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From the Balkans to the Pacific, lawmakers urge NATO Allies to boost cooperation with democratic partners

25 May 2024

NATO Allies should step up cooperation with democratic partners from the Western Balkans to the Asia-Pacific to counter efforts by authoritarian powers to extend their global influence and challenge the rules-based international order, lawmakers from across the 32-nation Alliance said Saturday. 

Draft reports on renewed security challenges in the Western Balkans and the necessity for Allies to build values-based partnerships with democratic forces in the Asia-Pacific region were high on the agenda on the opening day of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Spring Session held in Sofia. 

Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine also featured strongly on the opening day, along with discussion on the need to tighten controls on sensitive technology to prevent Russia circumventing sanctions and stop China from gaining a technological edge over Allies.  

The Assembly’s Science and Technology Committee (STC) focused on the pivotal role of semiconductors in China’s drive to gain tech superiority, as well as looking at the challenges and opportunities that Artificial Intelligence and synthetic biology pose for the Alliance. 

Threats and challenges posed by Russia and China were a common theme running through the Assembly’s debates.  

“Moscow uses its influence not only to shape regional politics, but to have broader influence in Europe as well,” Lord Lancaster, from the United Kingdom wrote in his draft report on the Western Balkans. He cautioned that one of Russia’s prime objectives was to “prevent the region’s Euro-Atlantic integration.” 

However, China’s economic strength means it is displacing Russia as the main non-Western player in the region, says the report drafted for the Defence and Security Committee (DSC). While they may have different regional objectives, Moscow and Beijing “are aligned in their broader counter-West efforts, which include the splintering of Allied consensus and blocking the consolidation of the Euro-Atlantic.” 

Lancaster called for a renewed NATO commitment to the Western Balkans, including by promoting dialogue between rival entities; increased military and cyber-security cooperation with regional partners; and reinforcing NATO’s force presence in Kosovo to deter any threats of renewed violence.   

In the Indo-Pacific, a draft report authored by U.S. Congressman Neal Patrick Dunn noted that Allies “recognise the threats and challenges that China poses to global stability” through its “aggressive military posture in the South China Sea, its revisionist perspectives on the global security order including support for Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and its apparent rejection of the foundational principles that undergird the international rules-based order.” 

To defend their values and interests in the region, Dunn’s draft for the Economics and Security Committee (ESC) urged NATO Allies to tighten links with like-minded Indo-Pacific partners. “Allied nations should also continue to work closely with their Asia-Pacific partners to support democratic governance in the region,” he said. Regional engagement could include opening a NATO liaison office in Japan; encouraging cooperation on technological innovation and cyber security; and more joint training and military cooperation. At the same time, Allies should engage with Beijing where possible and seek “impactful vehicles for confidence building with China.”  

In a separate draft report for the ESC, British Member of Parliament Harriett Baldwin recommended Allies impose tighter export controls on sensitive dual-use technologies to prevent strategic rivals from acquiring advanced military tech. Allies should boost funding for stronger enforcement of restrictions, enhanced counter-espionage and, where necessary, secondary sanctions to block back-door supplies reaching competitors.  

“NATO Allies require a more comprehensive framework for regulating trade in sensitive technologies with rival powers,” she wrote. “Governments need better enforcement tools and resources, including secondary sanctions on countries facilitating this trade … trade controls are useless if violators feel they can act with impunity.” 

Semiconductors play a crucial role in technology competition and Allies need to assess supply chain risks and dependencies regarding China in this area, noted Icelandic legislator Njall Trausti Fridbertsson in his draft report for the STC.  

“China is increasingly emerging as a player that could challenge NATO’s technological superiority,” he wrote, adding that China’s “stated ambitions and coercive policies constitute a challenge to the Alliance’s interests, security, and values.” The report warned that “securing leadership in semiconductor technology and the integrity of the value chains that design, manufacture, package and distribute these chips are, therefore, of paramount economic and security importance.” 

The “irreversible” incorporation of Artificial Intelligence into the military sphere brings challenges and opportunities for NATO Allies, noted Sven Clement from Luxembourg. With that in mind, his draft STC report recommended Allied governments and parliamentarians step up work to further develop standards on the ethical use of AI, including through increased engagement with external players; support the creation of an innovation ecosystem to make AI available for Allied armed forces; and raise awareness for the role of AI to enhance its legitimacy and acceptance of increased investments. 

Similar considerations come into play with the uptake of synthetic biology for security and defence. “Synthetic biology opens up new possibilities for armed forces in areas such as energy storage and generation, novel and advanced materials, sensing, medical treatments and human enhancement,” said Joe Weingarten, a member of Germany’s Bundestag. “It is necessary to balance the prioritisation of opportunities and threats associated with synthetic biology. Preparation and mitigation measures are necessary, but they must not obscure the possibilities associated with synthetic biology,” he added. 

 

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