The Importance of Democratic Diplomacy

by Joseph Sadek

For ten months in 2017, I had a front-row seat to the most democratic form of diplomacy. I served as one of five Research Assistants at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s (PA) Secretariat in Brussels, Belgium. The experience left me with innumerable personal and professional memories and, most importantly, “Europe’s Capital” gave me an appreciation for parliamentary diplomacy at an international, institutional level.

Diplomacy among and between legislators and parliamentarians is an unfamiliar side of diplomatic engagement. Inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway, policymakers and Capitol Hill staffers are familiar with congressional delegations (CODELs), but the broader American public may know little about their representatives’ international trips or foreign engagements. Yet, U.S. congressional travel hit an all-time high in 2016. Even as an active constituent and student of international affairs, I had little understanding of U.S. CODELs, let alone parliamentary diplomacy and its importance for U.S. global alliances. The NATO PA experience convinced me that parliamentary diplomacy and dialogue are necessary components of international engagement if international institutions are to serve democratic societies and advance international cooperation.

Most Americans are familiar with NATO, the post-World War II military alliance of twenty-nine member states. Fewer Americans probably know who leads the alliance. NATO’s executive leadership includes the North Atlantic Council, which is composed of appointed ambassadors from NATO member states; the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, who commands NATO’s armed forces; and the Secretary General of NATO, who leads the alliance’s international staff at its headquarters in Belgium. None of these diplomatic and military leaders are directly elected by the citizens of their respective democracies. NATO’s governance structure, therefore, begs the question: “Where is the democratic oversight? Do citizens have a say?”


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