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Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană

The Hill's Steve Clemons talks to NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană about the broad national security picture today in the coronavirus era.

Excerpts from the interview below: 

On whether NATO concocted the novel coronavirus: 

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NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană: I think the myth-busters have a lot of work to do. Of course, there was misinformation. Fake news. All sorts of conspiracy theories. But we have seen an increase of such attempts to discredit what we do. Of course, it is false, but it is not only false. It's so low in terms of trying to portray a serious organization like ours or the nations in the Democratic West as being able to think of something like this, less so to operate something like this, is just an outright lie. And we've seen indeed, as you mentioned earlier, a significant increase in disinformation campaigns, in misinformation, in fake news, in hybrid, in cyber. So as a defense security organization, we have to make sure that, one, we show solidarity with our members and the 1 billion citizens that are under the NATO flag, 30 NATO allies, 1 billion people. Our first job for the last 71 years is to keep peace and to really have our citizens operate free and well and out of harm's way. The second thing that we have to do is to make sure that our adversaries, our rivals, state and nonstate alike, are not tempted to use and abuse this pandemic to transform a health problem into a security problem. 

 

Clemons: NATO is a membership organization, and many of your members have had a tough time with COVID-19, including the U.S., Italy and Spain. How are you navigating this?

Geoană: It’s normal, psychologically and politically, for nations to try in the first stage of such a massive shock to turn a bit inwards and look after your citizens. In fact, that's what governments are supposed to be doing, to defend the citizens they are supposed to defend and represent. So, the first stage was a little bit more inward looking. But as we moved a little bit more from this initial stage, we have seen here in NATO a remarkable sense of solidarity reemerging. We've seen help to Italy coming from the U.S. Today, as we speak, a new contingent of Slovak medical doctors, civilian and I think also military, are going to the rescue of our Italian friends and allies. Medical doctors and nurses from Albania, from Romania, are going to Italy and to Spain. We've seen, as you mentioned in the numbers, a significant increase of inter-allied support. Of course, we don't have as NATO our own assets, per se. It's still the government's, but because we are so good in logistics, in strategic airlift, in command and control, allies prefer sometimes to use NATO because our efficiency is well proven in different crises. We are also very good in what we call in generic terms, resilience. We have basic requirements, baseline requirements for many of the components of our economic and social fabric in our nations that NATO is very good in doing this — in infrastructure, in energy security, in civilian-civil military cooperation, in emergency situations. As we speak inside NATO, we are already beginning an upgrade of our resilience package, making sure that we also move to the first stage, which is not only a gradual economic reopening of activities and a gradual return to normal life, but also a process of lessons learned because this is a pandemic. This is a major shock that has impact on us and serious governments and serious organizations like the one in the political West and also inside the world community — they're drawing lessons on what we should do next to be better prepared and respond together.

 

Clemons: I've been watching with admiration stories about the Czech airlift of a million masks to North Macedonia, NATO air lifting supplies like ventilators and masks to places like Spain, the coordination and the response centers, the hospital tents, all of the kinds of things that that you've been putting forward. In contrast, the U.S. has had tremendous logistics and supplies difficulties. Is the United States playing a constructively positive role in NATO’s logistics picture because it doesn't feel that we're doing that well for ourselves here in the United States?

Geoană: This is a moment of pride for us. We see in all ally nations and also in many countries around the world, in these very difficult moments, our military personnel coming to the forefront of our common obligation to defeat and fight this damn virus. We see tens of thousands of military personnel from all 30 NATO allies helping in putting themselves in harm's way alongside civilian medical personnel, making sure that this infection — that even sometimes helping the local police or the national police or gendarmerie in some cases in Europe. They're really stepping up their game. We're very proud of our military, of course, of the ones who continue to be in our missions and operations all over Europe and also in the theaters I just mentioned, but also in our nations. My country Romania. I'm coming from Romania. I was ambassador to Washington. You mentioned my days in Washington. I still remember with great, great fondness and love that period of time. For my nation, the United States has given additional flying hours for the NATO strategic airlift, the C-7 big transport airplanes, professional military airplanes that belong to NATO. But nations basically control the number of flight hours that can be used for those planes. The U.S. came to the rescue of Romania. Defense Secretary [Mark] Esper, in our defense ministerial meeting, by secure communication lines just last week mentioned the fact that this is happening. We're not in the business of telling nations what to do domestically — and even less so to get into domestic politics, especially in an election year in one country or another. But what I'm saying, NATO is not the first responder. We're not supposed to be doing that, But the moment there is a need for our logistics, for our command and control, for our military personnel to step up our game and be there when our citizens need us most, I think this test is about to be passed in very good conditions by our organization. Of course, there are lots of things that are not under control. There are economic, social, other components of this crisis. But when it comes to national resilience, to lead by example, including the U.S. I have a regular weekly conference call of coordination with the U.S. under the U.S. initiative with many allies — and also with the European Union. We coordinate and I don't see here a lack of American leadership. We just see an immensely complicated problem that has to be addressed in conditions of duress, of stress. And, of course, sometimes with politics coming to the forefront. But that's the charm of democracies. I would not like to live in a dictatorship, I lived for half of my life in communist Romania. Thank you, no. Never again. So I prefer sometimes a democratic, tough conversation instead of having a top down heavy arm of the state telling me what to do.

 

Clemons: You and I have talked in the past about which global powers are behaving and which global powers are misbehaving. And I'm interested in your view from Brussels and NATO headquarters. What is Russia doing right now? Are their nations trying to exploit this moment and how is NATO responding?

Geoană: Listen, great power competition and competition in general is the name of the game since the beginning of human society being organized, and it will continue as long as you live on this planet — or probably on different planets. But what it is very important to know is that such difficult circumstances should not be used and abused to really advance your narrow, selfish interest in moments of such difficulty. Of course, as I mentioned, there is a natural tendency to look inwards and to look after your own citizens and your national interests. But I personally believe, and we do believe that this volume, this combination of disinformation, fake news, conspiracy theories combined with some form of soft power propaganda — what can we call mask diplomacy. Or the Belt and Silk Road Initiative. Again, we cannot tell nations not to really, you know, play cards and play ball in such situations. But I think this is very detrimental to engage in such operations. And there is a deliberate, continuous and now upgraded effort, especially by Russia, also sometimes by China, to really use this difficult moment to seed discord, mistrust and to weaken our political democratic system in the political West. This is something that we have to fight back. This is something that we are fighting back.