Call NATO “in Case of Emergency,” or Leaders Salute Captain Spaulding
The great American and comic genius Groucho Marx used to say “I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”
On 29 November leaders from NATO countries wrapped up a two-day gathering in Riga, Latvia. Dominating the agenda and coverage of the event was the crisis in Afghanistan. This was to be expected; the war in Central Asia is the most important test of alliance unity facing the organization in years, if not in its entire 57-year history.
But perhaps even as ultimately important to the fate and future of NATO was what happened when discussion turned to the Balkans. Both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom dropped their insistence that Serbia’s and Bosnia’s association be barred until such time as those Southeast European states muster and demonstrate full cooperation with The Hague War Crimes Tribunal. And so the door has been opened to Sarajevo and Belgrade taking their first limited steps to membership, with leaders suggesting other Balkan countries may be invited to join in 2008. Of course, NATO leaders were quick to add that their actions were principled, and should in no way be interpreted to mean or even suggest they intend to be turning soft on the matter of Balkan war crimes, or on the need for accused war criminals to be brought to justice.
But the immediate test of unity and dominating talks was Afghanistan. Thus far the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Canada, along with the United States have put up with the brunt of fighting in Afghanistan’s volatile south. The plan, as Canada’s Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor has said over and over again in the past few months, was to entice other NATO partners to do their share for the effort. And it is precisely here that this latest NATO summit demonstrates how weak the organization has grown, and why there is an urgent need to continue with a membership drive, attracting whatever candidates may be willing or wanting to join.
To be sure, the selling job that NATO is doing is nothing short of spectacular. According to the latest dispatches, there is nothing but agreement, consensus, and the commitment to the war effort in Afghanistan is solid. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer summed up what’s going on noting, “it is winnable, it is being won, but not yet won.” The wording of a declaration agreed to by all 26 member nations observed, “We are committed to an enduring role to support the Afghan authorities, in cooperation with other international actors.” But British Prime Minister Tony Blair had stated bluntly NATO “credibility” was indeed “on the line” over Afghanistan. Eventually staunch hold-outs of additional troop deployment, including Italy, France and Germany did make concessions; however, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, arguably the biggest opponent of any additional deployments did make clear German troops would not be shipped out of Afghanistan’s tranquil northern region except on a case by case basis and only “in case of emergency” [Citations in this paragraph from Caren Bohan and Marcin Grajewski’s piece ‘NATO Leaders Commit to Afghanistan for Long Haul,’ Reuters, 29 November 2006. Story posted at http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20061129/ts_nm/nato_summit_dc
. For additional detail and background on the position taken by Italy, Spain, France and Germany see Paul Ames’ ‘NATO Can’t Agree on Afghan Troop Role,’ AP, 29 November 2006. Story posted at http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061129/ap_on_re_eu/nato_summit
And so what in the end did take place was that “NATO leaders…[articulated] their determination on Wednesday to prevail over Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan while offering only small increases in troop levels and flexibility" [Cited in Sarah Edmonds and Mark John’s ‘NATO Leaders Determined to Succeed in Afghanistan,’ Reuters, 28 November 2006. Story posted at http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20061129/ts_nm/nato_summit_dc
]. What happened was a victory for public diplomacy. As for unity and resolve? They may well be tested in the coming years, if not months and weeks. So far Canadian officials, including PM Harper, have seemed upbeat when commenting on what was accomplished in Riga [See, for example, Paul Koring’s ‘Meeting of the Minds: Bush and Harper Face Uphill Battles on the World Stage,” The Globe and Mail
, 29 November 2006. Story posted at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20061129.HARPER29/TPStory/TPInternational/Asia/
]. However, it was retired General Lewis MacKenzie who was among the first to go on record in speaking to the CBC noting circumstances may not be altogether rosy. According to the General, there are 32,000 NATO soldiers in Afghanistan and the country “needs 30,000 more troops… We've got to dig in and protect the area we've taken from the bad guys. Our guys are kind of pinned to the ground and can't exploit success” [‘NATO Needs More Soldiers in Afghanistan,’ CBC News, 29 November 2006. Story posted at http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2006/11/29/nato-react.html
By the way, Groucho also once said: “Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others.”
Posted by Stan Markotich
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