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Keynote Remarks by Ambassador O’Sullivan– “Interdependency in Resilience” conference

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3 May 2017 – ACT Norfolk

Thank you General Mercier and Mayor Alexander for inviting me to speak at the opening of today’s conference.  First, let me extend the best wishes and gratitude of HRVP Federica Mogherini – our equivalent to your Secretary of State – to both of you personally and your teams at ACT; and to the city of Norfolk for organizing this conference.

As you said in your opening remarks, NATO and the European Union are called upon jointly to address the ever-more complex challenges to our common security, and to safeguard the peace and prosperity of our transatlantic community.

I would like to also recognize His Excellency Martin Stropnicky, Czech Minister of Defence.  Your presence here today as a representative of NATO and the EU is a powerful reminder and signal that it is our Member States that are the drivers and beneficiaries of this common approach and work.  

At this point of the transatlantic relationship, we convene as old assumptions seem to be questioned; as the “old order” that has evolved over the past 70 years comes under pressure.

Many in our societies feel overwhelmed by the pace of change, how the world has become increasingly complex and the impact of actions taken far beyond our borders.  But as these distances grow shorter, they have a direct impact on our wellbeing and security.

The traditional threats and concerns of yesterday and the emerging and new challenges of tomorrow present us with a more intricate and contested global environment that now sits on our doorstep.

In 2003, the first sentence of the ‘European Security Strategy’ stated “Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free”.  Well…we remain prosperous and free.  But we are not so sure about security anymore.

Today, there is a much greater understanding of the need for vigilance.  There are potential fissures in society that can feed violent extremism.  We face the sustained pressure of deliberate acts of subversion intended to test and undermine our societal cohesion.  And we know that the global challenges of climate change, environmental degradation and demographic pressures can lead to tensions and violent conflict.  

Environmental changes – climate change in particular – is having a massive impact on the availability of natural resources, on the ability of societies to sustain their populations.  These factors can destabilize entire nations and regions within our neighborhood and beyond, setting in motion migratory pressure on a global scale never seen before in modern history.

At the same time, we witness the return of great power competition in which the post-World War Two liberal, rules-based order – which we as the transatlantic community has built up – is facing increased pressure.

On the European continent, the fundamental tenets and norms of our security architecture have been violated.  We have seen the use of military force to infringe the territorial integrity of sovereign nations, and the intent to change national borders by force.

Equally, we need to adapt and cope with new kinds of warfare, not the least with information wars, hybrid and cyber warfare.

We have seen these used against us – from Ukraine to US elections; from attacks on the power grid of Estonia, to attempts to hack the German Bundestag; and a myriad of fake news and propaganda pushed out on social media – these daily threats and challenges are real.

We have seen state actors use these instruments combined with more traditional tools of power to deliberately undermine our political system, test vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure and to disrupt our alliances.  

And individuals can use the “power of the net” for disruptive purposes.

Our open societies have profited immensely from globalization, open borders, technological advancement and communication capabilities.  In short, the incredible degree of interconnectivity of our nations and societies, governments and businesses have reached unprecedented levels of sophistication providing unparalleled opportunities. But at the price of increased interdependency and vulnerability.

And may I add in a personal capacity, there is another deep concern that we need to address.  A fundamental perception by many in our societies that puts into question the very democratic and economic model that we cherish and defend.  Many in our societies have a feeling that governments and our institutions do not deliver the benefits that they expect from them.  But the trust of our citizens in our model of like, in our institutions, in democracy and our economic model is at the core of our resilience as nations and as an alliance.

Closing our eyes to this reality or looking inward will not help.  We cannot pull up the drawbridge to shield ourselves from external threats.  We need to act; act collectively as challenges – old and new – transcend our borders.  We cannot stand idle thinking we are buffered when our partners and neighbors are affected.

The European Global Strategy that HRVP Mogherini developed jointly with our Member States last July provides the EU’s response to a more complex, connected and contested world.  It sets out our ambitions and gives us clear principles to guide our concrete actions.  We are seeking, as President Juncker said, to build a “Europe that protects, empowers and defends“, together with NATO and our transatlantic and other partners.

We must defend our multilateral world order based on international law – our human rights, sustainable development and lasting access to the global commons.  We need to adapt global governance to the realities of the 21st Century, and maintain the United Nations and the principles and values of its charter.

In that, combine hard and soft power together to link our security efforts with our international development efforts.  We must couple conflict prevention with peace-making.  We must join our humanitarian aid and our investments for jobs and growth, our public policies and the action of private investors and civil society.

The EU together with the Member States has redoubled their efforts to increase security and stability, both internally and externally.  To deal better with the new challenges we face, we have adapted and expanded our toolbox of instruments.

On European Security and Defense, the Global Strategy has re-energized our common work to become more efficient, more capable and more integrated. We have agreed a four-pronged plan to strengthen our defense:

  • First, smarter defense spending – better prioritization and coordination amongst Member States to avoid duplication and redundancy closely aligned with NATO defense planning mechanisms.  
  • Second, deeper cooperation amongst Member States who have the capability to do more.
  • Third, the European Defense Action Plan which aims to set up a new European Defense Fund to incentivize and facilitate more multinational, European defense R&D and procurement in key capabilities.
  • And finally, implementation of the EU–NATO Joint Declaration signed at the Warsaw Summit las year, which the conference today and the EU’s participation in, is a direct result.

These pillars constitute an integrated coherent approach to strengthen our security and defense, complementing ever-closer cooperation with NATO.

I am happy to attest that NATO-EU cooperation, despite the political constraints that we all know about, has never been closer.  The Joint Declaration has already led to unparalleled interaction at all levels between NATO and the EU.

It is with much pride that I can say that an EU Foreign Affairs Council on Security and Defense without the NATO Secretary General; or a NATO ministerial meeting without the participation of the HRVP, now seem unthinkable.

Much of the good work that is being undertaken in the NATO-EU context relates directly to the new threats and challenges that we have seen endanger our societies.

On the EU side we have strengthened our ability to defend ourselves against cyber-attacks.  EU-wide networks to monitor and assess threats, and react rapidly.  Work is ongoing at the PSC to develop a “cyber toolbox” on how to react politically and diplomatically to a cyber-attack on one of us.

On hybrid threats, we have equally developed a common strategy translated into tangible action.  The ‘EU’s Hybrid Fusion Cell’ is now up and running and has established a comprehensive network for monitoring and assessing threats and coordinate responses.  And I understand NATO is in the process of setting up such a Hybrid unit.

The EEAS StratCom Task Forces East & South are working to unmask disinformation and prevent it from achieving its ultimate goal to undermine our democratic institutions and processes.  

Out of necessity and experience, several of our Member States are at the forefront of understanding better how to counter these threats.  The Centre of Excellence on Cyber in Estonia, and the new Center of Excellence on Hybrid Threats in Finland attest to such – and as NATO certified national centers, they are ideal platforms to promote deeper cooperation between NATO and the EU.

So, as we strive to adapt and find the right answers on how to cope with the complexity of the threats to our societies, the concept of “resilience” has become a centerpiece.

Determining or predicting what type of threat will come next or where it will originate has become ever more difficult to discern.

Consequently, we must increase our resilience to deny an adversary any lasting or existential impact on our security and the functioning of our societies.  That’s why for NATO, the Commitment to Enhance Resilience adopted at the Warsaw Summit, is a key component.

It is no surprise to many of you that ‘resilience’ is the key word in the EU Global Strategy – in fact the second of five priority actions; or that strengthening internal European Union resilience is one of the five principles for European policy towards Russia.

In Europe, we do not put quite the same emphasis on deterrence as in the NATO concept.  For us, resilience is about how to anchor progress towards our long term developmental and security goals – knowing that progress towards these goals may not be linear and could be affected by external pressures.  We see ‘resilience’ as part of a transformational agenda.

But like NATO, we see resilience as having both a state and a societal dimension.  The state needs to be able to sustain essential public services; and society needs to be sufficiently robust not to collapse when put under external pressures.  

Strengthening resilience depends on three things:

  • knowing your strengths and your vulnerabilities;
  • understanding and anticipating the external pressures that act upon your weaknesses; and
  • acting before you reach the point of failure.

All of this requires cooperation between different actors in a system; it means linking communities, the institutions of the state, and the private sector in a process of permanent collaboration.  This is the central insight that the organizers of this conference have rightly put at the center of their work.

And, Mayor Alexander, let me add that I had the chance to speak yesterday with some of your colleagues who dedicate themselves to the city of Norfolk to work on resilience.  I am most impressed by what they do; and the complexity and amount of thought and energy that is needed to do this right.

Tomorrow, I will travel to New Orleans, a city that had to learn about resilience the hard way.  And I am certain that Mayor Landrieu, with whom I will meet there and who will address you here tonight, will have invaluable experiences and insights to share with all of you.

Currently, the EU is working on a ‘Joint Communication on Resilience’ building on previous approaches in other areas that have faced security threats.  And NATO Heads of State and Government have made a resilience pledge at Warsaw that sets out requirements across seven areas and calls for close cooperation with EU efforts.

But the potential for NATO-EU cooperation to enhance resilience does not stop there – it is not the end, rather a means to an end.  We all agree that resilience lies at the heart of our security and prosperity.  The core is not so much military, but a societal, political challenge to maintain the viability of our democracies.

We agree resilience should be viewed across the full spectrum of threats we face – no sector can fully function over time if any other individual sector is compromised.  Government, security, societal and private stakeholders must come together to act.

But maybe most importantly, resilience offers a perfect example of NATO-EU cooperation and mutually benefit.    

Finally, and to end on a positive note, enhancing resilience also offers a chance to remind ourselves of our strengths, our successes and what binds us together.  As we work with our partners, it provides us with a renewed opportunity to engage and strengthen the positive, not just focus on vulnerabilities.

Our commitment – across the Atlantic – with NATO and the EU to continue to stand together against all adversity is truly positive and the true source of our strength, or I dare say, resilience.

In closing allow me to cite HRVP Mogherini “In today’s world, a strong NATO requires stronger security cooperation inside the European Union…A stronger European Union means a stronger NATO.  And…a stronger NATO is key to America’s security.  We are bound to be together. That’s the history of the last 70 years across the Atlantic and that’s the future we want for our children: peace, security and prosperity both in Europe and in America.”


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