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“With less than two weeks before the NATO Summit in Brussels, we find ourselves at a key junction for our Alliance. Our transatlantic alliance of democracies is confronted with a new global competition in our values,” said the President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Gerald E. Connolly (United States) at the first public hearing of the Working Group on the establishment of a Democratic Resilience Centre within NATO.
“Our Alliance has both the resources and the tradition to face today’s challenges, and, to persevere, we must rededicate ourselves to [our] democratic foundations explicitly – not just through statements and communiques but by creating architecture and taking concrete actions”, said President Connolly. “I am firmly convinced we must anchor this commitment to democracy within NATO by establishing a Centre for Democratic Resilience.”
The Assembly’s Working Group, established in April 2021, is tasked with gathering testimonies from experts and NATO officials to elaborate a comprehensive, practical and concerted proposal for a Democratic Resilience Centre within NATO and to garner support within the Alliance for its creation. It is composed of the enlarged Bureau and the Chairperson of the – recently renamed – Committee on Democracy and Security (CDS).
Sharing her insights with the Working Group’s members, former NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller stressed that “NATO should reaffirm its foundational values in the context of the NATO 2030 review and in the process of updating the Strategic Concept. It is important that these issues are front and centre at this time and that NATO be sending clear messages about them”. Ms Gottemoeller is the Payne Distinguished Lecturer at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution (Stanford University).
“The democratic values and institutions upon which the Alliance has been founded are under assault from external and internal challengers,” stated former senior US Diplomat Daniel S. Hamilton. “Allied countries with weak protections for democracy, individual liberties, the rule of law become vulnerable to subversion, corruption, misinformation and disinformation.”
“Integrating democratic resilience more fully into NATO’s missions is therefore not an additional task, it is a foundational task for the Alliance,” added Mr Hamilton, who is the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation Distinguished Fellow and Director of the Global Europe Program at the Wilson Center.
In their discussions with the two prominent experts, members of the Working Group expressed their continued support for the establishment of a structure within NATO dedicated to fostering democratic resilience – an idea first suggested by President Connolly in 2019 and formally endorsed by the Assembly as a whole since. Such a structure is needed, they pointed out, to support member states in better understanding potential threats to their democratic systems and assist them, upon their request, in addressing societal vulnerabilities that could otherwise be exploited by malign actors.
During the discussions, Attila Mesterhazy, NATO PA Vice-President and Rapporteur of the Working Group, pushed back against critics who argue democratic resilience is not NATO’s business and a focus on values would weaken solidarity among Allies. He pointed out that similar arguments had been used before to keep issues such as terrorism, cyber security, and climate change off NATO’s agenda – all of which are now essential issues within NATO headquarters.
“The Washington Treaty makes clear that NATO is an alliance of democracies. Without this commitment to shared democratic values, NATO would be just another military bloc,” President Connolly added. Bolstering the Alliance’s commitment to democratic values is therefore inseparable from guaranteeing its security.
The Working Group will continue collecting testimonies and seeks to put forward recommendations ahead of the 14 June NATO Summit and throughout discussions on the updated Strategic Concept, including at the NATO PA’s Annual Session in Portugal in October.