Thank you very much for the invitation to again speak at Citadel on a very important topic today: “Countering 21st Century threats.”
But before I begin my prepared remarks, I would like to take a moment to express my condolences and sympathies to those who admired King Michael of Romania. In the past century there have been many acts of courage by many Romanians but when you look at particularly the years 1944 to 1947, I think it will be hard to identify a Romanian who was more courageous, more determined, more patriotic than King Michael; from his role in the coup of August 1944, to his determined effort to ensure the freedom of Romania and to provide a bulwark against the consolidation of Communist rule that occurred after the conclusion of hostilities in 1945 though his abdication in December 1947 there was really … I shouldn’t say no other but certainly his contribution to that effort was certainly exemplary to many who have looked at history or that part of the history of Europe and Romania.
With that let me begin by stating in Europe today we face threats – and Professor Naumescu you did a wonderful job in previewing the topics. I would like to touch on this morning – we face threats from multiple directions. We have a revanchist Russia to the east, which is destabilizing European security and is attempting to alter borders by force in Ukraine. Russia is also becoming quite innovative when it comes to deploying new types of warfare, including information, cyber, and hybrid modalities. We have threats from the south, especially in the form of extremist Islamic terrorism, exacerbated by the conflicts in Syria, Libya and Iraq.
There are challenges coming from within Europe as well, such as Brexit, the rise of extremist ideologies, and the burden being placed on Schengen and the EU as a result of hundreds of thousands of refugees who have come to Europe. Then, there are also threats that do not necessarily come from a particular nation state, but can come from a single person or a small group of like-minded individuals. These threats include lone-wolf terrorism, organized crime, and cyber attacks.
A resurgent Russia willing to use conventional and unconventional force to achieve its political and military objectives is something that should be a concern to all NATO Allies and partners. NATO has taken many steps since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis to enhance its deterrence and defensive posture towards Russia. In addition, the Kremlin’s use of hybrid warfare, which has increased in sophistication since its intervention in Georgia in 2008, is very concerning. In particular, several Allies, especially Romania, have serious concerns about Russia’s influence and intentions in the Republic of Moldova, where an estimated 2,000 Russian troops are still deployed in Transnistria.
Also of concern is Russia’s employment of hybrid warfare, especially through the cyber and information domains. Cyber warfare is different from cyberattacks, such as malicious hacking or cybercrime. While cyberattacks can be orchestrated by terrorists, organized criminal elements, or even individual hackers, cyber warfare is conducted to advance a state’s geo-political goals. Regardless of the motivation, these types of attacks can be devastating, especially to states that have digitized much of their critical infrastructure. Our greatest challenge in dealing with cyberattacks is that, due to the relative anonymity of the Internet, it is often difficult to determine who is responsible for an attack or their motivations.
In addition to the misuse of cyber, Russia has conducted continuous propaganda and disinformation campaigns, in an attempt to create confusion and advance the Kremlin’s strategic agenda. Of course, this is not a new threat to Europe. We saw it often during the Cold War, but there has been a considerable increase in its use over the past few years. It is clear this is one of Russia’s preferred methods for sowing discord and disunity among NATO Allies and others it considers adversaries. Taking advantage of our open societies and democratic systems, Russia seeks to influence public opinion, and often elections, by propagating fake news via state-owned or state-supported media outlets, such as Russia TV and Sputnik, and via social media.
In some places, like Romania, where the population is wary of Russian motives, Kremlin tactics are more subtle. Instead of trying to persuade the targeted public to support Russian policies, they try to break the population’s trust in institutions like the EU, NATO, or our Strategic Partnership.
A different threat, terrorism, will remain a challenge to the U.S., Europe, and the world for some time. Nearly every NATO Ally has been exposed to the scourge of terrorism in one form or another over the last decade or more.
Failed and weak states are also a risk to Europe. They can harbor terrorists and criminal elements, while also creating other thorny international problems, like piracy and large refugee flows. The situation in Syria poses one such challenge, with the country weakened by years of violence and civil war, resulting in massive refugee flows the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War II.
Finally, Europe faces threats from states that have isolated themselves from the international community by their refusal to abide by international norms. These states, like North Korea – as Professor Naumescu mentioned – seek to obtain weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems in order possibly to blackmail the international community into easing their isolation or to enact revenge against those they believe have caused their suffering.
Having reviewed some potential threats to the Alliance, what are NATO, the United States, and Romania doing to prepare for and counter these threats?
First, regarding conventional threats to Eastern Europe, the United States and NATO have taken steps to reassure our eastern Allies that the Article 5 commitment by the United States to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is ironclad. At the Wales Summit in 2014, we created a Readiness Action Plan to help us rapidly deploy forces anywhere in the Alliance.
NATO created new institutions – such as Force Integration Units – in each of the eastern flank states, the Multinational Corps Headquarters in Poland, the Multinational Division Headquarters-South East in Romania and other actions. NATO also created the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, a spearhead force of around 5,000 troops that can deploy anywhere within the Alliance on short notice.
At the 2016 Warsaw summit, NATO leaders decided it was important to do more to bring additional deterrent value to the eastern flank. In the northeast part of the Alliance, NATO established four “enhanced Forward Presence” battalions in Poland and the Baltic states each led by a “framework” nation. The United States has the lead for a new battalion in Poland, and Romania sent a Ground Based Aerial Defense company to help protect U.S. forces there.
In the southeast, NATO created what is known as “tailored Forward Presence.” Romania dedicated an entire brigade from its Land Forces to form the core of a multinational brigade. To date, Poland has committed to sending a company of infantry soldiers to this new brigade. Bulgaria and Portugal have affiliated a battalion of troops that will travel to Romania once a year for training and exercises. NATO also established an air policing element that was fulfilled this year by the UK, Canada, and Portugal, and a maritime coordination element for the Black Sea that will be based out of the NATO Maritime Command in Northwood, UK.
Apart from NATO’s actions, the United States is also stepping up on its own to assist. In addition to the new NATO battalion in Poland, the United States has returned a third brigade combat team to Europe, this time an armored one, to be deployed to eastern flank states on a persistent, rotational basis. A battalion of this brigade is currently deployed to Mihail Kogalniceanu military base. Several times a year this brigade will come together as a cohesive unit to train and exercise, demonstrating to any potential adversary that we have the ability to quickly coalesce our forces across national boundaries to meet any contingency.
Following closely to enhancing NATO’s deterrence and defense posture, which has to be the top security priority for all Allies, is defending against internal meddling from an adversary via propaganda and disinformation.
Over the past few years, Russia has been conducting disinformation campaigns against NATO Allies in order to achieve its primary geo-political goals. It has strengthened extremist movements and political parties; supported separatist movements; sought to undermine public confidence in our governments; and exploited cultural, ethnic, and religious differences between and within our countries, often by using misleading or blatantly false rhetoric. All of these things were done with the goal of weakening individual member states of NATO and the Alliance as a whole.
Defending against propaganda and disinformation is difficult, especially in democracies like ours that cherish freedom of expression. NATO Allies are focused on building resilience in our people and institutions to withstand such nonconventional threats.
Corruption, as Professor Naumescu mentioned, is one such nonconventional threat. Building resilience therefore includes maintaining and strengthening a judicial system capable of fighting corruption. The U.S. government has noted our concern about legislative proposals here in Romania that were originally put forward by the Minister of Justice and are currently being debated in the Romanian Parliament. Romania’s own judicial institutions, professional associations, civil society, and ordinary citizens, the EU and the governments of several EU member states have also expressed their concerns about these draft laws.
Secretary of State Tillerson just last week in a speech looking broadly at the defense of Europe said:
“Rule of law and representative governments are empty shells when detached from a vibrant civil society and a deep respect for certain self-evident truths. We can win every great geopolitical struggle, but if we are not perennially vigilant of our own behavior, our own people may lose in the long run. The preservation of Western ideals depends on how willing we are to protect the core truths upon which our political and economic freedoms are based.”
In our view, over the last decade and more, Romania has been increasingly credible in its fight against corruption, including, and very importantly, in establishing an independent judiciary. We must defend the shared democratic values that are the bedrock of NATO, and the strength of any government seeking the confidence of its citizens. The preservation of judicial independence built over the last 15 years in Romania reassures the Romanian people and other NATO Allies – this is very important, this reassurance also extends internationally – of Romania’s resilience, strength, and dependability.
In addition to building resilience, we must also not cede the information space to our adversaries. We must be proactive in our efforts to let our populations know exactly what we are doing and why it is important. Waiting for false narratives to develop and then working to challenge them is a losing strategy.
Propaganda is often spread when obscure websites post false information that finds its way into Facebook and other social media feeds before breaking through into the main stream media. By that time however, there is public confusion as to what is true, a key goal of those who create the propaganda.
Some will claim that we are at a disadvantage, since our opponents are not bound by the truth and are free to engage with our populations, due to our open societies and freedom of expression laws. At the same time, our adversaries very closely control information in their own societies. What some perceive as vulnerability is, in fact, our greatest strength. It is our freedom of the press and expression that will help us win the information war. On this key point, however, it depends on the press doing its job fully, not taking the easy route and printing press releases or wire stories verbatim, especially from dubious sources that do not tell the full story. The press must dig deep, seek the truth, question everything, call out bad actors, and demand accountability from all sides. Only then can the public determine for itself, based on facts and data, what the truth is.
In this realm also, NATO has a robust public diplomacy section, which offers journalists many opportunities to learn about important security challenges facing Europe first hand. In fact, both NATO and the U.S. Mission to NATO brought journalists to Romania in July for SABER GUARDIAN, the largest U.S. Army Exercise in Europe this year. NATO has also taken measures to counter Russian propaganda by making our side of the story available in the Russian language. This not only helps us communicate with the people of the Russian Federation, but it also helps us in states like the Republic of Moldova, where a large segment of the population speaks only Russian and until now has been hearing only the Russian side of the story.
NATO has also asked its members to become more resilient to cyber warfare. Any future conventional war involving modern nation states is likely to be preceded by and conducted simultaneously with significant cyber warfare. But cyber’s flexibility and anonymity mean that its application is not limited to open war or conventional targets. Further complicating cyber defense, cyberattacks and cyber warfare are asymmetrical – they favor the attacker and allow actors with small budgets and limited infrastructure to wield oversized destructive power. Resiliency in cyber defense must therefore be an ongoing effort extending beyond the security realm to include critical infrastructure, government systems, and economic institutions. In order to assist with these efforts, NATO has established a Center of Excellence for Cyber Warfare in Estonia. In addition, some Allies are also offering assistance to others who are struggling. For example, Romania, which has relatively good cyber defense capabilities, is currently heading NATO’s Cyber Trust Fund for a NATO Partner: Ukraine.
In the fight against terrorism, NATO has a Center of Excellence for Defense against Terrorism in Ankara. Turkey’s leadership on this topic, which it unfortunately knows all too well, has been extremely helpful for all Allies. There are also things each of us can do to help build resiliency to the threat of terrorism and reduce the risk of terrorism, including taking actions to reduce the risk of radicalization in our countries; helping the marginalized, at-risk communities integrate and to find economic opportunities for all; and sharing information amongst NATO Allies.
The U.S. and NATO also offer protection against the threats of ballistic missile attacks. In Romania at Deveselu, the U.S. Government has installed an Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system and supporting infrastructure. This base defends the Alliance – the entire transatlantic community – against ballistic missiles threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area.
Let me conclude my remarks today by stressing the importance of NATO and the EU to countering contemporary challenges, and the importance of these institutions, NATO and the European Union, to the United States. As Secretary Tillerson said just last week,
“In past decades, our way of life – and by extension, our core Western principles – have been tested by the totalitarian threat of Nazism, by Soviet power and its communist ideology, by ethnic and sectarian conflicts, and by internal political pressures. Together, the U.S. and Europe have passed these tests, but we know that the United States and Europe are again tested today, and we will be tested again in the future. Yet, the United States remains committed to our enduring relationship with Europe. Our security commitments to European allies are ironclad.”
Thank you very much for your time and attention. I look forward to your questions, comments and feedback.