Lawmakers urge NATO Allies to reinforce societal and democratic resilience

16 May 2021

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NATO Allies must vastly improve their societies’ resilience to a wide range of threats from health crises to natural disasters, hybrid attacks and disinformation, parliamentarians were warned Saturday. 

A preliminary draft report debated in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security highlights the importance of civil preparedness and close cooperation between military and civilian actors. 

“The pandemic has shown that Allied countries must further strengthen the resilience of their societies by reinforcing their preparedness and their capacity to respond to all types of shocks,” said French parliamentarian Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam

Allies must better explain the importance of resilience to their publics and the role that all civilian actors should play in strengthening it, Garriaud-Maylam notes in her draft report. The text also stresses that the NATO 2030 reflection process is an excellent opportunity to rethink and improve NATO’s approach to building societal resilience to current and future risks.  

In a presentation on cooperation between Sweden and Finland, Sara Myrdal from the Swedish Civil Contingencies agency (MSB) said that a major focus of initiatives to build societal resilience is public outreach, working with schools and teachers to inform young people about preparedness, and holding exercises with local communities to make them aware of the tools needed in any crisis. 

In a separate draft report, on bolstering democratic resilience to disinformation and propaganda, parliamentarians at the NATO PA Spring Session were warned of the harmful impact of such practices, made starkly clear by the assault on the US Capitol building on 6 January 2021. 

Congresswoman Linda Sanchez said rioters fueled by “the destructive power of disinformation” attacked the seat of US democracy at a crucial time. “If we want to prevent it from happening again, in the United States or any other democracy, we have to understand how it happened,” she added.  

Sanchez’s draft report calls on Allied countries to be vigilant about the threat posed by disinformation and propaganda and looks at how ill-intentioned actors use these methods to disseminate and promote their harmful political and strategic narratives.  

“Their reckless behaviour in the information space has direct negative consequences for countries in the Alliance and beyond. By sowing doubt and confusion, they have hampered our ability to respond effectively to the crisis and made the pandemic much worse,” she said. 

Russia, China, Iran and non-state actors pose the greatest threat. NATO nations are urged to invest in the long term against such hostile information activities by addressing the societal vulnerabilities that allow false or misleading information to spread. 

Tor-Björn Åstrand, from the MSB’s Counter Information Influence Section, said Swedish intelligence, police and local experts are setting up systems “for understanding the threat, sharing knowledge on how to identify disinformation and foreign influence, and how to counter it.” 

Democratic and societal resilience are also addressed in a separate draft report debated by the Sub-Committee on Democratic Governance looking back at the hopes and expectations generated by the Arab uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region a decade ago. 

French parliamentarian Anissa Khedher, who drafted the text, noted that, with the exception of Tunisia, most countries in the MENA region have experienced democratic decline, with a return to authoritarianism in Egypt and continued conflict in Syria, Libya and Yemen. 

Poor socio-economic conditions and a lack of progress on fundamental rights in most of the region has heightened popular dissatisfaction. Khedher said the resurgence of protests since 2019 in several countries shows that the democratisation process started in 2011 is not yet complete.  

Khedher warned that “the stability of NATO’s southern neighbourhood is essential for the Alliance’s security, because events in the MENA region ripple beyond the borders of the countries concerned.” Internal developments since the uprisings “warrant our close attention,” she said. 

Download the Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security preliminary draft reports
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