NATO Makes Disclosures; Too Modest, Says Academic Critic

11 June 2015

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization on June 3 for the first time made public documents about its financial regulations, corporate governance and accounting principles.

The move was dubbed positive but insufficient by an expert on NATO transparent, Tsvetelina Yordanova, a former journalist who just received her doctorate from Sofia University in Bulgaria and recently presented a paper on NATO transparency at a recent international conference.

The latest disclosures are “too modest and peripheral,” Yordanova told Freedominfo.org. She said, “In a situation of global financial crisis when the public is strongly concerned about every euro spent by governments, the organization is still unable to answer the question how much money it spends on its activities and what are the benefits of these expenditures for the public.”

“Practically NATO publishes hardly any documents concerning its present activities,” Yordanova concluded in her paper, given at the 4th Global Conference on Transparency Research, held June 4-6 in Lugano, Switzerland.

Three Documents Released

NATO said its disclosures fulfill “an agreement Allied heads of state and government made at the Wales Summit last year to enhance NATO financial transparency and accountability,” according to the press release.

The documents just released are:

  • The NATO Financial Regulations, a 2015 document which govern financial administration and which are designed to ensure consistency of approach in efficient and effective resource management.
  • The Guidelines on Corporate Governance, a 2005 document which establishes “the principles to be followed to strengthen transparency and accountability.”
  • The NATO Accounting Framework, dated 2013, which provides the minimum requirements for financial reporting in NATO.

The NATO press release also points to the publication of audit reports by the International Board of Auditors for NATO (IBAN) and the associated financial statements. “Together, they underline the commitment of the Alliance towards greater transparency and accountability and recognition of the importance of improving insight into how NATO manages, spends and reports on the use of taxpayer funds,” according to the announcement, which links to the NATO Transparency and Accountability webpage.

The Guidelines on Corporate Governance list “openness, integrity and accountability” as the “three major principles underpinning governance.” The document sets out guidelines for annual reports to the North Atlantic Council by NATO agencies: NATO Communications and Information Agency, NATO Support and Procurement Agency, NATO Science and Technology Organization and NATO Standardization Office.

It does not establish procedures and policies for making information requests to NATO, the lack of which has been a complaint of NATO observers.

Disclosure Policy for Older Documents

NATO in 2008 established a policy called “Public Disclosure of NATO Information” which is elaborated in a 2014 “Directive on Public Disclosure of NATO Information.

The policies permit declassification and release of documents older than 30 years by the NATO archivist, subject to the concurrence of member countries, according to the policies and a NATO description of the process,

In 2014, some 5,000 military and civilian documents, up to and including 1982, were proposed for public disclosure, according to NATO.

An “ad-hoc disclosure process” exists for for members, organizations or the NATO Archives to propose the release of documents, including ones less than 30 years old, according to material on NATO’s website, which says further: “Ad-hoc requests usually come from researchers or journalists, who can make a `Freedom of Information’ request to their national governments.  The national government then makes the request to the NATO Archivist.”

In 2014, there were 15 such requests, for almost 1,000 documents.

There is no provision for requests from those besides “a competent authority of NATO, or by a nation or international organisation having formal relations with NATO.”

Overall, NATO says that over 42,000 of the 325,000 publicly disclosed documents (covering the period 1949-1982) are available through the NATO Archives Online portal. The others are available in the NATO Archives Reading Room.

The NATO Archivist is “responsible for drafting, publishing and amending NATO-wide policies and directives for the management of NATO’s collective institutional memory,” according to NATO’s webpage on The Archives Committee, an advisory body.

Yordanova Overall Assessment

Assessing NATO disclosure policy, Yordanova concluded:

Practically NATO publishes hardly any documents concerning its present activities. Neither of the meetings and sessions of its main bodies is public. The decisions made, the minutes and the other records from the meetings are likewise not disclosed. There is no information about the consultation and the voting within the main political body of the organization – the North Atlantic Council, although the decisions are taken unanimously.

NATO does not publish analyses, reports or other forms of information that is used for making informed decisions. The organization does not disclose even its common budget or documents needed for accountability (with the exception of the Annual Report of the Secretary General). The website of the organization does not even have a special section for documents which is indicative for the approach of NATO towards transparency. The information is rather dispersed among different

categories. The website consists of basic information for the main activities of the organization. The statistical information about the annual defense budget of the member states is also presented with the aim to show the great imbalances in its financial backing. NATO has attempted to imitate openness with the launch of its online tv channel (NATOChannel.tv). Unlike the television of the United Nations however, which has live broadcast of the sessions of some of the main bodies of the organization, the online channel of NATO presents only documentaries concerning different NATO activities and has live broadcasting only of the press conferences of the Secretary General.

Although NATO has invested a lot of efforts in explaining its disclosure rules, it is still one of the most rigid organizations in the area of transparency. In this respect it can be even compared to international organizations of non-democratic countries. It allows classifying of almost all of the current activities of the general criteria and the discretion of administrators which makes the system prone to arbitrary classifications. The public information from the organization is too poor to allow the general public to construct informed perceptions about its current activities.

The insufficient transparency of NATO activities has urged different organizations to raise the issue to the public agenda. For example the Netherlands Court of Audit (NCA) has taken the initiative to present an overview of the publicly available information on NATO’s finances and its results. “The NCA audits the expenses that the Netherlands annually spends on NATO activities. We do not have a specific mandate to audit NATO, but we are involved in advising the International Board of Auditors for NATO (IBAN). Together with IBAN and other Supreme Audit Institutions of member countries we have been concluding for several years that NATO’s financial management is not in order.” notes the organization. The NGO sector has also made endeavors to alarm for the problem with the insufficient transparency of NATO and one of the most focused organizations in that sense is ‘NATO Watch’.

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Filed under: IFTI Watch

ABOUT IFTI WATCH

In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
Contact: freeinfo@gwu.edu or
1-(703) 276-7748