“We cannot waver in our support for Ukraine,” stressed Michal Szczerba (Poland) in his video message opening the 23rd annual Parliamentary Transatlantic Forum in Washington, DC, taking place on 4-5 December.
“If we don’t mobilise enough resources to help Ukraine defeat the aggressor today, NATO members will pay a much higher price tomorrow. Russia must be defeated. We must stand with Ukraine until victory.”
These sentiments were shared by lawmakers from Europe, the United States and Canada who participated in the 2023 Forum, co-hosted by the US National Defense University and the Atlantic Council. Over 100 members of parliament from 25 nations came together to discuss NATO Allies’ continued commitment to Ukraine and other priorities at the top of the transatlantic security agenda with US government officials and high-level experts.
As the winter sets in, participants stressed the sense of urgency to maintain support to Ukraine across the board – from refreshing and upgrading Ukraine’s military arsenal to financing economic recovery and reconstruction. With additional spending measures under consideration in both chambers of the US Congress, members heard that there were robust bipartisan majorities for standing by Ukraine.
With some 200 days to go until the NATO Summit in Washington DC in 2024, President Szczerba also pressed for concrete decisions on adapting and transforming NATO.
For one, the Alliance had to “offer a clear vision for the European order after Ukraine’s victory: Ukraine belongs in NATO. We must redouble our efforts to help it advance towards membership.”
The need for Allies to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence posture to meet critical threats and challenges, most importantly Russia’s long-term threat to Euro-Atlantic security, was a key theme throughout the two days as well. The profound adaptation of NATO’s posture initiated at the Madrid and Vilnius Summits in 2022 and 2023 had to be fully implemented, participants agreed, notably NATO’s new regional defence plans.
Spending at least 2% of GDP for defence, as agreed by all Allies at the Vilnius Summit, was key to maintain and develop the Alliance capabilities to be able to defend each other. US interlocutors underlined that all NATO members had to have credible plans to live up to the 2% target to ensure fair burdensharing in the Euro-Atlantic area. This would be a key topic at the Washington Summit.
Similarly, Allies had to urgently build up the defence industrial base, break down intra-Alliance barriers and ramp up production to defend NATO Allies as well as provide the necessary military support to Ukraine.
Crucially, to future proof the Alliance, NATO had to step up its efforts to defend shared democratic values and protect the international rules-based order.
“Every day, new evidence emerges of Russia’s and China’s attempts to destabilise our democracies and institutions,” President Szczerba noted. “To continue with business as usual and pretend that NATO has no role in defending democracy is both foolish and dangerous. NATO needs a Democratic Resilience Centre at its Headquarters,” the President stressed.
The Assembly advocates for the establishment of a Centre for Democratic Resilience at NATO Headquarters. This centre would serve as a resource and a clearinghouse of best practices and cross fertilisation on democratic benchmarks available to member, partner and aspirant states, upon request.
In the Ojars Eriks Kalnins Memorial Lecture, Damon Wilson, President and CEO at the National Endowment for Democracy, argued that building democratic resilience was a shared challenge to the transatlantic community. The annual Kalnins lecture is dedicated to the late NATO PA Vice-President and Head of the Latvian delegation, whose life’s work embodied the vitality of the transatlantic link.
Sweden’s accession to NATO was in focus during a number of discussions. Notably, Pal Jonson, the Minister of Defence of Sweden, addressed the Forum this year on how Swedish membership would make the Alliance stronger.
“It’s been 17 months since all Allies invited Sweden to join. It is time to finalise the accession process,” Mr Szczerba underlined.
With US Presidential and Congressional elections taking place in 2024, the state of the transatlantic relationship was front and centre in discussions between Canadian and European lawmakers and their colleagues from the US House of Representatives, who stressed the strong, bipartisan political commitment to the Alliance, the transatlantic link as well as support to Ukraine.
Other matters discussed at this year’s Forum included:
- the impact of the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine on Russia’s own economic, political and social situation and increasing international pressure and sanctions to shape the regime’s calculations;
- the challenges, threats as well as opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region and strategies to mitigate or counter China’s aggressive actions, ambitions and systemic challenge; and
- the geopolitical realignments in the Middle East and North Africa, especially in light of the ongoing war in Gaza, as well as further efforts Allies should pursue individually or collectively to partner with countries in the region to promote security and stability.
On the margins of the Forum, the NATO PA leadership engaged with members of the independent group of experts appointed by the NATO Secretary General to review NATO’s relations with the southern neighbourhood.
Photos of the Forum © NATOPA