By Robert E. Hunter
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Time is running out for success in Afghanistan. The NATO summit in Riga
of Nov. 28-29 may be the last chance to pull that country back from the
NATO assumed responsibility for providing security for all of
Afghanistan in October. While about 8,000 of the 20,000 U.S. troops in
Afghanistan operate independently, the rest have joined the most
ambitious military venture in NATO's history, the International Security
Each of the 26 NATO allies has troops in Afghanistan, as do 11 other
countries. Some, like Macedonia and Finland, belong to the Alliance's
Partnership for Peace. Others, like Australia and South Korea, come from
farther afield. Soldiers from different countries operate almost as a
single unit with shared objectives, similar methods, compatible
equipment, and complementary skills. A half-century of working together,
plus a decade and a half of adapting to new threats and demands, is
The bad news is that the 40,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan are not
enough. A few Afghan provinces, including those along parts of the
border with Pakistan and its Taliban sanctuaries, have little or no ISAF
presence and no Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
Abysmal air and land transport limit the ability to move fighting forces
to where they are needed most. Several countries, including NATO allies,
have imposed "national caveats" that limit where their troops can be
deployed or the tasks they undertake.
So, before any operation, commanders must determine which troops can
take part and in what capacity, hampering both efficiency and
effectiveness. Nevertheless, NATO would succeed if outside civilian
efforts, resources, organization, and leadership in Afghanistan were
equal to its own.
Unfortunately, there is no central direction or even coordination of
civilian efforts. Although non-governmental organizations are doing an
effective job, responsibilities assigned to different European countries
- such as helping the Afghan government with law enforcement and poppy
eradication - have fallen short of both needs and promises.
Poppy production is soaring, experiments with alternative crops are
lagging, and there are not enough forces to provide security for farmers
willing to try growing something different. So the Taliban are obtaining
ample funds from the heroin trade - easily Afghanistan's largest single
source of foreign earnings. Western drug addicts are putting more money
into Afghanistan's economy than Western governments.
The shortfalls of the civilian effort and the unwillingness or inability
of the Afghan government to provide good governance are the country's
central problems. These factors largely explain the Taliban's violent
revival, and the uncertainty of many Afghans about whom to support.
NATO has "bet the alliance" on Afghanistan. No amount of
"transformation" or "partnerships" or anything else will matter much if
NATO fails for the first time in its history - even if that failure is
not of its own making.
Firm commitments at Riga of more allied troops and equipment for the
ISAF and fewer national "caveats" must be part of the answer. But allied
leaders must also act on the knowledge that NATO does not have the
skills, resources, or experience to take full charge of meeting
Afghanistan's requirements for external civilian help. That task must
belong to the European Union, the one institution with the collective
means, skills, resources, and - potentially - the leadership to relieve
NATO and ISAF of burdens for which they are not suited.
Yet the EU holds back. Turf battles with NATO intrude, as well as
competition between the EU's executive Commission and the member-based
Council. Even though 19 of NATO's 26 members also belong to the EU,
leaders and bureaucrats in most of these countries have been unwilling
to back the commitment of their troops with the economic resources needed.
At the Riga summit, NATO should challenge the EU to take its proper
share of responsibility for success in Afghanistan. This will require
the EU to contribute money, manpower, and officials on the ground of the
rank and stature of ISAF commanders, in an equal partnership with NATO.
By coincidence, the EU's rotating presidency is now held by Finland.
NATO's presidents and prime ministers could simply cross the Baltic Sea
from Riga for a half-day Afghanistan summit with the EU in Helsinki. One
or two EU countries might object that this would mix institutional
apples and oranges. But for Europeans who claim equal status with NATO
for the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, this is the time to put
up or shut up.
Even if leaders balk at an extra half-day of meetings to address the
most serious threat to NATO's future, the Riga summit can issue a demand
that its own 19 dual members, and the rest of the EU, agree to assume
shared responsibility in Afghanistan.
NATO is in Afghanistan largely owing to shared concerns about terrorism.
But NATO is also acting because some European countries want to show
Washington that they can pull their security weight even though they
refuse to go near the war in Iraq.
All NATO allies and EU members want the United States to remain
committed to Europe's future, to take the lead elsewhere in meeting
security needs on which all agree, and to admit Europe into its
strategic confidence. That now requires supporting the EU's deep
involvement in Afghanistan as its key contribution to repairing and
reforming the Atlantic Alliance.
Robert E. Hunter, U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1993 to 1998, is a senior
adviser at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization. -