Keynote speech Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the Atlantic Forum’s virtual Fall Conference “Transatlanticism 2020” on Friday (2 October 2020). 

As delivered:

Lauren Speranza (LS): Thank you Maaike, and is the Deputy Secretary General with us?

Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană (DSG): Absolutely!

LS: Fantastic. Good morning Ambassador, Good afternoon to you. Good evening I suppose. Hello everyone and welcome. Thank you all so much for joining us. 

As Maaike just said, I am Lauren Speranza, director for Transatlantic Defense and Security and the Center for European Policy Analysis, or CEPA for short. 

So I am coming to you from Washing D.C. today and I am thrilled to be part of this event focused on the future of the transatlantic relationship. And as my colleague has sort of outlined, you know was, we look around us, we are facing an increasing contested world with unprecedented challenges, and this demands changes from our political leaders, from our security institutions and our publics, and while nothing is certain these days, one thing is for sure, and that is that none of us can go at it alone. 

So our future will certainly demand stronger cooperation from allies and partners and especially through our NATO alliance. And to discuss this further I am honoured to have the opportunity to kick off today's keynote conversation with NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană. 

Ambassador Geoană took up his current role in October 2019 as the first Deputy Secretary General from any of the countries that joined the alliance after the end of the cold war. Across his distinguished diplomatic and political career he served as Romanian Ambassador to the United States, Minister of Foreign Affairs, President of Romania Senate and Presidential Candidate for Romania. 

He is president and founder of Aspen Institute Romania and he has worked closely with the OSCE as well. He has been a relentless advocate for transatlantic cooperation and really an inspirational voice for his home region and beyond. 

Mister Deputy Secretary General, it is a privilege to have you with us today at a forum like this to speak with the leaders of tomorrow. Some of whom I would argue are already serving as leaders today. And to all of you tuning in here via zoom, I am told that the chat function is open so if you would like to post a question at any point please type it and submit it there and I will try to incorporate some of those towards the end as time allows. 

But Ambassador Geoană we were hoping you could start us off by sharing a bit about your vision for the future of the alliance. Especially as NATO undergoes its forward looking reflection process to help best position NATO looking to 2030. So please sir, over to you.

DSG: Oh thank you Lauren, good to see you again, congratulations for your new position and thank you all for starting this great initiative. I am fully behind it. 

I love to be described like an established experienced leader, seems like a sort of segregation alongside the age, but let me tell you something I strongly believe in. There is no age for leadership. Leadership is not waiting for the age. It is something that one nurtures, one believes in, and I think that the time for leadership, value based leadership, is more important today than ever. 

Because in uncertain times you see, you know, some of the taboos that we believed are unshakable becoming contested and that is a period of great great competition. 

Let me start with something that is not necessarily the transatlantic bond as some of you before me described so well, I have nothing to add to that. But I would argue that in fact there is a, a bond that is far more profound and far more important and far more far reaching than the traditional description of the transatlantic relationship. 

Because of course we speak about North America and Europe, we speak about security, defense, deterrence, political cooperation, deterrence and defense missions operations, our military, our leaders vision for the future. 

But in fact I think it's something that we have to reflect on a little bit. On the far more profound source of this commonality. And this comes basically to the very foundation of what we call today the political west, the cradle of civilizations, the values that painfully over history developed towards what we think today is the democratic free society are the values that basically we believe are, and are the foundation of this very alliance. 

Because when you read the Washington Treaty, you have to start from the beginning of the treaty. People rush to article 5. Which is of course fundamental, its sacrosanct, its the very foundation, it's the musketeer pledge to each other, for defending each other. But in fact we are speaking about values, about those things that are, and because this point in history, human history, we are facing for the first time in many centuries a competition from alternative models and powers that are basically trying to unravel all this all this system of values. 

I think this is one of those times, and we have to revisit the foundation of our bond. To nurture it, to replenish the reservoir of trust, as you said before, you said it very rightfully. And also try to also be a bit more creative, then just staying on the laurels of the past.

Seven decades, exceptionally successful. We say with pride here at NATO, and I think all of you that believe in transatlanticism we are very proud that we are the most successful in human history. 

This not a small feat. This is huge. But in order to maintain this. To continue to be relevant. To continue to change the destiny of mankind for the good. We have to replenish this. We have to give it the full dimension of what it is, was and will be. 

Because there is something very simple, also with my kids, they are grown ups now. I tell them about communist Romania. And say listen, there were rations and you couldn’t get that thing, and it was awful it was cold it was dark, it was you know awful. And my son tells me a few years. Dad and if there is nothing to eat, to buy from that store, why didn’t you go to another one. We told them that in Communist Romania there were only two hours of TV per day, in the eighties. He says: oh that is great, it means that you have time to go to the internet all day long. There was no internet at that time of course. 

So what I am just trying to say that there is something which is, which is the very foundation of this relationship. And also there is something for the younger generations. Because we are all democratic nations, we depend on our public opinions. You mention elections. Elections come and go.But public opinion is there to judge. To judge. And also to choose. 

And I think we have to make sure that we also keep up with the expectations of the younger generations. The ones who have not lived the horror of the second world war. Who have not lived through the cold war. Not lived through communist, like one hundred miljoen new members, proud members of this very alliance of ours, and the European Union, all of them. NATO enlarged first, EU followed. Should not forget that. 

But for the young ones. These are stories that are not always relevant to them. Yes they care. I do believe they care. And this is your role, as Atlantic Forum, and your network of professionals, your academy, your work with young journalists, the wonderful things that you are trying to accomplish. And that is why I am here just to tell you that we support you, we count on you, and we believe in you. 

But we have to also make sure that there is also a more profound transformation, not only in geopolitics, not only in geoeconomics, not only in geotechnological competition. But also for the first time in many centuries there is a competition for the commanding heights of the values and societal organization proposition. 

For the first time, we have competitors that have both the scale, the volumes, the economy, the technology, and their military might growingly, but they are proposing an alternative system of organizing societies. 

And we have to ask our young guys, our young people, our youngest. Would you like to live in a closed society? Would you like to have a big brother watching you and telling you what to do? And making you have limited or no freedom? Or would you like to continue to live in an open society?

We also have to make sure that, because our young people are dissatisfied also with governments, there is a lack of trust in institutions of democracy. There is something that we have to revisit. Democracy is perfectable. Democracy is not a given thing in time. 

People become far more, and youngsters become far more demanding of their leaders of their institutions, they expect justice, they expect transparency, they expect you know, a different way of conducting the business of politics. They also expect ethical issue. 

This is when NATO puts, and Secretary General Stoltenberg, myself, all my colleagues are putting a lot of emphasis, not only on the quality of our defenses, which is something that we have to do, that is our mission, we do that very well. But also in this new technologies, disruptive technologies. 

There is also a conversation about the ethics of this. AI, Big Data, how they used. How will the defense utilization of this technology be used. And I think NATO, and the political west, we have to be the ones leading the debate. For making sure that transformations in our societies, technological changes are also embedded in our values and ethical values. International Law, International Norms, Standards. 

You mentioned climate change. It is something that all of us care about. You mentioned the speech that Jens Stoltenberg gave the other day. I was so proud of him. He engaged with ten universities at the same time, that is the small good part of this situation that we have to be talking to each other via virtually and not physically. He spoke to twelve hundred students at once in ten universities about how NATO and how he, he has a vision about climate change.

And he has a record for this as former prime minister of Norway, Special Envoy of the UN on climate change. So I think he adds not only the NATO voice, but also his formidable experience into this. 

And the last point about what I really believe we should do. I think we should start like you are trying to do. To make sure of what was that natural tendency between our young leaders from both sides of the atlantic. You know there are scholarships in Europe, there are scholarships to go to America. There was a sort of intimacy, can I call this, between our young generations. 

And of course the young generations are free to choose whatever they want to do. Nobody can tell them you know go to Europe or go to Asia. That is in their own decision. But I think we have to recreate the conditions for our youngsters to meet. To know each other. To talk to each other. To be able to have different opinions. Its not a monolithic issues, its a spectrum of ideas, and philosophies of life that have to be nurtured and have to be respected. 

So I think that your forum, your transatlantic, lets say, passion, is something that, I hope that it is contagious in the good sense! And I hope that this effort of yours that I applaud, and we applaud and we support to who will be doing this. 

You mentioned my old experience with the Aspen Institute that I founded fifteen years ago. We were doing leadership. Value based leadership. That is what we do. Aspen US, Aspen Romania, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, UK now, that is a new one. Spain, Ukraine. And I am very proud that there is something I have done in my life, other than some somethings in diplomacy and politics and of course this important job at NATO.

I am very proud that we, in our modest way, we could really harness the talent of the young ones. Hundreds and hundreds and thousands of thousands of leaders that are exposed to this question of values. Who we are. In what kind of society we want to live.

And there is no society, there is no economic development. There is no friendship, there is no love. There is no tension. There is no passion. If there is not a foundation of peace and security. 

And please, through your help, let the younger ones know, that the business of NATO is of course deterrence and defense. But our business is to keep people at peace and safe, and create a foundation where you can build your life, a foundation where you can build your own community, your own dream, your own expectations and hopes or fears of the future. 

So we are in the business of keeping this political west together. I believe that Europe and North America are two sides of the same coin. I believe that NATO and the EU, I think we have to do even more together. 

And I do believe that the true democratic nations from all over the world, should be part, as we do in NATO with our partners, be part of this exercise. 

So. I am so happy Lauren and dear friends to be with you, and count on me, on all of us here, to be your loyal friends. And we are just looking forward to you really taking the lead, not only in intellectual and emotional terms, but also in physical terms.

Get it done!