Last weekend I had the privilege of playing host to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s annual session, which was being arranged in Stavanger for the first time.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly – or NATO PA as it is commonly referred to – is a very important forum for several reasons. First and foremost, it represents the very people that NATO has been established to protect. Parliamentarians are also the eyes and ears of the people and, as such, are a vital link between the population, the Secretary General and NATO’s heads of state.
The NATO PA is not empowered to make binding decisions on behalf of the alliance, but it can adopt policy recommendations that are sent to NATO’s decision-making bodies for further consideration. Because of this it’s my view that the NATO PA ought to play an important role in the shaping of defence and security policy. In short, when the parliamentarians deliver their recommendations after a session such as the one we had in Stavanger, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ought to take heed.
Defence and security policy is a hugely complex area, so it’s essential that parliamentarians contribute to a better understanding of these issues within the population. About the decisions NATO has taken; about the background for them; not least, about why they have been made.
This is how the Parliamentary Assembly can give NATO the democratic mandate so essential to it.
The NATO PA is also an open debate forum; one that provides the opportunity to exchange political viewpoints and contribute to the democratic decision-making process. This in my opinion ought to be a characteristic of any military alliance between democratic states.
Through its work the parliamentary assembly helps promote a cross-border climate of mutual understanding, collaboration and unity. This is particularly important for infant democracies, be they NATO member states or associate countries. A number of these countries have experienced and may still be experiencing that democratic control has come under severe threat from military force. Interparliamentary contact is a hugely important means of building up and reinforcing knowledge of and traditions within democratic government.
The threat scenario has changed radically in recent years. Today, Europe is being faced by totally new security threats – the Islamic State, Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the current refugee crisis. These can’t be resolved by military means alone. Rather, they require comprehensive political solutions. Here as well the democratic dimension is essential.
A common understanding of values, objectives and the shifting threat scenario is fundamental for keeping the alliance together over time. Constant cross-border and cross-party debate combined with keeping one’s ear close to the population’s heartbeat is the only way forward. This debate must be taken together. And that’s a perfect job for parliamentarians.