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NATO chief urges more self-sufficiency in medical stocks

AFP , Tuesday 14 Apr 2020
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a news conference during a NATO defence minister meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 14, 2019. REUTERS
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NATO countries need to learn lessons from the coronavirus crisis by looking at boosting national stocks of medical equipment to avoid over-reliance on outside suppliers, the alliance's chief said Tuesday.

"We have to look into the issues of the supply of medical equipment and protective suits, medicines and all that kind of stuff. And also ask questions like: are we too dependent on production coming from outside?" Jens Stoltenberg said in a videolink media conference.

"National resilience in NATO's responsibility," he said. "All of these issues -- resilience, national resilience including ensuring we have the necessary medical equipment -- will be part of the lesson-learning process after this crisis."

Stoltenberg spoke a day before NATO defence ministers were to hold a videoconference focused on the consequences of the pandemic.

He said the talks would aim to boost support between member states, particularly by identifying spare capacity in supplies and in military transport to get medical gear to where it was needed.

He also touched upon the likely impact the coronavirus crisis would have on defence spending among the alliance's member states whose economies were projected to shrink, but said it was "too soon" to tally the fallout.

In any case, he insisted, the challenges NATO faced before the crisis had not gone away and still needed to confronted.

"There is still a terrorist threat out there. There are threats in cyberspace. And we see the global power shift with the rise of China, and we see a more assertive Russia."

The US ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, backed Stoltenberg on a resilience drive by member countries, suggesting the warehousing of non-perishable supplies and matching that with air or land transport capabilities.

She also expressed concern that adversaries could seek to exploit the crisis.

"It could be a security crisis if we let down on our defences and deterrent activities," she said.

Disinformation campaigns she alleged were being mounted by Beijing or Moscow to falsely claim the novel coronavirus started in the US or Europe, instead of China, were part of current hostilities, Bailey Hutchison said.

"This is one of the areas where we are asking all of our allies to push back with the facts. NATO will do the same," she said.

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