Lawmakers stress NATO defence spending commitments amid COVID-19 economic challenges, urge support for the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people

16 May 2021

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Russia’s ongoing military modernisation and provocative deployment of forces are among a litany of compelling security challenges underscoring the need for NATO Allies to stick to defence spending targets, even as the COVID-19 pandemic applies serious fiscal pressure on government budgets and economies.  

Other challenges include instability in the Middle East and North Africa, which the pandemic has exacerbated, and a more aggressive China, which has exploited the health crisis to pursue aggressive foreign and economic policies that potentially weaken the rules-based international order.  

Presenting his preliminary draft report on defence spending challenges during the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Spring Session, Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a Norwegian member of parliament, told legislators that “the pandemic and related economic crisis have only aggravated a range of defence-related challenges”.  

“There is a litany of traditional and new threats with which Allies need to cope,” he added, and “doing so comprehensively requires both adequate financial resources and efforts to enhance efficiency.” 

A month before a crucial NATO Summit, Allied governments should use the NATO 2030 reflection process to galvanise the political will needed to meet these security commitments, Mr Tybring-Gjedde, reminded members of the Assembly’s Economics and Security Committee. 

Besides sticking to commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defence and ensuring 20 percent of that goes on new equipment and research, Allies also need to spend efficiently to ensure they get “more bang for the buck”, Mr Tybring-Gjedde suggested, while noting that capabilities and mission contributions should remain important considerations in the overall burden sharing framework. 

Looking at the wider economic consequences of the pandemic, Turkish parliamentarian Faik Öztrak said risks to global security could be minimised by greater international cooperation in areas ranging from vaccine distribution to debt management, fair taxation and climate change. 

“Sustained global recovery is not possible unless less-developed countries also find a pathway to growth,” Mr Öztrak wrote in the first draft of his report on the implications of the global economic crisis. “Failure here could trigger far greater instability and humanitarian catastrophe across the world. Wealthier countries will have to help stabilise these countries through a range of economic support policies.” 

In pleading for full support to global post-pandemic recovery, Mr Öztrak warned that “several authoritarian actors have already instrumentalised the pandemic in order to discredit democratic governance”, including notably China. 

Equitable vaccine distribution will be essential to recovery. “Global solidarity is needed […] The next step for all of us will be to provide critical support to those countries that lack the means to vaccinate their people,” Öztrak argued. 

The Committee meeting concluded with a discussion of a report on Belarus, authored by Polish parliamentarian Michal Szczerba. He told legislators that “the Belarusian people yearn for a democratic order that protects basic human rights, encourages economic freedom, and permits normal relations with their neighbours.” 

But the situation, he noted, has only worsened since last year’s rigged elections. “Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya — the rightful winner of last summer’s elections — and other leaders of the democratic movement in Belarus remain either exiled across Europe or imprisoned in Belarus. Hundreds of other political prisoners languish behind bars, and the numbers continue to grow daily.” 

In the past, Mr Lukashenko has played a cat and mouse game with the Kremlin, holding out the promise of eventual state union with Russia but resisting the measures that would make this possible, Mr Szczerba said. The problem is that “Lukashenko is now so weak, that he is in no position to stand up to Russia, and, of course, he refuses to pay heed to the wishes of his own people. This dynamic has brought Belarus into a profound crisis”. 

Mr Szczerba urges Allied governments and the international community to stress that any interference in its internal affairs is unacceptable, press the Belarusian regime to uphold human rights principles enshrined in international law, and prepare to apply sanctions against those directly engaged in oppressing the democracy movement or undermining Belarus’ sovereignty. His report also calls for mediation efforts engaging key players, including Russia. 

Download the Economics and Security Committee preliminary draft reports
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