Rome/Brussels, 4 November 2016 - NATO member and Mediterranean and Middle Eastern partner countries need a shared strategy to reinforce regional security, combat terrorism and manage the worrying flow of migrants across borders. These were key questions discussed at a large NATO Parliamentary Assembly seminar held in the Italian Chamber of Deputies on 27-29 October 2016.
It addressed six themes: the situation in Libya and North Africa, the refugee crisis and border control, the political consequence of mass migration in Europe and the United States, the Western Balkans as a bridge between the MENA region and Europe, the situation in Syria and Iraq and the challenge of radicalization and terrorism in the West.
Brett McGurk, the US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, told seminar participants that the number of those who have travelled from abroad to join Daesh in Iraq, Syria and Libya is unprecedented and could be higher than 40,000. He said that very effective propaganda had helped attract many of these fighters to join Daesh. The broad effort now underway to recapture territory seized by the group in those three countries, however, has countered Daesh’s narrative of invincibility. McGurk described the ongoing coalition effort to retake the city of Mosul in Iraq but warned that this battle will take time to conclude. There are a million people living in that city and the coalition must take great care to protect civilian lives, he warned.
Ambassador McGurk cautioned that pushing Daesh out of Syria, Libya and Iraq will not eradicate the threat posed by this group. Allies and regional partners need to prepare for a long-term struggle that will require deeper cooperation in everything from preventive methods, to social media monitoring and astute surveillance. The head of the Italian Delegation, Andrea Manciulli, signaled that Daesh could transform its skills in using the internet for propaganda purposes to launching cyber-attacks even as it cedes territory to the international coalition.
In Rome, members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group (GSM) also voted to adopt Andrea Manciulli’s report on the Expansion of Daesh into Libya and the Western Mediterranean. That report explores the divisions that continue to undermine security in Libya, the international campaign against Daesh in Sirte and the links between that conflict and developments in Europe and the Western Balkans, both of which have been an important source of foreign fighters working inside Daesh.
Andrea Manciulli’s report challenges the international community to remain engaged in Libya and points to some of the links between terrorist networks in that country and the Balkans. His report is available on the NATO PA website.
Andrea Manciulli’s co-panelist Karim Mezran, Resident Senior Fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, suggested that Libya’s divisions cannot be solved militarily. He said that it the international community should support the recognised government while encouraging a broad dialogue. He also noted that a decentralised system of rule will be essential to stabilising the country.
The refugee crisis and Europe’s response to it was also on the seminar agenda. Laura Boldrini the speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies told delegates that already this year 3,700 refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, of which at least 600 were children. She said that criminal human traffickers bear a large part of the responsibility and that Europe must regain control of its borders while keeping them open.
Anna Borshchevskaya, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued that Russian air strikes in Aleppo and elsewhere have become a major factor in the mass exodus of refugees from Syria. Insofar as this crisis is generating political problems in Europe, it is also furthering President Putin’s ambition both to sow discord on the continent and to demonstrate that Russia matters. She noted that Russia’s leader has described the Syrian battle as a helpful opportunity to train Russian forces. Gilbert Le Bris (France) told the participants in earlier remarks that the French government had insisted on speaking to President Putin about the bombing of Aleppo and the commission of war crimes in Syria during his scheduled participation in the opening of a Russian orthodox church in Paris. President Putin ultimately chose not to travel to France.
140 parliamentarians from 39 countries participated in this Joint Seminar of the Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group (GSM), chaired by Gilbert Le Bris, and the Sub-Committee on NATO Partnerships (PCNP) chaired by Karl A. Lamers (Germany). A full report of this seminar will be available soon on the NATO PA website.