Kiska at NATO2020: We need trust, solidarity and resolve

On Wednesday, President Andrej Kiska addressed the NATO2020 conference with a speech on security challenges ahead of Warsaw Summit:

“Exactly one week ago, the nine Central and Eastern European countries — members of NATO — met in Bucharest. Personally, I am not a fan of creating blocks inside the blocks. Especially in this kind of alliance that our security critically depends on. An alliance which stands and falls around the old principle of one for all, all for one.

But we all understand why such a platform of Central and Eastern European countries had occurred more than year ago, just ahead of the last year’s NATO summit in Wales. It was a reaction to the annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine. Dangerous events which multiple countries of eastern flank of NATO naturally identified and still consider an imminent threat to their security.

I think it’s important to understand this new phenomenon and new reality for NATO itself and for its member states. We have to reflect and understand that after the years when possible threats were geographically and mentally far away, we entered a different era. A New kinds of risks have appeared— in the East and in the South. These risks persist and will exist. Risks, which are not perceived as an imminent threat equally by all member states and their citizens. This is quite a new situation for all members. Regardless of how big or small they are, regardless of their place on the map or how long they have been members of the Alliance.

This new situation is not a challenge only for military strategic planners. It is a profound political and psychological challenge. Because the single most importantand historically verified purpose of NATO is not only its capacity to defend sovereignty of members states by military force. But it´s also our ability to deter anyone who would like to think about testing their own capacity.

If the Alliance is about to remain steady on both pillars — political and military — it needs to stand strong not only as a whole, but in every member country specifically. Threats which are felt let’s say in Tallinn needs to be clearly understood in Bratislava or Barcelona. We cannot pretend as if NATO is some sort of foreign abstract entity. That it is some sort of a winter coat that we can put on when it is cold and forget about it when the spring comes in.

Quite the opposite — we have to remind ourselves and our citizens that Article 5 means us, the Allies, need to stand ready, to be able and willing to defend each other.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To remain strong, we need trust, we need solidarity and we need resolve. All these together create a credible deterrence. Let me touch upon each of them:

First, Trust. Our deterrence is only as strong as our belief in each other. And when I talk about trust, I don't mean some irrational emotion. I mean a specific belief that Allies are prepared, able and willing to come and help. This trust does not just happen. It has to be earned. Earned by investing in security and by keeping the promises. It is the deeds not words that count here.

If we have this trust, we send a clear signal of our strength that everyone can read. It's this trust what makes us stand firm and keep our hands free to face anyone who wants to challenge our values and security of our citizens. If we have this trust, we will have no difficulties to define our relations even with the most complicated partners.

To stand firm we need to win the trust of our publics. Yes, the overall figures of public support are quite positive. But they can't give us a reason not to do more in those countries, including Slovakia, where the support is less convincing.

I am afraid it’s a result of poor communication with our people. Providing security for the citizens is an essential task for every functioning state. However, it is neither easy nor popular to call for more defense spending when the public doesn't feel the urgency. Or to send our soldiers on missions. But it is unacceptable not to communicate or even not to act in order to preserve the some short-term political gains.

The only remedy is to be honest with our public. I understand the concerns of our citizens, having a specific historic experience with foreign troops in Slovakia. But if we speak about NATO, we need to make clear — since 2004, our soldiers have been NATO soldiers. And our bases are NATO bases.

We, the politicians, are expected to explain. To make people understand we care for their security. And this is not a one day business. This must be our long-term strategy. If we do our job properly, it will be much easier to fight propaganda. To counter disinformation. If we fail to talk to our own people, others will do it for us. And we may not like the results.

Second key ingredient: solidarity. It doesn't matter how well we are prepared, if we are not willing to act. And to act, we need to understand each other. Because we, the Allies, are different, as are our concerns, mentalities and histories.

Our strength is in our unity. To act together, even if our immediate interests are not involved. If we show little solidarity with others in problems such as refugee crisis, can we expect the solidarity with us if we need it? Can we expect a Spanish farmer, Canadian fisherman or Portuguese wine maker to risk their comfort just for our concerns?

Especially, if we can't show enough empathy even in our region — to understand the concerns of our Romanian, Polish or Baltic friends? But our security is built on solidarity. On understanding each other’s needs and on doing things for each other. If we don't we only undermine our own security.

And finally, resolve. Today, more than one year after the Wales Summit we can say we have shown enough resolve to act. That is a good start. At the next summit in Warsaw, NATO's adaptation needs to continue. We need to have the right kind of presence, in the right places, and in the right time. If needed — all the time.

We need to listen closely to our experts. It should be the expertise, not the political taste that shapes our decisions. If the experts call for more measures to strengthen eastern or southern border, we should respect them.

We, the Allies, need to continue to show our autonomy and sovereignty. If we deem necessary to implement new policies, or to continue the current ones, we should not hesitate. No third parties' concerns or no lucrative business deals can ever have place here.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Security is not a one-time affair — when it suits us or is unavoidable. It is a life-time relationship. It will only reward us, if we invest in it. If we respect it, if we care for it, and if we know the price of losing it. Those who experienced wars, conflicts or instability know this price best. The people in the Western Balkans, Georgians, Ukrainians, but also Afghans, Syrians and people elsewhere suffering from inhumanity, radicalism or arrogant power politics.

If we understand the true value of trust, solidarity and resolve, we can't fail. We can't fail to protect our freedom, democracy and stability for our peoples against any challenges. But each of us needs to start at home, to make security the business of our every-day lives.