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“We need both at the same time: to fight COVID-19, but also address the other threats and challenges which we are facing,” Stoltenberg added, referring to the shifting global balance of power with the rise of China and a more assertive Russia.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, China has been practising ‘mask diplomacy’, while Russia made attempts to change the country’s narrative across the bloc.
Asked whether this is a source of concern to NATO, Stoltenberg said NATO members need “to take seriously any attempt to utilise the health crisis to convey false narratives, disinformation and propaganda”.
“The best response we have to disinformation is a free and independent press. Journalists asking the difficult questions, journalists checking their sources. That’s the best way to make sure that those who are trying to convey disinformation campaigns don’t succeed,“ he added.
Meanwhile, Europe is set to face a severe recession after the pandemic is over and this will put a heavy strain on national budgets. Asked whether NATO will be willing to reconsider the national contributions to the 2% defence spending target, Stoltenberg said that currently “everyone is focused on how to save lives and that’s the main task”.
Stoltenberg emphasised that NATO’s military capabilities are also relevant in dealing with a health crisis, which is why defence spending can “provide the civil society with a surged capability that can be utilised in crises like these” in which “military personnel is helping health workers on the front-line all the time”.
At the same time, a dedicated EU military task force will be set up to support the coordination of national armed forces in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. However, it is unclear whether and how efforts could be coordinated on EU-NATO level to avoid duplication.