NATO’s 60th Anniversary Summit ended with a cheerful photo-op and a pleased President Obama. America’s NATO allies have pledged 5,000 more troops for Afghanistan and a lot of cash. But is this a real contribution to bolstering the alliance or simply a vocal display of camaraderie?
The New Atlanticist recently made a case for NATO and the results seem to support that case. As CNN reported, “America’s NATO allies are pledging 5,000 more troops: 3,000 for the upcoming Afghan election security, 1,400 to 2,000 troops embedded with Afghan soldiers, and 400 police trainers. This is apart from the 17,000 more combat troops and 4,000 trainers Obama recently committed.” The Guardian believes this will be “a relief to Barack Obama, allowing the US president to argue that his offer of a new partnership with Europe has reaped tangible results and ensured the burden of fighting the war on terror is more broadly shared.”
Obama appears to be satisfied with these pledges, proclaiming, “I’m confident that we took a substantial step forward to renewing our alliance to meet the challenges of our time.” Other national leaders expressed their satisfaction. Deutsche Welle: “[German chancellor Angela] Merkel praised US President Barack Obama over his new strategy for Afghanistan and said her country was ready to contribute more soldiers, trainers and money towards “the Afghanistanization” of the country.”
The British media seem less sold. The BBC asks, Why the outpouring of NATO goodwill on the Afghan front?
The predicted row between Europeans and Americans over the despatch of additional combat troops to Afghanistan never materialized. This was in part due to skilful pre-summit diplomacy by the Americans but there was also a re-assessment of entrenched positions on all sides. Washington came to the conclusion that persuasion would do more to extract additional commitments than blunt political force.
The reason for the smiles – the Obama effect. The new US president has enthused, galvanised and re-invigorated Nato at one and the same time. He has spoken the kind of language Nato countries have been wanting to hear from Washington for several years.
Some argue that this “Obama effect” has only led to empty pledges. The London Times spared no criticism:
The great jumble sale of troop offers made by Nato countries at the summit in Strasbourg to provide security during the election period in Afghanistan was beginning to unravel over the weekend as military chiefs tried to add up the numbers pledged.
The real figure, however, according to initial military assessments, was somewhat lower, because some of the offers were “recycled” from previous announcements. Sources said the contributions from Germany and Italy had been announced weeks ago. Each had agreed to send another battalion of 500-600 to their bases in the north and west of Afghanistan respectively for the election period.
Apart from Britain’s promise of up to 900, there were 600 from Germany (an old offer), 100 from The Netherlands, plus 100 trainers, three helicopters and two transport aircraft, a single training team from Greece, 600 from Spain (to make up for its recent withdrawal from Kosovo, according to one source), one training team from Croatia, 400 from Poland (like the German offer, already announced), 500 from Italy (another old offer), three training teams from Turkey but no election troops, 150 police trainers from France, 65 soldiers from Belgium and 100 extra civilian specialists from Canada, plus additional helicopters and unmanned spy planes.
The Guardian also managed to rain on Obama’s parade and say what no one really wants to say: “Nevertheless, the announcement leaves open the question of the longer term sustained commitment in Afghanistan, beyond a temporary shoring up of security around the elections, which the Americans want.”
So are this weekend’s pledges a real step towards maintaining NATO’s significance or are they relatively insignificant promises with little lasting power?
I would argue the former. The contributions may be relatively small, but they are certainly not insignificant. The pledged troops will be a welcome addition in assisting with the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan. There is an urgent need for Afghan military and police training, and it is a sign of the alliance’s health and understanding of the situation that they have agreed to contribute to this end.
Also important is the fact that Obama has tied success in Afghanistan to European security. The BBC: “Mr Obama has begun the process of tying Nato and Europe firmly into the war in Afghanistan. … He has had the opportunity to make the case directly to the European public and privately to European leaders that this war is essential for their safety.”
The NATO summit resulted in a consensus that should be celebrated. Although the future of the alliance’s involvement in Afghanistan will not be without conflict, it is more important that member countries remain engaged in the outcome. Any pledges at summits and moments of international clarity are just icing on the cake.
Valerie Nichols is a web editor at the Atlantic Council.