NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer today lambasted European members for their meager commitments to the Afghanistan mission, declaring, “Leadership and burdens — they go together.”

Lorne Cook for AFP:

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned the Europeans that they were undermining their leadership credentials and upsetting the balance within the world’s biggest military alliance, as it battles a Taliban-led insurgency. “I am frankly concerned when I hear the United States is planning a major commitment for Afghanistan, but other allies ruling out doing more,” he said, at a major international security conference in Munich, southern Germany. “That is not good for the political balance of this mission. That is not good for the balance inside the North Atlantic alliance,” he said. “Leadership and burdens — they go together.”  Scheffer, who did not single out any nation, warned that the failure to step up “makes calls for Europe’s voice to be heard in Washington perhaps a bit more hollow than they should be.”


Scheffer commended an editorial ahead of the conference written in national newspapers by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in which they called for “a new transatlantic balance”.  They insisted in it that “the United States and Europe share leadership and burdens more fairly.”   But both nations have ruled out sending more troops. France has some 2,800 personnel in Afghanistan, while Germany, in an election year, has set a ceiling of 4,500, most of whom are based in the relatively quiet north.


On Wednesday, Britain also scolded its NATO allies for not stepping forward to share combat duties, warning that there could be no freeloaders in the fight against the insurgents.

“An alliance worth its name must be one that shares the burden of membership equally amongst its members, because there can be no freeloading when it comes to collective security,” British Defence Secretary John Hutton said. “Volunteering, not waiting to be asked, must be the hallmark of a proper relationship between the transatlantic members of this alliance,” he told NATO ambassadors.

David Rising and George Jahn, reporting for AP, add that the secretary general said other countries must “share the heavy lifting.”

De Hoop Scheffer said that if Europe wants a greater voice, it needs to do more. “The Obama administration has already done a lot of what Europeans have asked for including announcing the closure of Guantanamo and a serious focus on climate change,” he said. “Europe should also listen; when the United States asks for a serious partner, it does not just want advice, it wants and deserves someone to share the heavy lifting.”

De Hoop Scheffer added that the same principle applies to Russian requests to be involved in Washington’s plans to place a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. He said Russia cannot talk of a new “security architecture” yet build its own new bases in Georgia and support Kyrgyzstan’s plans to close the Manas air base, used by the U.S. to resupply troops in Afghanistan. 

I couldn’t agree more with all these points.  The secretary general has framed the argument in precisely the proper way. 

Europe has demanded to be treated as an equal partner in the Alliance and rightly feels that the Bush administration was too brusque and dismissive of their concerns.  At the same time, one understands Bush’s frustrations.   Diplomacy is hard work and getting consensus among great powers is difficult.  If the end result is watering down one’s own objectives in exchange for token support that comes with strings that make accomplishing the mission more difficult, it’s easy to say:  Why bother?

I welcome, for example, Sarkozy’s desire to fully re-integrate his country into NATO’s command structure and have no problem at all with French generals taking major NATO commands.  But that should come with commensurate burdens.   France should spend a comparable proportion of its resources on its military and take a proportionate risk on the field of battle.  Otherwise, calls for equal partnership ring hollow.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 

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