NATO and Afghanistan

The National Interest

February 29, 2008

Unless we immediately begin a coordinated effort to refocus NATO’s military and civil strategy in Afghanistan, there will be grave consequences for both the region and the alliance. That’s the consensus opinion as reflected in the Jan./Feb. 2008 issue of The National Interest (Ilana Bet-El and Rupert Smith, “The Bell Tolls for NATO”).

This view is bolstered by a report issued by the Atlantic Council of the United States in January. Chaired by retired General James L. Jones, who as supreme allied commander planned and launched NATO’s Afghanistan mission, the council stresses the need for action.

It is not just NATO, however, but the efforts of the entire international community that need to be refocused. Over forty countries, three major international organizations (the UN, EU and NATO), and scores of other agencies and intergovernmental bodies are involved in the effort.

We should not lose sight of the fact that the main problem is not that we’re putting insufficient military resources into Afghanistan or that we’ve “taken our eye off the ball.” Indeed, precisely the opposite. Rather—as in Iraq—while we’re making tremendous strides on the military front, killing Taliban insurgents in great numbers, we’re not making enough progress on the all-important civil front. The national police are insufficiently trained, reconstruction programs are lagging and not well coordinated, infrastructure is poor, jobs are scarce, the judicial system is corrupt and opium production is having myriad ripple effects that exacerbate all of the above.

Yes, we need political consensus to continue and to expand NATO’s efforts on the security front. But, much more importantly, we need a coordinated international effort to address all facets of the problem. Both our report and that of the Afghanistan Study Group recommend a high-representative–type individual—the wish was for Paddy Ashdown to reprise his superb effort in the Balkans, but that hope was dashed when Afghanistan’s President Karzai vetoed it—to oversee the effort. This person must have the authority, legitimacy, and charisma to “cajole, convince or even coerce” all parties to make the needed reforms.

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