NATO’s Parliamentarians – Part II

By: Ryerson Neal

In October, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly met for its 57th Annual Plenary in Bucharest, Romania. The Assembly is an inter-parliamentary organization composed of legislators from NATO members and associate countries. It acts as a forum for legislators to exchange views and discuss defence and security matters. Throughout the year, the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association sends senators and MPs from all political parties to represent Canada at Assembly gatherings. Though this “parliamentary diplomacy” remains relatively unknown to many Canadians, it nonetheless represents a significant means of expressing and informing our country’s foreign policy.

Two of Canada’s delegates to this year’s plenary session shared their experiences with us.

Senator Raynell Andreychuk has represented Saskatchewan in the Canadian Senate since 1993. Prior to that she served as both a judge and a Canadian ambassador. At October’s NATO Parliamentary Assembly she chaired the Political Committee.

 

Q.  What interested you in the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly? How did your participation evolve?

A. Well, anything that affects Canada is interesting to me, but I’ve always had a foreign policy outlook and worked in foreign policy before coming to the Hill. So when I arrived in Ottawa I joined many parliamentary associations to see foreign policy from a parliamentary perspective and to see what I could learn to help my work in the Senate.

I have roots in Eastern Europe and had developed an interest in NATO while watching the Cold War play out. After coming to the Hill in the early 1990s, I started out on the joint Commons-Senate committee studying foreign policy. It was an interesting time: the Cold War was over, and there was a struggle to define security and find a role for NATO. I remember many submissions and conversations, some saying the peace dividend made the alliance unnecessary, while others said no, our security needs will change, but we will always need a defence arrangement like NATO.

Originally there was quite a line up for the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association. Eventually I was given the opportunity to be a delegate to a NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Berlin. I chose to participate on the Political Committee, where I could use my skills in foreign policy. When I got to the Assembly it was very interesting because you had all the NATO member countries struggling with the same problems, but from different perspectives. I had been in Portugal as an ambassador and had been involved in NATO work there, going to bases and meeting dignitaries, so I had developed various perspectives – naval, trans-Atlantic, and so on. So all of these kind of gelled and NATO became very interesting.

I stayed with the Political Committee and volunteered to go on a sub-committee examining NATO expansion in Eastern Europe. Of course, my language skills and knowledge of the region were helpful. Poland and various others had already come in and Bulgaria and Romania were considering membership. It was very interesting to see all the countries interplay.

Later I became the rapporteur of the Political Committee. It was quite challenging because I had to write reports and resolutions on behalf of all the parliamentarians. It becomes quite a skill when you have to get to know each country and its different perspectives, particularly when dealing with sensitive issues like Afghanistan. I am now the chair of the Political Committee, which also puts me on the Standing Committee, a sort of executive for NATO parliamentarians. The whole experience has been challenging, but extremely interesting and helpful in understanding Canada’s NATO role and contribution, and translating that back home.

So I’ve been involved from the mid-90s to the present, criticising NATO, and dealing with the politics of NATO through the eyes of the parliaments. The expansion, the growing pains, everything from the Bosnian conflict to Afghanistan and now Libya have been very interesting. From the political perspective it has been extremely important.

 

Q. How do you feel you and your colleagues –and Canada for that matter – benefit from participating in the Assembly?

A. Well, it’s incredibly useful because you get so much information through the Assembly, as well as access to foreign ministers, defence ministers, and heads of state. For example on the situation in Georgia, President Saakashvili came to the Assembly and gave us his views. So you get access to the policy makers both from NATO and its partners. It means you come back home armed with many perspectives, which allows you to contribute a lot in fine tuning some of our own policies. People start to seek you out to get your opinion, so you inform at the governmental, bureaucratic, and defence community levels.

It has been helpful to transmit both ways, to be part of a more articulate voice, cutting across parties to find where the consensus is. It’s not only been helpful to me in my foreign policy work, but also back home in Saskatchewan, where I’m better able to share a perspective with the soldiers who come home from NATO missions. You just become a better analyst. I couldn’t gain some of those insights otherwise. So I think it’s incredibly helpful.

One great example is our Mediterranean Group. I have an abiding interest in Africa and was ambassador to Somalia, so when the Assembly formed a small Mediterranean working group – basically France, Italy, and the southern flank – I put my name in and became the first Canadian to go to it. There were no Americans and few north Europeans. So over the years I gained a lot of expertise and information about that region and well, where was the action in the last year? Libya. So all of a sudden people were turning to me for advice because I knew Africa and the Mediterranean. A lot of what I said and did came to bear on piracy, for example. Two years ago our group was alerting that his was a big issue that was going to spread and it has. The NATO role in the region is incredibly important, but few Canadians know that. I’m part of the messaging that NATO has a really strong role there, and that piracy has an impact on shipping, and therefore on our domestic economy. Being part of the Assembly’s Mediterranean group gets me into the debate and gives me insights and opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

The Assembly has also been very helpful when it comes to understanding Eastern Europe. I have roots in that region and have studied it all my life. It became incredibly interesting to visit the region’s countries and deal with their parliamentarians. The spinoff to me was to learn who is in charge in these countries, what is the governance like, what are the issues facing them. Having developed very strong links has been very helpful throughout all of my work. Some of the people I met through the Assembly have gone on to become prime ministers and presidents.

So you know who these players are and hopefully you can influence them and understand where they are coming from. After all, Eastern Europe was an unknown world; that iron curtain was pretty iron. Because of my own skills and interests in the region I found myself translating it to a lot of our NATO colleagues. They would say, “How do you know them?” and I would say go read this, go read that. So it was very helpful for me, but I think I was also helpful back, translating the possibilities and the pitfalls.

I think that this parliamentary diplomacy is the most understated and unknown form of diplomacy. We most often see government-to-government diplomacy, but in democracies parliaments count too. They are the double-check and the oversight and they don’t always go where their governments want them to go. As parliamentarians we have to play the oversight role, and in defence and security the NATO Parliamentary Assembly certainly is that, an oversight of NATO. We hammer out consensus as NATO itself does and we give advice which is sometimes accepted. We do have some influence on NATO, I think by bringing to bear the perspectives of parliamentarians speaking for their constituencies.

 

Q. This past assembly came in the wake of some division in the Alliance. Do parliamentary delegates express those tensions?

A. More vocally than their governments. After all, if you put together an assembly that reflects the parliaments they represent, you’re going to get all shades of opinion, not just a government defence of what they’re doing. You’re putting together the government parliamentarians and the opposition parliamentarians of all the countries plus various observers, so think of the debate as much more strenuous and much more vocal than in the usual government-to-government dialogues. You’re trapping all of the points of view that exist in these countries. We have communist members, right wingers, and every shade in between. So yes, there are differences of opinion and vigorous debate.

Probably the differences that are constantly being aired are long-standing ones having to do with Afghanistan and burden sharing there. As a delegate you’ve got a chance to question others: Why aren’t you there more? Why is Canada in one of the most difficult areas? Why have you put caveats on your troops? Look what you’re doing to our soldiers. One of the strengths is that you get to hear what others are saying about your country and you get a chance to defend you country and sometimes just put forward your country’s position.

 

Q. You are on the Ukraine-NATO Inter-Parliamentary Council. What is the feeling now vis-a-vis Ukraine’s future relationship with NATO?

A. Well, we always have to step back and understand that Ukraine is a democracy in the making. It has not moved ahead on building institutions, the rule of law, and the freedom of the press in a straight line. It has had moments where it’s slipped back and moments where it’s moved forward.

There are worrying signs coming out of Ukraine now, such as the Tymoshenko trial, but there are also some fairly positive signs that are not as visible. We’re not quite sure where the government is going. There was a free and fair election in 2010 that elected President Yanukovych, and he has said “not NATO now”, but Ukraine is still working very closely with NATO: the military continues to cooperate and update itself in a way that allows its forces to complement ours and work together on missions in the UN. So on the one hand there are worrying signs, but there hasn’t been the push back that actually came when [former Prime Minister] Yushchenko was still there. You sometimes get inconsistent signals from this administration about where they are going with NATO, but they certainly haven’t closed the door on it. It’s still a work in progress.

When our NATO Parliamentary Assembly was there, we met with Tymoshenko in the middle of her trial as well as with the Minister of Defence. As parliamentarians we can put out our concerns and we did. So it’s a useful environment amongst many others that I use with Ukraine to encourage them to adhere to international standards and to adhere to what they say: they want to be a modern functioning democracy, they want to respect the rule of law – we say, “do it.”

The parliamentary group has been useful to encourage Ukraine to keep moving forward and not to regress. This is not to single out the current administration: there were a lot of problems in the administration ushered in by the Orange Revolution. Under them corruption issues escalated and the economy deteriorated. You can look at a lot of indicators that say it was not a happy situation. What is worrying about the current administration is the use of the courts and the curtailment of the press. I think Canada’s put out the right signals. We continue to work with the people of Ukraine and with this administration, but we also point out what is worrying us. We will see where this will lead us.

About NATO Association of Canada

The NATO Association of Canada strives to educate and engage Canadians about NATO and NATO’s goal of peace, prosperity, and security. The NATO Association of Canada ensures that we have an informed citizenry able to contribute to discussions about Canada’s role on the world stage.