by Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at Future of Democracy Forum on Defending Against Authoritarianism in Vilnius, Lithuania

  • 20 Nov. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 22 Nov. 2021 11:03

(As delivered)

Good morning everyone. Thank you Minister Logar. And many thanks to Minister Landsbergis and Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for organising this very important conference on the Future of Democracy.

As a Romanian, I know all too well what it was like to live under Communist rule. As do many of you from Central and Eastern Europe, including in Lithuania and the wider Baltic region. 

Communism crushed aspirations and ideas. It created a constant state of fear. It brought tyranny and despair. 

We have turned the page on the dark days of communism. My country, like yours, went down the path of Euro-Atlantic integration. We chose democracy. As a result, our societies today are safer, freer, richer, and more open. 

But we should never take freedom for granted. 

Many countries have not been able to take the democratic path and are still subject to harsh authoritarian rule. 

This is the case in Belarus. Opponents of Lukashenko’s regime are repressed, and the media is not free. Recently, we have seen the regime weaponising migration in  a hybrid campaign, putting human lives in danger. 

We are deeply concerned by the situation at Belarus’ border with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. We remain vigilant, and stand in solidarity with our allies. 

Worldwide, democracy is in decline. And the negative trend is deepening. According to a recent ‘Freedom House’ study, three quarters of the world’s population lived in a country that faced democratic deterioration in 2020. 

So we must stand-up for our values, democracy and freedom.  

Conferences like this one offer an excellent platform to put these issues on the table, to reflect on how best we can defend against authoritarianism, uphold our values and protect our precious democratic way-of-life. 

So I am truly glad I could join you today. 

Threats to our security are complex and interrelated. And the values many of us fought so fearlessly for are again under attack.

Russia has carried out aggressive actions against its neighbours. We have seen large and unusual concentrations of Russian forces at the Ukrainian border in recent weeks. Russia has also attempted to interfere in our democracies. And it continues its massive military build-up from the Barents Sea to the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, China is assertively using its might and technological advances to coerce other countries and control its own people. 

It is expanding its global economic and military footprint in Africa, in the Arctic and in cyber-space. And it’s investing in our own critical infrastructure, from 5G networks to ports and airports.

Both countries – but also other state and non-state actors – are pushing back on decades of democratic progress, and challenging the rules-based international order like never before.

In our western societies, people are free to voice their discontent and debate their disagreements. It is the beauty of our democratic system. But our potential adversaries are misusing and amplifying these fractures – micro and macro fractures – to destabilise and undermine us. 

We cannot let this happen. We must continue to modernise and strengthen our democracies, including our democratic institutions, like NATO. 

This is why at our Summit in Brussels last June, we took bold decisions under what we call the NATO 2030 agenda, to make NATO even stronger in a more unpredictable world. 

We decided, for instance, to use NATO even more as the essential forum for security consultations and decisions among Allies, on both sides of the Atlantic. 

We agreed to enhance the resilience of our societies, infrastructure and supply chains. 

To boost our cyber-defences. 

To sharpen our technological edge. 

And, for the first time ever, to address the security implications of climate change.  

We also decided to work ever more closely with our partners. With countries, international organisations, private companies, academic institutions that share our values. 

Because defending the rules-based international order is a collective effort. 

One of our key partners is the European Union. NATO and the EU are different organisations, with different roles, different members,  and different tools. But we share the same security threats and the same values. 

In recent years, we have reached unprecedented levels of cooperation. And we are ready to take it a step further. In fact, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is working with President Michel and President von der Leyen on a new Joint Declaration. It will reflect how our cooperation is evolving, including in areas like cyberspace and new technologies – where we must ensure everyone plays by the same rules. 

In cyberspace, international law is applicable, and there are norms that guide state behaviour. But not everyone abides by them. 

And in the field of emerging and disruptive technologies, there are no strict rules to foster cooperation, and protect our rights and democratic values. 

NATO has already made our start with our new strategy on Artificial Intelligence. And we must continue to work together as democratic nations to set high ethical standards for new technologies together – or others will write their own rules for us. 


Finally, at the Brussels Summit, we also decided to develop NATO’s next Strategic Concept. The last one dates back to 2010 and our strategic environment has fundamentally changed over the past decade. 

Our leaders will endorse the new strategy at the NATO Summit in Madrid next June. It will reflect our changed world and reaffirm NATO’s role as the cornerstone of euro-Atlantic security. 

It will also reaffirm the fundamental values that underpin our Alliance – democracy, freedom, human rights and rule of law. Values that have served us well for decades, and that must continue to guide us in a more complex and dangerous world. 

When I think of the past – of my own experience in Romania – I know that the best future is democracy. But democracy is not a final destination. It is a daily work in progress. So let’s continue that work together - to ensure that we, our children, our grandchildren and many more generations to come can live in freedom and prosperity. 

Thank you all again for continuing this vital work. And I look forward to a successful Summit of Democracies in December. 

Thank you very much.