by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at an event organized by the Institute of International and European Affairs

  • 06 Mar. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 06 Mar. 2023 18:49

(As delivered)

Thank you Marie. That was too much of a generous introduction.

Also please add on my former CV "a great friend of your great nation".

It's a pleasure to join you all today and speak at such a critical time for European and global security.

The partnership between NATO and Ireland goes back almost 25 years now.

In that time, we have worked together in many ways.

Ireland has contributed to NATO's missions in Bosnia and Afghanistan. Now  it has troops as part of our mission in Kosovo.

We work together to advance the women, peace and security agenda.

And to increase your capacity to participate in UN and EU missions, and we work together to enhance our interoperability with other forces.

And here you have a long and proud tradition - taking part in the UN peacekeeping missions for everyone in the past 65 years! That is nothing short of a record.

But as I discussed quite recently with your Foreign and Defence minister Micheál Martin, on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, NATO values its partnerships, and our partnership with Ireland, in particular.

Of course, Ireland is not a member of NATO. It is a neutral country. We respect Ireland's neutrality.

The right of sovereign nations to walk their own path, to choose their own security arrangements, this is fundamental to our values. It is a key part of the United Nations Charter, which commits all nations to settle disputes peacefully, to respect sovereign borders and to refrain from the threat or use of force.

But by invading Ukraine, a sovereign and independent nation, President Putin has shattered these commitments. He has declared war on the rules-based global order as we know it and as we cherish it.

While the world has been shocked by the brutality of Putin's war, we were not surprised. This is only the latest bloody chapter in a long history of Russian aggression. From Grozny to Georgia, and from Aleppo to Crimea and the Donbas.

In the months running up to last year's invasion, NATO Allies shared precise intelligence about Russia's preparations for war. We worked hard right up to the last possible minute to persuade Putin to pull back from the brink. But despite our calls for peace, Putin chose to attack.

And when he did, he made two big strategic mistakes. First, he underestimated the extraordinary resilience of the Ukrainian armed forces. And he also underestimated the resolve of our free and democratic world to stand with Ukraine. 

One year on now, despite his many setbacks, Putin is not preparing for peace, he is committed to more war. While the fighting continues, some lessons from this war are already clear.

First, we must support Ukraine for as long as it takes and with whatever they need to win.

NATO has been Ukraine's partner since it first gained independence, over thirty years ago. We stepped up our support when Putin illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, training and equipping tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. And the world now knows just what a formidable fighting force  Ukraine's military is.

Since Putin ordered his tanks to cross Ukraine's border a year ago, NATO Allies have provided unprecedented support, with over one hundred billion Euros of financial, humanitarian and military assistance. Including tanks, advanced air defence systems, munitions and other military equipment.

Ireland also contributes millions of Euros to Ukraine through the UN, the Red Cross and other international organisations.

We must support Ukraine to win this war. Because if Putin wins, he and other authoritarian leaders like him, would learn a terrifying lesson. That aggression works. That brutality works. That war works. We cannot let that happen. It would make the world more dangerous, and us all more vulnerable.

Supporting Ukraine is not only the morally right thing to do, it is also serving our own interests.

The Republic of Moldova, a fellow neutral country, is also exposed to the full arsenal of Russia's hybrid war toolkit.

The second lesson is that we must continue to strengthen our deterrence and defence.

We live in a more dangerous world and can no longer afford to treat defence as optional. It is a necessity. And I know, I am a political guy myself, it is difficult to choose between social, economic investment programmes. But also security is part of essential things that Nations have to do to defend their citizens.

Security is the foundation of our freedom and prosperity. And this is why NATO Allies are committed to spending 2 percent of GDP on defence. And increasingly, 2 percent is viewed as a floor and not a ceiling.

For Finland and Sweden, until recently. For Finland, neutral nation since the Second World War and for Sweden from 1812. Ant they are so close geographically to Russia. The need to strengthen their defence has led to a dramatic reconsideration of where their security interests lie.

So, after many years and centuries of neutrality – both countries applied for membership in the NATO Alliance.

These were historic decisions, taken freely, that demonstrate the desire of free nations to stand together and to decide their own destiny.

So far, this has been the fastest accession process in NATO's modern history. All NATO Allies invited the two future Allies to join at the Madrid Summit in June, last year. 28 of the 30 Allies have already ratified the accession protocols.

This sends already a strong message that violence and intimidation will not work and that NATO's door remains firmly open.

And we are looking forward to receiving these two new Allies very soon amongst our ranks.

The third lesson is that we need to strengthen the resilience of our societies.

Military forces are necessary but they are not enough. Modern conflict is about far more than just guns and tanks. We must be every bit as concerned with the protection of our critical infrastructure, supply chains and cyber space or space assets.

Resilient societies are our first line of defence. They are better able to deter, resist and bounce back from attack – be they physical or digital.

Even here in Ireland, far from the front line, Russia's presence is felt. Last year, Russia planned a naval exercise in Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone. And following the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, the security of undersea cables connecting Ireland to North America, the United Kingdom and Europe has come into sharp focus.

NATO Allies recently decided to establish a new Critical Undersea Infrastructure Coordination Cell. It will engage with industry, and bring key military and civilian stakeholders together to boost the security of our undersea infrastructure.

As an advanced, knowledge based economy, with thriving technology, pharmaceutical, and financial sectors, ensuring Ireland's resilience will be critical in the years ahead. And this is where I believe our partnership would be good to work.

The war against Ukraine has also demonstrated the danger of relying on authoritarian regimes. Europe's dependency on Russia's oil and gas made us vulnerable. We cannot make the same mistake with China or other authoritarian regimes, on things like rare earth materials, so vital to the transition away from fossil fuels.

And I know for countries that are so trade-oriented and open societies, and open economies like Ireland, keeping the international trade system and making it work is vital for your own interest.

But the reality is that we see a fragmentation of supply chains, we see economic resilience, and a connection between security and economy becoming ever more present.

And this is a fact. I think all of us need to adjust to this new reality.

So resilience requires close cooperation between Allies and partner countries, including Ireland, other international organisations, and I have to say our number one partner, which is the European Union.

We are stepping-up our cooperation with the EU, including through the new NATO-EU joint declaration and a new joint taskforce on resilience and critical infrastructure.

Resilience is a team sport. Civilian and military, public and private sector, and empowered citizens who are essential to strong societies.

So in the past year, the world has changed fundamentally. We are living through the biggest security crisis in Europe since the Second World War. We are also living through the most transformative technological revolution ever. 

Our freedom does not come for free and it can no longer be taken for granted. Only by working together – NATO Allies and our partners around the globe – we can secure our future, we can secure our way of life, we can secure that our citizens will be free, prosperous and resilient.

So these are a few thoughts from the NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

I know that Rose Gottemoeller, my dear friend and predecessor was in 2019 in person, in Dublin for this conference.

And I will be able to find a good timing. I look forward to visiting Dublin, as I know, I love and respect your country and the partnership with Ireland is very much cherished here in NATO.

Thank you so much and I am looking forward to your questions.


Thank you very much indeed, Deputy Secretary General, for your kind remarks, and also for your presentation, which has situated - presented - the situation so starkly, and so clearly, and so importantly.
I have just one question to start with. I'm afraid we have a number of questions. But may I ask you, are you satisfied? Is NATO satisfied that there are sufficient material and support for Ukraine now, and will it continue? Are countries running short of ammunition? Are you satisfied that the effort will be sufficient to bolster Ukraine to continue this war?

NATO Deputy Secretary General
Thank you. That's a very valid question, Mary. I think there are two components here. One is the political will for allies and partners: 50 countries around the world are in the Ramstein Process in the Contact Group for Ukraine, working day in and day out with our Ukrainian partners, just to see how we can dynamically respond to their needs as the situation on the ground evolves. So politically, I would say we are very united. We just had the defence ministers in NATO two weeks back, we had the Ramstein group. I think, politically, we are fine. We are united and the will to continue to help is there.
Now, you touched on an important issue. For many, many years and decades in Europe, we collected the peace dividend after the fall of communism. We all did. Countries, let's say, in NATO, countries in the EU, countries like Switzerland, you know, everyone, including our countries, my country, my home country of Romania, and Poland and the others, we also joined NATO and the EU, all of us in a way thrived and prospered in a sort of a benign strategic environment.
One of the implications of such a relatively benign strategic reality in Europe is that we started to under-invest in our defence, in our stockpiles, in our industrial capacity, and Ukraine is a wake-up call that we have to do much more. So I'm confident that allies are ramping up production. NATO is sending a very strong demand signal to the industries. I see already see contracts offered by governments to their industry.
Also for the EU, in a way, I think it's a wake-up call. I'm an EU citizen. I'm coming from Romania, also an EU member state. And I think also the huge fragmentation in the EU defence industry needs to be overcome somehow. So I think that we'll be spending more, spending better. NATO is changing our requirements for minimum stockpile levels for us, and of course, being able to continue to provide Ukraine with the amounts of support that they need. So on the first round, politically, we are very united. On the second one, there is an effort that all of us need to make.

Thank you. Thank you for that reply.
Deputy Secretary General, you mentioned undersea cables. And that certainly touches a nerve here in Ireland. And I have a number of questions from Conor Gallagher, Irish Times, and Paul O'Keefe, [inaudible] Irish Examiner about the undersea security cell. Is that something that you see that Ireland would cooperate with, or will it be involved in working with NATO on the undersea cell cooperation because of course, there's such significant cables leading into the country that it's a matter of considerable worry to us here?

NATO Deputy Secretary General
I discussed [this] with your deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence and former Prime Minister in Munich, I mentioned this in my remarks. And I think there is interest for Ireland, but also I met the foreign Minister of Malta - same interest. I met the foreign minister of Jordan - same interest. I met the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council - same interest. Because I think we touched a very sensitive and real point of concern to all of us. I remember I was chairing the North Atlantic Council when we invited three CEOs to brief the Council on this very thing - the CEO of the Swedish electricity company, the CEO of the Norwegian oil and gas company, and the lead engineer for Google - the largest, you know, owner and provider of undersea data transmission through fibre optics on the seabed. And there’s a clear understanding that this is something that is at the intersection between governments, private sector, defence and local authorities. So this cell we are now establishing will be a sort of conglomerate of these actors. So of course, if Ireland will be interested, in our already very dynamic partnership, to find ways to cooperate also on this topic, we’ll be very open to that proposition.

Thank you for that, yes. Another aspect of this war, Deputy Secretary General, in disinformation and espionage is probably rife throughout the EU. Do individual countries, do you feel, need to do more about this in the context of the war overall? Are we combating Russian propaganda and disinformation in this regard sufficiently?

NATO Deputy Secretary General
No, Russia has been doing this against our interests for years now. And I cannot say which country did well and which country did not do that well. But I know that this hybrid warfare arsenal against our interests is a tool of preference, and this is something that Russia is now only amplifying. So that's why we need to take this issue very seriously. It's not only fighting espionage that I think, for counter intelligence, is the job description. But there’s something very, very pervasive in basically amplifying the fractures in our own societies, in some cases even funding parties are against the Western orientation in our nations, cyber-attacks, many issues that are basically, what they call it here in NATO, just under the threshold of Article 5.
And also, because there is this difficult time for Russia and Ukraine, they are amplifying this kind of horizontal escalation of hybrid warfare against our interests in the West. And we see this, and together in NATO, together NATO and EU, together on disinformation NATO, EU and the G7, we have a working group working together, we are also reaching out to private sector to help us with that. I’m not mentioning any specific operations because I don't want to be making any kind of marketing for anyone. But I have to say that in NATO, in the EU, I think each of our nations is also working with the private sector, because they have first-hand information about cyber protection. They are the ones who can also identify and debunk the conspiracy theories that are banned, coming from Russia and sometimes also from China.
To speak of a cyber-attack: our Albanian friends and allies here in NATO, they had a very powerful cyber-attack from Iran against the Ministry of the Interior in Tirana just, I think, a few months back. So that's why resilience is a team sport, as I mentioned. Fighting disinformation is part of that. And I think that the open free societies - and Ireland is an example of an open, free society and democratic society - we have to find democratic and free answers to these kinds of very corrosive actions that Russia and others are taking.

Thank you. Yes, that's headlining a warning to us all, I think, to all countries in Europe, in that regard. Could I turn to the United States, Deputy Secretary General? Colleague and former ambassador to the United States and Germany Noel Fahey is asking about the United States’ commitment to the war. I'm adding on that we’re hoping that it will continue. We're conscious that there is an American presidential election coming down the tracks. But Noel Fahey’s question is, do you see the US pivot to Asia as a distraction to security in Europe, particularly, of course, the US’ preoccupation with China? We've had chancellor Scholz visiting there, and a commitment to continue the support for Ukraine. But just your view on the US involvement in the war, and also certain distractions with China.

NATO Deputy Secretary General
You know America well, you're so much intertwined to the very fabric of the American society, but I also know America well. I served there as a very young ambassador, I was Foreign Minister. I'm a politician, and I think I know America well. I think one of the bipartisan realities rediscovered by our American friends and allies is, to put it in the words of Secretary General Stoltenberg in his address in a session of the joint congress a few years back, that it's good to have friends. I think America discovered in this huge competition against China, and now Russia, and Iran, and whoever else, that the system of alliances and partnerships around the world - in Europe and around the world - is something that America has as its number one strategic asset.
It’s of course, a very dynamic country, still very young country, country that can is economically, technologically, militarily, a global superpower. But they realized that in these very complex times, allies are just so precious. And this is bipartisan: I was looking to a poll conducted by the Chicago Council on [Global] Affairs, and there’s something close to 70-something percent of Americans who believe NATO is a great alliance serving America's interests. There's no other organization in the world, and America has now 31 allies in one organization, and our close connections to Japan to Australia to South Korea and New Zealand as NATO; their leaders are coming to our summits starting last year, they will be coming to also Vilnius this year.
I heard this sort of litany, that America is pivoting towards Asia, since, I think President Obama. I hear it every single time when there is a change of administration. I tell you one thing: America's alliances are the best asset for us, America's involvement in European security is our interest, and for America, having so many allies in Europe and elsewhere, is also a plus. And many of the threats that all of us will be faced with will not be geographical, Mary. Some of them - like cyber, like technology, like space, like new technologies, like biotech, many places where your country excels, are non-geographical by nature. Some are geographical: [i.e.] the competition for the future of Africa. We need all the resources we have for Asia, for Latin America. So to be honest, I'm not that concerned about the risk that American political leadership - and the American public - will go away from its traditional alliances in Europe. I think that on the other way, also, Europe needs to understand that we have to fight and push back against challenges that are also non-European, but also global. So I'm pretty confident that this alliance, and America's leadership in this alliance, will continue for more than 70 years, 75 since we started at the end of the Second World War.

That's very reassuring. Thank you. And as you said, we’re special friends with America. And that's good, it’s good to hear that.
I have many, many questions, but there is one that that has reoccurred. I think Sean Murray, Euronews, put it: are you confident that Hungary and Turkey will eventually ratify the Sweden and Finland accession, since it appears that Prime Minister Orbán is using his vote as leverage against the EU for rule of law issues? That's quite a tangle between the EU and NATO. But obviously we're all interested to know if the membership of Sweden and Finland will be unblocked, Deputy Secretary General.

NATO Deputy Secretary General
Let me just remind everyone that in Madrid, when we invited, all 30 allies, by consensus, we invited Sweden and Finland to join, that was done, you know, by consensus. So now we are just in the process of ratification. I'm not in the position to tell any democracy or any government or national parliament when to ratify and how fast they should do it. We all hope that already the commitment to these countries that we took in Madrid will be completed as soon as possible, noting that this is the fastest succession process ever, at least since the fall of communism.
So, I cannot say which are the domestic reasons for the two countries yet not ratify. I will mention also something which is very, very important when it comes to our Turkish allies. They've been going through tremendous challenges after the earthquake. That's a nation that has been suffering from terrorists for decades, like probably no-one else. So when, under the auspices of our Secretary General in Madrid, we negotiated this trilateral memorandum between Türkiye, Sweden and Finland - and it was basically Türkiye and Sweden, Finland has a little bit less concern from Ankara on terrorists - we are also expecting all the parties to deliver on their promises in the memorandum. And I think we'll have this week in Brussels, after the visit of Secretary Stoltenberg to Ankara and meeting President Erdoğan, a new, fresh start of the meeting between the three in order to advance these things.
I also have to say that Sweden, as you know in Ireland, an EU member state, is also chairing the EU Press Council presidency. And I think that what Sweden has done in convening a Donor Conference for Türkiye for reconstruction, and also being so forthcoming in answering some of the legitimate concerns from Türkiye, I think that in the end, they will be conducive for a full ratification by all Allies and then, with great pride and joy, will be depositing the Instrument of Ratification [inaudible], according to the rules of the Washington Treaty.

Yes, we wish that process well. I think we’re running close to - the time is coming up. A last question, Deputy Secretary General.
The EU and NATO has developed a very increasing cooperation. Can you tell us how is the EU cooperating with NATO in the support for the Ukrainians in this war?

NATO Deputy Secretary General
No, thank you. I would say that is nothing short of remarkable. I think last week we had here in NATO HQ, I think, a few yards from the place I'm talking to you right now, the first ever meeting between our Secretary General, Josep Borrell and Dmytro Kuleba from Ukraine. So a sign of direct coordination at leadership level between the two organizations in our help to Ukraine. We also have many other strands of work with the EU in helping Ukraine.
We also have a number of joint partnerships, NATO and EU, to support other countries that need our support, and one is Moldova. The other one is Bosnia. Another one, more to the south is Jordan, and Tunisia. And we are actively working with the EU to deepen and broaden the level of partnerships that we do. In our joint declaration that we just signed, just, I think, one month ago, we identified new avenues of deeper cooperation between NATO and the EU on resilience, on cyber, on new technologies, on space, on climate change and security. I believe also Ireland will be interested in the tremendous progress that NATO is making on this very topic. And of course, global competition, because this is not just a European situation, it's a global situation. So I'm a huge fan of European project. By the way; I have the European Constitution signed by my own hand at home, and I'm still a little bit sad that it didn't go through. So yes, lots of synergies and a very, very strong partnership between our two organizations.

That's very interesting to know.
I think we have come to the end of our discussion. We greatly appreciate you joining us, I think you've opened a lot of windows for us in discussing the fight against what is happening and the support that's been given to Ukraine. We wish you well in promoting this. You have a lot of work and a lot of responsibility, and we really appreciate you joining us today to explain in greater detail the challenges that Ukraine is facing, and which we hope they will continue to progress, and to do well in this war, which is not of their choice, and which is totally unprovoked. So thank you very much indeed, Mircea. It was a pleasure to see you. We do hope you will come to Ireland when time is less pressing for you. But thank you again for joining –

NATO Deputy Secretary General
I think the Belgian embassy, which is the contact point embassy in Dublin for NATO, and also my good friend, the Romanian Ambassador Laurențiu, will be encouraging me to come, and I look also forward to seeing you, Mary, and your colleagues in person. And again, I'm a great fan of your country, and I'm a great fan of our partnership.

Well thank you very much indeed, you would be most welcome here. Thank you again, and good wishes. Thank you to everybody who's joined us today. Bye-bye for now.