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Homeland Security

Speech by NATO Deputy Secretary General, Mircea Geoană, at the NATO Lessons Learned conference

NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

16 Mar. 2021

(As delivered)

MIRCEA GEOANĂ [NATO Deputy Secretary General] Thank you Jackie.

It's a great pleasure to join you all for this NATO Lessons Learned Conference. You have chosen right. This is an extremely relevant topic and a timely conversation, so let me also start by sending my appreciation to Brigadier General Bogdan Cernat and the entire team at JALLC for their constant work and also this event.
The only thing I am not very happy with is the fact that I cannot be with you in person. But Portugal remains a beautiful place and I am convinced that we will be doing this at the appropriate moment.

But on a more serious note, the pandemic has had such a huge impact on every corner of the world and every part of our societies. It has also affected NATO – our Allies and partners, and our missions and operations. But despite the enormous challenge of COVID-19, we have proven to be resilient and able to cope with whatever it has sent our way.

Of course, during the pandemic, NATO's number one priority has been to ensure that this health crisis and economic crisis do not become a security crisis. We are doing that. Our forces remain vigilant and ready to defend all Allies against any threat. We have done what is necessary to keep our forces safe, to maintain our operational readiness and sustain our missions and operations.

In responding to and dealing with COVID, the lessons NATO has learnt from previous crises where we supported civilian authorities proved invaluable. For example, in recent years NATO has supported Allies and partners to tackle fires, floods and earthquakes. We have delivered supplies, coordinated humanitarian relief, supported refugees, and run regular exercises to improve and test our skills.

Some lessons from previous crises have been effectively institutionalised across NATO. Such as the development of the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre, NATO's principal civil emergency response mechanism. During COVID, the EADRCC has worked 24/7 to coordinate requests for and offers of international assistance from NATO Allies and partner countries.

The pandemic has shown the effectiveness of NATO's multinational solutions, such as our strategic airlift capability, which has moved vast quantities of medical supplies quickly to where they were needed. And NATO's essential role in coordinating national and multinational responses, even when that response is led by civilian authorities with the military in a supporting role.

The response to emergencies is often led by civilian, so civil-military cooperation is essential. While the Alliance has access to military resources and expertise, we need to engage more with civilian authorities who are primarily the first responders.
And this crisis has underlined the importance of working closely, and sharing information and expertise with other international organisations, such as the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme and, of course, our strategic partner - the European Union. Regular communication has meant we could avoid duplication and collaborate when appropriate.

But not everything has been as successful. We have to be honest here. The truth is, we were not adequately prepared for a global health crisis on this scale.

We quickly saw how the 'Just-In-Time' approach to supply chains we had embraced so intensely to increase efficiency and reduce costs did not work under extreme pressure. When the whole world is simultaneously crying out for medical equipment and supplies, the market simply cannot cope.

So NATO and Allies quickly realised we needed to be better prepared for a second wave. That's why in June last year, we agreed a plan in record time and established a stockpile of medical supplies and a trust fund for the purchase of urgently needed items.

But the lesson is clear: there is a need for stockpiles of essential supplies, independent of commercial supply chains. This is not only vital for a future pandemic, God forbid, but for other potential crises, including Article 5 events where we can no longer rely on buying from the open market.

Because in fact, and this is the main message for you, coming from us from the headquarters, is that the very definition of security has changed. This crisis, more like any other before, has revealed that we are witnessing threats that could blur the line between civil and military realms, between traditional and novel elements, between conventional and hybrid tactics. This is an evolution of epic proportions.

Learning the lessons of each crisis and looking ahead to imagine the next, however terrible, is an essential part of maintaining the security of NATO's nearly one billion people.

Our lesson learning capability is an invaluable resource. We can and we must do more to make sure lessons are identified, learned and implemented so that the future leaders of our Alliance can draw upon the best advice and adequate resources should the need arise.

COVID has been a valuable stress test for NATO's lesson learning capability. They say you should never let a crisis go to waste. We cannot do so now.

But the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only challenge we face. Far from it. Russia's destabilising behaviour, the continuing threat of terrorism, sophisticated cyber-attacks, disruptive technologies, the rise of China, and climate change. All of these present a threat to our security, our prosperity and our values – our freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

Perhaps the most important lessons we have learned from more than 70 years of this great Alliance of ours, is that we can only face up to such challenges if we stand together. And that we can never stand still. We must always adapt, always learn, always move forward. Always adapt, always learn, always do better.

That is the idea behind NATO 2030, the Secretary General's initiative to future-proof our Alliance to the challenges of the coming decade and beyond. A stronger Alliance, a broader approach to our security and continued commitment to the rules-based world order are all essential.

This pandemic has underlined the importance, not only of having a strong military, that we do and continue to have, but also of making sure we have strong, resilient societies. [Inaudible].This means strengthening our health systems and yes, our economies. Avoiding dependencies in our critical supply chains and infrastructure. And ensuring our societies and democracies are less vulnerable to coercion and attacks in the physical and digital domains.

NATO Allies have already agreed high standards of resilience, from secure transport systems and telecoms, including 5G, to energy, food and water supplies. But we need to go further. When NATO leaders meet at our Summit in Brussels later this year, we must strengthen these requirements and hold each other more accountable for enforcing them. We need to enhance our collective – as well as our national – resilience. And we notice that more than before a new approach is required, one that mobilises the whole of the government, at times the whole of the society, and, to some extent – the whole of the democratic world.

And we need to take our culture of lesson learning further too. To imbed it ever more deeply within our training and support, our missions and operations and within our headquarters. Technology makes this job easier, and we need to embrace new technologies and systems that can help us in this task. But more important is leadership and the political will to not only learn lessons, but to follow through in implementing those lessons learnt. To take decisions and to act to make things better. And as the person responsible for Lessons Learned at NATO, I am determined to take this forward.

This conference is about learning the lessons about and from COVID-19. Indeed, the pandemic has highlighted some areas of weakness. But it also presents us with opportunities to strengthen and improve our Alliance. We can emerge, we should emerge and we will emerge from this crisis better prepared, with greater resilience, with faster decision making and more strategic insight.

So that when the next crisis hits – and it sure will from some place – we will be ready.

Let me say before ending and taking some of your questions that I immensely appreciate the work of JALLC. Your Centre of Excellence is paramount. And I think this is one of those moments when we need the talent, the dedication and the contribution of this excellent group of professionals, to educate, to inform and to help NATO adapt and become ever, ever, more successful.

So thank you all and congratulations to you for the initiative of this great conference.

[JACKIE EATON, PRINCIPLE OPERATIONAL RESEARCH ANALYST, JALLC]: Thank you very much, Ambassador. If I may, I'd like to follow up with a question. You mentioned during your speech, the rise of China and Russia as concerning threats to the Alliance. And during the pandemic there was a clear epidemic of disinformation. From our experience this time, how do you think NATO should respond to disinformation in future crisis?

[MIRCEA GEOANA]: Indeed, the pandemic, basically, was also a moment of grave concern in our societies. And in democratic societies like ours, open speech, freedom of expression, access to information and disinformation, the immense role of social media, was used and abused by some of our competitors to basically try to use to their interest in a very difficult moment.

Competition for promoting one's narrative is something that is a normal thing in international effects. You cannot expect any nation not to try to defend and promote its own interests and its own influence.

But abusing of such a dramatic crisis in our societies, and to intoxicate our public opinions with false narrative, with fake news, with conspiracy theories is something that is a bridge too far.

So this is one of the lessons learned that we are learning as we speak.

We had this trend before, but the pandemic has only amplified it; was like magnifying lenses to some of the things we have to be very, very much aware of. What do we do? Of course we do professional, including using big data, data analytics about our own public opinions just to see the frustrations, the fears that are legitimate, you know. Public opinions, we should not shy away from the fact that many of our citizens in our democratic societies are unhappy, are stressed, are fearful of the future. And that is a very, very fertile ground for disinformation and fake news and conspiracy theories to basically flourish. Then, we cannot do it alone. We need each other. We need each other at NATO. We need cooperation amongst our governments and our civil societies. We also need to cooperate with the European Union, with the UN, which my colleagues in the Public Diplomacy Division are actively doing.

There is a constant coordination also with the communication group of the G7 - Group of Nations. So, we are here in a struggle and a competition, not only for economic supremacy or technological supremacy, but also a competition for the commanding heights of the way in which we structure human society.

And we have an obligation. NATO is the primary international organization, multilevel organizations with 1 billion people living in the 30 Allied nations that we have to really stand together, and like minded nations from all over the world to work together on this is one. That is a very fierce competition. There is sometimes a barrage of attacks, trying in fact to erode the trust of our citizens in our democratic institutions. This is something that we have to fight against, we have to defend ourselves for, and be better prepared, speaking of lessons learnt, of doing even better job when some other similar situations might occur.

[JACKIE EATON]: Thank you very much Ambassador Mircea Geoana. Thank you for your inspiring words, and I thank you very much for providing us with the perfect focus to move on into the rest of our conference. The session will now end, and the next session will begin in a few minutes.

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