Updated: 30-Oct-2006 NATO Speeches


18 Jan. 2005

Video interview

with Simon Lunn,
Secretary General of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly

Audio file .MP3/5384Kb
Video interview

Q: Welcome, Mr. Lunn. You are the Secretary General of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. What is the NATO Parliamentary Assembly?

SIMON LUNN (Secretary General, NATO Parliamentary Assembly): The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is the organization that brings together members of parliament from all 26 member countries of the NATO Alliance. Each parliament selects a delegation based on the country's size, and reflecting the political composition of the parliament.

So we bring together a very broad, or a large number, a very broad cross-section of members of parliament. So we reflect a very broad spectrum of political opinion within the Alliance

We also have associate members. This is a status that goes back to the 1990s. In the very early days when countries of Central and Eastern Europe were seeking a relationship with NATO, we created our own status in order to help integrate the parliaments of those countries into our work and to help them prepare for eventual NATO membership.

So we have associate members, who are allowed to attend, and participate in most of our functions. We also have other countries who attend as observers, and who are able to attend, again, most of our activities.

We also have a Mediterranean Dialogue, which is rather similar to that of NATO. Similar in the sense the same countries are involved, all the parliaments of those countries are involved, but different because we also bring in entities such as the Palestinian Legislative Council; we have Malta, we have Cyprus, and other countries. Ours is also a multilateral dialogue. We do not have bilateral events with these countries. We bring them together two or three times a year in order to exchange views, particularly on the problems of the Southern Mediterranean and other relevant issues.

We have a particular relationship with the Russian Federal Parliament. Russian parliamentarians participate actively in our work and we organize meetings regularly in Moscow in the Duma and the federal council and we have our own NATO-Russia Parliamentary Standing Committee which meets at 27 and in which all countries are equal and independent.

So we are an organization that basically brings together members of parliament from a very broad range of countries, all of which are relevant to the security concerns of today.

The role of the assembly is essentially to improve parliamentary awareness of defence and security concerns. It's to provide a forum in which members of parliament, legislators, can meet regularly to discuss key issues of the day, to exchange views, to understand each other's perspectives and problems on those issues.

So it is an awareness-building organization. Awareness in the sense of encouraging members of parliament to understand what the Alliance is doing.

It is also... it also serves as an indicator of collective parliamentary opinion within the Alliance, and we think that's very useful for the Alliance itself and its member governments because public support has always been important for NATO, but it's probably as important as ever today. And it has a particular resonance because of the sorts of operations that NATO is today involved in. Where parliaments are actually often involved in authorizing, an authorization. But also because of the influence of the media where these things, these activities, are brought very quickly to the attention of our publics.

So public support is more... is possibly more needed today than ever it was, and parliamentarians are very central to that. Parliamentarians are really in the front line of generating public support. They're the people who have to go and explain to their constituencies why we're doing the things we're doing, why our forces... we're putting forces into the field and possibly putting lives at risk. They have to explain to their constituents, but they also have to reflect back to governments the concerns of their constituents. So this is a two-way process in which parliamentarians are particularly important.

And so finally, we also, I think, help... our work helps the transparency of NATO policies. I think we... the reports we write, the debates we organize, the general activities of our assembly we think help make Alliance policies more understandable to public opinion.

There are two aspects to our work which are, I think, particularly significant. One is the transatlantic link. As with NATO, the role... the participation of North Americans is vital. And without it obviously we would be an organization of an entirely different nature. And we work very hard to maximum North American participation or activities.

We pay particular attention to the Congress, the United States Congress. Firstly, because of the role of the United States within the Alliance and the important central role that it plays, but also because of the role that Congress itself plays vis-à-vis the United States foreign and security policy. And we organize many of our meetings, or at least our key meetings, several of our key meetings are organized with the congressional schedule in mind, in order to try to maximum the participation of Congressmen and women in our activities.

The second aspect of our work, which I would stress, of course, is that of outreach. As I mentioned earlier, we have developed relations since 1990 with all of the countries who are seeking a relationship with NATO, all those countries who are seeking cooperation with NATO. It's become a central part of our work. Through seminars, training programs, a whole raft of activities, which are aimed to bring these parliaments into our work to demonstrate out interest in these countries, and to help them to become more effective in seeking NATO membership.

And we are not... of course, with enlargement, in two ways of enlargement, and perhaps a third coming down the road, our attention now is focusing beyond Central and Eastern Europe now to countries like the Caucasus. We are beginning to make contact with central Asian states, although those bring with them certain problems to do with democratic institutions. And equally we are, as I've said, concentrating very much on encouraging dialogue with the countries of the Southern Mediterranean.

So all of those activities add up, I think, to a fairly lengthy agenda for a parliamentary organization.

Q: What are the Assembly's priorities for 2005?

LUNN: Our priorities for 2005 are really to assist in those countries now, which are beyond the normal scope of the Alliance. And to help those countries, countries such as the Caucasus 3, the three countries in the South Caucasus, other countries in, as I said in Central Asia who are looking to develop a relationship with NATO, and with the countries of the Southern Mediterranean. To see where we can help with developing contacts between the Alliance and those countries, where we can reinforce Alliance activities.

Sometimes parliamentary diplomacy is easier than official diplomacy. Sometimes parliamentarians can make contacts, open windows in ways that sometimes governments can't.

Certainly our work is extremely useful in these early days of engagement with countries in developing contacts, but also in combating or countering some of the misperceptions that exist in some of the partner countries about NATO, about what it represents.

Just the presence of a NATO parliamentary delegation is a good indication that NATO is essentially a political organization. Very often these countries, you find an impression, an attitude that NATO is an organization dominated by military men and run by military men, men in uniform. And of course, it's very important to point out that NATO is essentially a political military organization and the parliamentary arm, I think, is an important dimension of that.

So those are the sorts of things I think we will be focusing on. We have a long-standing interest in the Balkans. We have followed events there. Our committees go and visit the forces in the field in order to see the situation, but in order also to report back and inform the debate within our Assembly more effectively of the situation there.

We will continue to develop our relationship with Russia. We will continue to develop our relationship with Ukraine. Ukraine, of course, is going to new resonance now as a result of the elections and we will be doing everything we can to help that country in achieving its aims.

So this is a broad agenda. It's... the regional focus will be the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the greater Middle East, or the broader Middle East, however one defines it. And all of which will be about trying to ensure that our parliamentarians are better informed, that they... we write reports that are used by people in terms of information and resource and also that we convey to the countries we're dealing with the true nature, the real nature of the Alliance and what it can offer.

Q: What is the relationship between NATO and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly?

LUNN: There is no formal relationship between NATO and the Parliamentary Assembly because there is nothing in the Washington Treaty that establishes a parliamentary body.

We were created by parliamentarians themselves when the Cold War was at its height, when people believed that issues to do with the Cold War were too important, if you like, to be left only to governments.

So we were created by parliamentary initiative. And we have worked, since that period, to develop a good, constructive working relationship with NATO itself. There was, I think, in the early days, some reluctance on the part of Alliance authorities to give too much legitimacy to the parliamentary side. I think that has completely disappeared now. I think most Alliance leaders recognize the utility of having a parliamentary body that, not just supports their activities, but is there as a sounding board.

Our members can be critical as well as they can be supportive. And I think Alliance leaders recognize, because of the importance of parliamentary opinion, the importance of supporting the NATO Assembly, our actual working relationship with this house, this body, is very good.

The current Secretary General is a former parliamentarian and therefore does recognize absolutely the importance and we have a good cooperative relationship with the international staff. And for the most part most of the delegations.

But I think if there is a weakness, I think then... the weakness, if there is a weakness, it is that sometimes some of the delegations are not fully aware of what we do. In some ways that's understandable, because they're all very busy. The agenda here is very crowded.

But I would wish that we were able to improve the visibility of the sorts of activities we have because I think too few people realize the breadth and scope of the agenda that we have. We're holding over 40 meetings a year. Most of which are of relevance to people in this building in one way or another.

So I'm happy with... I think the relationship with the NATO side is strong. We... our recommendations, which are developed once a year, that are out of our autumn meetings, our recommendations are sent to the Secretary General and he responds on behalf of countries. He gives a very detailed response as to whether these recommendations are heading in the right direction or whether they're helpful or not.

He, the Secretary General himself, comes to brief the Assembly on at least two occasions every year, at the spring and autumn meetings and the members really appreciate that.

Our Standing Committee, the policy makers of the Assembly if you like, the leaders of the delegations, meet with the NATO council every year here at NATO for an exchange of views. And at our last autumn meeting, as a result of the initiative of the Italian ambassador here, and our own Italian delegation, the entire NATO council, the ambassadors came to Venice for an exchange of views with the Assembly in plenary session. That meant that 26 ambassadors sat with the Secretary General in the chair, sat and answered questions from the 300 members of parliament who were sitting there.

And members of parliament appreciated that. I think it was very good for them to see the council in action, and we hope the Council also found it a positive experience.

So the relationship, I think, with this organization is informal. And because of the way that NATO works, because of the nature of the decision-making process here, consensus, which takes some time and consensus involve compromises and sessions and give and take, because of that process it's very difficult to see where an inter-parliamentary body would have direct influence.

But nevertheless, I think that most of the people within this building would say that the work that we do and when we assemble is of direct interest and relevance to them.

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