The future of European security: emerging strategic focus or faltering ambitions?

The future of European security: emerging strategic focus or faltering ambitions?

Speech by the NATO Deputy Secretary General, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow on the  Bucharest Forum 2015 organized by the Aspen Institute Romania and the German Marshall Fund of the United States.


Ladies and gentlemen,


It is always a pleasure to be in Romania, and in Bucharest in particular.  This conference – and this panel – could not be more timely, as the future of European security truly faces a perfect storm.


For a quarter of a century, Europe has been a place of relative calm after the lifting of the Iron Curtain and end of Cold War tensions.  During that time, our countries have united in friendship, on the basis of shared values, through organisations like the European Union and NATO.  Our economies have flourished and our people have forged lasting bonds in ways that were once impossible.  And throughout that time, we made a sincere effort to make a democratic Russia an integral part of our Euro-Atlantic community.


But today, that benign security environment is threatened.  Today, for the first time in NATO’s history, we face long-term strategic challenges from two directions:  to our East, an increasingly assertive and aggressive Russia, a Russia that rejects Euro-Atlantic values and seeks to undermine the foundations of the post-Cold War order.  And to our South, we face the chaos and violence of failed and failing states, and the rise of extremist groups such as ISIL – trends that could lead to the breakdown of the century-old Arab State system.  This is NATO’s new strategic reality.  


But NATO is stepping up to these challenges.  Allies are demonstrating that we stand together.  During NATO’s Wales Summit last year, our leaders committed to arresting the decline in our defence budgets and increasing defence spending towards 2% of GDP as our economies grow.  There is still a long way to go, but already there are promising signs, with many Allies – including Romania -- moving in the right direction.


This will require a sustained effort, and a long-term commitment by all Allies -- not only to invest more, but to invest in the right capabilities.  It requires a fair sharing of the burden of providing assurance measures in the east – at sea, in the air and on the ground – as well as being prepared to engage in out-of-area operations and missions if they become necessary.


Our political commitment and our unity are every bit important as the adaptation of our defence and deterrence posture.  And there have been significant developments in this area.  The backbone of NATO’s military adaptation is the Readiness Action Plan, the RAP.  There has been intense work on the RAP since Wales and with impressive results. 


The key part of the RAP, our Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, or ‘Spearhead Force,’ is now operational and able to deploy within a matter of days.  The NATO Response Force is more than doubling to around 40,000 troops – troops that can come to the defence of any ally under threat – from the east or the south. 


We have opened six new command-and-control and logistics headquarters on the territory of our eastern allies, including here in Romania, and there are two more on the way.  We have significantly increased the size and scope of our exercises to heighten our readiness and provide reassurance and deterrence. 


But just implementing the Wales decisions is not enough.  As we head towards our Warsaw Summit next July, we must look to the future and to the long-term adaptation of our Alliance.  We need to develop a long-term strategy that ensures we can effectively deter any adversary, and equips us to counter the full range of potential threats and challenges, from wherever they may come.


Our Warsaw Summit will be an opportunity to take stock of Russia’s actions, and to assess the future of the NATO-Russia relationship – including what we can do to restore predictability and transparency at a time when Russia seems more interested in shocking, surprising and intimidating than in calming and building confidence.


Most importantly, we will need to ask hard questions about what it takes to deter an assertive Russia that seeks to go back to the days of spheres of influence, when great powers claimed the right to change borders by force and to limit the sovereign choices of their neighbours.  


The RAP is a solid foundation, but to effectively deter a revanchist Russia, we will need to go beyond the RAP.  We will need to assess how NATO can reinforce our Eastern Allies in the face of Russian “anti-access and area denial” tactics.  This is especially important in the Baltics and here in the Black Sea region. 


Indeed, Russia’s annexation and militarisation of the Crimean peninsula has changed the game in the Black Sea, with long-term strategic implications.  We are currently looking closely at what those implications are and how we can mitigate against them.  And with Russia’s more recent moves to build up military forces in Syria, this is now becoming an issue in the eastern Mediterranean as well. 


Ensuring effective deterrence will require an honest assessment of our requirements for the pre-positioning of equipment, enablers and, potentially, additional forward stationing of combat units on a rotational basis.


We also need to further develop our resilience against potential hybrid attacks.  This means better sharing of intelligence, identifying potential vulnerabilities, better strategies to defeat cyber-attacks, and working more closely with other international organizations, the European Union in particular.


But a stronger defence of NATO Allies cannot be the whole answer.  If we want our Alliance to be secure then our neighbourhoods must be stable.  And that, currently, is one thing that they are not.  We need to invest far more in our partnerships – to support our neighbours’ ability to better defend themselves, to contain extremist forces, and to bring stability to their regions. 


They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  This is very much the case here.  We must help our neighbours in the East who are the targets of Russian interference and intimidation – so that they can stand their ground and preserve their sovereignty.  And we must help our partners in the South to combat extremism, to fight ISIL and to bring some degree of calm to the explosive atmosphere of the Middle East and North Africa.


NATO has many tools which can help.  Our experience with helping nations to reform their security sectors and to build up their defence capacity have the potential to make a huge difference.  But for that to happen we need to invest far more in these programs than we do now.  That is one of the main challenges for our leaders in the run-up to the Warsaw Summit.


And when we are here in Romania, when we think of helping our partners, we cannot help but think first of Moldova.  Through NATO’s Defence Capacity Building initiative, we are helping Moldova with fundamental defence reforms and a strategic assessment of the threats to its national security.  This will provide a basis for identifying the capabilities the Moldovans need to ensure their security within their limited resources. 


We are also helping Moldova with cyber security, increasing the transparency and accountability of its defence sector, and improving its professional military education and training.  Moldova is not seeking NATO membership, but NATO is helping Moldova to chart its own course, to set its own foreign policy, and to provide for its own security.


Ladies and gentlemen,


The world has become a far less stable and secure place remarkably quickly.  But NATO has responded remarkably quickly too.  We will continue to adapt our Alliance so that it can ensure our collective defence and bolster the stability of our region for the long haul.  


I very much look forward to our discussion.











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