The NATO Festival’s “Resilience” theme fits perfectly with Norfolk – The Virginian-Pilot
The theme of this year’s Norfolk NATO Festival from April 28th to May 8th could not be better for reflecting on the threats and aspirations of our time: resilience.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization – a 30-nation collective security alliance – is once again proving its resilience against a brutal oppressor while standing strongly for the supremacy of democracy in our modern world.
Resilience also shapes the history and future of Norfolk, which is home to the only NATO command centers in North America – Allied Command Transformation and Joint Force Command Norfolk. Just as NATO has withstood adversity and risen to the challenge, so has Norfolk.
NATO was established in 1949 to deter Soviet aggression and any resurgence of nationalist militarism in Europe, cyber and hybrid warfare and now Russia’s unprovoked, barbaric invasion of peaceful Ukraine. Throughout its history, the multinational coalition has adapted to remain vital and steadfast, yet flexible enough to deal with shifting uncertainties.
NATO is now developing a broad approach to strengthening its resilience. The range of initiatives includes not only member states’ militaries, but also many aspects of civilian government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and civil preparedness. The work included the Interdependency in Resilience Conference that I co-hosted in Norfolk in April 2019, which aimed to “improve understanding of civilian/military cooperation in preparation for hybrid/counterterrorism events.” As the now-retired German admiral Manfred Nielson said at the time, “Resilience is the first line of defense and we will only survive together.”
A 2020 NATO document – “Strengthened Resilience Commitment” – underscores what is at stake. It states, among other things: “The foundation of our resilience lies in our shared commitment to the principles of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
Norfolk’s own resilience has been proven throughout its existence. Our city and citizens have weathered natural and man-made disasters and a range of existential threats, but have always bounced back and prospered. Our history includes the widespread arson of Norfolk during the American Revolution, the threat posed by the British military during the War of 1812, the yellow fever epidemic of 1855, the Civil War, the long cruel rule of Jim Crow apartheid, devastating hurricanes that battered our streets flooded, and a state-sanctioned policy of massive resistance that closed public schools instead of allowing for peaceful integration. Time and time again, Norfolk residents and their leaders have worked together to rebuild our community and its institutions, making them stronger and more inclusive. As my predecessor as mayor, Paul D. Fraim, explained in 2016, “Resilience is in our DNA!”
In recent years, Norfolk, like NATO, has developed strategies for the future. We even have an Office of Resilience that coordinates our proactive work. People usually hear about our resilience plans and activities in relation to the rising sea level challenge. However, Norfolk’s resilience strategies also include enhancing economic opportunity through the growth of new and existing industrial sectors and driving initiatives to connect communities, deconcentrate poverty and strengthen neighborhoods.
Maintaining and improving resilience takes hard work – for NATO, through the continued commitment of all its member states; for Norfolk through the participation of many citizens, civic and faith organizations, business and non-profit sectors and educational institutions. Democracy itself becomes more resilient through such participation.
So when we do the Norfolk NATO Festival this spring, let’s have fun. But let’s also celebrate the commitment to resilience – that of NATO and Norfolk – and the future of our precious democracy.
Kenneth Cooper Alexander, Ph.D.is Mayor of the City of Norfolk.