Panel remarks by NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow at the Wrocław Global Forum (Poland)
I would like to thank the Atlantic Council, the Secretary of the Wrocław Global Forum and the Polish Institute of International Affairs for inviting me to participate in this timely discussion. It is always a great pleasure to visit Poland, one of our most dedicated and stalwart NATO Allies. And it is an honor to share the stage with Defense Minister Siemoniak and the other distinguished members of this panel, including my former boss at the Pentagon, Jim Miller.
In looking over the conference program, I was struck by the last of the questions posed: “Should the transatlantic security partnership focus on collective defense in the immediate region, or will its security be enhanced by reaching out to global partners?”
My answer is: We have to do both – and more besides.
Our Strategic Concept sets out collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security as three essential core tasks for NATO. Although Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has changed the strategic environment in a fundamental way, all three core tasks remain essential, valid and vital for our security.
In Ukraine, Russia has changed borders through force, and it continues to subvert a sovereign state through covert means and a cynical disinformation campaign. It has ripped up the international rule book and sought to recreate a sphere of influence based on a dangerous new doctrine of limited sovereignty for countries that form part of the so-called “Russian World.”
NATO has stepped up to meet the challenge. Since the crisis began, we have taken a number of concrete steps to strengthen our collective defense from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Every single Ally is now contributing to this reassurance effort, whether with aircraft or ships, troops on the ground, or commanders and planners for our forces. Poland deserves special thanks in this regard, as it is currently the lead nation in the reinforced Baltic Air Policing mission.
We are also considering the longer-term implications of Russia’s actions for our Alliance. Earlier this week, NATO Defense Ministers discussed a Readiness Action Plan in preparation for our Wales Summit in September. This will include improving the reaction time of the NATO Response Force, enhancing our intelligence and awareness capabilities, pre-positioning equipment and supplies further East, and carrying out more high-intensity military exercises in more demanding scenarios.
We are also working hard to fill the capability gaps that still exist within NATO – both across the Atlantic and within Europe. Our focus is on those key enabling capabilities – drones, transport aircraft, Special Forces, deployable C2 – that are needed to react quickly, together, and effectively to all threats, whether here in Europe or out of area.
Developing those capabilities puts a premium on our “Smart Defense” multinational capability projects, and on further regional cooperation. Poland and its Višegrad partners continue to demonstrate that this is a pragmatic and cost-effective way to build greater security together, and in a way that makes both NATO and the European Union stronger.
But ultimately, credible defense and deterrence require credible investment. And that means we must reverse the downward trend in Allied defense spending over the past few years. Today, only a few Allies meet the NATO guideline of 2% of GDP to be spent on defense. Poland is very close and is taking important steps to further modernize its forces. But we need more Allies to progressively increase their defense spending, and the share devoted to modernization and acquisition, now that their economies are beginning to recover.
The crisis in Ukraine has made us go “back to basics” and focus more on collective defense. But it cannot – and must not – lead to a self-centered, inward-looking Alliance. At the Summit in Wales, we must continue to focus on all aspects of the ‘Future NATO’ we need to meet evolving 21st century security needs. That means not just the right capabilities, but the right connections.
Our dialogue and cooperation with partner countries are a vital part of our vision for the future. This applies, first of all, to our partnerships here on this continent, including with our Ukraine and our other Eastern neighbors whose sovereignty is being challenged by Russia.
Partnerships remain a crucial instrument for assisting reform, spreading stability, and creating the Europe whole, free and at peace that has been a long-standing goal of our Alliance. And for those European partners who aspire to membership in the Alliance, we must keep our door open – no matter how much Russia seeks to draw new red lines – and help the aspirants walk through it.
At Wales, we must also take a broader perspective. Countries in North Africa and the Middle East face an enormously difficult transition. We must do what we can to help them develop their own defense capacity, working in coordination with the EU, the UN and regional organizations like the African Union.
We also must continue to strengthen our dialogue and interoperability with our most capable partners. This includes countries like Finland and Sweden, but also countries further afield, like the Gulf countries, and Australia, Japan, and South Korea.
In sum, when it comes to shaping transatlantic security and defense in a post-Crimean world, we should avoid false choices. NATO’s duty is to defend all 28 Allies against any possible risk or threat to their security, whenever and wherever it may occur. This means we not only need the right capabilities, but also the right connections, so that we can deter aggression at home and project stability abroad.