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Emphasis on terrorism and migration challenges at NATO conference

Posted By August 5, 2016 No Comments

From July 23-30, 2016, The Mackenzie Institute’s General Manager, Kyla Cham, attended the 21st Portuguese Atlantic Youth Seminar (PAYS) at Alfeite Naval Academy in Lisbon, Portugal. The conference was titled “The Warsaw Era: Collectively Defending the Alliance”, and saw regional experts give lectures on NATO’s role following their recent Warsaw Summit. Consistent themes that emerged were terrorism, threats to both Europe’s Eastern and Southern borders, and the migration crisis. The seminar was organized by the Comissão Portuguesa do Atlântico and the Portuguese Atlantic Youth Association, with the support of the Portuguese Government and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.


André Pardal, a lawyer from Legalworks and former Portuguese MP, outlined how NATO’s interests today are different from when the Alliance was first founded in 1949. While the same focus remains on collective defence and cooperative security against threats from Russia, terrorism and cyber-attack for example, these threats are no longer traditional. The ‘Arc of Instability’ that was identified years ago is now within NATO’s borders and current terrorism concerns are now within NATO member countries. This was unheard of 10 years ago. The coming years will continue to see the same issues and threats, but in different forms. Pardal says that moving forward, it would be difficult to determine interests, priorities, budgets and traditions of all 28 NATO member countries.

The Growing Threat of Terrorism

The main topic of discussion was, of course, terrorism and the Islamic State. In this case, Paolo Cardoso of Global Intelligence Insight said that the first line of battle is online and that there is no current strategy to tackle this. This was reiterated by Member of Parliament, Duarte Marques, who said that terrorism cannot be fought off with tanks or bombs when the battle is being fought over the internet and social media. He claims that a different strategy is required, as governments are not willing to put money into security policies and implementation, and because the Schengen Information System (SIS) is facing difficulties in sharing data amongst each other.

Felipe Pathé Duarte from the Institute of Political Studies at the Catholic University of Portugal explained how jihadism cannot be seen from a religious perspective. The role of religion in jihadism is purely marketing and rhetoric. The Islamic State is much more than religious extremism as they are also seeking political power. Therefore, it should be considered a pure global insurgency problem, with terrorism as one of the main tactics of insurgency.


Duarte provided further insight into how the ‘jihadist ideal’ is the center of gravity, which makes it difficult to tackle jihadism (as it is being promoted as a system and not an organization). This is what makes the Islamic State so successful in their use of social media. They will always have an audience in cyberspace, and as a result, will not require orders from an organized chain of command.

Col. Nuno Lemos Pires, the Commandant of Cadets and Professor at the Portuguese Military Academy, identified five holistic solutions to tackle jihadism:

  1. Prevention: through education and inclusivity;
  2. Do not copy solutions of the past: each issue must be treated case by case and requires new methods;
  3. Must have a clear chain of command;
  4. All nations must act together;
  5. DDR (demobilization, disarmament, reintegration) or SSR (security sector reform).

Dealing with the refugee crisis coming from NATO’s Southern Flank

There was much emphasis placed toward concerns of NATO’s southern flank. André Pardal said that NATO’s focus is very much toward the Eastern borders to protect against Russia, but there needs to be more priority in addressing the problems in the Southern borders with the number of migrants coming across the Mediterranean. He stressed the importance for countries such as Portugal, Spain, France and Italy in dealing with these threats, as NATO is not focusing on this area from cutting costs due to ‘smart defence’.

However, Ana Santos Pinto from the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences at Nova University of Lisbon, stressed that fact that NATO does not deal with migration issues, but is ready to contribute to other agencies dealing with these. The most recent is Operation Sea Guardian, which was transitioned from Operation Active Endeavour at the Warsaw Summit to contribute maritime assets to combat illegal activity/traffic at sea, in addition to Operation Sophia, the most extensive operation by the EU to control illegal traffic in the Mediterranean.

Pinto carefully defined the differences between economic migrants and refugee/asylum seekers. Refugees are granted special status under the international law framework, whereas economic migrants must pass considerations in order to fit the criteria. She stated that the majority of people entering the EU are actually not refugees, rather they are illegal economic migrants. The latter are categorized under “Not Specified” as they did not have proper documentation upon entering the EU and thus cannot be returned to a country. There are obviously extended concerns for security in this case, but the processes are the problem. She admitted that Europe has a problem with integration (identity crises), which has broader implications for security.

Collective Defence

The last few days of the seminar involved a workshop on collective defence. As a concept, the wording and phrasing are extremely important. Is it really collective? And what are they defending against? NATO is currently facing challenges from the inside and there are no policy actions that address these issues. The question is: can a country call on collective defence on an internal matter? The workshop divided the conference participants into four groups to deal with collective defence on the following internal issues: social unrest, coup d’état, economic collapse, and domestic terrorism.


Kyla Cham was part of the group developing policy recommendations to NATO on domestic terrorism issues. Recommendations included: greater intelligence sharing, emergency assistance for attacks related to domestic terrorism (i.e. cyber-attacks and attacks to critical infrastructure), a high readiness multinational task force, and best practices. The full report will be published online once available.

NATO is the most powerful regional alliance in the world. Member countries must also be prepared to contribute and be actively engaged in joint efforts. As NATO and its member countries face new and challenging security issues, it is important to consider how the Alliance will be able to adapt to the changing environment and be actively involved in addressing these challenges.