by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the Athens Security Forum
Efcharistó Constantine. And thank you to the Institute of International Relations and the city of Athens for hosting myself today. And I know there is a lot of work behind the conference. I've done this in my previous incarnation, so…thank you for focusing on transatlantic security.
You mentioned this totally changed environment, in European security and in world affairs.
Today, we have nine months. 24th of February, Russian forces invaded Ukraine, shocking the world and reshaping the course of European history. And if for some Allies from the East, Russia's behaviour was not a big surprise, for many countries in NATO, especially in the western part of Europe, they were shocked. But NATO was shocked but not surprised. And NATO Allies have been warning about Russians plans to evade for many months. So when Russia invaded Ukraine nine months ago, to the very day, NATO was ready. We activated within hours our defence plans to protect all Allies. And the Ukrainian forces were better prepared and better equipped to resist Russian aggression thanks to the significant support from NATO Allies over the many years, since the illegal occupation of Crimea in 2014. And we see the difference that kind of training, and the massive support we are giving Ukraine, is making a difference every day on the battlefield.
But Russia’s brutal war of aggression did not start in 2022. It started before, in 2014. It started in 2008, in Georgia. And this is something that is showing a pattern of aggressive behaviour by Russia, against NATO Allies and also against our partners. Many cyberattacks, assassinations on allies soil, interference in our elections, massive disinformation campaigns. And yes, using energy as a political criminal tool. Look at the attacks that Russia is conducting in an indiscriminate way on civilians and critical infrastructure. And what's more barbaric than to start a war but leave millions and millions of innocent civilians out in the cold and dark this winter.
Also, there is this dangerous nuclear saber-rattling, which is attempting to intimidate us and jeopardize our security and our resolve in helping Ukraine. And everything else: weaponization of food, of energy, other critical commodities. Russia is threatening the world with hunger and further instability. But I know one thing: they will not succeed. Because NATO will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes and defend every allied inch of territory. And of course, we are looking forward to receiving, we hope very soon, Finland and Sweden as the newest members of our Alliance. In that moment, 94% of the population of EU member states will be living in a NATO country. 94% of the population of EU will be living in a NATO country.
And you asked me at the beginning: how is NATO doing? We are doing great, thank you. And we are doing great because this dramatic transformation of European security and world affairs is indicating the indispensable role of NATO as the real guarantee for European security and the need for the transatlantic bond. And of course, NATO-EU partnership is critical in making sure that we have coherence and synergies.
Also NATO is doing much more across all domains: on land, at sea, in space and cyberspace. We have taken, since last February, fundamental steps to strengthen deterrence and defence. From the Baltic to the Black Sea. And with Sweden and Finland, from the North to the Baltic to the Black and to the Mediterranean Sea. So that's an Eastern flank of significant length and depth. And I think this is good for European security as a whole.
Greece is a highly valued NATO ally, and it's a key to security and stability in Southeast Europe and also in the Mediterranean. And your naval forces strengthen our maritime posture. Your jets just keep the skies over Montenegro safe, and you contribute to our missions in Iraq and Kosovo. Greece also leads by example when it comes to defence spending, investing 2% of GDP in defence. And continuing to invest in defence is continuing to invest in our future, in our security.
Because as the war in Ukraine shows, security is the foundation for everything.
We don't know when this war will end. But we know one thing: we must continue to adapt and evolve to shape our security architecture, in line with our values - freedom, democracy, the rule of law. Or others will shape the future for us, which I don't think is a great proposition.
So, you mentioned also the Strategic Concept that our leaders adopted in Madrid. It's a very interesting read and I encourage you to read the succinct and compact piece of strategic thinking from NATO. We prepare for a world of increased global competition and instability. We see Russia, but also terrorists, as main threats to our security. We also look at China's coercive policies and how they challenge our interests, security and values. Climate change is defining… a major challenge of our time. And NATO is doing things in that direction too. We also set our approach to counterterrorism, to cyber and hybrid threats. But also, most importantly, the new Strategic Concept reaffirms our values, and states that NATO's greatest responsibility is the collective defence of 32 nations – soon.
And of course, I mentioned NATO-EU. I'm also from Romania, for me the European project is one of the most exciting and important journeys in world history. So we have to make sure that what NATO does and what the EU does, are complementary and synergistic, as I mentioned before.
You asked at the beginning, how our American friends and allies and how European citizens and European politics are looking at NATO. I've seen a recent poll by the Chicago conference on world affairs, and 80%, 8-0 percent of American citizens are supporting NATO. I know America well. I was ambassador in Washington a few years back, and there is a very solid bipartisan support for NATO. And also America understands one thing: as Secretary General has said in a speech in front of the joint session of US Congress, to the American lawmakers, “it is good to have friends”. And if you read the New American National Security Strategy, it indicates that the major strength - other than America's own strength - in the competition with China and in the competition for a predictable world order, it’s America’s alliances and partnerships. EU is a partner of the US. NATO is a big Alliance. And I think this is something that we should cherish and harness from both sides of the Atlantic. That's an indispensable transatlantic bond. And this is something that we are here to continue to protect and strengthen as NATO.
Let me say just something about the Western Balkans. We are heartened to see that yesterday evening, with EU and US strong diplomatic leadership, it seems that the outstanding issue of the registration plates has been at least postponed. We are also happy to see that in Bosnia, the UN mandate has been prolonged. An EU EUFOR and Althea operation continues to do its job in Bosnia. I'm just saying that at the Foreign Ministers meeting next week in Bucharest, our foreign ministers will also be inviting the EU - like every time, but also for the first time ever, the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Moldova and the Foreign Ministers of Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think the Western Balkans is unfinished business for Europe. And the fact that many of these countries are members of NATO, I hope, as a citizen of that region and of our region, that we will be helping them to get into the EU and thus to the east, in the Balkans and across the Atlantic to have a homogeneous new security architecture, and democracy prevailing. And you as the inventors of democracy, in Greece, I think you should be the happiest of all of us, as we all are. Democracy is here to stay in Europe.
Thank you so much and I look forward to hearing your comments and questions.