From Jan Hamacek, New Atlanticist: Through their participation in the NATO PA, parliamentarians become better equipped for national debates on issues relevant to the Alliance. Being able to hear other national perspectives on key defence and security issues opens up an entirely new vista for many as they can move beyond the remit of domestic politics, which can sometimes obscure the bigger picture of the Alliance politics. . . .
The battle for the future shape of the Alliance is being increasingly waged closer to home in budget committees, town-hall meetings and TV studios. Severe budgetary pressures put the Alliance member states under considerable strain to meet their defence commitments, whilst balancing their domestic challenges.
NATO parliaments play a crucial role in influencing national defence as, among other things, it is their exclusive prerogative to authorize defence expenditures and troop deployments abroad. They can also raise citizens’ concerns in the parliament and see to it that they are reflected in security policies.
New outside threats, such as terrorism, cyber security, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, have forced NATO to develop new sets of tools and approaches in order to meet its core task of providing security for its members against the backdrop of a transformed security environment. Given the complex nature of modern security threats coupled with declining defence budgets, there can be no doubt about the need for greater defence cooperation. In the coming decade, NATO militaries will have to increasingly rely upon each–— giving up certain capabilities in favor of excelling in others to boost the overall capabilities of the Alliance. A good case in point is NATO’s Smart Defense initiative championed by Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. This will ultimately require unwavering trust among the Allies, in a way perhaps even more so than at the height of the Cold War. However, fostering greater trust will be only possible through securing solid public support at home and that is why the important role of national parliaments cannot be stressed enough.
As NATO undergoes its transformation, it will have to go to great lengths to ensure that it stays relevant to all citizens. And it is here where NATO legislators, such as those meeting in Prague, can be expected to be called upon to fill that void. With close contact with their respective constituencies, legislatures are ideally placed to explain the merits and intricacies of defence collaboration to the NATO publics while hearing their concerns.
Jan Hamacek is head of the Czech Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.