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Saving NATO?

Saving NATO?

The Ruxted Group believes that the Report of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan (hereafter the Manley Report or just the Report) makes two vital points:

First (as we said just a few days ago): Prime Minister Harper must convince Canadians that this mission, which the Manley Report describes as “honourable and achievable” is, indeed, worth the blood and treasure Canadians have paid and that it is worth more of both; and

Second: this is the first major test of NATO’s utility in the 21st century.

About 13 months ago we said, “for a half century and more, NATO was the cornerstone of our foreign and defence policies,” but, now, “NATO is less and less a useful 'cornerstone' for Canada and, more and more, a stumbling block.”

The question we posed then was: is saving NATO worthwhile? We answered it, to our satisfaction, with a qualified “yes.” Our main qualification was and remains that the UN needs a new military “agent” to plan, coordinate, mount and manage complex operations. We believe that agency should a small, nimble, global (not just North Atlantic) alignment of like-minded nations; not a formal alliance with all the bureaucracy and politics that implies. We propose Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore and the USA as the core group with countries like Denmark, India, the Netherlands and Norway closely affiliated. Most of the core members are already united in various military standardization groups – some of which already “lead” NATO in those efforts.

The Manley Report’s conclusions may have put the task of “saving NATO” in Prime Minister Harper’s hands. He appears to have accepted the Report’s recommendation that we should “stay the course” only if another NATO nation deploys a battle group to augment the active combat force in Kandahar.

We believe it is fair to say that most countries from Ruxted`s core group are relatively ‘committed’ to this UN sanctioned NATO mission while most European members of NATO (Denmark and the Netherlands excepted) are, relatively, ‘disengaged’ either in terms of the numbers of troops committed or, in the cases of France and Germany, for example, by the number and nature of the caveats imposed on their forces. NATO says it is determined to find the 1,000 additional troops for Southern Afghanistan, but Canadians need to take NATO’s assurances with a grain of salt because this is not the first time NATO has been determined to increase ISAF combat forces in the South.

In political terms, some European NATO nations have already run for cover by authorizing a peacekeeping mission of sorts in Chad. This is understandable; many, probably most, European governments are unconvinced that the US-dominated ISAF mission is “right” for them. This is, roughly, the same position Canada took (albeit relative to joining the US led coalition in Iraq) when it joined ISAF.

We must remember that NATO invoked Article V (an attack on one is an attack on all) for the very first time on 12 Sep 01. There was a broad, general rush of support for the USA in September 2001. Canada, almost immediately - in October 2001, sent naval units (HMC Ships Charlottetown, Halifax, Iroquois and Preserver) to the Persian Gulf with specific orders to join in the “war on terror.” In the autumn of that year Canada offered a battle group (3 PPCLI Battle Group deployed to Kandahar in early 2002) to fight alongside our American friends. Opinions, in Canada and most of Europe, changed rapidly with the invasion of Iraq. Support for the USA faded because many countries could not understand that strategic rationale for President Bush’s actions. Afghanistan and Iraq got mixed together in the public mind – and the polling Ruxted has seen indicates that confusion exists today – and support for the UN-sanctioned (we should say UN begged for) mission in Afghanistan also faded.

Most respectable security/defence and foreign policy analysts seem to agree with the Manley Report that:

1.   The mission in Afghanistan, while difficult, is “just” and important for the West;

2.   The campaign in Afghanistan can be “won” if two things happen –

a.   We get the aim (the victory conditions, as Ruxted described them) right, and

b.   We get enough troops on the ground, in the right place – in the South, especially in Kandahar; and

3.   NATO will, quite likely, be a useless shell if it cannot manage to win in Afghanistan.

The question, for Prime Minister Harper is not, we suggest, whether to save NATO but, rather, how.

Perhaps the threat of an institutional failure will be sufficient to convince some NATO members to offer more troops. But the threat of a NATO failure may be cushioned by the “promise” of a new, robust EuroForce of some sort. Some NATO nations might be only too happy to see less and less North American influence in world affairs and those nations might be willing to make promises about a strong, influential, united Europe. In Ruxted’s view: it is highly unlikely that the European members of NATO (excepting the UK from that category) can or will be persuaded to strengthen their forces in Afghanistan. That leaves two choices –

1.   Persuading other non-European ISAF members, to increase their contributions – perhaps Australia and New Zealand, Turkey, the UK or the USA could be targeted for political pressure; or

2.   Recruiting (a) new member(s) for ISAF; China and India are obvious choices, but so are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, Mexico, Malaysia and South Africa.

In our view, the best immediate term course open is to ask the USA to make at least part of the recently announced “surge” both permanent and part of NATO’s response to Canada’s justified “demand” for help in Kandahar. Another good long term course is to ask Australia and New Zealand to form a combined battle group, based on their existing contribution but to move from Bamiyan and Uruzgan provinces to Kandahar. That course would improve matters in Kandahar but it would not add many new troops to ISAF.

It is likely that NATO’s reaction to Canada’s pending demand will signal the future of the alliance. If members (American and European, alike) want NATO to survive then some nations will offer new forces. If they fail to do so and if Canada cannot persuade other, non-NATO friends to take up the burden then NATO will, rightfully, be seen as a “paper tiger” and its utility, as the UN’s “military agent” will be reduced and the alliance itself may wither and die from lack of a useful role in the world.
No matter what NATO and others decide, Canada must continue to rebuild its military capabilities so that we will be able to respond when our much-hyped “Responsibility to Protect” requires it. We must, simultaneously, work diplomatically to create a new, better, global alignment of like-minded nations to help plan, coordinate, mount and manage the sorts of military operations the United Nations is certain to want us to undertake in the coming years.
The Ruxted Group believes that Prime Minister Harper and Canadian ministers and officials must all press hard, at forthcoming NATO meetings – in an effort to save Afghanistan and NATO, itself.


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