March 20, 2009

Afghanistan and the Future of NATO on the Battlefield

I had a conversation with a visiting policy-maker from a NATO country yesterday in which he asked me what I thought Afghanistan held for the future of NATO. After repeating "the T.X. Hammes challenge" -- trying to think of a coalition that had ever successfully prosecuted a counter-insurgency campaign -- I laid out what I saw as two schools of thought on NATO in Afghanistan.

The first school -- more or less represented by this editorial in today's Times -- looks at Afghanistan and sees serious problems for NATO. This school frets about a two- or even three-tiered NATO, one in which one NATO fights and one NATO stays at home. (Or, in the three-tiered system, a NATO in which one NATO fights, one NATO deploys with caveats, and one NATO stays at home.)

The second school of thought says, essentially, who cares? NATO was never intended to be an organization in which military duties were equally divvied out among the member states. The United States -- and France, and the UK, and Canada -- were always going to bear a disproportionate share of the responsibilities on the battlefield. Any success in Afghanistan will depend primarily on Anglo-American leadership above all else.*

I would be curious, though, to hear what the readership thinks about all this. Which school of thought do you find to be the most persuasive? Is there another way of thinking about the issue?

*I want to stress here that by talking up the Anglo-American contribution (by which I mean USA, UK, CAN, AUS, NZ), I am not intending to in any way downplay the frankly courageous contributions of Denmark, the Netherlands, and several others in Afghanistan.