NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has warned that Covid-19 will cause ‘severe consequences’ for member states economies and defence budgets.
Speaking during the release of NATO’s Annual Report, Stoltenberg said: “It is clear that there will be severe economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis. And at least in the short term, there will also be severe consequences, not only for the total economy, but also for government budgets.
“When we speak about the long-term consequences, that is too early to say anything with certainty about what the long-term consequences will be.”
Despite this, Stoltenberg said that in the face of an uncertain world, he expected member states would continue to invest more in defence and security spending, adding that he expected countries to ‘stay committed’ to their current defence spending targets.
Stoltenberg explained: “We have to remember that when NATO Allies decided to invest more in defence, they did so because we live in a more uncertain, more unpredictable world, and therefore we need to invest more in defence. This has not changed. So, I expect Allies to stay committed to investing more in our security.”
Stoltenberg added that investments in security often paid off in crisis situations citing how Armed Forces provide ‘surge capacity for all our societies’ when it comes to responding to natural disasters and other crisis.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread a number of NATO member countries have called upon their armed forces to support civilian authorities, provide medical assistance and logistics capabilities.
Yesterday, the UK’s Ministry of Defence announced that it was readying an additional 10,000 personnel for its ‘COVID support force’ and will begin training 100 personnel to drive oxygen tankers to support the NHS next week.
In his speech, unveiling the report, Stoltenberg said that the Covid-19 pandemic faced NATO with ‘an unprecedented crisis’ but that NATO had ‘overcome crises before’. Stoltenberg’s conference on the report was held online for the first time due to social distancing measures, NATO this week also suspended media access to its HQ in Brussels.
In response to the Pandemic, NATO has also looked to modify a number of exercises, but Stoltenberg said this did not affect the organisation’s ability to act if needed.
The US has already made modifications to exercise Defender Europe that would have seen 20,000 troops deployed to Europe.