Keynote speech

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the Cybersec Global 2022 event

  • 25 Jan. 2022 -
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  • Last updated 28-Jan-2022 14:55

(As delivered)

MIRCEA GEOANĂ [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: I’m always very happy to be with you. I also cherish the work that Izabela is doing to assist us in the Alliance’s innovation efforts through the Advisory Group on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies. So Izabela thank you for inviting me and thank all of you for having me again, in a new edition of CYBERSEC. Also, the Kosciuszko Institute, thank you so much for organising this very important event.

Of course, we are all very much focussed on the tensions created by Russia in and around Ukraine. And Russia, with neither provocation nor necessity, has amassed over 100,000 troops and advanced weapons to the borders of Ukraine.

Although we do not know for sure the intentions of the leadership in Moscow, the potential of invasion in the coming days and weeks is real.

At the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on January 12th, all Allies spoke with a single voice. They called on Russia to immediately de-escalate the situation and to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours. They called on Russia to end its aggressive posturing and to stop its malign activities aimed at Allies and partners.

And the Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has proposed further meetings with Russia and many concrete areas where we can make progress and we are interested here to give diplomacy a chance.

NATO and NATO Allies are ready to engage and listen to Russia’s concerns, but will not compromise on core principles: on the right of each nation to choose its own path and on NATO’s ability to protect and defend all Allies.

The same propositions coming out from NATO will come out in the next days in a written form to Russia and we call on Russia to come back to the NATO-Russia Council and discuss the propositions that we are making to them, also in a written form.

Of course, when it comes to cyber, the topic of your conference, we’ve seen the massive cyberattacks against Ukrainian public institutions. And it is for the Ukrainian authorities to investigate and attribute what happened. But we all wholeheartedly condemn this attack on the Ukrainian government.

The morning of the attack, NATO cyber experts in Brussels were immediately in touch with their Ukrainian counterparts, exchanging information and offering their assistance. Allied experts in country are also supporting the Ukrainian authorities on the ground. NATO has been working with Ukraine for years to increase its cyber defences, and we will continue to do so at pace.

Ukraine is one of NATO’s closest partners. It is a relationship that dates back to the 1990s, when Ukraine was newly independent from the Soviet Union. NATO has worked closely with Ukraine for many years to help reform and boost its security. In response to the illegal and illegitimate annexation [of Crimea by Russia] in 2014, we strengthened that relationship even further, with more support for its armed forces and for the reform of its security apparatus. NATO has provided trust funds, training and exercises, and situational awareness to Ukraine. We’ve increased our presence in the Black Sea and Ukraine is now an Enhanced Opportunities Partner, bringing us closer than ever.

We are working towards Ukraine having access to NATO’s malware information-sharing platform, to help enhance Kyiv’s cyber defences. Ukraine is also the single largest beneficiary of our Science for Peace and Security programme, with 26 projects underway covering a wide range of advanced technologies. One such project is called DEXTER – a means of detecting firearms and explosives in public spaces such as airports and train stations. This counter-terrorist measure is directly improving the security of Ukraine’s people.

Last week, the NATO Communications and Information Agency, the NCIA, signed an agreement with Ukraine that enhanced our cooperation still further. It will deepen our collaboration and further modernise their IT and communications and identify areas for further training. NATO’s strong political and practical support for Ukraine will continue in the weeks, months and years ahead.

But we also have to be aware of tech challenges. And the use of hybrid attacks against Ukraine, including cyberattacks and disinformation, as well as the massing of advanced weapons on its borders, underlines the key role of advanced technology in modern warfare.

Hard military power will always be the backbone of our deterrence and defence, but we also know that tanks, ships and planes, however advanced, are now only a part of the equation.

Advanced disruptive technologies are changing our security landscape, with artificial intelligence and big data leading the way. Advances in biotechnologies, autonomous systems and quantum computing all have the potential to bring huge benefits to our societies, but they also pose a real and significant threat to our security.

And is not only dual-use technologies that are developing so rapidly. In the last year, we have seen successful tests of hypersonic missiles by China, Russia and even North Korea. Missiles that can fly at extraordinary speeds, evade conventional missile defences and potentially deliver a nuclear warhead to any point on the planet within minutes.

China and Russia are investing heavily and deploying new technologies with little regard for human rights or international law, aggressively challenging our technological edge. And as more of our societies and our militaries depend on a digital framework, we become more interconnected, but also more vulnerable. So it is even more vital that we all do everything in our power to secure our networks and digital infrastructure.

The attack on the American IT company SolarWinds is a case in point. It exposed sensitive information and led to backdoors being inserted into a huge number of companies and government agencies around the world.

This is why NATO is adapting. This imperative is that NATO and our Allies respond to this wave of technological advancement to ensure our continued security and our technological edge. And we are doing just that.

First on cyber. Last summer, Allies agreed a new comprehensive cyber defence policy for NATO. It recognises that cyberspace is contested at all times. There may be cyberattacks happening at this very moment. Unlike other domains, cyber is always on. So we must always be ready to actively deter, defend against and counter all threats and actors. NATO has recognised cyberspace as a domain of operations, and a cyber attack could now be grounds to invoke Article 5 of NATO’s Founding Treaty.

We have a new Cyber Operations Centre in Mons, here in Belgium. It provides situational awareness to military commanders, to inform and support operations and missions. It also coordinates NATO’s operational activity in cyberspace, ensuring freedom to act and making our operations more resilient to cyber threats.

Late last year, Manfred Boudreaux-Dehmer became NATO’s first Chief Information Officer with responsibility for ensuring cohesion across the Alliance when it comes to ICT and cybersecurity.

In 2016, at the Warsaw Summit, NATO leaders adopted the Cyber Defence Pledge. Since then, Allies have taken significant steps to strengthen their cyber capabilities, improve their legal and institutional frameworks, and increase the resources devoted to confronting cyber threats.

To give you a few examples, in the United States more than 1.6 billion of the COVID recovery plan is earmarked for critical IT infrastructure and national cyber security. Germany’s recent IT Security Act 2.0 reflects the growing importance of cyber.

Cyber resilience and capabilities are central to the United Kingdom’s Integrated Review of its foreign and defence policy.

And from Luxembourg to Slovakia, all the way to Turkey, nations are ramping up legislative and practical measures to [increase] our collective resilience. We are strengthening our cyber defences and increasing the resilience of our critical infrastructure and supply chains to reduce our vulnerabilities.

Beyond cyber, NATO is also leading the way when it comes to new technologies. In 2019, in London, our leaders adopted a comprehensive roadmap on emerging and disruptive technologies, focussing on those which will have the biggest impact on our security. Artificial Intelligence, autonomous systems, biotechnology, big data, hypersonics, quantum computing and space, which is now itself deemed a domain of operations for NATO.

We are also making sure that transatlantic innovation benefits all Allies and interoperability will continue to be the backbone of our Alliance.

As an Alliance of 30 countries, with different economies and innovation ecosystems, it is vital that we can work together and defend each other in a crisis and that we avoid any technology gaps.

This is one of the main reasons why we launched the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic – or DIANA – at the Brussels Summit last June, to create an innovation pipeline that spans the Atlantic. Through DIANA we will work even more closely together with industry, with start-ups and academia, to identify and develop the next generation of technologies to meet our defence and security needs.

We are also setting up a multinational NATO Innovation Fund to provide secure funding for start-ups developing cutting edge dual-use technologies. We aim to have both of these initiatives up and running by our next NATO Summit in Madrid in late June.

Ladies and gentlemen, we stand at a crossroads. We face the very real prospect of war in Europe for the first time in many, many decades. It is our sincere desire that diplomacy and dialogue can avoid the prospect of conflict and violence.

The cost to Russia of another incursion into Ukraine will be incredibly high. Severe economic and political sanctions will follow. NATO and NATO Allies stand with Ukraine. NATO’s strength comes from our unity and from our ability to adapt, to remain strong and maintain our deterrence and defence. Retaining our technological edge is a big part of this.

Here – and I’ve said this many times – we have one clear advantage over our competitors: our free and open societies. We have the brightest minds, the best universities and the most innovative companies. Our people can think freely and act freely. And for us, coming from former communist Europe, we know this better than anyone else. It is the very best way to foster the exciting innovation that will ensure our security and our freedom for many decades to come.

And this is the essence of the mission of NATO and the technologies that will help to protect our values we hold so dear.

So Dear Izabela, dear friends, thank you so much for having me. And I hope the next year we’ll be able to meet in person. Thank you and good luck to the proceeding of your work.