COVID-19: Ojars Eriks Kalnins on disinformation, hybrid warfare, and stability through cooperation with NATO partners

16 September 2020

In its latest interview, Ojars Eriks Kalnins, Head of the Latvian Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, shares his views on Latvia’s contribution in tackling COVID-19 related disinformation campaigns, strengthening cyber security measures and the new security challenges that have emerged from the pandemic.

4 questions with Ojars Eriks Kalnins:

I.    Allied efforts to provide resources and humanitarian assistance to the hardest-hit countries have been critical to help Allies and partners cope with this unprecedented crisis. Could you tell us how Latvia has used NATO structures to help others and how Latvia has benefitted from other Allies’ help over the course of the crisis? 

Thanks to the presence in Riga of the NATO Centre of Excellence for Strategic Communication, Latvia has been able to contribute valuable insight into the battle against COVID-19 related disinformation campaigns. For example, the StratCom centre has provided a study on the role of pro-Kremlin bots in spreading disinformation about COVID-19. In addition, the centre has studied how East Asian countries have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. The centre has also held live stream discussions on country responses to the pandemic and the impact of COVID-19 on national elections. 

 II.        What additional steps should NATO and Allied armed forces take to support the national and international response to the COVID-19 crisis? 

Our dependence on the new technologies of globalisation has become more acute during periods of social distancing, reduced travel, and economic slowdown. Societies that are weakened by the viral pandemic become even more vulnerable to both hybrid and conventional security threats. As a result, cyber security becomes an even greater priority when non-digital contact and interaction is inhibited. Cyber-attacks on infrastructure, communication links, and information platforms can accelerate and deepen the medical crisis and inhibit efforts to rectify it. While NATO is well prepared for conventional military threats and is addressing the new challenges of hybrid warfare, we have not been prepared for dealing with the new threats that arise during a state of public health emergency. National resilience must include measures to combat both natural and man-made threats to public health and order. 

 III.        You have always been a strong advocate of NATO and NATO PA partnerships and have recently been elected Co-Chair of the Ukraine-NATO Interparliamentary Council. During the COVID-19 crisis, NATO Allies have not only supported each other; they have also helped and received help from NATO partners. Why are Allied partnerships so important in today’s security environment, where challenges range from pandemics to threats from state and non-state actors? 

The purpose of partnerships is to provide an expanded region of security beyond the borders of NATO member states. By helping NATO partners through dialogue and practical cooperation on both political and security-related issues, we help our partners achieve goals that are shared by NATO members. In the case of Ukraine, this cooperation is especially important because this neighbour of NATO is engaged in an active conflict that not only threatens Ukraine’s stability and security, but if left unchecked, could spread beyond its borders. The new cyber and disinformation threats that have surfaced as a result of the pandemic also provide a new area for cooperation and consultation between NATO members and its partners. 

IV.        What role do parliamentarians play in this crisis? And what role can interparliamentary diplomacy, including within the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, play to mitigate this crisis and prepare for the next crisis? 

Parliamentary diplomacy has never been more important than now. The pandemic has forced parliaments to enact new legislation to combat the medical and economic challenges that have arisen. It has also focused parliamentary attention on the new security challenges that have emerged from the pandemic. The Latvian parliament was one of the first in Europe to develop the technology and procedures for holding online sessions, complete with debates and voting. In addition, we have continued working online in parliamentary assemblies such as the NATO PA, which have enabled us to exchange information about our activities. While we all rely on government and media reports about events and issues in other member states, direct contact - be it online or in person - is still a valuable tool in promoting interparliamentary cooperation. 

Ojars Eriks Kalnins, Head of the Latvian Delegation to NATO PA
Deputy Chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee of the Saeima (Parliament of Latvia) 

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