Democratic resilience, tensions with Russia and China top agenda as parliamentarians meet ahead of NATO summit

13 May 2021

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As NATO prepares for a summit set to usher in a new phase in transatlantic relations, parliamentarians from Allied nations and partners are gathering for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s (NATO PA) Spring Session, where they will debate how to strengthen NATO and its democratic foundations amid increasing tensions with Russia, strained ties with China and the troop drawdown in Afghanistan. 

“As Allied nations, we find ourselves at a critical inflection point,” stresses NATO PA President Gerry E. Connolly (United States) in his welcoming message. “Our model of liberal democracy is being challenged – internationally by autocrats in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and internally by domestic proponents of illiberalism.”

Rededicating the Alliance to its shared democratic foundations is therefore at the heart of discussions at the virtual meeting, which had been due to be held in Stockholm but was forced online by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Next month, NATO Heads of State and Government will meet to chart a path for the Alliance’s adaptation for the next decade. Protecting our shared democratic values must be a central part of this”, President Connolly urges. 

To support this goal, the Assembly’s President has proposed the creation of a Democratic Resilience Centre within NATO – a proposal endorsed by the Assembly in 2019. A working group set up to refine this proposal held its first meeting earlier yesterday. 

Swedish government ministers, NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană and other senior NATO officials, experts and military officers will join lawmakers to pore over key security issues on the agenda of the June 14 summit of Heads of State and Government, which is expected to flesh out the conclusions of the NATO 2030 reflection process and pave the way for an updated Strategic Concept. 

“Our spring meeting comes at an opportune time, as we embark on a new chapter of transatlantic relations”, says President Connolly. 
269 legislators from the 30 NATO members plus 100 from some 30 partner countries and parliamentary bodies have been invited to the four-day meeting starting Friday. They will discuss 15 draft reports on all security issues on the transatlantic agenda ranging from Russia’s continuing challenge to China’s military modernisation to regional security from Africa to the Arctic Circle. The Assembly’s Bureau 
– bringing together its elected leaders – gathered yesterday to review preparations and key topics for the meeting.

The talks come as tens of thousands of Russian troops remain deployed near Ukraine’s eastern border despite Moscow’s claim they would leave. Tensions are also inflamed over the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Russia’s expulsion of Western diplomats.

Parliamentarians will exchange ideas on the best ways to counter challenges posed by Russia’s aggressive actions including in the Black Sea and in skies around the Baltic States and Norway.

The virtual gathering also takes place as Allies and partners are winding up their almost-20-year deployment in Afghanistan, while seeking to maintain support for the country’s government and military.

The need to revamp international treaties governing arms control and missile development is high on the agenda, too. Lawmakers will also discuss Iran’s nuclear ambitions and efforts to revive the agreement limiting the Islamic Republic’s uranium enrichment work.

Military spending remains a priority, and the legislators will take stock of efforts to respect the defence investment pledge Allies have agreed to, including to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence budgets, despite the economic pressures posed by the pandemic.  

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is a unique forum for members of parliament from across the Atlantic Alliance to discuss and influence decisions on Alliance security. The Assembly is institutionally separate from NATO but serves as an essential link between NATO and the parliaments as well as citizens of the NATO nations. It provides greater transparency of NATO policies and fosters better understanding of the Alliance’s objectives and missions among legislators and citizens of the Alliance.

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