by the Chair of the NATO Military Committee Admiral Rob Bauer at the Berlin Security Conference

  • 30 Nov. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 30 Nov. 2023 15:02

(As delivered)

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

The tectonic plates of power are shifting. 

And as a result: we face the most dangerous world in decades.
The Institute for Economics and Peace stated in its annual Global Peace Index that the number of countries involved in external conflict has risen from 58 in 2008 to 91 in 2022.
In 2022, more than 238,000 people died in global conflict. 

It was the deadliest year for armed conflict since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
The United Nations has stated that the world has entered into a new era of violence and conflict.

For NATO, Russia’s pattern of aggressive and ruthlessly destructive behaviour has ushered in a new era of collective defence.  
This means it is not we, but our adversaries who determine the timeline. 
We cannot determine a “level of ambition” for ourselves, for when and where we participate in a conflict. 
We have to be ready for any kind of attack, in any domain, in any geographical area, at any time. 
The NATO military authorities have been monitoring Russia’s pattern of aggression for many years, and we have adapted our defence plans accordingly. 
We have developed several military strategies and plans that outline how we will protect ourselves - now and in the future - against the two main threats listed in the new Strategic Concept: Russia and Terrorist Groups.
Our regional plans – agreed at the Vilnius Summit last July – are the most comprehensive defence plans NATO has had since the end of the Cold War. 
Never before have NATO and national defence plans been so closely interlinked.

This will shape our armed forces for decades to come. 

Allies are now actively working on making the new defence plans executable. 

This includes: 

  • putting more troops on higher readiness;
  • capability building and development;
  • adaptation of NATO’s command and control structures;
  • creating and sustaining more enablement: logistics, host nation support, maintenance, military mobility, and replenishment and prepositioning of stocks;
  • and crucially: more collective defence exercises and training against these new plans.

Militarily, there are many more steps to be taken to get where we want to be for our collective defence. 
However, the responsibility for freedom does not lie on the shoulders of those in uniform alone.

In order to strengthen our collective defence and at the same time support Ukraine in its existential fight…  we need a whole of society approach. 

We need public and private actors to change their mind-set, from an era in which everything was plannable… foreseeable… controllable…
… focused on EFFICIENCY.

… to an era where anything can happen at any time. 

An era in which we need to expect the unexpected. 

An era in which we need to focus on EFFECTIVENESS.
In order to change our collective mind-set, we need leadership. 
And leaders across the Alliance have taken up this baton. 

This morning, Minister Pistorius showed this once again in his speech here at the conference, where he spoke about making the Bundeswehr ‘Kriegstüchtig’ 

Ready for war. Fit to fight. 
I cannot tell you how happy it made me to read in the introduction of the New German Defence Policy Guidelines the following words: 
“As the most populous nation and a strong economy in the heart of Europe, we have a responsibility. We must be the backbone of deterrence and collective defence in Europe. Our citizens, as well as our partners in Europe, North America and the rest of the world expect us to take on this responsibility.”  
A few years ago, language like that in a German policy paper would have been unthinkable. 
NATO commends Germany for taking this new approach. 
I think it is time to lift the mental blockade that somehow Germany should NOT be a leader in deterrence and defence.
And I fully understand that this makes a lot of people in Germany still very uncomfortable…

And I know there are still deeply held anti-militaristic beliefs in German society.

A few weeks ago I was speaking at the JAPCC conference in Essen. 

Outside of the building were protesters with a sign: “Kein NATO-Kriegsrat in Essen”. 
To be honest: I was tempted to stand beside them and support them. 
Because I too have a moral objection against war. 

That is the reason I’ve been wearing a uniform for more than 42 years. 

Allied servicemen and women are perhaps the biggest pacifists of all.
Because we all serve a defensive Alliance, that wants nothing other than PEACE. 
NATO is the most successful Alliance in history, not because of any aggressive display of military strength…or territory we have brutally conquered… 
We are the most successful Alliance in history because of the peace we have brought. 
The countries we have united.

And the conflicts we have prevented from spiralling out of control. 

Because of our ability to “win the war before the war”.
But in order to keep doing that, we need all Allied societies to change their mind-set and become more resilient. 
Not only our armed forces, but our whole societies need to become Kriegstüchtig. 

We need people to realise that war is not only something of our past… an eradicated disease that is only to be found far far away. 

For 80 years, we built our prosperity on the premise of security of our soil. 

We never had to worry if the factory would be wiped out in a missile strike. Or hacked and shut down.  

In Ukraine they have to think about this, e-ve-ry day. 

My concern is that not enough people realize that this could happen to us too.

That people think that reaching the 2 percent GDP target is a magical threshold after which all will be well…

Collective defence… true deterrence… requires much much more than that. 

It requires a nation-wide resilience built by public and private actors.

War is back on the European continent.

And as fraught as the situation is…
This new era of Collective Defence is also an OPPORTUNITY for us to redefine the military–industrial complex.

To move from an era in which we produced “just in time… just enough”. 

To an era in which we once again have large stocks and spare capacity, in the widest sense. 

As we have seen in the pandemic: stocks save lives. 

Both the private and public sector need to fundamentally change their approach.

Both sides need to loosen the mutually destructive chokehold and stop waiting for the other to move first…

We have the momentum to change the system.

And this goes beyond the industry itself, all the way through to the investors. 

It is baffling to me, that in this new era of collective defence… with war so close to our soil… there are still institutional investors and banks who deem it “unethical” to invest in the defence industry. 

Who think that an investment in our own security… would somehow go against ESG goals. 

Those goals were never meant to be against deterrence… which in essence is about the prevention of war.

Collective Defence is not about a choice “pro or against” war. 

…It's not our choice whether or not to participate, when our adversary decides to attack us. 

…It’s about a necessity to keep our people safe.

You’re either ready…. Or you’re not.

You’re either safe… or you’re not. 
Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Whether we like it or not, we are living in a new era of violence and conflict.

Henry Kissinger, who sadly passed away yesterday, once described diplomacy as “the art of restraining power”. 

I still firmly believe in the power of diplomacy. 

I firmly believe that great power competition should not be fought on the battlefield, but solved through diplomacy… and if that fails: in the courtroom. 
But I also believe that it’s time to look at the world and see it for what it is… not for what we want it to be. 

That means we need to prepare for war and get our deterrence and resilience in order. 

It means we all need to become Kriegstüchtig. 
Preparing for war is not aggressive. 

It is the only way to maintain peace. 

Deterrence is like oxygen: you don’t notice it until it’s gone. 

Together, we can and should do what NATO does best: unite, adapt and protect.
But we have to act fast.
And we have to act decisively.  
If we want peace… we need to prepare for war.  
Thank you.