Interview - Amb. Alexander Vershbow, NATO Deputy Secretary General
NATO Deputy Secretary General, Amb. Alexander Vershbow (in the office since February 2012), in November 2014 visited Split as one of the senior speakers at the NATO-Industry Forum. The Forum organised annually, hosted by different NATO nation and serves as an optimal opportunity to discuss the burning strategic issues. We took the opportunity offered this year to interview the NATO Deputy Secretary General on the principal challenges faced by the Alliance, the future warfare and development. Among other things, NATO Deputy Secretary General addressed the current security threats and the need for a closer co-operation between the Alliance and its partners. He also emphasised NATO’ efforts to create more agile forces ready in shorter term. Regarding the issue of NATO enlargement, Amb. Vershbow stressed the open door policy pertaining to countries that implement show real and sustained commitment to reform regional co-operation.
What is the importance of the NATO-Industry Forum and the co-operation with defence industry?
The NATO-Industry Forum is an important opportunity to discuss strategic issues related to the development of NATO capabilities. It is a unique venue to engage in debate about the security challenges that our nations face. We in NATO view industry as a key partner. The North Atlantic Council launched the Framework for NATO-Industry Engagement as an instrument to pursue this partnership. We believe that a closer NATO-industry partnership will be good for our nations, for NATO and for industry.
What are NATO’s main challenges today?
Our strategic environment today is more volatile than it has been for decades. Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine and the spread of violence and extremism in North Africa and the Middle East, represent major challenges to our security. In addition, we also face challenges such as missile proliferation, cyber attacks, and threats to energy supplies.
In the face of these complex challenges, NATO has set a clear course for the future. We will keep the Alliance strong, ready and capable to meet any threat to any Ally. We will work more closely with our partners to keep our eastern and southern neighborhoods stable. To that end, Allies have launched the Defence Capacity Building Initiative to assist those nations that require the Alliance’s help. We will also make sure that the vital bond between Europe and North America remains rock solid.
What plans have been put in place to keep NATO ready for any possible crisis and what is NATO focused on?
At our Summit in Wales in September we agreed on a ‘Readiness Action Plan’, the most significant reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. We are making our forces more agile and more able to deploy quickly, whenever and wherever threats emerge. We are maintaining a continuous NATO presence in the eastern part of our Alliance, on a rotational basis, to reassure our Allies and to provide an effective deterrent. We are also setting up a rapid reaction Spearhead Force.
We are planning to pre-position equipment and supplies, so that, if needed, we can deploy reinforcements more quickly. We are also putting in place command and control elements on the territory of our eastern Allies.
As part of the Readiness Action Plan, we will ensure that NATO is able to deal with the challenges posed by the so-called ‘hybrid warfare’. We have seen this type of warfare in Ukraine with the “little green men” without national insignia; regular troops allegedly “on vacation”; overt and covert support for the separatists trained and equipped across the border; and all of this wrapped in a sophisticated propaganda campaign.
What are Your predictions of the future warfare and the role it will imply for the industry?
Nearly all of the challenges that we face have an important industrial dimension. Cyber defence is a good example. Industry is our first line of defence. The private sector owns the majority of the world’s information systems and provides technical solutions for cyber defence. We need industry to play its full part in the development of our capabilities. This is why we need to move towards a closer and more open relationship between NATO and industry.
We also have to ensure that the capabilities that our militaries depend on are affordable. Again, this is why we need closer cooperation with industry. We need sustainable, innovative, and competitive defence industries. In particular, we recognize the importance of national industrial defence capabilities; in Europe and North America, and including our newer Allies.
We would like to hear Your view on defence expenditure. The past years have seen cuts in defence budgets. Do You see this trend changing in the near future?
Defence spending has steadily decreased since the end of the Cold War and the economic crisis has accelerated this trend. But at our Summit in Wales, NATO leaders pledged to halt the decline in defence budgets. They agreed to aim to increase defence spending in real terms over the coming decade, and to move towards the NATO benchmark of two percent of GDP. We did this because we have to be ready to meet the current and future challenges; and because there is a need for more investment in the armed forces. Governments are now going to have to implement this commitment that they made at the Wales Summit. This will remain a challenge for many Allies. That is why leaders have also emphasised the need for greater multinational cooperation, to get the most out of the resources we have available.
Multinational cooperation should be the preferred option for Allies to develop jointly the capabilities that they cannot afford individually. This will help us achieve tangible benefits, both in terms of operational effectiveness and cost efficiency. And this particularly applies to capabilities that will increase NATO’s readiness and adaptability.
What are the prospects of new NATO enlargement and admission of new members as a way to expand co-operation and peace?
NATO’s open door policy has already brought great benefits in terms of cooperation, democratic reforms and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. We are committed to keeping our door open to those countries that show real and sustained commitment to reform. However, the door to NATO membership does not open automatically and there are no short-cuts leading to it. This is a merit-based process.
Some of our partners aspire to join our Alliance. That aspiration has inspired important reforms, and important steps towards regional cooperation and reconciliation. It has moved us closer to our goal of a Europe whole, free and at peace. But there is still a way to go if we are to ensure a continent whole, free and at peace. This is Europe’s unfinished business.