Keynote speech

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the NATO Edge conference

  • 25 Oct. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 25 Oct. 2022 17:58

(As delivered)

Prime Minister de Croo, General Lavigne, Ambassador [inaudible], Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning all. And I would like to start first by thanking Prime Minister de Croo. It’s absolutely great that we have Prime Minister de Croo with us today. As you already heard, and as you will know, in hindsight, I met him before. Before being Prime Minister, he was dedicating his political and political leadership to Belgian Digital Agenda, and also to maximise the potential of Belgian digital economy. He understands just how important all of you are not only for our economic future and success, but also for our security. Around this time, Prime Minister also published a book, ‘The Age of Women’, appealing for equal rights for men and women in all areas. This is especially important in the field of technology, so long a male-dominated field, and something we at NATO are determined to play our part in improving. So I thank you, Prime Minister, for your personal commitment to equality and to innovation. And I thank Belgium, our host nation for everything they do for our great Alliance and also for this very agency. I would like to again thank our hosts today, the NCIA, on their 10th anniversary, many long successful years. This year, the world was shocked when President Putin’s forces invaded peaceful, independent, sovereign Ukraine. Shocked but not surprised. Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014. In the years since, Russia has engaged in an increasingly aggressive pattern of behaviour, with cyber-attacks, assassinations on Allied soil, interference in our elections and massive disinformation campaigns. NATO responded with the biggest strengthening of our collective defence since the Cold War. With more forces in the east of our Alliance, greater resilience and higher readiness.  And we have supported Ukraine’s military so they could better defend their country if Russia decided to invade again. Which, on February 24, they did. We also face the continued threat of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, sabotage of our infrastructures, the climate crisis, and we are only just getting over the worst of the pandemic. The old assumptions of perpetual peace and prosperity are not as certain as they were just a year ago. Today, everything can have an impact on our security. And so everyone has a role to play in shaping and protecting our security. That, in large part, is why we are all here today. NATO is of course defending our nations and our people. But we are doing more than that. We are defending our values – the sort of societies we want to live in, us, our kids and our grandchildren. And we also are here in defending free, open societies, where we are able to and encouraged to think, to speak and to act as we choose. As [inaudible] said, I grew –most of my –half of my life, I grew up in communist Romania. I know the alternative to our free open societies. Fear, repression, stagnation, loss of human dignity. It is the same alternative that is being promoted today by our authoritarian competitors. In few areas is this battle of ideas more fiercely fought than in the field of technology. Today, the competition for strategic advantage and the development and use of Emerging and Disruptive Technologies is intensifying. At the Chinese Communist Party congress, President Xi reiterated his ambition for China to prevail in the fight to develop strategically important tech. China is investing vast sums in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, with the goal to dominate the not-so-distant future. This is not a benign competition. If authoritarian ideals were to prevail, our very freedom would be at stake. We all have a responsibility to not let that happen. This is why NATO is so important. We are an Alliance of 30 nations –32 with Finland and Sweden joining soon – across two continents. Together, we have more than 50% of global GDP. The greatest universities, the greatest researchers, and an array of talent across our 1 billion citizen strong alliance. We are also united by our democratic values, and by our desire to live free, independent lives. When it comes to technology, NATO is the largest platform for convening nations, companies and universities for our security. Setting standards, developing new norms for technologies like AI, biotech and quantum. Driving interoperability across all our countries. And leading the way when it comes to thinking about how to face these challenges and how to inspire and harness the talents of our remarkable people. Often from far beyond the traditional big defence contractors. At the NATO’s Madrid Summit this June, where Prime Minister De Croo played an active role and we just spoke about that and encourage your leadership, Prime Minister, our leaders agreed on a new Strategic Concept to guide NATO over the next decade. Our concept describes the strategic environment that increased global competition. It reflects our values, our commitment to freedom, to democracy and the rule of law, the foundation of our Alliance. And the concept will help NATO adapt to this new world, including our approach to innovation and to working with others. If you have not done yet, please do read the concept, it’s more concise and perfectly well articulated in charting the wave of a great alliance for the future. It’s not down, it’s up! Let me also say, when it comes to the development and use of new technologies, the Strategic Concept emphasises the importance of adopting principles of responsible use that reflect our values and human rights. This is what sets us apart from our competitors. This is why shaping the standards and norms of the development and use of new technologies is so important.  Last year, Defence Ministers in NATO endorsed a strategy on Emerging and Disruptive technologies, to guide NATO’s efforts in specific areas, including data, hypersonics and space.  They also endorsed detailed plans for Artificial Intelligence and Data Exploitation. In fact, the majority of the documents endorsed by Defence Ministers at the most recent Defence Ministers Meeting in Brussels in our HQ, earlier this month, were about innovation, including on Big Data, Autonomy and establishing the Data and Artificial Intelligence Review Board in NATO. Showing just how prominently innovation and tech feature on our agenda. Our ambition is for NATO to set the gold standard on the ethical use of new technologies in defence. Not just within the Alliance, but around the world. These individual strategies lay the groundwork for the Alliance to accelerate responsible innovation and the rapid adoption of new technologies. Doing this demands ongoing engagement across the triple helix of governments, the private sector and academia, so perfectly represented here today. NATO, as strong as we are, and as important as we are, we cannot do it alone. We need our partners and we need to work in totally new ways. Before, our militaries would work with a small number of huge defence contractors on projects worth many billions over years or even decades. Times have changed. While that may sometimes be appropriate, more often innovation today comes from smaller companies, from start-ups, from universities. It is up to NATO to tap into that rich seam of innovation. This conference, the ‘NATO Edge’, is an excellent example of doing this differently. It is unique in that it brings together our hosts, the NCIA, with other parts of the NATO Enterprise, such as the Allied Command Transformation, ACT, based in Norfolk, Virginia, the United States, with people from the private sector – from companies large and small – and of course from academia. There’s already lots of great work going on across the Alliance. For example, our hosts, the NCIA and the NATO Chief Scientist are developing an AI tool to identify so-called ‘weak signal’ academic papers. Ones that could point the way to the next-generation of disruptive technologies. Together, we have an extraordinary opportunity. To think differently, to think creatively about our security and to shape our future together. We want the disruptors from all areas of life: public, private and academic. The people who think and act differently. In NATO, we’re now in the business of uniting disruptors to shape a peaceful future. Because security is everyone’s job. And we can help you doing just that. Next year, two big NATO initiatives will go live. The Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic, or DIANA, and the NATO Innovation Fund. Both are radical departures from the old ways we did business in order to tackle the hard security problems we face today. Let me give you an example. Last month, large explosions ruptured the Nord Stream gas pipelines in an act of sabotage. At the same time, off the coast of Portugal, the NATO exercise Dynamic Messenger was testing a network of undersea drones to help defend against this exact kind of attack. Many of those drones were not the products of large defence companies, but small start-ups. Finding real-world solutions for today’s real-world problems. This is what DIANA will do. DIANA has a network of Test Centres and Accelerator Sites across more than 20 NATO Allies. Based not in military barracks but out there where the innovators are. Innovators will have direct access to the end-users who will help them develop and put their ideas to use, as well as expertise on how to grow and scale their businesses for success and successfully cross the valley of death between an idea and the markets. We also want to support innovators to develop commercially successful companies that also serve an important security need. I hope many of you will be involved one way or another in DIANA. In addition, the 1 billion Euro NATO Innovation Fund is the world’s first multi-sovereign venture capital fund. It’s not big in size, but it will provide venture financing to cutting-edge start-ups developing dual-use technologies. Unshackled by traditional government bureaucracy, the Fund will operate under market standards and be managed by a world-class team of venture capitalists. Not to replace or compete with private capital, but to signal particularly promising areas where we crowd-in further investment, and once, benefiting from the ecosystem of DIANA Innovation Fund, these start-ups, these great innovators will go to the real deep financial and venture capital markets, to grow full size and bring their ideas and their potential to full fruition commercially, technologically, and also professionally. We want to bring together the Alliance’s best and brightest minds from industry and academia, and together to shape our future. A secure, peaceful and prosperous future, because as the Prime Minister said, we are living in exceptionally transformative, complicated and dangerous times. The strength of our alliance, the strength of our values, the strength of our innovation, the strength of what we represent, is not a way to defend our nations, and people but we are also a part of stable, predictable and peaceful world. By being stronger in NATO, we bring more security and peace to Europe and to the entire world. So at this conference and in the months and years ahead, I encourage you all to be creative, to challenge assumptions and traditional ways of working, and to join with the other disruptors in this room and across our Alliance to help shape a peaceful future. Now is the right time. You are the right people. NATO is the right platform. Let’s seize this opportunity together. Thank you so, very much. And on the behalf of Secretary General Stoltenberg, our best wishes of successful [inaudible] congress. Thank you all.