The NATO Summit is this week, and the future of the Organization, as well as the impact that the “other mess” that is Afghanistan will be the top item on the agenda. Unfortunately, with the news (finally) dominated by the nearly unspeakable horrors that are actually going on in Iraq, a rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is unfolding before the world’s eyes – and is threatening the future direction of NATO.
One of the bigger problems that NATO is facing (other than and as a result of the fact that the US “cut and ran” from Afghanistan to pursue its’ real life game of Risk™) is that more troops are needed, but countries are arguing over who should send more troops:
NATO member countries need to deploy more troops to Afghanistan to stabilize the troubled region, said parliamentarians who are meeting in Quebec City.
The 18,000-soldier contingent needs to be increased by 15 to 20 per cent, said Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, vice-president of NATO's parliamentary assembly.
The reinforcements can't come from Canada, said the Conservative senator.
With more than 2,000 soldiers currently stationed in Afghanistan, Canada has already done its part, he said.
Mr. Nolin said the ball is now in the court of the 25 other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It's not the first time the point has been pressed to the organization but there have been few takers.
And so it goes. But this attitude, right or not, is causing a strain between the EU countries and the other NATO members:
NATO is also worried that France and Germany are keeping their soldiers away from combat operations and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer last week urged lawmakers of the alliance nations to “lean on their governments to remove restrictions on troops” operating in Afghanistan.
There is a growing rift in the military alliance as Canadian, American, British and Dutch forces in southern Afghanistan bear the brunt of heavy fighting against the Taliban insurgents whereas the French, German and Italian forces patrol relatively quiet sectors in the north of Afghanistan, under self-imposed limitations that keep them out of combat operations.
The French and German stand on reduced participation in combat operations is understandable since they opposed the US’ unilateral war in Iraq but committed troops to the ISAF for nation-building exercises in Afghanistan and not to guerrilla warfare.
“This relationship is currently suffering from under-stretch rather than overstretch. Indeed, given the magnitude of today’s security challenges, it is remarkable how narrow the common agenda of both institutions remains” said Scheffer.
Now, we can play “coulda woulda shoulda” all day long here about the dazzling number of horrific decisions made by the US in Afghanistan – from not putting enough troops toward the hunt for Bin Laden, or not putting enough troops into the country to begin with, or thinking that they could “win on the cheap” and divert most of our armed forces to Iraq, or whatever else was done. Sadly however, this is the hand that we are facing, and that hand includes Iraq, Afghanistan and all of the other chest thumping that our “fearless” leaders are doing.
The good news is that NATO is assisting in Afghanistan with over 30,000 troops. The bad news is that isn’t nearly enough, that even former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that Afghanistan is even a more pressing issue than Iraq, and while US ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland knows that the military alone will not win this we have a “stay the course” mentality from the UK:
"I don't believe there is an alternative but to fight this and to fight it for as long as it takes," British Prime Minister Tony Blair told troops in southern Afghanistan last week.
"A military mission alone will not succeed," U.S. Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland said.
"We must have security married to good governance and development, and that means the EU, U.N. and NATO working in harmony with Afghans," she wrote on NATO's Web site last week.
Of course, there are some successes that can be pointed to, such as some improvement in healthcare and education. But in the four years since military action commenced, there have been far too many negatives and far too many steps backwards. You don’t have to look too hard to see that the huge comeback of the Opium trade is taking a huge toll on society or that bombings and deaths are still all too frequent.
NATO Secretary-General Scheffer knows that these rifts can threaten the future of NATO:
Putting caveats on operations means putting caveats on NATO's future," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Brussels before the summit. "At Riga, I will convey this message to our heads of state and government, loud and clear."
The big question is whether this message will resonate enough to hold NATO together as well as not only stopping Afghanistan from deteriorating further but also to somehow achieve “victory” in Afghanistan – that is whatever “victory” can be measured by. This detailed article in the Economist seems to think that while the task is a difficult one, it is not impossible.
But we also heard that about Afghanistan back in 2002. We can only hope that some sort of consensus will allow NATO to do what it set out to do as anything else would be disastrous.