The 2019 NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which concluded this week in London, offered an important insight into the issues driving the alliance ahead of the 2019 NATO Summit.
The 65th NATO Parliamentary Assembly wasn’t the only show in Westminster – the area of central London which includes Parliament, several attendees of the NATO event at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre were held up by an unlikely source of congestion: Queen Elizabeth II. Large crowds gathered outside to catch a glimpse of the queen and her entourage as she traveled by horse-drawn carriage to deliver a key speech as important Brexit negotiations continue.
“The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the 65th annual session, was very important and even though there was a Queen’s Speech happening … there were a lot of U.K. delegates in the hall and that’s how much importance we attach to the NATO alliance,” said Tan Singh Dhesi, a member of parliament with for the Labour Party. Dhesi rose to international prominence in September for his condemnation of comments previously made by current Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the U.K.’s Muslim population.
“There are a lot of positives that we can take away and a lot of goodwork has been done over the year,” Dhesi told The Defense Post.
“However, there are areas of huge concern for those of us in the U.K., for example with what’s happening in Syria and in particular along the Turkish-Syrian border. There is a feeling from some around the world that we have abandoned or sold down the river the Kurds who have fought with us against the diabolical and destructive Daesh,” he said, referring to Islamic State.
Tensions spilled into the open when during a question-and-answer session on Monday when NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg faced sharp questions notably from the French and Belgian parliamentary delegations on Turkey’s recent incursion into northern Syria.
“I expect Turkey to act with restraint and in coordination with other allies so that we can preserve the gains we have made against our common enemy, Daesh,” Stoltenberg said.
Turkey says is designed to help secure itself from terrorist attacks as well as create a buffer space for some of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return home. Turkish delegates at the conference stressed Turkey’s continued commitment to membership in NATO and offered as evidence past Turkish involvement in NATO missions, most notably in Afghanistan.
For most NATO member states the war in Afghanistan is the longest conflict in their collective history. Some 3,000 troops from NATO countries have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001 and tens of billions of dollars have been spent on that country’s defense and development.
“The fact is based on realities on the ground that most of the objectives of the NATO mission have not been achieved and we in Afghanistan still require the support of the NATO allies,” Kamal Safi, a leading member of the Afghan National Assembly delegation, told The Defense Post.
At last year’s summit in Brussels, NATO committed to funding Afghan security operations through 2024. Such financial support to the central government and security forces remains critical if history is not to repeat itself.
However, Safi was keen to suggest that NATO support must continue beyond merely a focus on security.
“We hope [the 2019 NATO Summit] will address more than legitimate goal of security for Afghanistan. We hope NATO will continue to partner with us to eliminate narcotics, to develop our institutions, to help ensure freedoms such as the freedom of speech and preserve the gains that have been made in women’s rights since 2001.”
Issues regarding the war in Syria and Afghanistan will feature prominently on the agenda of the NATO Summit in London in December.
Turkey’s intervention in northeast Syria also provided a sub-text for a dramatic moment during the final voting on resolutions when a parliamentarian from Italy’s 5 Star movement attempted to remove a clause in a draft resolution which called for a new NATO initiative to “monitor and report – in a respectful and constructive manner – on the democratic credentials of member and candidate states.”
The issue provoked speakers on both sides of the issue. Following a divisive vote the President of the Parliamentary Assembly Madeleine Moon initially declared the measure had passed, which provoked minor kerfuffle in the hall. Moon quickly corrected herself and proceedings continued smoothly.
“The collaborative approach that NATO offers is crucial to our collective defense,” Dhesi said at the conclusion of the event.