Allied Armed Forces’ Response to COVID-19, NATO Security Partnerships in Focus at Defence and Security Committee’s Online Meeting

16 July 2020

Video of the meeting can be found at the bottom of the page

The role of NATO Allies’ armed forces in the COVID-19 pandemic is the subject of a recently published draft special report by the Defence and Security Committee (DSC) of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. According to the report, swift and decisive action by Allied militaries played a key role to mitigate the spread and impact of the COVID-19 crisis from its early days, ultimately saving many lives. Attila Mesterhazy (Hungary), President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Defence and Security Cooperation, authored the report and presented it to members of the Defence Committee from across the Alliance as well as Associate member nations during their online meeting on July 16. Also on the docket for the meeting was a report by Lara Martinho (Portugal) on NATO’s focused cooperative security outreach programme, the Defence and Related Security Capacity Building (DCB) Initiative. NATO DCB is the year-long subject of the Sub-Committee on Future Security and Defence Capabilities (DSCFC).

To date, hundreds of NATO-led missions have surged medical supplies and personnel across the Alliance in a sign of strong Allied solidarity. This whole-of-Alliance effort continues to mobilise resources to help those Allies and partners in need today; it is also tapping into the great innovative potential of the Alliance’s modern defence institutions to find the means to protect Allied populations going forward. 

NATO Allies are taking the steps necessary to plan for a potential second wave, as well as any future pandemic: Allies have agreed to increased pre-positioned equipment stocks; established an emergency fund to help Allies with emergency supply purchases; and, they have activated the Alliance’s scientific network to help find innovative solutions to virus detection, improved situational awareness, decontamination, and resilience.

In addition to documenting the critical role of coordinated Allied efforts to support each other as the virus surged across all nations of the globe, Mesterhazy also called attention to the Alliance’s continued focus on force readiness and resiliency, which is increasingly important as both Russia and China have sought to exploit the pandemic to probe for weak spots across the globe to expand their interests. Russian forces have increased their brinkmanship with NATO air, land, and sea forces in recent months, Mesterhazy reported to his colleagues, and both Russia and China have also “ruthlessly exploited today’s diverse and superabundant communication platforms to spread willful disinformation about COVID-19: Both NATO and the European Union are key targets of disinformation to strengthen Moscow and Beijing’s anti-Western agendas.”

Mesterhazy concluded his presentation by asking his fellow parliamentarians: to continue to work together to project the strength of democratic systems as the most effective means to meet their population’s interests; to increase Allied self-sufficiency to buffer against any future crises and to safeguard critical infrastructure from predatory investment efforts by external actors; to continue to strengthen NATO-EU cooperation to overcome challenges, such as with malign disinformation; to keep their focus on increased defence investments and burden sharing, as the pandemic has not only proven the vital nature of armed forces for crisis response, but also to contend with the growing number of threats in international security. 

Mesterhazy also asked his colleagues to help him formulate a parliamentarian voice to the NATO Secretary General’s reflection group, now branded as #NATO2030, as it seeks to find the ways and means to expand the Alliance’s political role.

During her presentation on the NATO DCB Initiative, DSCFC Rapporteur Lara Martinho told her colleagues that NATO’s rich and expansive cooperative security outreach programmes have been a mainstay of the Alliance’s efforts since the end of the Cold War. NATO’s bold step to extend a ‘hand of friendship’ to their former Warsaw Pact adversaries in Central and Eastern Europe started what has grown into a wide range of cooperative security outreach programmes around the globe. 

As Martinho told her colleagues: “The underlying concept of NATO’s cooperative security outreach programmes is simple: cooperation builds trust and expands the area of stability and prosperity for all involved.”

Martinho told her colleagues that the dual security shocks in 2014 in NATO’s near neighborhoods in Ukraine and in Syria and Iraq made it clear an increasing number of challenges just outside of NATO’s frontiers could have a spillover effect on Alliance security. As a result, 2014 became a window of opportunity of sorts to review and adapt NATO’s cooperative security programmes to make them a key element of NATO’s efforts to guarantee 360-degree security to its populations and project stability abroad going forward.

An important expression of this effort is a new bilateral defence capacity building effort – known as the DCB initiative. NATO’s DCB Initiative seeks to deliver tailor-made, effective defence and related security sector support backed by strong Allied political support. To date, five countries are recipients of NATO DCB packages; Georgia, Jordan, The Republic of Moldova, Iraq, and Tunisia. 

Martinho noted the imperative for NATO parliamentarians to lend strong political support for these initiatives, which would help Allies maintain their focus on these nations as strategic priorities for strong Allied security partnership. She noted that each nation represents a bulwark against the creeping security challenges seeking to undo Allied efforts to expand the area of stability and prosperity through its partnerships.

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