NATO mission is to ensure the health crisis does not become a security crisis

Royal Air Force Air Chief Marshall Sir Stuart Peach opened today’s virtual meeting of the alliance’s 30 chiefs of defense to discuss the response to COVID-19 and all the other aspects of security in which the military alliance is involved. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is attending the virtual meeting from the Pentagon.

Peach said the unprecedented virtual meeting demonstrates “that despite the challenging times that we are all currently facing, the core mission of NATO continues unchanged: to deliver credible and effective deterrence and defense.” Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Baltic air policing and NATO’s forward battlegroups are all on the table for the alliance military leaders.

NATO is not a primary first responder to the pandemic, but it is doing its part, Peach said. “Allies are standing together and acting together in solidarity,” he noted in his opening remarks. “Allied national armed forces are supporting national civilian efforts and are playing a key role in slowing the pandemic.”

Military forces from across the alliance have flown more than 100 missions to transport medical personnel, supplies and treatment capabilities, he said. Military forces have also facilitated the construction of field hospitals adding tens of thousands of treatment beds.

“So our alliance is helping to get the right support to the right place, at the right time,” he said. “Helping our nations, our allies, save lives. This is also a time when our resilience is being tested.”

Security challenges have not diminished because of COVID-19. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said many times since the virus made its appearance, that it is important that NATO ensures the health crisis does not become a security crisis.

“So while we continue to take all the necessary measures to protect our armed forces, our operational readiness remains undiminished: Our forces are ready, vigilant and prepared to respond to any threat,” Peach said.

The chiefs will discuss the situation in Afghanistan. Following Afghan peace negotiations, the alliance agreed to reduce its troop presence in the nation to 12,000. “At the same time, our mission continues to train, assist and advise the Afghan security forces,” the air chief marshal said. “We maintain our current configuration, with our headquarters in Kabul and four regional commands.”

NATO priorities are to create the conditions for peace, to protect NATO troops and ensure that Afghanistan will not once again become a safe haven for international terrorists, he said. “The chiefs of defense will discuss the importance of preserving the gains achieved in the last 19 years and any possible future engagement with Afghanistan,” he said.

NATO also has a mission in Iraq, and the chiefs will discuss ways “to continue to strengthen the capacity of the Iraqi forces, so that they can defend Iraq’s sovereignty and fight against our common enemy, ISIS,” he said.

The chiefs will also look at ways to “explore additional avenues to fight terrorism, build stability and expand NATO’s role in the wider region,” Peach said. The chiefs will also discuss ongoing work on the concept for deterrence and defense of the Euro-Atlantic area and to develop the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept.

The alliance is looking to the future to ensure that the almost 1 billion people in the Euro-Atlantic region have a credible, coherent and resilient deterrence and defense posture.

Finally, the chiefs will address NATO’s role within the response to the COVID-19 crisis and the opportunities to further support allies, partners and countries in need, Peach said.