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February 7, 2008 |  10 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Dieter Farwick

NATO at Crossroads - Not Only in Afghanistan

Dieter Farwick: The NATO defense ministers’ meeting should conclude with an agreement to send additional forces to Afghanistan. The troops can win if given the necessary resources and operational freedom.

The political climate among NATO members is nearing a freezing point. The US and Canada are openly calling on Europeans to send more troops to Afghanistan, and to broaden command’s operational freedom. Behind the new initiative is the imbalanced risk distribution between NATO armed forces, leading to growing losses among American and Canadian troops deployed in the South. Afghanistan is turning into the litmus test of the alliance.

The only decision that can come from the informal meeting with NATO defense ministers on February 7 and 8 in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, is the declaration of the year 2008 as the year of military decisions. The NATO Council will subsequently agree. Despite repetition, the evidence that NATO member states and their partners could win in Afghanistan isn’t improving. Of course NATO armed forces can’t destroy the last Taliban pockets of resistance in the furthest reaches of the Hindu Kush valley. They also don’t have to. NATO armed forces need to concentrate on the regions that are most important for the basic provision of the people, the building of state and nation, as well as the rebuilding of the infrastructure. These areas need to be cleared of the Taliban and held.
The recent positive experiences in Iraq show that it doesn’t make much sense to hunt terrorists out of certain areas without taking measures to prevent their return thereafter. If the war in Afghanistan continues to be run as it has been up until now, then a military victory will not be possible. It will remain a stalemate. The Taliban can’t defeat NATO armed forces, just as they themselves can not be defeated.

This “War of Attrition” will be decided on the NATO member states’ home front, not in Afghanistan. The differing numbers of casualties among NATO armed forces is straining solidarity between members and is losing support among the people. NATO members are losing the fight for “hearts and souls” at home. Parliaments are being pushed ever increasingly to refuse the extension of their mandate.
At the end of this development stands a defeat of NATO that will permanently destroy it’s credibility. Moreover, it hands Afghanistan back to the Taliban. Afghanistan would once again be a “safe haven” for terrorists in and out of Pakistan and Iraq, which could also threaten Europe. The alternative is not as difficult as is often speculated.

The NATO defense minister must come to three conclusions in Vilnius:

  1. NATO member states must finally bring the forces and supplies to Afghanistan that have been agreed upon multiple times in Brussels.

  2. For a limited period of time, additional forces with heavy weapons must be sent in. These can either be NATO Response Forces or EU Battle Groups.

  3. National caveats must be reduced to a minimum.

No further intelligence is required for implementation. The commanders on the ground know how they can neutralize the Taliban. They only need the necessary supplies and greater operational freedom. Along with the strengthened military efforts, the UN and EU in Afghanistan also need to build up the structures and regional organizations that, under the protection of soldiers, can help rebuild civil society. At the moment, the EU, for example, is miserably failing to rebuild the Afghan police.

The work of countless NGOs in Afghanistan must be controlled and coordinated by the UN and the EU. Military leaders need competent civil partners with educated staff, who are in the position to develop and implement intermediate and long-term civil operations plans.

NATO defense ministers should act, fully aware of the fact that the West will not be granted a second chance in Afghanistan.
There is no excuse for failure.
Should the Europeans, along with the NATO general secretary, once again fail to comply, NATO will be pushed into its biggest political crisis up to this point. NATO would degenerate into a “Coalition of the Unwilling” of little worth in the eyes of the North American NATO states.
Brigadier General (ret.) Dieter Farwick is the Global Editor-in-Chief of World Security Network. He was a close aid to former German Defense Minister, later NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner and is author of five books on defense policy. Translated by Samantha Ferrell
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Tags: | war on terror | Afghanistan | NATO |
 
Comments
Donald  Stadler

February 7, 2008

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General Farwick is completely correct, I think. Not only about how victory in Afghanistan needs to realistically defined, but even more correct about the existential crisis that European failure will force (IS forcing) upon NATO.

And let's be clear on what 'European failure' means or doesn't mean. We're not talking about the UK, or Nederlands, or Norway. We're talking Germany, France, Spain, Italy, etc.
 
Nikolas Kirrill Gvosdev

February 8, 2008

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Unfortunately, day one in Vilnius did not live up to the general's expectations or those of his colleague the former deputy SACEUR Rupert Smith. Indeed, the Canadians upped the ante--threatening they will withdraw when their mandate expires in 2009 if other NATO members don't step up. (My own thoughts on what happended today I put up at National Interest online.)
 
Donald  Stadler

February 8, 2008

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I'm not suprisd that the Canadians feel that way. I think many of Americans do also but have been muting their communications in the interests of NATO solidarity. But apparently the Canadiansa are completely fed up with European foot-dragging and half-measures. Except that calling them 'halff-measures' is much too kind - 10% measures is closer to an accurate description, saving the honorable behavior of the UK and now the Poles.....
 
Fritz W. Peter

February 8, 2008

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Dieter Farwick’s warnings go to the heart of the matter.

The German public and its political leadership seem to enjoy their status as “untouchables” within Nato, comfortably leaning back on self-imposed national caveats. These “political leaders” are rather acting as an uninspired, purely administrative agency -- showing little vision or realism with regard to Nato, world affairs, or long-term German national interests. They even contribute to public dislike of foreign engagement (Afghanistan and elsewhere) by interpreting German parliamentary restrictions very narrowly and even incorrectly, as Klaus Naumann, former head of Nato’s Military Committee, points out convincingly in an article published today in DIE WELT.

The German public seems not to bother much being at the crossroads of Nato’s and its own future well-being, and its leadership prefers digging in and hiding away at this pivotal point of affairs. There is little uneasiness with regard to possible failure -- nobody seems to grasp the idea of missing the crossroads by taking the convenient (wrong) track and slipping past the collective, unifying track of Nato, so as to render will and strength of action vis-ŗ-vis a fierce and determined enemy.

There is no spirited debate of the mission and situation in Afghanistan, no mention of the fundamentals or of newly posed challenges that should indeed be highly upsetting to any moderate observer.

Instead, German Foreign Minister Jung restricts himself to discrediting his Nato partner’s demands by pointing to some civil achievements in Northern Afghanistan resulting mainly from (temporary) relative calm throughout these areas of the country.

Jung has never been a very convincing choice as defense secretary -- but then, why isn’t there some guidance with regard to his actions and blunders. The coalition government seems to be intent on collective failure.

The new U.S. Army Manual states: “Winning battles and engagements is important -- but alone is not sufficient. Shaping the civil situation is just as important.” -- “Army doctrine now equally weighs tasks dealing with the population (stability, civil support) with those related to offensive and defensive operations,” the revised manual stresses. So obviously, significant learning (due to costly lessons drawn from Iraq and Afghanistan) have taken place on the part of U.S. military and political analysts.

Are German minds less able to perceive that civilian and military measures must interact flexibly and be kept in balance adjusting to any individual situation. More bluntly, are we Germans not just evasive but also dogmatic, too short-sighted to be part of an international coalition like Nato, too self-referential to be a permanent member of a coalition capable of taking action when necessary?

Fritz W. Peter, 8.2.08
 
Leonie  Holthaus

February 10, 2008

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One can point out at least two reasons being responsible for the bad political climate among NATO members. The first one are the German (or European) dislike of military measures. The second one could be a crises inside of the NATO itself. Dieter Farwick uses the definitions NATO and the West as interchangeable terms. On the other hand, Jochen Bittner (Die Zeit) is talking about a clash of civilisations among NATO members. He points out that the NATO was founded in times of the Cold War to be a counterpart to the Warsaw Pact. However, this threat belongs to the past and in times after 9/11 several questions need to be answered: what are the aims of the alliance and which way can be taken to achive these. There are obviously hughe gaps betweens Europeans and Americans when it comes to answering these questions. For shure, the NATO needs to be renewed. Therefore, a domestic debate in Germany about the risks and chances of military measures instead of just denying them would be helpful. Secondly, a debate between the U.S. and other forces about the right balance of military effords and projects to rebuild civil society is essential. But the crucial test for the NATO will be in the future when the U.S. have a new leader. The next president probably will change the foreign policy and will try a more multilateral course. Then Germans (and others) can not escape anymore in discussions about f.e. Guantanamo, but will have to face the common challenges.
 
Donald  Stadler

February 11, 2008

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"Jochen Bittner (Die Zeit) is talking about a clash of civilisations among NATO members. He points out that the NATO was founded in times of the Cold War to be a counterpart to the Warsaw Pact. However, this threat belongs to the past and in times after 9/11 several questions need to be answered: what are the aims of the alliance and which way can be taken to achive these."

Good point. I think this has been increasingly obvious since German unification. NATO's original mission has been fulfilled, so what is the way forward? NATO's current crisis is due to lack of a mission relevant to the present day. I think one of two things will happen; NATO will either remake itself fundamentally into an alliance with goals and perhaps membership fundamentally different from the original treaty, or it will be leached of power and substance.

I doubt NATO will be completely dissolved in the near future, but it is entirely possible that the de facto withdrawal from NATO by many of the continental European members will be matched by a matching withdrawal of resources by the 'outer' members like Canada and the US. This may already be happening,
 
Andreas  Beckmann

February 14, 2008

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Dear Mr. Peter,
I fully agree with your excellent analysis.
Not only Gen. (ret.) Naumann provided a good analysis, but also Jan Techau & Alexander Skiba from the German Council on Foreign Relations did so in the International Herald Tribune last week:
http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/02/07/opinion/edtechau.php

For those capable of reading German, their full analysis can be found here:
http://www.dgap.org/publikationen/view/1dcd334b20e2480d33411dcb7056...

It is, however, typical for the phony and surreal German public debate, that these voices are hardly reported, heard, and debated here. They receive much more of their deserved attention abroad.
In this respect, German politicians are held hostage by powerful media opinion-making cartels. It would hardly help the cause if weak leaders such as Jung were to be replaced by more courageous ones, only to see the whole government being replaced by a red-red-green coalition at the next elections.
Behind closed doors here in Berlin, you can hear politicians even from the SPD clearly acknowledging the facts and appraising the situation realistically. They are afraid, however, that doing so in public would only make the situation worse - and, unfortunately, they have a point here.
The work on media and public attitudes and opinions is truly the hardest of all tasks in open societies....in this respect, I am even more thankful for your contribution.
 
Oliver  Hauss

February 21, 2008

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@Fritz W. Peter

"The new U.S. Army Manual states: “Winning battles and engagements is important — but alone is not sufficient. Shaping the civil situation is just as important.” — “Army doctrine now equally weighs tasks dealing with the population (stability, civil support) with those related to offensive and defensive operations,” the revised manual stresses. So obviously, significant learning (due to costly lessons drawn from Iraq and Afghanistan) have taken place on the part of U.S. military and political analysts."

I disagree. Talking the talk and walking the walk are two very different things, and the emphasis on aid in battle in the calls by Gates and others show that while it's in the manuals, it's still far from the hearts. The situation in Iraq has improved not the least because one of the authors of the counterinsurgency manual, Gen. Petraeus was put in charge there. The situation in Afghanistan has also improved to some degree. But in both cases, the local governments still appear in the public eye to have far less power in their own country than even US contractors. As long as this is the case, the claims of them being US puppets will fall on fertile ground. Dieter Farwicks's suggestion that the EU is "failing to rebuild the Afghan police" has to be seen in this context: Who takes a police seriously which would not be allowed to arrest murderers solely due to the fact that they hold a US passport? If civil society has to be rebuilt in a lasting fashion, then only through respect for its pillars such as the administration. If the "builders" have no respect for what they supposedly are trying to build, how are they going to instill respect for their creation in others?

When Dieter Farwick calls for "greater operational freedom", how is this different from the times where the nightly wedding celebrations were bombed into oblivion in Afghanistan? How is scoffing at the demands that such events are not to be repeated by the Afghan government going to improve stability?

@Andreas Beckmann, regarding the citations provided: How is one supposed to be credible in spreading democracy when the will of the electorate is disregarded? It is one of the hallmarks of democracy that the people will not always decide in majority the way we would prefer. If we cannot live with that, how can we call ourselves champions of democracy? And how are we to demonstrate the advantages of democracy to others and vis-a-vis the claims by those we fight that it's a sham and just strongmanship through the backdoor?
 
Marek  Swierczynski

March 14, 2008

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Not only we did not see a strong declaration about Afghanistan in Vilnius but also Kosovo has somewhat "stolen the agenda" for a while and less than a month before Bucharest there's no solution in sight as far as Afghanistan is concerned. It is more and more apparent that the bulk of the EU NATO members see the Alliance and its future from significantly different perspective than the US. We may well be watching the beginning of the end of NATO as we knew it (and as we joined - in respect to Poland and other news member states).
Tags: | NATO | US | EU |
 
Ilyas M. Mohsin

April 24, 2008

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Hats off to oliver Hauss.
While there is considerable huffing and puffing against the Germans, most of my friends give the impression of not knowing the history of Afghanistan. So far, no conqueror has been able to efefctively occupy that country. If the hawks want to lob an atomic bomb, the fall-out thereof may be very dangerous as it will involve Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and even india besides some central Asian republics who shre the border with Afghanistan.
As aid was not given 2002 onwards as promised, and afghanistan saw almost starvation after the 'occupation', the Taliban, who were discarded like empty cartriges, are surging alongwith drugs which has an insatiable demand in US etc. Pope' message to his followers during his recnt vist to US was, "seek trurh, not drugs.'
I can't help qouting the following from Oliver, "The situation in Iraq has improved not the least because one of the authors of the counterinsurgency manual, Gen. Petraeus was put in charge there. The situation in Afghanistan has also improved to some degree. But in both cases, the local governments still appear in the public eye to have far less power in their own country than even US contractors. As long as this is the case, the claims of them being US puppets will fall on fertile ground. Dieter Farwicks’s suggestion that the EU is “failing to rebuild the Afghan police” has to be seen in this context: Who takes a police seriously which would not be allowed to arrest murderers solely due to the fact that they hold a US passport? If civil society has to be rebuilt in a lasting fashion, then only through respect for its pillars such as the administration. If the “builders” have no respect for what they supposedly are trying to build, how are they going to instill respect for their creation in others?

When Dieter Farwick calls for “greater operational freedom”, how is this different from the times where the nightly wedding celebrations were bombed into oblivion in Afghanistan? How is scoffing at the demands that such events are not to be repeated by the Afghan government going to improve stability?

@Andreas Beckmann, regarding the citations provided: How is one supposed to be credible in spreading democracy when the will of the electorate is disregarded? It is one of the hallmarks of democracy that the people will not always decide in majority the way we would prefer. If we cannot live with that, how can we call ourselves champions of democracy? And how are we to demonstrate the advantages of democracy to others and vis-a-vis the claims by those we fight that it’s a sham and just strongmanship through the backdoor?"
However, I disagree with his assessment of the satement of Gen Patraeus on Iraq. To my mind, the Gen gave a very non-commital statement saying that there is progress in Iraq but the situation remains 'fragile'. Thank God, poor Germans are not being pushed in to the Iraq quagmire.

 

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