18 November 2009 - NATO PARLIAMENTARY SESSION CLOSES IN EDINBURGH
The 55th annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly closed in Edinburgh on Tuesday 17th November. Addressing the final plenary session, the Assembly’s President John Tanner called on the delegates to improve understanding of NATO missions among the populations of the various allies. “Many of our citizens seem unaware or misinformed about what NATO is and what it does” said the congressman from Tennessee, US. The Parliamentary Assembly has “an important role to play” in an improved NATO pubic communication strategy, said Tanner. “We need to be more proactive” in communicating NATO’s principles and activities “to the people of our countries” he added.
The Assembly’s plenary session was also addressed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and British foreign secretary David Miliband, who both underlined the NATO’s essential role in dealing with both traditional and emerging security challenges.
The NATO Secretary General stressed the importance of continued resolve in Afghanistan, where NATO’s involvement faces flagging support in many Allied nations. “To my mind it is obvious”, he said “if we were to walk away and turn our backs on Afghanistan, al-Qaeda would be back in a flash: They would have a sanctuary from which to launch their strategy of global jihad, a strategy that is directed first and foremost against us. Rasmussen also took the opportunity to “strongly encourage” the attending parliamentarians, and their governments, “to make more military resources available – extra combat forces for ISAF, extra troops for [training] the Afghan national security forces”.
The British foreign secretary David Miliband added his support to this, saying “We cannot leave a vacuum which the Taliban will quickly fill, and under their umbrella al-Qaeda quickly follow”. “The war can be won”, he said, but only if the allies are willing to commit themselves further.
The importance of a strong communication strategy on NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan had already been mentioned by the Commander of the British land forces Sir General Peter Wall in the meeting of the Assembly’s Defence and Security Committee. The Defence and Security Committee also adopted a report prepared by Frank Cook MP (UK) and titled “Afghanistan: a turning point?” The report stressed the need for “additional resources and attention” to reverse the recent trend of escalating violence in the country, and pointed out the opportunities presented by the new presidency and recent military assessments of Afghanistan’s security requirements. A more comprehensive, regional approach was also advocated by the Assembly during the session, especially concerning the role played by Pakistan in the fight against the various manifestations of the Taliban insurgency.
The NATO Secretary General also spoke of the new threats that the alliance faces in the 21st century. “Never before has NATO’s agenda been so broad” he said, referring in particular to international terrorism, cyberwarfare, energy supplies, piracy and the impact of climate change on security. Originally designed as an organization of mutual territorial defence, Rasmussen noted that modern threats “emanate from outside our borders to a large extent”, and that no contradiction should be seen between equipping NATO to deal with threats “out of area” on the one hand, and ensuring the security of members’ own territories on the other. The NATO Secretary General also stressed the need for a “more mature NATO-Russia relationship”. “Among our 28 Allies, there are different views on Russia” conceded Rasmussen, but he said NATO should not “become prisoners of the past” and should build a relationship “that allows us to pursue common interests and air our differences”. He also emphasized that NATO’s commitment to its “open door policy” would be “unflinching”.
The plenary session was then addressed by a panel of women from the senior ranks of the UK’s armed forces. The majority of posts have been open from 2002, explained Brigadier Nicky Moffat, and inequalities such as pay differences between the genders have been abolished. The Royal Navy’s Sarah West noted that retention of women in the forces is however still an issue which they are taking steps to address, such as workplace childcare.
The Session concluded with the Assembly adopting policy recommendations on topics ranging from Afghanistan, piracy off the Somalian coast, to nuclear proliferation and NATO’s “Open Door” policy. The full text of the policy recommendations, Committee reports and speakers’ presentations are available on the Assembly’s website.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which brought together some 350 delegates from over 50 countries, held its annual session in Edinburgh, Scotland, from 13th to 17th November. The next session will be held from 28 May to 1 June in Riga, Latvia.