COVID-19 has shown that our world is more unpredictable than ever. The only thing we can be sure of is uncertainty itself – and we have to learn to deal with it.
For NATO, this means that we must be ready at all times to accept any challenge in order to protect our people – even during pandemics. Our militaries across the Alliance have played an important role in fighting the virus and saving lives.
As we enter a new year and the allies start rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, we can gradually recover from the health crisis. NATO made sure there was no security crisis. However, we still need to adapt to a rapidly changing security environment.
The NATO 2030 Initiative is about preparing for the unexpected by maintaining a strong military alliance, making it stronger politically, and taking a more global approach.
To keep NATO militarily strong, our nations must continue to invest in defense so that we have the best military with the right skills. In order to maintain our technological lead, allies should invest even more in cutting-edge functions such as artificial intelligence, big data and quantum computers.
One of the reasons why we need a strong military is our fight against international terrorism, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, more than half of our troops in Afghanistan come from European allies and other partners. And while nobody wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, we will face a difficult dilemma early next year: either stay and pay the price for continued military engagement or leave the country and risk Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for international terrorists again can attack our home countries. Whatever we choose, it is important that we do it properly and in a coordinated manner.
We also need to make greater use of NATO as a platform for political consultations, as this is the only place North America and Europe meet every day to discuss, decide and act on our common security. If we have differences, we have to bring them to the NATO table and discuss them openly so that we can work out common approaches.
A current example is the military deconflict mechanism developed by NATO to prevent incidents and accidents in the eastern Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey. I am determined to develop this mechanism further, not only because it can save lives, but also because it can help pave the way for political discussion on the underlying issues.
And while NATO will remain a regional alliance, we must take a more global approach to addressing global challenges like the rise of China. China is not our opponent. His rise on the global stage brings opportunities, but also holds challenges. China has the second largest defense budget in the world and continues to modernize its military at a rapid pace. At the same time, it undermines human rights and harasses other countries.
We are working more closely with partners, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, because as a community of like-minded democracies we have a common interest in defending our common values, building the resilience of our societies, economies and institutions, and complying with the rules-based ordering.
We’re also strengthening the resilience of our critical infrastructure – power grids, ports, airports, roads, railways, and telecommunications systems, including 5G. And NATO will continue to strengthen our resilience requirements and encourage allies to conduct thorough risk and vulnerability assessments, including mapping of foreign ownership, control or direct investment.
These are all important considerations in preparing for the 2021 NATO summit in Brussels, where I will present my recommendations at a strategic level on how we can keep the Alliance fit for the future. One thing is certain: we can only be strong when North America and Europe are united. So I look forward to working very closely with President-elect Joe Biden and his administration to further strengthen our transatlantic alliance and protect our nations in this unpredictable world.
Jens Stoltenberg is the Secretary General of NATO.