Just Say No to NATO

No country at today’s NATO defense ministers’ meeting offered to send additional (and much-needed) troops to Afghanistan. This doesn’t bode well for the future of the alliance.

So the spin coming out of the NATO defense ministers' meeting today-where no member without troops in Afghanistan (e.g. fighting the Taliban) decided to send any-is that this topic wasn't on the agenda. NATO spokesman James Appathurai told the media, "It was not a force generation meeting. . . . We did not expect ministers to come to the table with force packages." So after months of complaints-principally from U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates that other members of the alliance were not pulling their weight in the Afghan mission in terms of providing combat-ready troops ready and willing to bleed (and not just engage in "safe" reconstruction work in the stable northern parts of the country)-this subject wasn't on the agenda?

Also not clear whether Canadian Defense Minister Peter Gordon MacKay's threat registered. He said that Canada-which has 2,500 soldiers engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan's southern province of Kandahar-would withdraw these forces when their mandate expires in 2009 unless other NATO allies begin to assign both combat troops and resources to Afghanistan.

So it doesn't appear that the advice the former deputy SACEUR Rupert Smith gave-for NATO to get its act together on the Afghan mission-really registered. And the alliance which so many here in the United States want to turn into the arm of the world's democracies to project power on the global scale also called today for other, non-NATO countries to become more involved. China's Xinhua let pass without editorial comment Appathurai's appeal, "We do need to move away from the conception that Afghanistan is NATO's problem and NATO's problem alone."

[On a side note: So NATO wouldn't object to a joint mission in Afghanistan with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, perhaps? Frederick Kempe, president of the Atlantic Council, called two days ago for "a super-envoy to coordinate efforts in Afghanistan" who should call for a "regional conference that includes India, Iran, Pakistan and even the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which Russia and China are members, bringing that organization into its first talks with NATO."]

Nor is there any sign of consensus about the next round of NATO expansion. Some countries are clearly concerned about admitting states that are unable to bear the burdens of membership. France and some other EU states want to begin to redefine NATO membership as being coterminous with current or likely membership in the Union. Meanwhile, one of the aspirant countries, Ukraine, has a fresh political crisis-caused in part by deep divisions over whether the country should proceed with a Membership Action Plan (but also over a spat between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko over the latter's decision to remove the head of the country's privatization agency). So it seems that the likely outcome of the Bucharest summit later this spring will be to table these decisions.

Papering over these differences with slogans about unity and commitment may no longer be enough. Perhaps-in private-the defense ministers will begin to have the frank exchanges needed to air out these differences.

 

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.