Opening remarks

by NATO Deputy Secretary General, Mircea Geoană, at the 4th European Cybersecurity Forum – CYBERSEC Brussels Leaders’ Foresight 2021

  • 18 Mar. 2021 -
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  • Mis à jour le: 18 Mar. 2021 15:07

(As delivered)

Mircea Geoană [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you so much, Michał. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I think I’ve seen Izabela Albrycht before, myself coming in. I say hello to Izabela, she’s a valuable part of the NATO Advisory Group on Innovation. And I say hello to everyone.

And I also thank Michał and your team for hosting CYBERSEC, you have become a pre-eminent platform for discussing developments in cyberspace and new technologies. So it is my pleasure to join you once again. And who knows, maybe next year we’ll be able to be together in person. I look forward to that kind of renewed personal interactions with all of you.

But in today’s panel – and I salute also the wonderful panellists and also the conversation that I will trigger, I hope, with my remarks, you asked me to discuss about how to reboot transatlantic relationships. And that’s something which is very much on our agenda. You’ve seen the very positive tonality and interactions between the new US administration and its European and global allies.

But let me come to the issue of technology, because I’m convinced, and we are convinced, that putting technology cooperation at the heart of what we do in the transatlantic community and like-minded nations around the world will be essential for our shared democratic future.

And this is the kind of discussion we should have; and this is the right time to have such a discussion.

As we have witnessed just over the last year, new technologies are changing our lives in ways we could barely have imagined just a few months ago. They’re not only transforming the way we live and work, but they are fundamentally changing the way in which wars will be won, waged and competition is shaped by the new technologies.

In fact – and this is where NATO comes as a prime platform for such conversations – these transformations are changing and challenging the very definition of security. The lines between civil and military, between conflict and non-conflict between Article 5 and non-Article 5 become even more blurred. And technological advances that are happening so fast, is also another factor that we have to look into more attentively. Before, we had decades to develop and implement new technologies impacting on our security and the art of warfare. But now they’re happening at lightning speed. So that’s also, as I mentioned before, the lines between civilian and military, peace and war, are becoming blurred and more difficult to navigate with it.

Because previous developments in the security sector, like nuclear or GPS and the early days of the Internet, were largely driven by governments. Today, the game changing innovations – from AI to automation to quantum to big data or biotechnology – are often dual-use and driven mostly by the civilian private sector and innovative start-ups. So NATO’s ability to keep our people safe, our one billion citizens in NATO nations safe, has always relied on maintaining our technological edge. That’s something which is essential to global competition historically, and this will not change as we move forward in the 21st century. But for the first time in decades and probably, speaking of the Political West, probably even in centuries, our dominance on technology and our edge are aggressively challenged by nations that do not share our values.

Russia and China are investing heavily in new technologies, many times with little regard for human rights and international law. The last time I was with you, I talked about a possible new Sputnik moment, where we risk being outpaced or outgunned. At that moment, if we don’t do something together, actively and aggressively now, we might not be that far away. I’ll give you an example, if you want the analogy with the ’60s and the ’70s: just last week, China and Russia announced that they will develop a joint lunar research station, heralding a new era in space cooperation between these two countries. So then, today’s technology is moving very fast.

And this is why we have to move even faster to maintain our edge. And our main challenge is to understand and adopt new technologies, at the speed of relevance, not simply at the speed of bureaucratic approval. At the same time, we need to mitigate the risks they pose. This is exactly what we are doing at NATO.

At their last meeting, our leaders, NATO leaders, in London in December 2019, adopted a comprehensive roadmap on emerging and disruptive technologies. This roadmap identified the seven key technologies we believe will have the greatest impacts in the shortest term. It doesn’t mean that we cover everything, but we decided to narrow down a little bit and look to the ones we believe are the most impactful on our security; from big data, artificial intelligence, autonomy and quantum computing, to hypersonics, biotechnology and, yes, space, which is the fifth operational domain introduced by NATO in the last year or so.

Last month only, NATO defence ministers agreed a coherent strategy for implementing this roadmap. It sets our ambition to foster the development of new technologies and also to protect them from potential adversaries and competitors.

Robust principles for responsible use are also key to building public trust. And as part of his NATO 2030 initiative to future proof our Alliance, our Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has proposed a NATO Defence Innovation Initiative, part of a broader package of transformative propositions he’s making to nations and to our leaders on the way to the NATO summit later this year.

This Defence Innovation Initiative is intended to be used and be useful to Allies as a catalyst for transatlantic cooperation and ensure Allies’ ability to operate together. I will stop here one second.

I mentioned about the technological edge. That’s one dimension. But the other dimension is to make sure that the 30 nations inside the Alliance will be able to work together. We call this interoperability. And as nations are moving, as they should, as NATO is moving, as we should, towards adopting and implementing new technologies, we have to make sure that, also, the interoperability between Allies on both sides of the Atlantic will be kept. That’s another ingredient for the enduring success of our Alliance.

As some of you may know, I chair the NATO Innovation Board at NATO and I lead, also, the cyber adaptation process across the NATO enterprise – capacities in which I’m exposed not only to what goes on inside the Alliance, but also to the formidable transformation that occurs in terms of innovation and new technologies and, yes, the very transformation of our societies, of our security and the way we defend ourselves and our values.

We must avoid the innovation gap and instead leverage the comparative advantage that NATO has as an Alliance. Together, our 30 nations have an abundance of world-class academic institutions; the finest scientific researchers and yes, including from Central and Eastern Europe, innovative start-ups. There is huge potential for synergies across the Euro-Atlantic area, from Silicon Valley to Central and Eastern Europe. And one such example, as I mentioned at the beginning, is our own Advisory Board on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies and this group of fantastic intellectuals and thinkers and practical researchers are providing to me, and to us inside NATO, invaluable food for thought in our quest to keep NATO fit to operate at the pace of relevance.

And the Annual Report of this fantastic group is now available on the NATO website. And I invite you to consult it; it’s public, it’s open, and it’s a great piece of work. And again, I would like to thank your very own, and also our very own, Izabela Albrycht for the contribution to this great group that is advising us on innovation and new technologies at NATO.

So, we must consider new ways of cooperation with the civilian private sector and look also to innovative forms of financing. I mentioned the speed of relevance. Also, in terms of big systems and sometimes national systems that are, inevitably, a little bit slower, a little bit more bureaucratic – that’s also taxpayers’ money, we have to be careful with that – but we have to make sure that also funding becomes more agile. And interacting with the private sector, with venture capital, the system of financing innovation in the private sector is something that we have to take into account and we are taking, and Secretary General Stoltenberg is taking, active steps in that direction.

For NATO to become an actor in our outstanding Allied innovation ecosystems, we’ll have to adapt our operating procedures and we have to work much more closely together in what we call the triple helix between governments and public sector, industry, private sector and, yes, academia and think tanks. And what you do today with your conference is just an illustration of the triple helix in action.

Of course, cooperating with our like-minded partners outside of NATO is also key. This includes the European Union, which plays a vital role in strengthening and protecting our defence industrial base and fostering the right regulatory environment.

Just recently, I attended a hearing with the European Parliament on artificial intelligence. And I’m happy that on the panel there’s a distinguished member of the European Parliament, where I also chaired the joint NATO-EU meeting to discuss concrete ways to increase our cooperation on emerging technologies. We should work even closer together. I would also add to this, the like-minded ecosystem in the UN, through its specialised bodies and agencies. And also the OECD, which is a reservoir of tremendous knowledge and expertise that we should also learn from and engage with. With whom – the OECD – I keep a very close dialogue, to inform our respective strands of work and also with the other like-minded nations and organisations, to make sure that our values, ethical concerns of our public opinions, and our democratic principles are fully respected in the system of multilateral global governance on new technologies.

And also, let me say, just en passant, that as we speak about cyber today and new technologies, we are also speaking about a system of global governance on arms control. We know the more traditional ones and they are positive steps in that direction. But many of the new technologies are not, you know, there’s no normative global, compulsory system in place. So this is work in progress. We have to work together in making sure that as we find a system of global governance on new technologies, that the principles, the values, the standards that we share and we care about, are embedded from the inception, into this system of global governance.

So, speaking of safeguarding our security today is not only investing in new capabilities, but also in strengthening our deterrence and defence for this new technological age. This is why our approach to new technologies rests on two pillars: foster and protect.

Because we also need to protect our innovation from adversarial licit and many times illicit technology transfers, reduce vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure and industries and increase our resilience, including to cyber-attacks.

The headlines have been full of stories recently about large scale, malicious cyber activities. The impact of these activities spans public sector, private sector and unfortunately and viciously, even the health sector. In such a dramatic time of pandemic, it can affect individual users, it can impact our societies and also to harm the trust between our citizens and the democratic institutions we hold dear. So strengthening our cyber defences is a top priority for our Alliance.

As you may remember – because that was Warsaw in 2016, Warsaw summit – our leaders recognised cyberspace as an operational domain. Last June, as I mentioned earlier, NATO issued our first ever joint statement on cyber. Allies condemned destabilising and malicious activities targeting hospitals, research centres and other healthcare services during the pandemic and called for the respect of international laws and norms, of responsible behaviour in cyberspace. This is important.

There are rules in cyberspace and we need all of us to uphold them. NATO has also created, in declaring cyber as an operational domain, a Cyberspace Operations Centre at the heart of our military command structure. We are also setting up this Space Command in Ramstein in Germany, and also a Centre of Excellence for Space in Toulouse.

We have agreed to integrate national cyber effects, or offensive cyber, into Alliance operations and missions. And our cyber defence pledge ensures all Allies continue to strengthen their national networks and infrastructures.

One word here also about NATO’s partnerships, because many of our partners to the east, to the south, and also globally, are requesting NATO expertise. And in terms of our tailored programmes with our partners, we see more and more requests for cyber expertise coming to NATO, and NATO is ready to engage with our partners in making sure we bolster their national security institutions, but also their resilience, including when it comes to the cyber domain.

Ladies and gentlemen, with a new US administration, we have a unique opportunity to reenergise transatlantic relations and future proof our Alliance to make sure that we remain ready today to tackle not only yesterday’s and today’s threats, but also tomorrow’s threats.

You would have seen, just the other day, the United Kingdom and the Integrated Review and the emphasis put by this key Ally on cyber and space and new technologies. Addressing emerging technologies and strengthening our resilience will be high on NATO’s leaders agenda at our summit in Brussels later this year.

We must make NATO the global driver of a values-based approach to defence innovation, to make sure that global rules and norms are shaped by our values: freedom, democracy, the rule of law – and not by those who seek to undermine them.

Together, Europe and North America represent half of the world’s economic and military might.

Together, with our vibrant private sector and start-ups, our world-class universities and researchers. With our freedom of expression and thought, we can foster an incredible innovation ecosystem across the Alliance that ensures that we maintain our technological edge and keeps our almost one billion people safe now, but also for the future.

Again, it’s a privilege to be with you. I’m very sorry we cannot do this in person, but I know that probably sooner than next year we’ll be in a situation to meet. I welcome this great conference and I’m also very eager to listen to the panel that will be following my keynote address. Thank you so much.