NATO foreign ministers have tasked the alliance’s top military officer to help boost the 30 allies’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement on April 2, after the ministers held talks by video conference -- a first in NATO's 70-year history -- because of restrictions on travel and physical interaction imposed to contain the virus.
Stoltenberg said the ministers had asked U.S. Air Force General Tod Wolters, who currently serves as NATO's supreme allied commander Europe (SACEUR), “to coordinate the necessary military support to combat the crisis, to speed up and step up assistance.”
"For instance, by identifying the airlift capacity to ensure that medical supplies are delivered, coordinating on any surplus capacity or stocks, and better matching requests for support with offers from allies and partners," Stoltenberg added.
Flights carrying equipment to help in the fight against the pandemic will be given priority in European airspace.
The ministers are to hold another video conference in mid-April to review the situation.
NATO has already helped deliver emergency supplies to its worst-hit members, such as Italy and Spain, while national armed forces are supporting domestic measures to combat the crisis.
At the same time, allies are concerned that NATO's adversaries such as Russia and terrorist groups could conduct hostile activities while member countries are focused primarily on combating COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
In a joint statement issued after their conference, the NATO ministers stressed that the allies remain ready to defend themselves against any threat.
"Our ability to conduct our operations and assure deterrence and defense against all the threats we face is unimpaired," they said.
The allies also urged the Taliban and all political actors in Afghanistan to play their part in brokering a deal that would put an end to the country’s 18-year conflict.
The ministers welcomed their 30th ally, North Macedonia, which joined the Western alliance last week.