NATO foreign ministers, including that of Estonia, met on Thursday via a video link, discussing the coronavirus pandemic, its effects, and counter measures, noting that the current health crisis should not take on a security dimension as well.
Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said the coronavirus crisis is civilian in nature, but as it affects all the allies, is a worth topic for discussion between NATO foreign minister.
"Even during the coronavirus crisis, a military-political organization like NATO must remain vigilant in order to fulfil its core mission: to ensure the protection and deterrence provided by NATO," Reinsalu said of the meeting, according to a foreign ministry press release.
"It is essential that troops involved in NATO operations and missions be able to operate. Although there are exercises that have been missed or terminated prematurely due to the crisis, there must be no change to NATO capabilities."
The meeting of NATO foreign ministers had two notable firsts, the foreign ministry said. It was the first time North Macedonia participated, having become a NATO member only last week, and was the first time such a meeting had been conducted via video link-up.
The security situation in Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Mediterranean were also on the table, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects.
Kyllike Sillaste-Elling, Estonia's Permanent Representative to NATO, added that preparations for a possible health crisis began at the alliance's headquarters in January.
"NATO headquarters in Brussels, which normally employs almost 5,000 people, will continue to work with a reduced staff despite the emergency. There are fewer meetings taking place, but a North Atlantic Council meeting is held once a week to discuss the most important issues," Sillaste-Elling said.
Urmas Reinsalu highlighted the need to remain alert lest hostile powers attempt to exploit the pandemic.
"In the shadow of such crises, there is a greater risk of hostile information operations, and even during this crisis we have seen how calling the unity of the allies into question might be sought through the dissemination of disinformation," said Reinsalu.
"I can assure you that NATO Allies are taking their responsibilities seriously, and that routine work in emergencies takes place on a daily basis."
The ministers decided on the adaptation of NATO's mission in Iraq, guidelines for NATO's activities in the Middle East, complement cooperation with Georgia and Ukraine, and confirmed the mandate of the NATO Reflection Group. The ministers also adopted a joint statement.
The agenda also includes the provision of humanitarian assistance, the spread of disinformation, supporting third countries and finding innovative digital solutions to solving the crisis.
Urmas Reinsalu is also to take part in an informal video conference with EU foreign ministers on Friday, also discussing various aspects of the coronavirus, including in providing consular assistance and efforts to mitigate transport issues, the foreign ministry said in a press release Friday.
Editor: Andrew Whyte