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March 28, 2008 |  7 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

NATO's Unhappy Warriors

Wess Mitchell: While the United States has been prodding the alliance’s second-tier members, newcomers have stepped up in Afghanistan.


At next week's NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, history will be made when an American president, cowboy hat in hand, literally begs Europe for help in Afghanistan. For weeks, high-ranking US officials have traversed the "old" continent, beseeching its capitals for anything in lace-up boots and camouflage. Spare a tank, Germany? How about a mothballed helicopter, Italy? Say no, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has warned, and NATO will be "effectively destroyed," its members forever consigned to two tiers -- a fighting first and a lazy second.

Fortunately for everyone, Washington will get its reinforcements and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will survive another year. When the conference-room doors close, the pledges will flow in: a battalion here, a commando squad there. With the probable exception of France, however, the new forces are likely to come not from NATO's harassed second-stringers, but from members of its overworked, underappreciated "first" tier, most of whom already have troops at the war's hottest fronts.

Three of the countries in this group are already well known. For years, the British, Canadians and Dutch have held the line in Afghanistan's casualty-prone southern and eastern provinces. But they are not alone. Alongside them are some of NATO's newest members, the former communist countries of Central Europe. Though rarely mentioned in the media, these nations -- many small, few wealthy -- have often answered NATO calls for help when many larger Western militaries demurred. In the east of Afghanistan, Polish combat teams patrol the Al Qaeda-infested Pakistani border. In the south, Estonian light infantry, Romanian mountain troops and Lithuanian, Polish and Czech special forces have helped repulse Taliban offensives.

All told, about 3,000 Central European troops are in Afghanistan. Two new NATO members, Poland and Czech Republic, already have responded to the latest call for reinforcements. Answering Canadian threats to withdraw unless NATO sent 1,000 fresh troops, Warsaw pledged 400 soldiers -- its second increase in 18 months and a move that has done much to salve alliance wounds before the summit has even started.

This is a very different picture than is painted by some American commentators. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, military expert Andrew Bacevich complained that the new members had "diluted" NATO's military capabilities. Ted Galen Carpenter, a prominent Washington think-tanker, has called them "security consumers" that bring new burdens but "add next to nothing to America's already vast military power."

In fact, they're adding quite a lot -- the equivalent of a US brigade, to be exact. For every soldier from Krakow or Brno who searches a Taliban cave, a soldier from Kansas City or Biloxi doesn't have to. Together, the Central Europeans and other first-tier members may be the best hope for winning in Afghanistan and for extending the life of NATO.

But the first-tier countries are not a happy lot. As Canada's recent warnings made clear, their military contingents, outnumbered and exhausted, are near the breaking point. Making matters worse, officials from first-tier countries say, is US heavy-handedness, on and off the battlefield.

Two changes in US policy are needed to shore up their support.

  1. We must learn to criticize less. In the lead-up to Bucharest, American officials have publicly chided NATO allies for not fighting as well as US troops. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gates complained that, unlike American troops, the Europeans "don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations." First-tier allies took this personally. "Bloody outrageous," one British lawmaker said. The Dutch summoned the US ambassador to explain. "We should not be criticizing allies," the Polish foreign minister warned. Indeed we shouldn't. A bad idea in any war, it is astonishingly unwise when Washington is pleading for help from other countries.

  2. We must listen better. For months, first-tier allies have been lobbying Washington, with little success, to experiment with a new southern strategy that would rely less on air strikes in an effort to avoid Afghan civilian casualties. Incorporating these suggestions would do a lot to soothe intra-alliance tension.

Washington's new motto, at Bucharest and beyond, should be "less hectoring, more harkening." In its remaining time in office, the Bush administration should devote as much energy to keeping NATO's workhorses happy as it has to motivating NATO's laggards. Doing so could help ensure that Bush's successor inherits a first tier that is growing rather than shrinking. The only thing worse than a two-tiered alliance is an alliance with one universally disillusioned tier.

A. Wess Mitchell is Director of Research at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a Washington, DC-based institute dedicated to the study of Central Europe.

This article was originally appeared here in the Los Angeles Times, and is published on the Atlantic Community by kind permission of the author.

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Ilyas M. Mohsin

March 29, 2008

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President Sarkozy told the British hosts this week that he will send a contingent of French troops to bolster NATO’ role in Afghanistan. This should encourage those who keep on asking for more force to be able to effectively control the country under ‘occupation’. It’ll also enhance the confidence of their acolyte in Kabul whom the locals regard the ‘US’ mayor of Kabul’.
As per the reports from the war zone, the situation remains touch and go. The attacks on the ‘foreign troops’ are on the rise despite deadly use of missiles/ airpower etc by the US troops.
Mr. Mitchell’ 2 suggestions for our American friends are indisputably important for the combined forces to hold out/on. First, criticising forces from the EU countries is going to further demoralise them which would help the opposing side. Such soldiers are already
ambivalent about their mission. Some of them, like the British, may know the history of the Afghan people which underscores a hatred against ‘occupation’. Quite recently, they with help of US and Pakistan they forced the defunct- Soviet Union to withdraw from their country which resulted in the melt-down of the empire. Second, there should be ‘less Hectoring and more Harkening’.
The situation could have been much better if the pledges of aid made at Bonn Conference were honoured. If the economic situation has changed for the better, Karzai could have persuaded the Pakhtuns not to side with the ‘enemy’. As hunger insecurity stalks the land, the people hate the mess and their major livelihood is underwritten by production of drugs for the Western markets.
We must consider the cost of killing innocent civilians, either by mistake or of out of desperation, in Afghanistan. Shedding of blood the Afghans seldom forgive, so says the history. History proves that they do not give up easily.
 
Donald  Stadler

March 31, 2008

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"We must learn to criticize less. In the lead-up to Bucharest, American officials have publicly chided NATO allies for not fighting as well as US troops. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gates complained that, unlike American troops, the Europeans "don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations." First-tier allies took this personally. "Bloody outrageous," one British lawmaker said. The Dutch summoned the US ambassador to explain. "We should not be criticizing allies," the Polish foreign minister warned. Indeed we shouldn't. A bad idea in any war, it is astonishingly unwise when Washington is pleading for help from other countries."

Ummmm, right. The 11th Commandment - "Thou shalt not criticize thy allies". I definately agree, criticizing one's allies is a nasty and curmudgeonous thing to do. Which is why I ask why theyre has been so much criticism from British sources, German sources, French sources, etc about the way the US is fighting the war? It's called 'constructive criticism' when a Brit officer weighs in, and perhaps it is indeed that. But could not Gate's criticism be taken in precisely the same light? Or is it merely assumed that the forces doing at least half the fighting in Afghanistan and much more than that in Iraq are by definition incompetent and have nothing to offer in such a discussion - although the Germans and French (not doing too much fighting - do?

How's that again? Someone please explain to this cognitively-challenged Yank how that works. I know I'm without doubt stupid 'cause I've been told so often, but this is a bit much to swallow.....

It occurs to me that if we're too dumb to fight in Afghanistan we must be FAR too stupid to entrust the safety of Western Europe with. Better to take our below-average IQ's back to Georgia, where we belong....
 
Wess  Mitchell

March 31, 2008

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Donald,
We can criticize allies all we want - there's no commandment against it. My argument is not that it is wrong in principle, but rather that it is unwise. If our goal is to get other countries to contribute troops to the south, publicly castigating the countries whose troops are already there is not an effective way to go about this. It's like a man whose house is on fire and he's trying to convince his neighbors to bring buckets of water to put it out, but keeps screaming at the people who are already helping him, calling them incompetent. Who would want to help him? Is there a rule against him doing so? No. Is it the best way to go about putting out the fire? Certainly not.
Wess
 
Nikolas Kirrill Gvosdev

April 1, 2008

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One other problem facing the alliance--both in Afghanistan as well as in Kosovo--is that there is also a big difference between being engaged in "stability operations"--essentially keeping the peace--and dealing with the fact that the government in the capital city doesn't control all the territory of the country. So in both places, you are going to have NATO allies who say the mission is to make sure fighting is over and just keep things quiet, versus those who identify the success of the mission in ensuring that orders from the capital are enforced in the outlying areas-which may force NATO troops into fighting with locals and make the mission more dangerous in terms of casualties--which then undermines public support back home.
 
Donald  Stadler

April 1, 2008

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"We can criticize allies all we want - there’s no commandment against it. My argument is not that it is wrong in principle, but rather that it is unwise."

I agree - it probably is unwise, and perhaps we should not be doing it. On the other hand - I'm having an unfamiliar experience - a thought has come to mind.

If the US has a problem with the contributions made by certain allies, who prefer to garrison and not fight at all - criticism may be the only way to open their minds to an alternate POV, that an ally is a country who shares the burden - ALL of the burdens. In theory if not in actuality.

Can you propse an alternate way of communicating this idea? I won't insult you by suggesting mind waves.... ;)
 
Ilyas M. Mohsin

April 21, 2008

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Wess is right. If the transatlantic alliance functions as a partnership, then a frank debate must be emphasised which remains the hallmark of democratic system. It should be positive so that those lagging behind can be persuaded to catch up on their commitmentd.
Donald is right that is this the only course which appears to be likeable and true to working of a democratic system which should guide all the
the countries who form the compact.
Open and fearless debate is the key to viable solutions in disputes. It may even promote a change of policy when the current lameduck
Administartion gets replaced in Washington DC.
 
Unregistered User

February 20, 2010

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The Dutch troops did a good job during four years in Afghanistan.
From 2007 on the Dutch government testified, that the end of the Dutch support, should begin July 2010 with a fall back between august till December 2010.

The PVDA party in the governing coalition in the Netherlands has decided to stick to that appointment.

After having served for four years, other countries have to take over this job.
The problem is, that besides the Netherlands, few countries in Europe have any enthusiasm to sent troops to Afghanistan
 

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