Testing the NATO Alliance: Afghanistan and the Future of Cooperation

Article excerpt

At the heart of the alliance is article five of the North Atlantic Treaty: if one NATO member is attacked, all will respond. Now, as US President Obama reminded us in Strasbourg, NATO "remains the strongest alliance that the world has ever known." NATO's summit, however, revealed the weakness of that alliance. Contrary to the spirit of the NATO treaty, some countries are doing much more in Afghanistan than others. The discrepancy is so great that it is almost misleading to call it a NATO mission. Countries cannot share the benefits of collective security without sharing its burdens too. Troops are needed to support the upcoming Afghan elections, to train Afghan soldiers, and to rebuild the country. But all of this depends on the security situation; the most urgent need is for troops to fight the Taliban.

There are three inequalities here. First, too many countries want do too little. Before the summit, the United Kingdom had 4.6 percent of its forces in Afghanistan. Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Estonia all had between 2.5 and 4 percent, and the United States had just over 2 percent of its forces there. Similarly, other leading European countries--Germany, Italy, and France--are all deploying significantly lower proportions. At the summit, only 17 out of the 28 NATO members offered anything at all. Even after the promised soldiers arrive, the proportion of the non-US soldiers there will not rise, or even stay the same. It will actually fall. The second inequality is that many of the governments in the alliance have negotiated "national caveats" that prevent them from doing certain types of work. In total, there are 76 of these national caveats, enabling troops to opt out of NATO command and obey their own national governments. The net result is that many NATO troops will remain shielded from combat. Only a minority of countries' soldiers will actually provide the security on which the whole operation depends. The third inequality is that some governments have said they will deploy troops only if other countries do as well. This does nothing to help the spirit of NATO's commitment to collective security.

These three inequalities--uneven deployment, uneven operational commitment, and conditional deployment--mean that on the ground, Afghanistan does not look like a NATO mission, but a deployment of an adhoc alliance. This impression is bolstered given that eight non-NATO countries are also contributing troops. …