NATO urged to beef up ties with Global South, tackle conflict-related sexual violence

26 May 2024

NATO Allies must strive to deepen their relations with countries of the Global South to thwart growing Russian and Chinese influence and persuade them of the importance of helping Ukraine to prevail in the war, legislators from Allied nations were told Sunday. 

In debate on a series of draft reports examined during the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Spring Session in Sofia, lawmakers discussed ways to better protect cultural heritage from war, limiting the ravages of sexual violence in conflict, and concerns about the impact of water insecurity. 

With Russia’s illegal war of aggression well into its third year, working more closely with low- and middle-income countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America has more than ever become a strategic imperative, Lithuanian lawmaker Audronius Azubalis argued. 

Engaging with them will help NATO address contemporary security threats, he wrote in a draft report for the Assembly’s Political Committee. “Failure to do so would open opportunities for malign actors, particularly Russia and China, which are vying for leadership in the Global South.” 

Azubalis said the mixed global reaction to Russia’s invasion “has shattered the entrenched binary view of international politics: arguably, the countries of the Global South have demonstrated their agency and even their ambition to be peers with the traditional global powers.” 

The draft text insists that pragmatic cooperation by Allies on genuine areas of concern like food security, job creation and health must be the focus with these countries, with care being taken not to approach the Global South from “a patronising position of higher moral ground.” 

In particular, there must be a redoubling of efforts to engage with India, the world’s largest democracy. Together, NATO and India would represent some 2.4 billion people, and India is already pivoting towards closer relations with Western democracies. 

At the Washington Summit in July, Allies should agree on an ambitious revision of NATO partnerships with the southern neighbourhood, not just to address security threats in the south, but also to explore opportunities for enhanced practical cooperation, the draft recommends. 

In the Assembly’s Committee on Democracy and Security (CDS), legislators debated ways to protect cultural heritage – like places of worship, theatres and historical sites – from malicious States and non-state actors trying to attack the dignity and identity of communities in conflict settings. 

A draft special report by Canadian member of parliament Julie Dzerowicz laid out the legal framework protecting cultural heritage and presented an overview of how ill-intentioned actors have increasingly weaponised cultural heritage, as well as suggestions for tackling the problem.  

Dzerowicz urged Allies to design comprehensive policies and draw up robust legislation that targets the destruction of places, monuments and objects of cultural significance in conflict, and to insist on accountability for any abuses in courts. 

She also appealed to NATO and its member States to “integrate cultural property protection principles more systematically into the education, training, and exercises of their security forces,” and to create special units or personnel dedicated to the task within their armed forces. 

Members of the CDS also discussed conflict-related sexual violence, in a draft report authored by Belgian legislator Rodrigue Demeuse, and the way such crimes not only violate the law and respect for the human person but can also perpetuate a destructive cycle of conflict. 

“Even after a conflict has ended, the haunting spectre of sexual violence continues to linger and threaten peace. In societies scarred by trauma, fragmentation, and brutality, women often remain vulnerable targets of frustration,” Demeuse wrote in the draft report. 

Allies were urged to develop policies to better address the scourge and broader linked issues like gender equality and protecting civilians in conflict. NATO was encouraged to integrate this issue at the highest level in its work. 

The draft report insisted that perpetrators of sexual violence and those who order or tolerate it must be brought to justice. Political, financial and technical support should be provided so that relevant national and international judicial systems can investigate criminals and help survivors. 

Water insecurity and the crises it provokes were topics for debate when CDS lawmakers examined a draft report by German parliamentarian Merle Spellerberg, as water insecurity tests the social, economic and military resilience of Allies, exposing vulnerabilities that adversaries could exploit. 

The draft text noted that the world is on the brink of a water security crisis, with the UN predicting that almost half the population of the globe will be facing severe water stress by the end of the decade.  

Attacks on resources and infrastructure, like Russia’s strikes on dams and other water-related facilities in Ukraine, violate international law, while water insecurity poses great logistical and strategic hurdles for NATO and its allies. Related extreme weather and water scarcity could increasingly disrupt military activities. 

In her draft report, Spellerberg urged Allies to keep reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in line with their international commitments, as well as to “make water security an integral part of current national climate action plans and adaptation strategies.” 

Allies were also exhorted to develop national response capacities to combat crises, and to allocate sufficient resources to prepare their populations for increasingly frequent and intense water-related disasters.  

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