Winning in Afghanistan; A War NATO Cannot Lose

Article excerpt

Byline: Harlan Ullman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BRUSSELS - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been the most successful military alliance in history. But NATO is confronting massive challenges today, in many ways more perplexing and explosive than during the Cold War, when its existence was credibly justified to its publics by the threat of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union disintegrated long ago. And new threats and dangers to the alliance and its cohesion are neither state actors nor confined to Europe, NATO's traditional area of responsibility.

NATO has bet its future on succeeding in Afghanistan, where, for the first time ever, the alliance is fighting a land war. The European Union has eclipsed NATO as the pre-eminent European structure in European political, social and economic integration.NATO suffers from inter-alliance strains, such as with Turkey and America's global war on terror and intra-alliance tensions over enlargement of member states and missile defense that antagonize Russia. And it must resolve the most profound and testing dilemma of all - maintaining a strong, cohesive military alliance long after the military threat that created it has imploded.

Throughout its nearly 60 years of life, NATO has always been at one dramatic crossroad or another. Some argue that NATO has outlived its usefulness ,as war between major European powers thankfully is nonexistent. Instead of the border between East and West Germany serving as the main battle line, Afghanistan is now NATO's center of gravity and Achilles' heel.

In 2006, NATO took command of the entire International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan, consisting of about 32,000 personnel. But civil reforms have not taken hold there. Drug production seems impervious to counternarcotics efforts and continues to increase. Corruption reigns. The courts, legal system and police forces have yet to become fully functional. And while NATO has won every battle against the Taliban, the insurgency still grows.

Casualties especially for the Netherlands and Canada have weakened domestic support. Those governments may choose to extend deployments for another year, but beyond that is problematic. Other allies have set "national caveats" on the use of their forces, greatly restricting combat roles and alienating other allies whose militaries bear the brunt of the fighting. Expenses are mounting. The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has yet to win control over its own country. And, NATO governments still refuse to deploy the required troop strengths.

The future status of Kosovo, given powerful Russian resentment against independence, challenges NATO. …