Keynote address

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the YATA’s 25th anniversary event

  • 26 Nov. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 28 Nov. 2021 12:11

(As delivered)

MIRCEA GEOANĂ [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Madam President, how are you?

MODERATOR: Thank you for having us here and giving the opportunity also to the youth to attend this sessions and to questions.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: I understand that later today you will also have Jim Townsend joining you virtually. Say hello to Jim from my behalf. Our kids were Trick or Treating together in Washington. When I was much younger, I was Ambassador to Washington of Romania, my home country, and our kids were Trick or Treating so, happy Thanksgiving for yesterday for our American friends and Allies. And I’m happy there’s a big American contingent here. And this is very good.

Listen, first of all you cannot imagine how much we are interested in and support the idea of NATO communicating and getting the young generations involved in what we do. Not always easy, because the young generation, I know from my kids, you develop a sense of values, of principles, of anxiety sometimes.
The world is changing so much, society is changing so much, and it’s only normal for . . . for the young ones to try to see where the world is going and where your role, with your lives and your careers, will fit into that. And sometimes NATO is not that easy to be communicated to young audiences. That’s why we try to do a better job. And what better, you know, a way than the YATA for doing that. 

I remember Carmen and our colleagues from the Public Diplomacy Division doing a brilliant job, like always, with the Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, we had the first youth summit. On the way to Madrid, because we’ll have a summit in Madrid in late June, we hope and I know that there will be an involvement of the young audiences.

And I’m here to say a little bit of the things that we . . . we are working on in NATO and also, eventually, to have with you a dialogue and eventually see which would be the topics you would believe are important for us to consider.

First of all, it’s an understatement that we are living in historical times, a transformation of the world like we have never seen before in human history. Never, ever before. Change and geopolitics and competition and big or small events, history is always agitated. It’s an illusion to believe that history is linear and calm. It’s an illusion. Because for one decade or three decades, like it was the case after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, there was many of us – I was of your age at that time – we believed that we are entering the end of history, that democracy and liberal values will prevail worldwide, just because the West managed to defeat communism and Soviet Union. We are proven wrong, because history is always spiraling and it’s always moving towards something else. So when I say that we are living the most complex, transformative moments in human history, I give a few arguments, because that’s dramatic what I’m saying. So we never had, simultaneously, an unravelling of a geopolitics, a resurgent Russia and an assertive China. We have never seen, like in recent years and that’s something that I think all of us, the ones who love freedom, the ones who love liberty, the ones who love democracy, the ones who believe in the rule of law, and that open societies are better than closed authoritarian societies, that’s at least where I’m coming from, I think all of us are coming from that thing. But also we see also democracy at home becoming weaker. We see in the last few years, probably 10 years or more, probably of the first financial crisis of 10 years ago. If you look at the Freedom House Democracy or Freedom Index, they have that thing. You see that the first time, we see a regression of democracy worldwide, a regression of democracy worldwide – fewer nations embracing democracy, more nations embracing totalitarianism or authoritarianism. That’s something which is severe.
For the first time, we also see an explosion of technological revolutions, the plural, an explosion of technological revolutions like never before. Of course, the human species and human societies, we lived in the first industrial revolution, the second, the third. But the fourth one, which we are now living in, is so complex. So you see from artificial intelligence and big data, from robotics, from quantum, from biotechnology, from human enhancement, from space, from . . .  you name it. A transformation that technology brings to the lives of human beings and to the way in which we organise societies, economies, social contracts, but also defence and security, like never before, like never before. So there is a sense of trepidation at one level. And the business of NATO – and this is what I want, for you, to get out as the main message from me, that NATO is, through our mission of keeping one billion people from 30 nations stable, secure and prosperous and protecting the way of life, we are the precondition of anything else. Because without peace and stability and security, you cannot build anything, nothing, zero. Not a decent life, not a decent job, not a decent family, not dreams or, you know, complexities in our lives. So we are in the business of making sure that we ensure the foundation for our nations to be able to continue to . . . to work.

Now, speaking of what’s on our agenda, of course, many of you are watching the situation in and around Ukraine. I’m not going to get into the actions of Russia there, but it’s clear that there is not only there but in a big, big arc from the High North to the east and then to the south and in Africa, we see Russia becoming far more aggressive and investing in . . . in its military footprint in many places. I mentioned also China.

But let me tell you what we are doing and what’s the plan for Madrid. The main product, if you want – conceptual product and strategic product –  in Madrid will be the new Strategic Concept. What does it mean? It means that from time to time, like any decent organisation – and we are a very professional, very well-structured organisation – from time to time Allies, NATO, our leaders, the 30 leaders from President Biden all the way to the President of Romania, they decide, and we help in that direction, that we need to adjust to a changing world. The previous Strategic Concept, which, by the way, is, in terms of the relevance, of the importance of our documents, second only after the Washington Treaty, which is our Bible, the Founding Act of NATO. So the second most important document we have in everything we do – and we do a lot – is the Strategic Concept. Why? Because it encapsulates the realities of today and the anticipation of tomorrow, in terms of security, defence and international affairs. The previous Strategic Concept was adopted in Lisbon in 2010. Can we imagine that in Lisbon in 2010, at the summit, President Medvedev of Russia was attending? Putin was making that switch, he was Prime Minister and President Medvedev, and then he came back. And we are describing Russia as a partner of NATO. Can we imagine in 2010, the world changed so fast and so much? There was no reference to China whatsoever, not a single word. In the second most important document of NATO, there was not a reference to China, not a single one. Not a whisper. Nothing. And today, the rise of China is a reality, it’s not just something that we made . . . we make it up. It’s a fundamental change of global affairs in any way you look at this. So what we are now doing – and we started internal consultations inside the Alliance, with lots of consultations outside of the Alliance, we hope to have input also from our young friends, from YATA and from other places – is that we have to make sure that we bring to Madrid the new NATO Strategic Concept. I cannot prejudge which will be the . . . the outcome, because we are still working on this one. But I think this will be one of the most robust, balanced and far-reaching documents that I would say that probably any international organisation would be able to produce.

Of course, because on behalf of the Secretary General, I’m also doing a lot of NATO-European Union work. And that’s important, because we have 21 of the Allies in NATO also member states of the European Union. Of course, there’s not that perfect overlap of memberships, because we have in NATO countries that are not EU and they’re obvious. Also there are countries in the EU that aren’t members of NATO, that’s also obvious. So we have to make sure that we find the right balance and the right kind of political encadrement – framework – for doing these things together. But as we speak, we started to work together with our European Union counterparts, with President von der Leyen and with President Charles Michel and with the Josep Borrell colleagues and, of course, Jens Stoltenberg, my boss and our Sec Gen, as we . . . we compressed his title, for the third joint NATO-EU declaration. For the third joint NATO-EU declaration. We had two previous ones. One adopted in Brussels at one of the NATO summits; one adopted in Warsaw at another NATO summit. And we believe that the third one now should really be ambitious, it should be practical and it should clarify the role of each organisation in this very complicated world, I was just describing. I’m a strong advocate of the most intimate and cordial and strategic partnership between NATO and the EU. Why? Because speaking of democracies and [inaudible], speaking of our values, we don’t have infinite resources. We just cannot afford to go divergently, because the competition is so stiff, the hurdles are so high and the duty to do our job is so imperative – but we just cannot afford to duplicate and try to do things that are not . . . of course, respecting the specificity and the mission of each organisation, which is, we are different in nature, but we are identical in terms of values. As we’ve tried to coin it, we are two sides of the same coin. And I think that’s probably the most, the most vivid visual metaphor I can offer when it comes to NATO and the EU. We’ve done things with NATO-EU for many years now. We have many actions that we do together: military mobility, lots of things. My colleagues from the Public Diplomacy Division working on a daily basis in countering disinformation, which is massive, with our EU colleagues, also with the, I think, with the G7 Communication . . . Strategic Communication Group, doing an excellent job.

But speaking of the new technologies and the new things that are here to come, we also, I think, will be able to identify on top of these things a few other new domains of cooperation that are also huge priorities in NATO. Huge priorities in NATO. And it’s on new technologies, we call them, in our jargon, emerging disruptive technologies. Emerging disruptive technologies.  In London in 2019 in December, leaders of NATO instructed us the organisation, the Alliance, to work on a roadmap on new technologies, these disruptive technologies. And we just delivered, at our meeting of Defence Ministers in NATO three weeks ago, here in this very building, the first Artificial Intelligence Strategy of NATO. And I would dare say, one of the most far-reaching and important documents in the international arena. Because for the first time, a major organisation like NATO will introduce not only AI because it’s here and it’s used everywhere – from screening for health, all the way to conduct missiles and security and defence, it’s everywhere. But for the first time, and I’m very proud of this and this is something we should communicate also to the young ones, for the first time, NATO is introducing principles of responsible use of AI. Principles of ethical use of AI. And I know that it’s important for you. And it should be important for all of us, not only for the young ones. Of course, we have to find the right balance, not to tie our hands behind our backs because our competitors are not that shy, they’re not that, you know, observant of democracy and the voice of the citizens. And we know why and that’s something . . . we are different. And other strategies will follow. Big data is also done. I think the next one, we’ll work on quantum computing, and I want to really trigger a little bit your attention and interest into what’s coming on quantum – it’s huge. We say that AI is transformative and revolutionary. Wait till you see quantum coming in. And that’s, again, something we are working on, also in anticipation of things that are to come. By the way, the most . . . not the most, one of the most interesting things I do here in NATO, I’m also chairing the Innovation Board in NATO. And it’s amazing to see how the same technology can be a force for good in many things and can be used and abused of in terms of defence and security. And that’s why we have to be on top of our game and anticipate these things. Other technologies will follow.

We also talk about this with the . . . we are working with this with the EU, with the OECD – which is a great organisation, by the way and I’m happy that I started and we started a new, fresh partnership with the OECD, because they have tremendous technological capacity. It’s a beauty of intellectual and professional things that they do and I encourage you to have a look at the OECD, it’s a very interesting organisation. I’m not in the business to advertise for others, I advertise for NATO because we want you to come and join NATO, but I believe this is important.

With the UN – UN not only in New York, also in Geneva. I just came from Geneva and I met agencies of the UN, like the International Telecommunications Union. It sounds a little bit abstract. In fact, that’s a very influential organisation because they’re discussing about spectrum, they’re discussing about IP for the Internet, they are discussing about quantum and the things to come – so that’s a massive global organisation of huge importance to all of us.

The second topic we are working very actively on, other than new technologies, is resilience. And I think the pandemic has showed, unfortunately, still showing us in Europe, in North America, but all over the world, sometimes how fragile we are and how vulnerable we are. And speaking of anticipation, in 2016 at the summit of NATO in Warsaw, our leaders decided to . . . for NATO to work on resilience, even before the pandemic. So we have identified already seven indicators for resilience: from transportation to energy to telecommunications. In fact, what is resilience? The capacity to resist, absorb and rebalance after a shock, a major shock. And I think this is something that we should also do together with the European Union, and we’ll also do a lot of work on this thing.

The third thing, which is, again, I know is very important also for the young ones. And we just finished Glasgow, COP26. Secretary General Stoltenberg was there, I’m very proud of my boss because he was there and he’s leading, and NATO will also do our part when it comes to climate change, also from a climate change and security perspective, because the consequences, the implications of climate change on security are immense. In the South, drought, famine, competition over resources, over water, fuel conflict. Mass migration. Safe haven for terrorists. So this is only normal for NATO to look into the . . . in the High North, the fact that we see the melting of many things, the permafrost in Siberia, or issues that are happening elsewhere. So we take climate change very seriously, and also we have the ambition to make sure that our militaries reduce their carbon footprint. Again, in a way that would be ambitious and practical at the same time. We also want to work with the European Union and other like-minded organisations and, of course, nations on this one.

And the fourth thing – 4.5: space. NATO has declared space in 2019 as our fifth operational domain. An operational domain is the places, geographies, physical or virtual spaces, where things happen, including defence and potential conflict. So traditionally we had land, sea and air. We added, in 2016, cyber as the fourth operational domain. And now space is the fifth operational domain. We see already, we witness an immense competition for space. Not only among nations, but also commercial companies, as we have seen more recently.

So what I’m trying to tell you in a nutshell, that the topics we are working on now in NATO are of direct interest for each and every one of us, starting with the young ones. Because if we do our job as NATO, your lives, your long lives, your beautiful lives, your successful lives, your rewarding lives, your leadership role, will be on a solid foundation. Because trepidation is here to stay. We bring that stability, that predictability that, that foundation that is always evolving because the world changes. And you can rely on this organisation to always be agile, always be up to the task – not always perfect, not always perfect, we’re not perfect – but we have something in our DNA, which is a combination of strong adherence to our values, of freedom, of liberty, of rule of law. That’s our DNA. And also in DNA, like in biotech, of permanent adaptation to a changing world. Values and permanent adaptation to a changing world – this is what NATO is all about. And I count on you as our young friends and our future leaders. We just started, I work a lot, we are now working on a what we call Human Capital and Talent Policy in NATO. And speaking of the attractiveness of NATO, we just opened a new programme, which is called the Young Professionals Programme in NATO and I talked to the 12 that were recruited in the end. Do you know how many applied for the 12 positions from NATO countries from, so, one billion people – a lot of people? 12,600 applications for 12 jobs. Yes. Yes. So, we have to make sure that we stay attractive and we stay open. And it’s also an invitation for you to consider in your lives, in your careers, not necessarily NATO, but think also of security, think of issues that are important to all of us. So, grazie mille Presidente; muchísimas gracias, Carmen.