Executive Summary: NATO Allies in Europe Must Do More in Afghanistan

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Executive Summary: NATO Allies in Europe Must Do More in Afghanistan

December 3, 2009 3 min read Download Report
Sally McNamara
Sally McNamara

Sally McNamara is a Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs.

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At the end of August, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, advised the Obama Administration that the mission in Afghanistan "will likely result in failure" unless the U.S. and NATO implement a new counterinsurgency strategy backed by a significant surge of up to 80,000 additional U.S. troops. Importantly, he noted that, given the right strategy, success in Afghanistan is achievable. Having taken three months to reach a decision, President Barack Obama has announced a surge of 30,000 U.S. troops and has appealed to the NATO allies to contribute additional troops and resources.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Brussels on December 3 to meet with NATO foreign ministers to discuss Europe's contribution to the new strategy for Afghanistan. A surge of 40,000 troops will give General McChrystal's strategy a greater chance of succeeding with less risk to the deployed troops. Therefore, it is critical that NATO's European members send at least 10,000 additional troops together with critical enablers and other resources that General McChrystal identified as necessary for victory.

With a few honorable exceptions, NATO's European members--especially France, Germany, Italy, and Spain--have underresourced the U.N.-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan from the start. They have provided too few troops with too many national caveats on their deployments. Furthermore, their support for the civilian component of the comprehensive strategy approved at NATO's 2008 Bucharest summit has been woeful, despite a stated eagerness to forgo combat missions in favor of aid and development projects.

At the Bratislava defense ministers' summit in October, two European NATO members stated that Europe was waiting to see President Obama's direction before deciding whether to provide additional resources for Afghanistan. President Obama's limited resourcing of General McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy means that additional European contributions will likely be decisive to the war effort. The European commitment to Afghanistan must be increased in several ways if General McChrystal is to have a realistic chance of succeeding. These contributions will need to include additional combat troops, police trainers, embedded training teams, and helicopters.

What NATO Should Do. The NATO alliance should identify the political, military, and civilian resources needed from individual European countries to further support the mission in Afghanistan and outline a plan for their deployment, consistent with General McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy:

  • President Obama, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, and NATO heads of state should publicly make the case for the Afghanistan war and express their support of General McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy. All alliance leaders need to rally behind General McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy and seek to shape public opinion about the mission.
  • Continental European NATO members, including new members, need to deploy additional combat forces to Afghanistan along with critical enablers such as engineers and explosives experts.
  • Continental Europe should remove the vast majority of national caveats on troops and material provisions. Commanders on the ground should determine the geographical deployment of personnel and the scope of engagement. Continued micromanaging from national capitals will seriously undermine NATO's strategy.
  • Continental Europe needs to supply additional civilian and military trainers to train the Afghan National Security Force. NATO should take the lead in coordinating the training of the army and police, supported by the European Union's deployment and other associated training missions.
  • Germany should renew its mandate to supply Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) capability. Berlin should quickly resolve with Azerbaijan any outstanding issues pertaining to overflight rights and deploy AWACS to support military and civilian ISAF operations.
  • France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Greece should supply helicopters to support civilian and combat operations in Afghanistan without imposing caveats.

Conclusion. President Obama has repeatedly called Afghanistan a war of necessity. Winning will not be easy or quick, but victory is certainly possible given the right strategy and adequate resources. For too long, several Continental allies have hidden behind pretexts and excuses, forcing other members to carry unfair shares of the burden. Since the beginning of the Afghan campaign in 2001, the United States and the United Kingdom have committed disproportionate amounts of blood and treasure to uprooting radical extremism at its source, taking the fight to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Spain can no longer hide behind political pusillanimity or stall for time.

Other geographically smaller nations have fought bravely alongside countries that are not even in the NATO alliance. Newer members of the alliance-- including Romania, Albania, Poland, Bulgaria, and Croatia--also have an opportunity to take the initiative and shape their standing within NATO.

The war in Afghanistan was undertaken following NATO's first and only invocation of Article V. If Europe continues to fail America in this endeavor, America will have genuine cause to doubt NATO's founding ethos that transatlantic security is indivisible. Europe may consequently find itself without America's security guarantee, which has kept the peace in Europe for the past 60 years. The stakes in Afghanistan could not be higher--for freedom, for transatlantic security, and for the future of NATO.

Sally McNamara is Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. Nicholas Connor, an intern with the Thatcher Center; Aaron Church, an intern with the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies; and Erica Munkwitz, assistant in the Thatcher Center, aided in preparing this paper.


Sally McNamara
Sally McNamara