Opening remarks

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow at the 2013 NATO Industry Forum -- Istanbul, Turkey

  • 14 Nov. 2013
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  • Last updated 19-Nov-2013 10:07

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the beautiful city of Istanbul, and to the 2013 NATO-Industry Forum.  I would like thank Under Secretary Murad Bayar and the Turkish authorities for their hard work in helping to organise our meeting, and for making us feel so very welcome.

I am glad to see that many senior representatives from industry, governments and the military have joined us today.  Because that is exactly the aim of this NATO-Industry Forum.

At NATO, we look at this as a capstone event - a meeting to discuss long-term, strategic issues in relation to the development of NATO capabilities.  And the outcome of our strategic discussions will be passed down to what you might call the tactical level – to the NATO Agencies and other relevant bodies who will need to take them into account when they plan their own industry days and local events.

In other words, from our NATO point of view, this NATO-Industry Forum is not a meeting to discuss contracts or business opportunities – although we certainly don’t want to stop you from talking business.  We see this forum, first and foremost, as a unique opportunity to discuss the future – to develop a common view of the future, and to develop a common approach to shaping it.

I am looking forward, as many of you will be, to the European Union summit on Defence in December and to hearing more about the development of capability and about industrial issues from that event.  We at NATO are working together with the EU to identify synergies and to avoid potential overlaps, and we will certainly share relevant outputs from this forum with our colleagues in the EU.

With the completion of our ISAF operation in Afghanistan at the end of next year, the Alliance’s operational tempo is likely to slow down significantly.  There will be a temptation to cash in any perceived post-ISAF dividend.  But if we want to keep NATO strong, and remain capable of protecting our shared security and our common values, we must resist that temptation.

In recent years, in many of our nations, modernisation has often taken a back seat to more pressing, operational requirements.  As a result, some of the capabilities we now have in NATO are just no longer needed, and some of the capabilities we desperately need, we don’t have nearly enough of.

We all know where the shortfalls are.  They include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, precision-guided weapons; air-to-air refuelling aircraft and heavy transport planes.  Acquiring such big-ticket items is a major challenge at the best of times, let alone when many Allies continue to face tough financial choices.

That is why, at our NATO Summit in Chicago last year, we agreed on “Smart Defence”.  To encourage nations to work together to deliver capabilities that would be too expensive for any of them to deliver individually.  And we have already seen the first fruits of this “Smart Defence” approach.

For example, together with the United States, several European Allies are contributing to a common, integrated and shared NATO missile defence capability.  We have also agreed to develop a NATO-owned and operated Alliance Ground Surveillance System, to provide our military commanders with an “eye in the sky” in future operations.

 “Smart Defence” projects now cover more than thirty capability areas, from protection against improvised explosive devices to energy efficiency measures.  They help Allies to standardise requirements, pool resources, and achieve tangible gains – in terms of operational effectiveness as well as cost efficiency.

It is vital that we continue to build on these early successes.  We will have another NATO Summit next September.  Capabilities will again be high on the agenda.  And we will be looking to make progress especially in some critical capability areas, such as joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; missile defence; and, in the longer term, big-ticket acquisition programs, like a future heavy-lift transport helicopter.  

If we are to meet our goals, then there is no alternative.  We need a completely new culture of cooperation across our Alliance.  Multinational solutions to developing, acquiring, operating and maintaining capabilities should become the option of choice for all Allies.  Yet it is clear that achieving such a culture change will be a big challenge, especially for European Allies.  There is a risk that financial austerity could drive nations in the opposite direction – to circle the wagons rather than to pool their efforts

We have to continuously explore options for making “Smart Defence” an even more attractive, relevant, and effective tool for Allies. This will require political will, determination and imagination.  And it will require strong engagement with all relevant stakeholders, in particular our partners in industry.

It is often claimed that, if nations decide, industry will follow.  I see that as a blatant underestimation of the role of industry, and frankly as a bit of an insult.  We need our defence industry to play its full part in all the different stages of capability development – and not least in the early stages, when we are defining our requirements and capability goals, where we need innovation and creativity to help clarify a sometimes uncertain, challenging and politically sensitive way ahead.

While NATO has an admirable record of consultation and cooperation with our defence industry, it is fair to say that we have sometimes taken a rather transactional, arm’s length approach.  At a time of increasingly complex security challenges, growing risks, and mounting costs, we need, and we want, to take our relationship with industry to a new level.

In Chicago last year, our Heads of State and Government stressed that the continued success of our Alliance is closely linked to a strong and collaborative European defence industrial capability, reinforced by transatlantic cooperation.  We have a strong, mutual interest in deepening that inter-relationship, and making it smoother, more transparent, and more productive.

That is the aim of the “Framework for NATO-Industry Engagement” that we have recently agreed in NATO.  It is also, in essence, the aim of this NATO-Industry Forum:  to better understand each other’s concerns and frustrations; to challenge accepted norms and conventional wisdom; to develop a better, mutual understanding of our shared, long-term interests; and to identify how we can best work together to meet those interests.

So let me finish by once again thanking our Turkish hosts, by thanking all of you for coming, and by wishing us all a productive and enjoyable meeting, one that generates some new ideas on strengthening the NATO-Industry relationship.