NATO is a community of values, united in their commitment to parliamentary democracy, individual freedoms, human rights and the rule of law. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, composed of national members of parliament from all 29 NATO member countries is not just a forum for discussion, but a tangible embodiment of NATO’s democratic values.
Independent from NATO, the Assembly has no direct role of oversight over NATO policies. However, it provides an additional platform for parliaments to influence decision-making in areas relevant to NATO both at the national and international levels.
NATO is an intergovernmental organisation. As such, its policies are adopted by the 29 governments of the Alliance represented in the North Atlantic Council (NAC), NATO’s main political decision-making body.
Securing parliamentary and public support for these decisions is essential. Parliaments play a crucial role in ensuring transparent and accountable decision-making in all fields of policy, including security and defence. While constitutional arrangements vary from country to country, parliaments traditionally provide oversight of defence budgets and of the armed forces, and authorize expenditure and deployments abroad. As representatives of the people, parliamentarians also play a key role in building consensus, and generating and sustaining public support for decisions affecting national defence.
In an increasingly unpredictable security environment, and as armed forces are called upon to take on new missions, this task becomes more challenging but also more important. In times of economic and budgetary constraints, parliaments are also increasingly called upon to make difficult choices about the allocation of public funds, and explain them to citizens.
Through its work and activities, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly better equips legislators for national debates on issues relevant to NATO, thereby helping strengthen the capacity of parliaments to play this vital role of oversight. Assembly discussions and debates make an important contribution to the development of the consensus among member countries that must underpin Alliance policies, and help make the workings and policies of the Alliance more transparent and comprehensible to parliaments and their publics. It acts as a permanent reminder that intergovernmental decisions reached within NATO are ultimately dependent on political endorsement in accordance with the due constitutional process of democratically elected parliaments.
By bringing together legislators from across the Alliance, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly exposes members of parliament to other national perspectives on key defence and security issues, and helps them better understand the concerns and priorities of their counterparts in other parliaments.
A unique dimension of the Assembly's activities is the transatlantic link it provides between North American and European legislators. The role of the United States Congress in the formulation of US foreign and defence policy, as well as ongoing discussions about fair burden-sharing within the Alliance, has made this link an extremely important feature of the Assembly's work. The Assembly provides many opportunities for North American and European parliamentarians to discuss their concerns, interests, and differences.
Furthermore, in fulfilling its goals the NATO PA provides governments with an indication of collective parliamentary opinion on Alliance issues, in this sense playing an indirect but important role in policy formation.
NATO increasingly engages with partners in addressing common security challenges. It has development a broad network of partners from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, to the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East and the Pacific. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly serves as an important channel for dialogue and engagement with the parliaments of these nations, and its partnership programmes and activities help to dispel the widespread misperceptions about what the Alliance actually represents. The Assembly also directly supports those parliaments actively seeking Alliance membership by providing assistance in the development of parliamentary mechanisms, practices and 'know how' essential for the effective democratic control of armed forces. Indeed, NATO membership is not just about military standards of preparedness and interoperability. The strengthening of democratic institutions, respect for the rule of law and fundamental principles, are essential elements in Allies’ decision to accept new members into the Alliance, and therefore constitute a key focus of the Assembly’s own engagement with those countries aspiring to membership.
The Assembly was created independently from NATO and is institutionally separate from the NATO structure. Nevertheless, the Assembly serves as an essential link between NATO and the parliaments of the NATO nations. On this basis, the Assembly has progressively developed an active and wide-ranging cooperation with NATO's political and military authorities.
Thus, its leading decision-making body, the Standing Committee, meets annually with the Secretary General and the Permanent Representatives to the North Atlantic Council (NAC) at NATO headquarters to exchange views on the state of the Alliance and to give legislators an opportunity to share their perspectives directly with members of the NAC.
The NATO Secretary General addresses members of the Assembly at the Spring and Autumn Sessions as well as at other events throughout the year; he also provides a written response to the policy recommendations passed by the Assembly at its Autumn Session.
The Assembly’s Presidents in turn address Summit meetings of NATO Heads of State and Government to present the Assembly’s view on the key issues on the Alliance’s agenda.
Cooperation with partners is the most visible expression of the synergy between NATO and the Assembly’s work. The Assembly’s partnership activities strengthen and complement at the parliamentary level NATO’s own partnerships. In particular, the Assembly has developed dedicated frameworks for relations with Ukraine, Georgia, as well as parliaments in North Africa and the Middle East, which mirror NATO’s own partnerships with these countries and regions. Until 2014, the Assembly also had a special body dedicated to relations with Russia.
Throughout any given year, the Assembly organises several joint activities with NATO, such as seminars and training programmes for parliamentarians or parliamentary staff. The staff of the NATO PA Secretariat in Brussels enjoys strong and productive relations with their counterparts at NATO.
The Assembly’s relations with NATO are based on mutual recognition that Alliance policies need to rely on broad national consensus in member countries, and that parliaments are key players in this regard, and essential channels to citizens. Through this positive partnership, NATO and the Assembly also demonstrate that NATO is an Alliance based on shared values, and which aims to strengthen democratic institutions, as stated in article 2 of the Washington Treaty, according to which [t]he Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any or all of them.