The future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
has become inextricably linked to the future of Afghanistan. NATO,
an alliance created in the early days of the Cold War to defend the
West against Soviet aggression, is actively engaged in
assisting Afghanistan's young democratic government against
the resurgent Taliban. This is not only NATO's first mission
outside of Europe, but also its largest ever operational
deployment. Afghanistan has now become a test of NATO's ability to
transform itself and adapt to the post-9/11 threat environment.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
mission in Afghanistan presents an opportunity to observe both the
successes and shortcomings of voluntary international military
operations. Some of the problems that the ISAF has encountered
thus far are an insufficient number of troops, a lack of troop
transport, and inadequate defense spending by Alliance members.
To perform its mission in Afghanistan successfully, NATO should
develop interoperable communications systems, address troop levels
and capabilities, address proportional funding, and seriously
consider another round of enlargement to include Alliance-friendly
members. All of these issues were brought to the table at the NATO
summit in Riga, Latvia, on November 28- 29 by President Bush, who
strongly urged other Alliance members to increase their
The International Security Assistance
When the U.S. government commenced Operation Enduring Freedom on
September 12, 2001, it invoked the Alliance's mutual defense
clause but chose not to let NATO take the lead, despite an
outpouring of support from other NATO countries. Although
NATO was a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, it did not command a
force of its own until years later and still does not oversee
all troops in Afghanistan. The International Security Assistance
Force is NATO's first mission outside of Europe and is meant to
create a shield behind which the Afghans can establish
security, the rule of law, and representative government. The
ISAF is also bolstering Afghan security with international
troops, reforming the Afghan defense program, and working to
improve communication between Afghanistan and neighboring
On August 9, 2003, NATO began Phase 1 of five phases by assuming
authority for the ISAF mission and taking over operations in Kabul.
It moved on to Phase 2 in 2004, geographically expanding its
mission to include the North in 2004, the West in 2005, and the
South and East in 2006, a process that was completed in October
2006. Phase 3 consists of stabilizing these areas.
The ISAF is currently in Phases 4 and 5, which involve the
transition to security provided by Afghan troops and the
redeployment of NATO troops where necessary. This expansion of
NATO's responsibility included assuming command of 12,000 American
soldiers who had previously been under U.S. command. The inclusion
of U.S. troops was also meant as an attempt to curb insurgencies in
eastern and southern Afghanistan, where there has been a resurgence
of Taliban militia along the Pakistani border. Estimates of actual
numbers of troops deployed vary, but official NATO numbers show
over 32,000 soldiers from 37 countries currently under NATO
Even with the transfer of 12,000 American troops to NATO
command, U.S. Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry continues to
command 8,000 U.S. troops outside of the NATO force. These U.S.
troops are facilitating reconstruction projects, training Afghan
security forces, and tracking al-Qaeda terrorists. They are assigned to
the Combined Forces Command--Afghanistan. This U.S. command
will be going through some transitions culminating with the
inactivation of Headquarters Combined Forces Command--Afghanistan
after November 30, 2006.
NATO's contribution to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan is a test
of legitimacy for future NATO missions. U.S. Ambassador to NATO
Victoria Nuland recently told a meeting of the Manfred Worner
Circle that "If we can't do missions like that of Afghanistan, then
we can't do our overall mission." Nuland used the occasion to
highlight the objectives that the U.S. hoped to see discussed at
length at the upcoming NATO Riga summit in Latvia. The ambassador
stressed the importance of making certain that NATO had a
well-equipped and well-prepared response force. In 2001, no such
NATO force existed, which limited the extent to which the United
States could rely on NATO involvement when it went into
ISAF Problems Mirror NATO Problems
The problems that beset NATO are also the problems that
beset operations in Afghanistan.
Troop Levels.The biggest problem is meeting troop
commitments from NATO members. In February 2006, General James
Jones, NATO's top commander, declared that NATO's members had
not come up with the final one-fourth of the 25,000 troops needed
for a NATO Response Force (NRF). The NRF was planned at the
NATO Prague summit in November 2002 as a fully operational task
force with the capability of deploying within a week's notice. The
NRF was scheduled to become fully operational by October 2006 in
time for its first mission in Afghanistan. The United States
initially held back troop commitments in the hope that European
members would supply more troops, which they did, albeit
In September 2006, when NATO was having difficulty coming
up with the remaining 2,500 troops needed to reach the goal of
31,000 for the multinational force in Afghanistan, NATO
Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer pleaded with NATO
members, "If you are a member of an alliance based on solidarity,
you have to deliver... We need to do more." NATO finally did
receive most of the needed commitments (2,000 soldiers) from
Britain, Canada, Poland, and Romania, although Scheffer
said that more were still needed.
Troop Transport.Airlift is a major problem for most NATO
members.NATO had problems airlifting troops into Afghanistan
because it did not have the aircraft capable of performing the
task. NATO does have transport aircraft, including C-130s and
KC-130Js, that could be deployed around Europe, but transporting
troops as far as Afghanistan was inconceivable. As a result, NATO
troops have been transported to Afghanistan aboard U.S. C-17s.
Ambassador Nuland observed, "All our U.S. screaming at them
for the last decade to get airlift led nowhere until they deployed
to Afghanistan and only then did they realize the extent of the
On September 13, NATO announced that 13 allies are negotiating
to purchase three or four C-17s for delivery beginning in 2007. The
13 allies will buy shares of the planes, which will be based at
Germany's Ramstein Air Base, the same air base used by U.S.
airlift. Each C-17 costs $202.3 million, and
the United States has already committed to buying one of the planes
to provide NATO with a long-range airlift capability.
Defense Spending.Defense spending is critical to
transforming NATO, with 20 of the 26 NATO members spending less
than the suggested 2 percent of gross domestic product on
defense. At a conference on NATO's global agenda,
Secretary General Scheffer proposed extending funding for a trial
period to fund short-term NRF deployments, chiefly strategic
Other parties need to assume financial responsibility for
Afghanistan's reconstruction so that NATO members can concentrate
on defense and security. Scheffer pointed out that NATO needs to
tighten coordination with the United Nations, the European Union,
and non-governmental organizations to bridge the gap between
those who supply security and those who supply development.
The recent ISAF expansion into southern Afghanistan has provided
an opportunity for other parties to step up and prove themselves.
As Ambassador Dann Everts, NATO's top civilian
representative in Afghanistan, told a news conference,
"Particularly the EU has a great opportunity to make a significant
and very timely difference in the area of the judiciary and the
police... The goal is wide open. They just have to kick the
ball." Secretary General Scheffer said that
NATO is neither a relief organization nor a reconstruction agency
and argued, "Now is the time for the international community
to step in and help push Afghanistan further in the right
The Problem of Caveats
In addition to the problems that have long impeded NATO
operations, the ISAF is hampered by national caveats that restrict
the operations of many units deployed in Afghanistan. Such
restrictions limit deployment areas and types of missions for
particular national contingents or impose other criteria that
reduce the effectiveness or flexibility of ISAF operations.
On October 24, 2006, General Jones estimated that there were
about 102 national restrictions, 50 of which significantly hampered
operations. While he said that he would welcome more troop
contributions, lifting the caveats was more important.
National caveats are classified for security reasons, but some have
been leaked to the media, including a German restriction on
"extended patrols" for German troops. Other nations
have forbidden deployment of their troops to eastern or southern
Afghanistan, where support for the Taliban and insurgent threats
Only six of NATO's 26 countries have placed no caveats on their
ISAF forces. One reporter summarized the situation: "Countries
sending their troops to Afghanistan have placed a web of
restrictions on how they can be used, creating headaches for
combat commanders and hurting the coalition's ability to fight
a resurgent Taliban." Over time, ISAF commanders have persuaded
some NATO members to lift or modify their caveats. For
example, Poland dropped deployment restrictions on its 1,050
troops. More countries should be persuaded
to do likewise to improve the ISAF's operational
NATO Enlargement and the Lugar
At the Riga summit, President George W. Bush was expected to
announce U.S. support for Japan, Australia, and South Korea to
increase their cooperation with NATO through a global
partnership. NATO enlargement is a hot topic for many
people, including Members of Congress. On September 29, Senator
Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced the NATO Freedom Consolidation Act
of 2006 (S. 4014), which reaffirms U.S. commitment to NATO
enlargement, particularly with regard to Albania, Croatia, Georgia,
In his introductory remarks, Senator Lugar argued that if NATO
is to remain relevant to the security and defense interests it
purports to represent, "it must continue to evolve and that
evolution must include enlargement." He noted that three
countries--Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia--had made
signification progress toward needed political and economic reforms
since having been granted Membership Action Plans (MAPs) in
He further noted that while Georgia has not been granted a MAP,
it is geostrategically important and warrants NATO
consideration because of its proximity to Russia and the fact that
it is home to a large portion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.
Moreover, despite persistent pressure from Russian-backed
republics, it has persevered in its plan to forge a democracy.
Additionally, Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia have all
contributed troops to the Afghanistan ISAF, although none has
achieved full NATO membership. It seems likely that increased NATO
membership would lead to an increased troop presence in
Afghanistan, especially among young members determined to
prove their allegiance to NATO's goals.
The Riga Summit: A Chance to Bolster
ISAF and Enhance NATO
The NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, on November 28-29 was an
ideal opportunity for NATO members to "reconfirm the continuing
importance of NATO as the key transatlantic forum to ensure
our collective security." The agenda for the summit included:
The challenging security situation in Afghanistan,
The need for more appropriate funding arrangements for
The shortfalls and deficiencies in Alliance operational
The inadequate levels of defense expenditures,
The creation of new forms of association for contributing
The further evolution of Alliance partnerships, and
The future membership of the Alliance.
This agenda indicates that many NATO members have the same
problems that have plagued the ISAF.
Interoperability."Interoperability will...depend on the
development and integration of military information networks
to share and exploit relevant information in real time. The United
States and its Allies must therefore develop technology transfer
policies to facilitate the effective sharing of relevant technical
Troop Capabilities."Forces deployed for NATO missions
must have the flexibility to perform the range of operations
demanded by a particular mission. All efforts should therefore
be made to reduce the use of national caveats which all too often
restrict national contingents from participating in operations to
their full capability."
Proportional Funding."A mechanism for the common funding
of operations should be accompanied by commitments by
individual members to devote sufficient resources to defence to
meet the global challenges to our security. NATO members
should at the very least commit themselves to making no further
cuts in their national defence expenditures."
NATO Enlargement."Membership of the Alliance must
remain open to those aspirants who demonstrate their adherence to
the common values of the Alliance and are assessed by member
countries as being ready for membership... Riga Summit
Alliance leaders should provide clear guidance to Albania, Croatia,
and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as to when they can
expect invitations to join the Alliance." The agenda also expresses
the desire to encourage Georgia's membership and the need to
"formulate a strategic vision on the long-term future of
What Should Be Done
The Riga summit gave NATO a vital opportunity to discuss
pressing concerns regarding NATO operations in Afghanistan and
wider issues about NATO's future. Specifically, NATO members should
Boost troop commitments for Afghanistan. Taliban forces
are likely to present a greater threat to the Afghan government
next year, in part because of Pakistan's recent agreement with
Pushtun tribal leaders along the Afghanistan- Pakistan border,
which will make it easier for Taliban forces to launch cross-border
attacks. In particular, countries seeking NATO membership should be
pressed to increase their troop commitments in Afghanistan to
demonstrate their value as allies.
Reduce the number and restrictive nature of national
caveats on ISAF units. More countries should be pressed to follow
Poland's example and lift restrictions that hamper the
effectiveness and flexibility of ISAF operations.
Increase pressure on NATO members that
are spending less than 2 percent of GDP on defense.
Undertake another round of enlargement. NATO should
seriously consider expanding to include Albania, Croatia,
Georgia, and Macedonia.
NATO's challenges have changed, and NATO needs to evolve to meet
them. NATO's International Security Assistance Force in
Afghanistan presents an opportunity to observe both the
successes and shortcomings of voluntary international
military operations. To accomplish both its mission in Afghanistan
and its overall mission, NATO should develop interoperable
communications systems, address troop levels and
capabilities, address proportional funding, and seriously
consider another round of enlargement to include Alliance-friendly
--Helle C. Dale is Director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison
Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn
and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The
Heritage Foundation. The author would like to thank Davis Institute
Production and Operations Coordinator Marla Graves and
Heritage intern Paul Detrick for their assistance with the research
for this paper.
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, "NATO in
Afghanistan," November 10, 2006, at (November
10, 2006). Another expert defines the ISAF's Afghanistan mission as
"to help the Afghan authorities provide security according to the
Bonn Agreement, relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, and a
bilateral agreement with the Afghan government." Although inclusion
of the terms of all these agreements is beyond the scope of this
paper, more information can be found in Barnett R. Rubin,
"Afghanistan's Uncertain Transition from Turmoil to Normalcy," The
Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations,
Council Special Report No. 12, March 2006, at (November 22, 2006).
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, "NATO in
Associated Press, "NATO Assumes Control of
Eastern Afghanistan," The New York Times, October 5, 2006,
release, "Coalition Headquarters Assumes New Role in Afghanistan,"
Combined Forces Command--Afghanistan, Coalition Press Information
Center, October 6, 2006, at (November
Brooks Tigner, "Afghan Challenges Strike at
Core NATO Mission," Defense News, October 23, 2006, at (October
23, 2006; subscription required).
Reuters, "NATO Commander Fears Rapid Force
Delay," Defense News, February 10, 2006, at (October 8, 2006).
News, "NATO to Extend Afghan Operations," September 28, 2006, at
Helene Cooper, "NATO Chief Says More Troops Are
Needed in Afghanistan," The New York Times, September 22,
2006, p. A10.
Tigner, "Afghan Challenges Strike at Core
Vince Crawley, "NATO Allies Agree to Buy C-17
Aircraft, Reducing Airlift Shortage; Three or Four Cargo Planes
Based in Germany Would be Shared by 13 Nations," U.S. Department of
State, Bureau of International Information Programs Washington
File, September 14, 2006, at
(November 24, 2006).
U.S. Air Force, "C-17 Globemaster III," May
2006, at (November
Brooks Tigner, "NATO Chief Calls for Common
Funding for More Alliance Operations," Defense News,
November 6, 2006, at (November
6, 2006; subscription required).
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, "Global NATO: Overdue
or Overstretch?" speech at Security and Defense Agenda Conference,
Brussels, November 6, 2006, at (November
Umit Enginsoy, "NATO Urges Nations to Lift
Caveats on Forces in Afghanistan," Defense News, October 24,
2006, at (October
See Jim Michaels, "Nations Limit Use of NATO
Forces," USA Today, September 28, 2006, at
(November 10, 2006).
Ed Johnson, "Poland Will Speed Up Troop
Deployment in Afghanistan, NATO Says," Bloomberg.com,
September 27, 2006, at (October
Tom Raum, "Bush Agenda: Stronger NATO,"
The Mercury News (San Jose, Cal.), November 22, 2006, at
Senators Bill Frist (R-TN), Joseph R. Biden
(D-DE), Gordon Smith (R-OR), and John McCain (R-AZ) co-sponsored S.
Richard Lugar, in "S. 4014," Congressional
Record, September 29, 2006, p. S10692.
A Membership Action Plan is a step toward
NATO membership. It details reforms that the country needs to
undertake to prepare for NATO membership.
Lugar, in "S. 4014," p. S10692.
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
Parliamentary Assembly, Standing Committee, "Declaration on NATO's
Riga Summit," October 3, 2006, Section 1.1, at (November
Ibid., Sections 14.1-14.4.