?  Please introduce yourself.  And we'll open it up.

Question: Yes.  Good afternoon.  I am the President of the World Diplomatic Academy and Crans Montana Forum.  Don't you think, when you attend this global show, between United States, Russia, China, don't you think that we don't need a new kind of Yalta?  Because where is the solution?  That is my first question.  And the second one, Article 5, that's very important, what happens if two NATO member states fight each other?  We are not so far sometimes.

Moderator: Probably picking up from the previous Mediterranean panel.  We'll come to that in just a moment.  But...

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: I would like my colleagues to answer that.

Moderator: Well there you go.  [laughs]  Born diplomat indeed.  Minister Parly, you want to take the first question perhaps or... yeah, go ahead.  Go ahead.

Florence Parly [Minister of the Armed Forces of France]: [inaudible] to have two NATO allies fighting each other.  So, that's why it is so important that we can update in a consensual way, the new Strategic Concept of NATO.  So, I think that we should keep open the doors for dialogue.  It is one thing to be realistic and to take into account what is the worldwide competition, it is another thing to keep the door open for dialogue.  And back to the question around Russia.  President Macron keeps the door open to engaging Russia into a dialogue, but to have a dialogue we need to be at least two.  And if your counterpart doesn't want to have this dialogue right now then you are in a difficult situation.  So, I think that Russia is part of European continent, we are sharing the same geographical space, so it is of the utmost importance that, one day, we find a way to live in peace and security on the European continent.  Then, in the short term, I cannot tell you, I would love to tell you that this dialogue with Russia that we would like to start, this dialogue has not been successful, yet, which doesn't mean that it will not be one day successful.  And that's why, in a very realistic manner, we decided not to schedule new meetings because the conditions were not set.

Moderator: Minister Tonin and Minister Cravinho, any points?  Yes, please go ahead.  Yeah, I'll come to you in a second.  Go ahead.

Matej Tonin [Minister of Defence of Slovenia]: On a new Yalta. I think that the difference between that time and a current time is obvious.  At that time, those three leaders were willing to talk.  In current situation, sometimes I have a feeling that Russia, China and let's say European Union, doesn't want to talk, or they don't want to talk with a common language.  And there is one main difference, at that time, they had a common enemy.  Today, I have a feeling that there are many places where we are fighting each other.  So, the dialogue is definitely, like Florence said, a crucial thing and European Union will be always an area where we will emphasise how important the dialogue is, and that can solve all the problems, but at least we need a partner there which are willing to talk.

Moderator: Minister Cravinho?

João Gomes Cravinho [Minister of National Defence of Portugal]: Well, on Yalta, I mean it would be wonderful if we could all meet in Yalta, because that would be a sign that there would no longer be Russian occupied Crimea, which I think we would all be pleased about.  But beyond that, Yalta came, Matej mentioned, in the context of a common enemy, it came at the end of six years of destruction, of terrible war.  And it was a moment to reshape the international order.  So, the question, your metaphor about Yalta is really, can we get together to reshape the international order.  And I don't think that the circumstances, the complexity of the times that we are living in, allow us to do that.  In those times, it was about territorial possession.  Today's world is just so much more complicated that our modus vivendi, a way of understanding and living together has to be dealt with in manners that are quite different from last century's, mid last century's approach.  So, I'm not so optimistic about this kind of deal.  But again, like my colleagues, it's all about dialogue on multiple levels and multiple issues.

Moderator: We're approaching... yes, please?

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: President Carteron, I don't want to escape the question on...listen, if you look to European history, and all of us have, in Europe, such a rich, dense history that sometimes we have... we can export.  Why, in 72 years since NATO was formed, when the world order after the Second World War was shaped, why on NATO soil, for the first time in European history, for 72 years we didn't have a war amongst ourselves in Europe, for the first time in our history.  Why?  Just because being together, even if not always, to be honest, Allies don't see eye to eye on everything, we have sometimes disputes, we have difficulties, but the fact that we are together in such a powerful organisation that we know that, ultimately, we have a common interest to defend each other and to be together, when the real difficult times would come, makes a whole of a difference.  So no, we’ve seen issues.  NATO was useful, deconfliction things, other nations were helpful.  So, I'm absolutely confident that this Alliance is not only providing security for our members and peace and tranquillity, but also is projecting in a way, sometimes projecting too far, sometimes projecting closer to home, a sense of stability and predictability in strategic affairs.

Moderator: So, the legitimacy of NATO has not been diminished at all, says the Deputy Secretary General, perhaps even more pertinent in times like these.  We are in the final stretches, we have approximately 10-15 minutes left.  Once again looking at the audience, if there are some questions?  Yes, please.  A microphone is coming to you, please introduce yourself.

Question: Thank you.  My name is Patryk Pawlak.  I work for the Institute for Security Studies.  And listening to this panel, but also the previous session, there is one question that's bugging me, concerning the European foreign security policy and its future.  So, since you're coming back from the informal Defence Ministerial meeting, I think this is the right panel to give me the answers.  Listening to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs on their previous panel and here, I have the impression that there is a certain undertone of maybe European foreign and security policy, turning a bit more isolationist and inward looking after Afghanistan.  And I would like you to clarify that for me.  You know, you all were talking about solidarity in 2001 and how we have to rethink that right now.  Does that mean that solidarity will be redefined?  Does that mean the engagement within the NATO and with our Allies is also going to be maybe scrutinised a bit more than it used to be?  And maybe a specific question also in secondary, if I can, to Mr. Geoană, you were talking a lot about complexity of security challenges but then, when we talk about responses, you switch automatically to how we have to increase the defence budget to 2%, which is what the Allies have committed to.  I'm wondering then if maybe the NATO's definition of 2% and what the defence spending is not a bit archaic, when we talk about complexity of the security challenges.  You know, as you know, the EU member states are putting the money in defence sector, but also across all other issues that cover these hybrid challenges, as you said.  So, I'm wondering whether maybe there isn't time for some reflection there as well and maybe these budgets should be calculated or thought of in a different way, so that the member states also feel a bit more ownership when it comes to security in the longer term.  Thank you.

Moderator: So, starting with the first question perhaps I'm sure you'll all have something to chime in on.  Minister Cravinho, we'll start with you, Minister Tonin and then Minister Parly also.  Please, go ahead.

João Gomes Cravinho [Minister of National Defence of Portugal]: Well a quick comment, because I'm not sure whether it was provoked by something I said and, if so, it's probably because I miss... I didn't explain myself clearly.  I think that it's wonderful that so many nations, NATO countries, and many non-NATO countries, went in to show solidarity with the United States after 2001.  But that's not sufficient reason to stay there for 20 years.  So, I think that the solidarity which is there, expressed very clearly in our Article 5 of NATO, and is expressed also in many other contexts, contexts of Article 42.7 and others, this is fundamental.  It is fundamental that, as individual countries, we recognise obligations towards our Allies or our partners.  So no, for me, there's no question at all of an EU that should be isolationist, this would be very contradictory with everything that the European Union stands for.  So, all I can say there is apologies if I was misleading or if I allowed myself to be misunderstood in that respect.

Moderator: Minister Parly and then Minister Tonin, please.

Florence Parly [Minister of the Armed Forces of France]: ...from this and this idea.  And I can tell you that France benefited from Article 42.7 when France was attacked in 2015.  So, we benefited from the solidarity of European EU members.  So, we are very, very far from forgetting the idea and the concept of solidarity.  What we are building together, wherever it is, within NATO, within the EU, is based on solidarity, is based on the idea that together we will... sorry, if we are on our own, we will be weak and not able to tackle the challenges of the world we are in.  But if we are together then we are strong.  And that's exactly the philosophy of the organisations we belong to.  So, I am really embarrassed by your question because this is not at all my feeling and this is not at all what we are building together.  If I can come to the next question, which was about the 2%, I don’t...

Moderator: Right, give me a moment, let Mr Tonin answer the first and anyway, the 2% is something that will be discussed on this side of the aisle, no doubt. Go ahead.

Matej Tonin [Minister of Defence of Slovenia]: European Union is definitely not entering in isolationist note, definitely not.  What we were discussing in those couple of today's, it's absolutely the opposite.  So, we were discussing how to help nations who share our values.  We were discussing how to be even more active in the Sahel region, because the Sahel region can have bigger, greater consequences for European Union.  We were talking about how to energise, how to do more for the European training mission in Mozambique.  There was a discussion, what we can do with Ukraine, how we can there establish some kind of mission.  So, definitely Europe is not moving in the mode you said, so I see many signs that we are driving in the totally opposite direction.  And I see this as an appropriate thing because who else then can help nations who share the values as the European Union.

Moderator: And a clear rejection on the part of the Defence Ministers here that Europe and Europe defence is moving in an isolationist manner.  2%, outdated?  The criteria that we use in order to measures in military spending.

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you for the question.  And it's a valid question.  Listen, I mentioned earlier that we have one budget, one public opinion, one set of armed forces, one set of public opinion, one set of political establishment in each nation.  In order to move towards capacity capabilities, across the Alliance, across the Alliance, from US and Canada all the way to Eastern Flank, from north to south, we need to make sure that we encourage nations to also invest in the capabilities that we all agreed that we should invest in.  So, Wales was a moment when all leaders of this alliance agreed to this target.  It's not only 2%, it's also the 20% of this amount of defence spending that should be spent for new equipments and higher end capabilities.  And the minister, the Defence Minister here from your country, they know this discussion anyway.  As I'm speaking, I would really answer your question, not only by this quantitative criteria but also to the evolution in a way in which we imagine, number one, the definition of security, the definition of warfare, and the capabilities that we need to have at the national level, and together to the NATO defence planning processes.  And this is something which is making headway in NATO.  As we speak, the NATO defence planning process, which is something that all Allies do together with us, is in significant adaptation.  And we need to strike the right balance between retaining our deterrence and defence of the territory and populations of data, but also be able to invest in new technologies, in things that are related to cyber, to space, to many other things that we need to do together.  So, I will not look into the... of course, it was a big political discussion until recently about this thing, but I would really discourage the idea to look into the 2%, 20%, from a static perspective.  We need to invest, we need invest better, and this is what we do every single day in NATO.  And also, individual nations are not reaching the same conclusion in terms of where they should invest nationally.  So, if you read Le Livre Blanc de la France, of France, and if you look to the integrated review of the UK, and if you look at the US then Estonia or Romania, they do, there's also margin for individual national priorities to be, we are not one size fits all in NATO.  But I think we are one of the players that can really make sure that... and this is my keyword here, interoperability is maintained in NATO, not only today, but also tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.  And that's why we need to work together in NATO to make sure that we'll be able to work together, fight together, defend each other together, while every nation is, of course, in the situation to invest in things that... national priorities as well.

Moderator: Well, we are facing the final minutes of this panel, but Minister Parly, I know you wanted to address the 2% question as well.

Florence Parly [Minister of the Armed Forces of France]: Yes, I think it is an important one.  Of course, as it has just been said, 2% is a target, is a quantitative target.  So, the question is not only are we sticking to this target, but also what do we do with this money.  And I see a positive trend, which is that, first of all, most of the Allies, most of the European Member States, comply with this target.  But another positive trend is that there is a strong consensus that there are new threats emerging and that we have to take them into account.  Our security is at stake in the space.  Our security is at stake in the cyber domain.  And these domains have been identified and qualified by NATO as our new operational domains.  And the discussion is not about is it relevant to take these new threats into account, the discussion is more about what is the right setting between those various threats and how do we address that within the 2% target.  And in my view, there is a strong consensus between the analysis made by various countries on the threats, but the national decisions must be slightly different.  Look at the new technologies.  The United Kingdom and the integrated review identified this as a major challenge.  What is different is the conclusion.  How much money Great Britain will invest in this new technologies compared to nuclear deterrence, the equipment for the army, for the Air Force, for the Navy.  So, it's a question of setting, but there is no dissensus on the necessity to address these new threats.

Moderator: Well, I think it's become abundantly clear, throughout the past 90 minutes, how challenging, how complicated the times are that we live in, getting more complicated as we speak.  As difficult as it may be, I'll actually try to end on a more optimistic, hopeful tone, and give you all an opportunity, one minute each, before we wrap up and say, despite the challenges, despite the difficulties, especially in the position that you hold, in the positions that you hold, what makes you optimistic and hopeful, at the end of the day, about Europe's defence, about the situation that we all find ourselves in, in this day and age?  Minister Tonin, let's start with you.

Matej Tonin [Minister of Defence of Slovenia]: I think that the Europe is still a wonderful place to live, that values which are sharing provides us a beautiful life.  And I'm absolutely sure that we will fight to keep this standard.  And that means, even though that we will meet 5-10 times but, in the end, the history showed us that where it was really difficult, we always find a solution.  And I think this is a bright thing in the end and that's why I'm optimistic,

Moderator: Saying while the sun is shining into this room here, but Minister Cravinho, is that also your understanding, despite the difficulties, that Europe has shown in the end that it is prevailing?  Sometimes it takes two steps back in order to make one leap forward.  But is that something that, when you go home at night that crosses your mind?

João Gomes Cravinho [Minister of National Defence of Portugal]: Yes, absolutely.  I think that, you know, there is... clearly we're living at a time when tectonic plates are shifting.  The good thing is that there is widespread recognition.  We don't know where they're shifting to, we don't know exactly what the world is going to be looking like tomorrow, but we do have a sense that the world of yesterday is not the one that we should be preparing for.  And so that's a very positive aspect.  And Afghanistan helps, but only a little bit.  The reality is the last few years, there has really been a growing consensus inside Europe that we need to be preparing ourselves differently, for a different kind of world, and that this notion of a European defence identity needs to emerge, we need to be midwives to help it come into this world.  So, I am optimistic about the future of Europe in that respect.  And I see the partnership with NATO as a very, very essential part of that new entity to being born.

Moderator: Minister Parly, it has been said many times, in order to be a politician, you need to be optimistic by nature, otherwise, you would never have tackle this job, you would never undertake to become a politician.  What makes you hopeful and optimistic at the end of the day, despite the challenges that we've talked about for the previous 90 minutes?

Florence Parly [Minister of the Armed Forces of France]: First of all, I think that all human beings need to be optimistic otherwise it does not deserve to live in the world, in this world.  So, I'm optimistic, not only as a minister, but also as a woman.  And if you ask me what makes me optimistic today, the discussion we had today makes me very optimistic.  Because I think that, of course, Afghanistan is a shock, but what is important now is that we make the best use of what we've seen, what we've learned, and we have the means to react, we have the means to act, and the decisions were made and now we have to speed up.

Moderator: Minister Geoană?

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: This may come as a surprise for someone representing NATO, but I believe the most important thing in life, in human societies and history, is the power of ideas.  Everything else follows.  Economic might, military might, competition.  And I have total confidence in the fact that our ideas of freedom, of liberty, of democracy, of open societies, allowing our people to think, to vote how they want, is our major strength.  That's why I'm optimistic that in this ethical fight for the commanding heights of human society, that's what we are in the midst today.  I said power competition, it's also an ideological, philosophical, ethical and moral competition.  And as long as we keep us, faith in our values, there is no way in which we will not prevail in the end.  That's why fundamentally, I'm optimistic.

Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, Yes, please. [applause]  Lining up Europe's defence, this session that was brought to you by the Ministry of Defence of Slovenia, thank you for that.  And how wonderful to hear when Minister Parly says this session is giving me hope, this session is what's making me optimistic.  I hope you share their sentiments, having listened to these distinguished panellists throughout the previous 90 minutes.  The challenges are not getting smaller, I think that's become abundantly clear, but it's good to know that the challenges and the solutions are in the hands of competent people like yours esteemed speakers, this is your applause.  Thank you so much. [applause]