NATO must strengthen democratic resilience in global “contest of values”

14 May 2021

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NATO’s upcoming Summit should reinforce the Alliance’s commitment to democratic values and transatlantic unity as it faces renewed challenges from autocrats in Russia and China, the President of NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly, Gerald E. Connolly (United States) said on Friday. 

“That meeting offers an important opportunity to demonstrate how NATO stands strong and united in confronting today’s challenges, as a transatlantic Alliance of democracies, bound to our commitment to collective security,” said US Congressman Connolly. 

President Connolly addressed fellow lawmakers from around the 30-nation Alliance and its partners at the opening of the Assembly’s spring session, which was initially due to be held in Stockholm but was forced online by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Russia and China are modernising military arsenals in a return to great power rivalries that risks threatening strategic stability, Connolly cautioned. However, NATO’s challenge goes beyond a “contest of military might”. 

“We are also in the middle of a contest of values. Authoritarians in Moscow, Beijing and elsewhere are seeking to promote an alternative model of governance which we reject,” he said.  

“Our Alliance has the resources and the traditions to face this new global competition of values, and to succeed.  But to persevere, we must rededicate ourselves to our democratic foundations, we must reinvigorate the transatlantic relationship. And we must demonstrate why this Alliance, more than 70 years strong, continues to play a vital role in global security.” 

The NATO summit scheduled for June 14 is expected to launch preparations to update the Strategic Concept for the Alliance. That process must strengthen NATO politically by defending shared democratic values from internal and external threats, Connolly urged. 

Creating a Centre for Democratic Resilience within NATO, as proposed by the Assembly, would send a strong signal, he insisted. The commitment to shared democratic values “distinguishes us from other alliances. Without it, we would be just another military block. Democracy unites us. It makes us stronger, and it makes us safer.” 

Karin Enström, the head of Sweden’s partner delegation to the NATO PA, also emphasised the importance of democratic values as a bulwark against security threats.  

“The security situation has become much worse, not only in our immediate vicinity and in Europe, but also globally. The threats have become increasingly diversified and more difficult to identify,” she said. “To meet all these threats, we need more international cooperation, and we need to focus on what holds us together: our common values.” 

As Sweden celebrates 100 years of fully-fledged democracy, the anniversary “gives us cause to reflect, and reminds us that democratic values in our societies must be safeguarded,” Ms Enström argued. 

Russia’s aggressive conduct, from menacing troop concentrations on Ukraine’s borders, to interference in Belarus and hybrid actions against NATO nations, needs a firm response, participants said. All the while, Russia still illegally occupies part of Georgian, Moldovan, and Ukrainian territories. 

“In the face of continuous Russian provocations […], we have to impose a cost on Russian actions and to demonstrate unity and shared purpose,” Sweden’s Minister for Defence Peter Hultqvist told the Assembly.  

Lauding the Assembly’s efforts in keeping a spotlight on the illegal annexation of Crimea, Minister Hultqvist said “I cannot emphasise this enough: the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states is not negotiable.” 

The challenges China’s rise pose to Euro-Atlantic security and democracy was also in focus during the opening sitting.  

“The economic development of China has brought opportunities for cooperation,” Minister Hultqvist said. “But at the same time, China has used its increased military and political might in ways that are of concern and in breach of international law.” 

“We must speak with one voice and confront the challenge of China’s rise together, as an alliance of democracies,” President Connolly underlined. “We must compete to preserve our edge, counter where we must and engage where we can and where it is in our interest to do so.” 

President Connolly also urged NATO Heads of State and Government to renew NATO’s commitment to the Open Door policy at next month’s Summit. 

“I know that Georgia and Ukraine have high expectations for the Summit. And I am certain Allied leaders will recognise their commitment and achievements,” he said. “By demonstrating they share our democratic values and actively contributing to our common security, Georgia and Ukraine will eventually walk through NATO’s door.” 

Over four days of talks, more than 300 legislators are invited to discuss the full gamut of topics on NATO’s agenda, including the importance of Allies maintaining credible defence spending in the uncertain security environment and the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Sweden, the virtual host of the meeting, is an associate delegation of the Assembly since 2003.  

Download the preliminary draft committee reports
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