A new report from Transparency International UK’s Defence and Security Programme “calls for better legislation that balances national security concerns with the public right to access information,” according to a September 11 press release.
“A strong defence and security sector can coexist with the ability of citizens to access to information and hold leaders to account”, said Mark Pyman, the director of Transparency International UK’s Defence and Security Programme. “In fact, greater openness can help reduce corruption, which devastates the effectiveness of defence and security establishments.”
The study examines secrecy laws across 15 countries (Austria, Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Macedonia (FYR), Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Republic of South Africa, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK) and the EU. Eight of the countries in the study are NATO member states and a further three are NATO partners. A short discussion of NATO information standards is also covered as an annex.
As regards NATO, the report states that:
little is known about the information standards within NATO since not many documents on the subject are made public. However, from the few that are, a number of weaknesses in the system are highlighted. These include not defining rules of protection and thus making the system prone to arbitrary classifications, not listing the subjects which may require classification, and not developing an expiry of classification periods.
The report says that the EU's classification system was altered in line with NATO standards and both comprise four levels of classification: Top Secret / Secret / Confidential / Restricted. According to a 2002 document (Security Within The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), C-M(2002)49), NATO's security policy is codified in rules for protecting classified information as follows:
to achieve adequate security protection of NATO classified information handled in systems, a balanced set of security measures (physical, personnel, information and INFOSEC) shall be identified and implemented to create a secure environment in which a system operates, and to meet the following security objectives:
(a) to ensure the confidentiality of information by controlling the disclosure of, and access to, NATO classified information, and supporting system services and resources;
(b) to ensure the integrity of NATO classified information, and supporting
system services and resources; and
(c) to ensure the availability of NATO classified information, and supporting system services and resources.
The report “recommends precautions that can help prevent corruption and malfeasance: information must only be classified when the public interest in withholding it outweighs public interest in disclosing it; it must not be classified indefinitely; classification decisions must be justified in writing; internal and independent external reviews should be part of the legislation; information should be properly archived; and civil society should be engaged both in the regulation of this field and in the oversight of classification, according to the press release.
“Few countries studied met these standards,” TI UK observes.
“We hope that this report will inform the public debate about the appropriate ways to balance national security information and protect the public’s right to information”, said Adam Foldes, the author of the report.
NATO's limited financial (and other) transparency makes it difficult to ensure that NATO-related spending (by both member states and collectively) is efficient and effective. Without a publicly available annual budget or reliable performance metrics, it is often impossible to grasp the significance of what is being proposed or implemented within the Alliance.
Interestingly, the Netherlands Court of Audit (NCA)—the official auditing body of the Dutch government—shares this view and launched a new website in June this year that also aims to stimulate further debate and progress on this important issue. The main conclusion on the NCA website reads as follows:
NATO is funded with taxpayers’ money. However, it does not yet provide comprehensive information about its annual revenues, expenditures, and achievements to the taxpayer. NATO is also not yet transparent and public accountable for its financial management. It is not clear what NATO entities achieve or whether they give value for money. This is because most of NATO’s financial and organisational information is undisclosed. Some of this information is considered too sensitive to disclose to the public; but there is also information which is not deemed sensitive, but is simply not disclosed.
Former US Senator Sam Nunn has also called for greater accountability within NATO:
NATO should commit to publicly scoring the contributions and improved military capabilities of its members, as they implement their Wales summit commitments. Then, NATO should review progress every six months. NATO members have an historic pattern where pledges and promises on necessary military improvements vastly exceed implementation. NATO member states must be held accountable for meeting their commitments.
Perhaps as a result of this growing pressure, the NATO Wales Summit Declaration (paragraph 112) commits the Alliance to "further work in the areas of delivery of common funded capabilities, reform governance and transparency and accountability, especially in the management of NATO’s financial resources". As ever with NATO, the devil will be in the detail, although a progress report on these reforms in promised by the time of the next Summit. Is it too much to ask for such a report to be placed in the public domain?