Saturday, January 12, 2008

NATO - Good for What?

Canada got involved in Afghanistan, or so the story goes, as a member in good and long-standing of the North American Treaty Organization, NATO.

We, Canada, got involved through NATO as part of ISAF which stands for the International Security Assistance Force, a hobbled together coalition of nations serving under a dysfunctional maze of individual national mandates complex enough to give Rube Goldberg a migraine (if Rube was still around to get a migraine but, sadly, Reuben passed away in 1970 survived by wife Irma and sons Thomas and George).

At first NATO and ISAF did pretty well if only because their job was limited to securing the Afghan capital, Kabul, against a thoroughly devastated Taliban insurgency. We were going to protect the central government while American forces prowled the hills hunting Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaeda militants and the remnants of the former Taliban government and militia.

It all might have had a happy ending if we just stuck with that script. In Washington, however, George w. Bush and Dickster Cheney, decided that Afghanistan was peanuts and thought they'd rather go after Saddam Hussein in Iraq. So, they painted Saddam as just another part of al-Qaeda terrorism and took off, after getting NATO members to agree to take over in most of the Afghan countryside.

We didn't have to worry. Rumsfeld and Cheney assured the American people that they would have the whole Iraq business wrapped up in six weeks, six months at the outside.

That was 2003, this is 2008 and America is still stuck in Iraq, leaving us, by default stuck in Afghanistan.

We told NATO we'd mind the store in Kandahar province for a couple of years while the Americans were away and then that couple of years gave way to a couple more and now we're supposed to leave in 2009 but everybody knows that's a joke. NATO knows we're only pulling their leg because we haven't been screaming at them about leaving even though they (NATO) have been doing bugger all to find a force to relieve our own soldiers.

We can't leave. We're constantly warned that if NATO fails in Afghanistan, it'll be the end of NATO. That gives rise to two questions. Is it true and, if it is, is that a bad thing?

I don't believe that a NATO pullout from Afghanistan is a failure. The failure is Washington's failure to be honest with us about Iraq. The Pentagon is effectively AWOL from Afghanistan. Stuck in Iraq by its president's needless war of whim it has the gall to point fingers at NATO.

Will leaving Afganistan truly be the end of NATO? Who can tell? NATO has already failed in Afghanistan. It has failed to provide an adequate force for the job it confronts. It has failed to deliver a coherent, effective multinational force. It has been completely unable to supply badly needed reinforcements and new contingents to relieve those already strained and nearly worn out. NATO's outspoken Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has certainly been an abject failure except at one job - mouthwork - cheerleading and hectoring.

It was Washington that drove the push to expand NATO to admit the eastern European nations into the alliance but, now that NATO is under existential threat, where are those countries, Rumsfeld's "New Europe"? They're sure as hell not lining up to pull their weight in Afghanistan. So we've taken on a solemn obligation to defend these countries - for what? It seems that was all just a ploy to advance Washington's geo-political interests against Moscow's.

No I think NATO has allowed itself to become George w. Bush's water boy for his delusional foreign policy adventures. If NATO can't find a role beyond that of serving as America's Foreign Legion, it's already finished. Maybe we should be content to remember fondly NATO's good old days and allow what remains to die with some dignity.


Sean Cummings said...

NATO has always been an extension of US foreign policy so it should come as no surprise that "as the US goes, so does NATO." That said, Canada is acting under the auspices of a UN mandate, it's important to remember that - particularly since Canada likes to see itself as a huge backer of the United Nations.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm not questioning the legitimacy of the UN mandate but the way that NATO and the US have responded to that mandate, effectively undermining the efforts of those nations actually carrying the load in Afghanistan - Canada, Holland, Britain, Australia and a relatively small portion of US forces in the Middle East.

NATO, the Alliance, took this on and then proceeded to leave those members who responded hanging out to dry. Now that's what I call a meaningless oganization.

Afghanistan has shown that, if there is a role for NATO, we need to have a very hard discussion about how that role is to be defined and what each and every member's obligations are to be performed. NATO cannot survive on its Cold War laurels. That was an organization intended to collectively deter or, if necessary, collectively fight a war. There's nothing remotely "collective" about the Afghanistan mission. Without that glue, the Alliance falls into disarray with some members dodging the mission entirely, some nations allowing their soldiers to fight only when attacked or only during daylight or only every second Tuesday of every third month - and some nations completely stuck in, the very few. NATO has turned into something of a con job, a cheap parlour trick.

We either take NATO apart and rebuild it or get rid of it.

Secretary-General Scheffer ought to get off his useless but noisy arse and begin addressing the fundamental failures of the Alliance during his watch.