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Congressional Delegation to NATO Parliamentary Assembly Meetings in Latvia and Bilateral Visit to Montenegro

Floor Speech

Date: July 30, 2010
Location: Washington, DC

* Mr. TANNER. Madam Speaker, from May 28-June 3, I led a House delegation to NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) meetings in Riga, Latvia, and to additional bilateral meetings in Podgorica, Montenegro. The U.S. delegation to the NATO PA had a highly successful trip during which we examined a range of political, economic, and security issues currently confronting the Alliance, as well as NATO and U.S. policy in Montenegro and the Western Balkans.

* The NATO Parliamentary Assembly consists of members of parliament from the 28 NATO states, as well as members of parliament from candidate state Macedonia (or Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM), and other associated states such as Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine. I currently have the honor of serving as President of the Assembly. In this capacity, I preside over meetings during which delegates discuss and debate a range of issues of importance to the Alliance. During the NATO PA's two annual plenary sessions, delegates also have the opportunity to listen to presentations by specialists on NATO affairs and to offer guidance to NATO leadership in Brussels. An additional element of the meetings is the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with members of parliament who play important foreign policy roles in their own countries. These responsibilities can include setting defense budgets and determining the operational restrictions placed on deployed forces. Some of the acquaintances made through the NATO PA can last the duration of a career, and are invaluable for gaining insight into developments in allied states.

* Discussions during the NATO PA's annual spring meeting focused on the key issues currently facing the Alliance. These include: the drafting of a new Strategic Concept for NATO; NATO's ongoing stabilization mission in Afghanistan; NATO's evolving relations with Russia; and the effects of the global economic downturn on national security and allied commitments to NATO. More specific issues such as the Alliance's nuclear weapons posture, missile defense, and emerging security challenges such as piracy and cyber and energy security were also discussed by the delegates.

* At NATO's 60th anniversary summit in April 2009, the leaders of NATO's 28 member states tasked the NATO Secretary General with producing a new Strategic Concept for the Alliance. The re-writing of the Strategic Concept, which was last updated in 1999, offers NATO a chance to lay out a clarified vision of its role in the 21st century security environment. Heads of state from the NATO member states are expected to approve a new Strategic Concept at their November 2010 summit in Lisbon. In April 2010, NATO PA representatives presented NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen with the Assembly's recommendations for a new Strategic Concept. There is broad agreement within the NATO PA that the new Strategic Concept should re-affirm NATO's primary role as a military alliance devoted to ensuring the collective defense and security of its members. In this regard, Article 5 of NATO's founding North Atlantic Treaty--which states that an attack on one is an attack on all--remains NATO's core principle. Our delegation emphasized that in the face of new and emerging security challenges, the Alliance must also continue to broaden the traditional Cold War concept of collective defense to include security threats such as terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cyber-security, and energy security. In this regard, territorial defense can no longer be separated from ``out-of-area'' security concerns. Members of our delegation also highlighted the importance of developing and maintaining the capabilities necessary to achieve NATO's stated objectives.

* The key issue facing the Alliance continues to be NATO's effort to bring security and stability to Afghanistan. Approximately 120,000 troops from 46 countries currently serve in NATO's International Security Assistance * Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, with NATO members providing the core of the force. Close to 80,000 U.S. troops are under ISAF command. NATO allies have generally welcomed the renewed U.S. focus on Afghanistan and have voiced their support of the Administration's new strategy in the region and the associated U.S. troop increases. In April, NATO Foreign Ministers reiterated previous commitments to shift ISAF's emphasis toward transferring responsibility in the country--first and foremost in the security sector--to the Afghan government. Our delegation made an effort to urge our counterparts from NATO parliaments to continue to support ISAF and to contribute the forces and resources necessary to stabilize Afghanistan. Our delegation also emphasized that success in Afghanistan will depend on more than just military efforts, and called on the Alliance to develop a more comprehensive political strategy for the region.

* Since NATO-Russia relations reached a low point in the wake of the August 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, NATO and Russia have sought to improve ties and boost cooperation. Meetings of the NATO-Russia Council resumed in mid-2009 but while cooperation in some areas has resumed, disagreement persists on some issues. Officials from some member states within the Alliance express concern that NATO has not taken a strong enough stance against assertive Russian behavior. Others have attempted to view Russia as a ``strategic partner'' and call for more pragmatic cooperation and engagement. Our delegation contributed to a number of forceful discussions, including with our Russian counterparts, on the future of NATO-Russia relations. We emphasized that NATO should by no means recognize Russian spheres of influence outside Russian territory or tolerate Russian behavior that threatens the territorial integrity of independent nations. At the same time, we pointed out the importance of developing a unified approach toward Russia within the framework of a broader Alliance policy toward the east.

* During the four-day NATO PA session, our delegation participated in day-long meetings of the Assembly's five committees, in a meeting of the NATO-Russia Parliamentary Committee, and in a final plenary session attended by NATO Secretary General Rasmussen. During each NATO PA committee meeting, members of parliament from NATO member states present reports on a range of issues confronting the Alliance. Committee members discuss and debate the issues raised by the reports and are given the opportunity to make counter-arguments or recommend that amendments be made to the reports. Members of the U.S. delegation were present and active participants in all committee meetings.

* The NATO PA's Political Committee received three interesting and informative presentations from government officials and outside experts, as well as presentations from members of parliament on three committee reports. Alvis Ronis, Latvia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, gave an engaging briefing on Latvia's foreign and security policy priorities. Despite facing a severe economic downturn that has forced sharp budget cuts, Latvia remains committed to NATO operations, including in Afghanistan, where it has deployed 170 troops. The committee also heard from U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Alexander Vershbow, who shared a U.S. perspective on lessons learned from the NATO mission in Afghanistan. A third presentation, given by Alain Délétroz, Vice President of the International Crisis Group, focused on Central Asia and current U.S., European, Chinese, and Russian policy in the region. The three committee reports presented included a report on security in the Persian Gulf region and on the Arabian peninsula written by our colleague, Rep. Mike Ross. Unfortunately, Mr. ROSS was unable to attend the meeting. Italian Senator Sergio Di Gregorio graciously agreed to present Mr. Ross's report, which was well received by the committee. Other reports debated by the Political Committee included a report on Alliance cohesion and a report on NATO's relations with so-called ``Contact Countries,'' countries outside the Euro-Atlantic region that are not formal NATO partners.

* Members of the Science and Technology Committee heard presentations from a former Latvian president and a senior political advisor at NATO headquarters and debated issues raised in three committee reports. Former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga shared valuable insights on the Baltic states' relations with Russia. Michael Ruehle, Senior Political Advisor in the NATO Secretary General's Policy Planning Unit, gave a comprehensive assessment of efforts to strengthen the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. The most discussed of the three committee reports presented during the session was Rep. David Scott's report entitled, ``Nuclear/WMD proliferation and Missile Defense: Forging a New Partnership with Russia.'' Rep. SCOTT gave a lively and forceful presentation on this timely subject, outlining a broad range of perspectives on NATO, U.S., and European cooperation with Russia on non-proliferation issues, including efforts to counter Iran's nuclear program, and on missile defense. Additional discussions during the committee meeting centered on possible security challenges posed by climate change and on the appropriate role for NATO in energy security issues.

* The NATO PA's Defense and Security Committee discussed a range of security issues facing the Alliance, including NATO's engagement in Afghanistan and the role of non-strategic nuclear weapons in maintaining Alliance security. On Afghanistan, delegates heard sobering accounts of ongoing NATO efforts to develop and partner with the Afghan National Security Forces, and on measuring success in Afghanistan. During subsequent debate, delegates reaffirmed the importance of the mission in Afghanistan but acknowledged the significant challenges the Alliance is facing. In response to a report on U.S./NATO non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, Rep. David Scott made a well-received intervention emphasizing that any decision on the Alliance's nuclear weapons posture must be made by the Alliance as a whole. Rep. Scott highlighted the vital role that non-strategic nuclear weapons have played in affirming the allied commitment to collective defense and invited continued talks with Russia on global nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

* The meeting of the Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security focused on several issues of increasing importance to Alliance security, chief among them the role of governance and regional politics in ensuring long-term stability in Afghanistan. Delegates debated a committee report outlining a range of governance challenges in Afghanistan and agreed that the Afghan mission's success will hinge largely on the success of international efforts to improve Afghan governance. Additional reports presented to the committee focused on NATO's role in maritime security and on achievements and future prospects in the Western Balkans. On the Balkans, delegates emphasized the importance of outlining paths to eventual NATO membership for the countries of the region, but agreed that significant progress must be made before membership becomes a reality.

* Members of the NATO PA's Economics and Security Committee discussed various aspects of the global financial crisis and the associated global economic downturn. This included an in-depth presentation by the Governor of the Bank of Latvia on the Latvian economy and an assessment of the Greek financial crisis and its global implications by a professor from the London School of Economics. The reports presented by committee members focused on the impact of the financial crisis on Central and Eastern Europe, the impact of the global recession on the developing world, and a possible long-term shift in global economic power.

* On Monday, May 31, our delegation participated in a meeting of the NATO-Russia Parliamentary Committee. As President of the NATO PA, I chaired this meeting, which consists of members of the NATO PA's Standing Committee and members of the Russian parliament. The committee heard candid and insightful presentations on NATO-Russia relations from Professor Alexei Pushkov, Director of the Institute of Contemporary International Studies at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and from Alexander Vershbow, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Arguing that ``all military alliances are directed against something or somebody,'' Professor Pushkov asserted that the Russian government continues to view NATO's possible enlargement eastward as a security threat. Despite continued disagreement between NATO and Russia on this and some other core issues, Professor Pushkov maintained that the two sides can minimize the points of contention in their relationship by enhancing cooperation in areas ranging from counter-narcotics trafficking and counterterrorism to maritime security and nuclear non-proliferation. Assistant Secretary Vershbow expressed concern that the Russian government continues to view NATO as a security threat but reiterated the Obama Administration's fundamental commitment to enhancing NATO-Russia ties. He emphasized that NATO and Russia have common interests and could each benefit from cooperation on many of today's most serious global challenges. As Monday was Memorial Day, the delegation visited Riga's Brethren Cemetery to commemorate Latvian soldiers who were killed during the First World War and Latvia's war of independence with Russia.

* On Tuesday, June 1, I chaired the closing plenary session of the NATO PA meeting. During the session, the Assembly had the opportunity to hear from NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardack, the Commander of Allied Joint Force Command, General Egon Ramms, and the Speaker of the Latvian parliament, Gundars Daudze. Secretary General Rasmussen used his address to the Assembly to outline some key principles for NATO's new Strategic Concept and to urge delegates to remain committed to the mission in Afghanistan. On the new Strategic Concept, Secretary General Rasmussen emphasized the importance of adopting a document that explains in clear terms how the Alliance is enhancing security in the 21st century. He argued that NATO must remain committed to deterrence and collective defense, that the Alliance must cooperate with non-NATO member states such as Russia, and that NATO's approach to security must be comprehensive and must complement actions taken by other international organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations. The Secretary General added that in order to realize the strategic goals agreed by the Alliance, NATO headquarters must function efficiently and that NATO member states must develop more flexible and deployable military forces and capabilities.

* In sum, Madam Speaker, the 2010 spring session of the NATO Parliamentary session in Riga, Latvia was a great success. As President of the Assembly, I took pride in the deliberations and the informed engagement of the delegates from all NATO member states and our associate and observer members. For Members of the House and Senate interested in reading the committee reports or transcripts of the presentations mentioned in this statement, they are available on the NATO PA website at www.nato-pa.int. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our Ambassador to Latvia, Judith Garber, and her staff for the excellent job they did assisting the delegation during our stay in Riga.

* On Tuesday, June 1, after the conclusion of the NATO PA meeting, our delegation travelled to Podgorica, Montenegro, on the invitation of Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. Since achieving its independence in 2006, Montenegro's key foreign policy goals have been European Union (EU) and NATO integration. Montenegro has moved quickly to advance its NATO membership candidacy and in December 2009, the Alliance invited Montenegro to join the Membership Action Plan (MAP), a critical step on the road to possible NATO membership. The United States strongly supported Montenegro's effort to gain independence from Serbia and continues to support its efforts to gain membership in NATO and the European Union. During one-and-a half days of meetings in Montenegro, our delegation observed first hand the steps being taken by the Montenegrin government to advance its NATO membership prospects and to ensure that membership will lead to a stronger Alliance and enhance stability in the Western Balkan region. We also took the opportunity to urge the Montenegrin leadership to continue to advance reforms in the area of democratic governance, to combat corruption, and to enhance the rule of law in the country.

* Over the course of our visit, the delegation met with numerous Montenegrin government officials, including Prime Minister Djukanovic and President Filip Vujanovic, and had the opportunity to observe Montenegrin troops as they trained in preparation for upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. We were also fortunate to meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations and media outlets, including several outspoken critics of the current Montenegrin government. Shortly after our arrival in Podgorica, we received a comprehensive briefing on U.S.-Montenegrin relations from our Ambassador to Montenegro, Roderick Moore, and his excellent staff. Ambassador Moore highlighted the record of strong U.S. support for Montenegro and emphasized the work he and his staff are currently doing to enhance democratic governance in the country. Our meetings with Prime Minister Djukanovic, President Vujanovic, Foreign Minister Milan Rocen, and Speaker of the Montenegrin Parliament Ranko Krivokapic focused primarily on the country's prospects for NATO and EU membership and on the government's democratic reform efforts, particularly in the rule of law area. The Montenegrin leadership stressed the importance of Euro-Atlantic integration not only for the country but for the Western Balkan region. Each of our interlocutors believes strongly that NATO and EU integration represent the best hope to bring lasting peace and stability to the region.

* Our delegation also had the opportunity to observe first hand the advances being made by the Montenegrin armed forces. Since gaining independence, Montenegro has had to create a military virtually from the ground up. The size and capabilities of the Montenegrin armed forces remain limited, but the government has made some notable strides in modernizing the military and creating more deployable units. Our delegation was especially impressed to learn of Montenegro's contribution to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In March of this year, Montengro deployed a 31-man infantry unit and a medical team to Afghanistan. One of the highlights of our trip was being able to meet with Montenegrin soldiers preparing to deploy to Afghanistan and to express to them our sincere appreciation for their efforts.

* In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of Ambassador Roderick Moore and his staff, who went out of their way to organize an excellent visit for the delegation. The embassy team in Podgorica deserves high praise for the work they have done advancing U.S. policy in Montenegro and the Western Balkan region. As always, members of the United States military also contributed greatly to the success of this NATO PA trip. The logistics of such a trip, compressed into a tight time frame, are complicated and require lengthy and detailed preparation. Our military escorts were from the Air Force Legislative Liaison Office and the aircrew was from the 201st Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Andrews, MD. They did an outstanding job and I thank them for their hard work and dedication to duty.