COLOGNE, Germany – NATO defense ministers plan to hold a secure video conference on April 15 to discuss the longer-term ramifications of the coronavirus crisis, now that many member states’ new infection rates appear to be slowing.
The virtual meeting comes as countermeasures to contain the virus's spread have largely upended international travel, making online gatherings a commonplace practice in global policymaking.
While alliance members are still mostly focused on an immediate response to the pandemic, defense ministers are expected to take stock of what dynamics they expect to result from the crisis, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters today.
“We will start the work on looking into medium- and long-term consequences,” he said, mentioning the morass of coronavirus-related disinformation and the need for nations' “resilience” to large-scale crises as two areas ripe for discussion.
Analysts in Europe have also pointed to the expectation that national defense budgets will plummet as a result of a significant global economic downturn. At the same time, potential threats emanating from a “more assertive Russia” or the rise of China on the geopolitical stage must still be managed, Stoltenberg argued.
Member states have yet to submit adjusted defense budget projections as they tackle more immediate needs in their countries. But, Stoltenberg said, “Of course there will be economic consequences from the coronavirus crisis. How severe these economic consequences will be will depend, of course, on how long the crisis will last.”
The German Council on Foreign Relations, a Berlin-based think tank, published a study this month outlining four potential paths for NATO in a post-coronavirus world. The options range anywhere from a complete breakdown of Europe's defense infrastructure to a newfound solidarity on the continent, where countries less affected by the pandemic prop up those with greater losses.
According to the study authors, careful and cooperative planning in maintaining military capabilities is paramount for NATO members to soften the blow from what could be an unprecedented shock to the alliance caused by the pandemic.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.