The NATO Parliamentary Assembly
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is an interparliamentary organization, which brings together legislators from NATO member countries to consider security-related issues of common interest and concern.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addressing the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in The Hague (November 2014)
- The NATO PA was established in 1955 to engage parliamentarians in transatlantic issues and help build parliamentary and public consensus in support of Alliance policies.
- Since the 1980s, it has broadened its reach to develop close relations with political leaders from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as from the Middle East and North Africa.
- The Assembly focuses on major security and policy issues facing the Alliance, producing reports that are adopted by majority vote.
- Its work is carried out by five committees and eight sub-committees and it holds approximately 40 activities a year.
The Assembly is completely independent of NATO but provides a link between NATO and the parliaments of its member countries, helping to build parliamentary and public consensus in support of Alliance policies.
Since the 1980s the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) has assumed additional roles by integrating into its work parliamentarians from NATO partner countries in Europe and beyond.
The Assembly’s principal objective is to foster mutual understanding among Alliance parliamentarians of the key security challenges facing the transatlantic partnership.
Working with parliamentarians from member countries
- fostering dialogue among parliamentarians on major security issues;
- facilitating parliamentary awareness and understanding of key security issues and Alliance policies;
- providing NATO and its member governments with an indication of collective parliamentary opinion;
- providing greater transparency in NATO policies as well as collective accountability;
- strengthening the transatlantic relationship.
In fulfilling its goals, the Assembly provides a central source of information and a point of contact for member legislators and their respective national parliaments.
Cooperating with parliamentarians in partner countries
Since 1989, the Assembly has also had the following objectives:
- to assist in the development of parliamentary democracy throughout the Euro-Atlantic area by integrating parliamentarians from non-member countries into the Assembly’s work;
- to assist directly those parliaments of countries actively seeking Alliance membership;
- to increase cooperation with countries which seek closer relations with NATO rather than membership, including those of the Caucasus and the Mediterranean regions;
- to assist in the development of parliamentary mechanisms, practices and know-how essential for the effective democratic control of armed forces.
The NATO-PA is made up of 257 delegates from the 28 NATO member countries. Each delegation is based on the country's size and reflects the political composition of the parliament, therefore representing a broad spectrum of political opinion. Delegates are nominated by their parliaments according to their national procedures.
In addition to these NATO-country delegates, delegates from 13 associate countries, four Mediterranean associate countries, as well as observers from eight other countries take part in its activities.
Inter-parliamentary assemblies such as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and the Western European Union Assembly also send delegations.
The European Parliament is entitled to send ten delegates to Assembly Sessions and can participate in most committee and sub-committee activities.
Most of the Assembly’s work is carried out by its five committees and eight sub-committees, which cover the major security and policy challenges confronting the Alliance: democratic governance; transatlantic defence cooperation; future capabilities; the civil and economic dimensions of security; science and technology, including energy and environmental security; partnerships; and the Mediterranean and Middle East.
The subcommittees meet several times a year on fact-finding missions designed to gather information for sub-committee and committee reports. Sub-committee reports, like those produced directly for the committees, are amended and adopted by majority vote in the committees. Each year, the NATO PA typically holds approximately 40 activities. These include two Plenary Sessions, a Standing Committee meeting, three to four Rose-Roth Seminars, two Mediterranean Seminars, sixteen sub-committee meetings and a variety of other meetings.
The NATO PA is headed by a President, who is a parliamentarian from a NATO member country. The headquarters of the Assembly comprises an International Secretariat of approximately 30 people based in Brussels, Belgium and is overseen by a Secretary General. The International Secretariat performs a dual function: on the one hand, it conducts much of the research and analysis necessary for the substantive output of the Assembly's committees, and on the other, it provides the administrative support required to organise sessions, seminars, committee meetings, and other Assembly activities.
In addition, the International Secretariat maintains a close working relationship with NATO, other international organisations and research institutes. It also provides briefings on NATO PA activities and concerns to visiting parliamentary groups, journalists, and academics.
The idea to engage parliamentarians in transatlantic issues first emerged in the early 1950s and took shape with the creation of an annual conference of NATO parliamentarians in 1955. The Assembly’s creation reflected a desire on the part of legislators to give substance to the premise of the Washington Treaty that NATO was the practical expression of a fundamentally political transatlantic alliance of democracies.
The foundation for cooperation between NATO and the NATO PA was strengthened in December 1967 when the North Atlantic Council (NAC) authorised the NATO Secretary General to study how to achieve closer cooperation between the two bodies. As a result of these deliberations, the NATO Secretary General, after consultation with the NAC, implemented several measures to enhance the working relationship between NATO and the Assembly. These measures included the Secretary General providing a response to all Assembly recommendations and resolutions adopted in its Plenary Sessions.
Promoting parliamentary democracy in Central and Eastern Europe
In response to the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1980s, the NATO PA broadened its mandate by developing close relations with political leaders in Central and East European countries. Those ties, in turn, greatly facilitated the dialogue that NATO itself embarked upon with the region's governments.
The Rose-Roth programme of cooperation with the parliaments of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) was initiated in 1990 by the then President of the Assembly, Congressman Charlie Rose, and Senator Bill Roth. The aim of the Rose-Roth Initiative was, initially, to strengthen the development of parliamentary democracy in CEE countries.
Towards deeper relations with Russia and Ukraine
At the end of the Cold War, the NATO PA made contacts with Russia and Ukraine. Its relations with these two countries were given a new impetus in 1997. The Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between the Russian Federation and NATO, signed in May 1997, and the NATO-Ukraine Charter signed in July 1997, explicitly charged the Assembly with expanding its dialogue and cooperation with both the Russian Federal Assembly and the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada.
Mirroring the creation in May 2002 of the NATO-Russia Council, a major step forward in NATO's cooperation with Russia, the Assembly created the NATO-Russia parliamentary Committee to allow discussions “at 27”. This committee, which meets twice a year during sessions, became the main framework for direct NATO-Russia parliamentary relations.
In 2002, the Assembly also decided to upgrade its special relationship with Ukraine by creating the Ukraine-NATO Interparliamentary Council. The Assembly's cooperation with the Verkhovna Rada was progressively strengthened in the run-up to the Ukrainian presidential elections in 2004. Members of the NATO PA were involved in election monitoring, supporting the international community's effort.
Following Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and its decision to annex Ukraine’s province of Crimea in March 2014, the NATO PA withdrew Russia’s Associate Membership of the Assembly altogether, breaking off regular institutional relations with the Russian Parliament. The NATO PA’s bureau has been authorised to meet representatives of the Russian Parliament on an ad hoc basis, however.
In parallel, the Assembly affirmed its unanimous support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and political independence, and intensified cooperation with the Ukrainian Parliament.
Increasing cooperation with partners in the Middle East and North Africa
The increasing attention to security in the Mediterranean region in the 1990s culminated in 1996 with the creation of the Assembly's Mediterranean Special Group (GSM). It is a forum for cooperation and discussion with the parliaments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region focussed on political, economic, social and security issues.
In 2004-2005, the Assembly decided to bolster its relations with parliaments in this region. At the Venice session, the Standing Committee created the new status of Mediterranean Associate Members, opening the door for increased cooperation with MENA parliaments.