NATO's Mission

NATO's Mission
March 20th, 2009  
Team Infidel

Topic: NATO's Mission

NATO's Mission
New York Times
March 20, 2009
Pg. 26

NATO will be marking its 60th anniversary with a summit in early April, which will be hosted by France and Germany. Much of the preparatory hoopla has been celebratory, in large part because an eight-year chill in trans-Atlantic relations is seen as drawing to an end. President Obama is still soaring on European popularity charts, and Europe’s current leaders are a pro-American bunch. France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has also decided to lead his country back into full NATO membership, putting to rest the Gaullists’ longstanding ambition to be a counterweight to Washington.
All that has inspired hopes of shaping a meaningful mission for the alliance after 20 years of post-cold-war drift. For that to happen, NATO must succeed in Afghanistan. Right now, it is frighteningly close to failing.
The fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda is the alliance’s first major operation outside of Europe. And it is a battle against the new enemies of the new century: nihilistic terrorism, corrupt and unstable rule. Yet of the alliance’s 26 NATO members, the brunt of the real fighting has been borne by only five: the United States, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark.
Many other NATO countries have hobbled their forces with “national exceptions” — self-imposed restrictions on how and where they may be deployed. German soldiers, for example, can only be used in a noncombat role in the relatively peaceful north. The effect on relations among allied forces is corrosive.
President Obama and his aides seem to recognize how fast things are coming apart in Afghanistan and the need for a better strategy. He has sent in another 17,000 American troops and has ordered a thorough review of the operation there; he has even opened the door to talks with moderate members of the Taliban.
That should be more than enough reassurance to NATO’s laggards that the United States is now prepared to use any combination of hard and soft power to get results. Yet the real reason the Europeans need to do more in Afghanistan is not to “help” the United States, but because failure would be a disaster for them as well.
Al Qaeda’s sanctuaries on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are where terrorists are hatching new atrocities of the sort visited on New York and Washington but also on London, Madrid and Mumbai.
The debates at the April summit are expected to quite properly focus on shaping new structures to confront a number of new challenges, from “loose nukes” to radical fundamentalism to an unpredictable Russian neighbor. But, as Vice President Joseph Biden correctly told the allies during his recent visit to NATO headquarters, nowhere is the challenge more acute, and more immediate, than in Afghanistan.

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