Mr. Will Chalmers writes ….
      In many ways the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States (US) marked
 the beginning of a new era for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the
 West. Its purpose and future once in considerable doubt, NATO moved to condemn the
 terrorist attacks and pledged its support for US military operations to eliminate the
 terrorist threat from the Taliban controlled country of Afghanistan. From the initial
 commitments of low numbers of special operations forces, NATO nations gradually
 increased both the number of troops and the scope of the mission. Instead of merely
 defeating al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, NATO now sought to help Afghans create a
 free and democratic government in the war torn country. While all the NATO allies can
 agree upon the need to create a functioning and representative Afghan government,
 there remain many differences regarding the prosecution of the Global War on Terrorism
 (GWOT). These differences in policy towards the GWOT are evident in the greatly
 varying commitments each NATO nation is willing to make in Afghanistan. It can be said,
 therefore, that while within NATO there is a general agreement on goals, the actual
 means reveal a gulf between the US and some of its NATO allies.
      Created at the beginning of the Cold War to defend Western Europe from the
 conventional forces of the Soviet Union, NATO has evolved into an organization with far
 broader responsibilities and commitments then its founders envisioned. Membership in
 NATO has oddly enough grown, while its original rival Russia has weakened since the
 height of the Cold War and currently poses a much diminished threat to Europe. With a
 membership of 26 nations, including some who had been part of the Eastern bloc during
 the Cold War, NATO can, on paper, field a formidable array of military power. This
 military capability is much reduced from its Cold War peak, but nonetheless represents
 a significant force.
      With its expanded membership and still searching for a reason for its continued
 existence, NATO took note of the obvious failures of the United Nations (UN) and began
 to look “out of area” for new missions.1 The Balkans and specifically the Kosovo
 campaign were NATO’s first attempts at a new type of mission that had not been part of
 the original mandate for the organization. While victorious in these limited campaigns,
 NATO displayed many weaknesses that would become even more apparent as the
 organization struggles to define and achieve its aims in a more violent war in
      The sheer audacity and immense destruction of the September 11th attacks on the
 US caused NATO to invoke Article 5 of its charter. The article declared that the terrorist
 attack on the US represented an attack on all NATO members and would be met, as
 such, by the military forces of all member nations.2 All NATO members were in
 agreement that the US should be assisted in its attack on al-Qaeda and the Taliban
 forces that sheltered them. The Taliban government had made few allies abroad during
 its years in power and thus were a relatively easy target for the alliance. The consensus
 on participation was made easier by the fact that the operation would require a very
 small commitment of non-US troops in the initial phase. NATO allies were able to assist
 in important but less dangerous and arduous tasks such as intelligence, over-flight
 rights, and naval forces to patrol the Pakistani coast.3 Most of the difficult and dangerous
 tasks would be done by the Northern Alliance, the US and a few of its close allies.
 Therefore, it was without considerable internal disagreement that NATO slid into its first
 real war in a theatre that bears little resemblance to the Northern European battlefields

                                             Canadian Army Journal Vol. 11.2 Summer 2008        131
      upon which it planned to fight.
           The initial phase of the newest Afghan war progressed far faster than even its most
      ardent supporters had hoped. Instead of the oft-predicted long and bloody war in the
      mountains of Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance with US and allied special operations
      forces routed the main Taliban forces and rapidly swept southward.4 The quick defeat of
      Taliban and al-Qaeda forces was thought by many to mean the end of intense combat
      in the country. Less combat capable NATO contingents could now arrive and assist the
      new government of Afghanistan in building up the organizations and infrastructure
      needed for a modern functioning state.
           After a request from the new Afghan government and the UN, NATO agreed to
      provide forces to help Afghanistan with a number of tasks deemed essential.5 This
      commitment, made in a period of relative calm in the country, has now come under
      serious strain with the renewal of fighting in a number of areas. The return of the Taliban
      and the subsequent increase in violence has exposed the differences within NATO as to
      the importance of the mission, and as a result, the varying willingness to shoulder a part
      of the burden.
           Many of the larger European NATO members have so far refused to commit their
      troops to any situation that would entail regular combat against Taliban forces. With the
      exception of the British, Dutch and Canadian contingents, most NATO troops have been
      kept in areas deemed to be relatively secure.6 To further restrict their use, many of the
      NATO members have placed extremely restrictive caveats on the use of their forces in
      Afghanistan.7 These caveats have the effect of creating a two-tiered alliance with some
      members willing to undertake dangerous tasks while others hide behind these
           Another factor is the growing gap in capabilities between US forces and those of
      their allies. Many NATO members have lagged behind the US military as it pursues
      “transformation.” This factor makes interoperability and cooperation on the battlefield
      much more difficult.9 The frustration within the US about their NATO allies’ unwillingness
      to be more flexible with their troops has become public several times, but has not yet
      significantly altered or improved the situation.10 With so few NATO troops in Afghanistan
      to begin with, and many of those limited by national caveats, commanders have a great
      deal of difficulty crafting a coherent strategy, and in particular, responding to unforeseen
      actions by the enemy.
           The reluctance by many NATO members to place their troops in dangerous
      situations in Afghanistan is largely a reflection of the domestic opinion within these
      countries. Even if Afghanistan is seen as the “good war” compared to Iraq, European
      public opinion has been generally unsupportive of the current counter-insurgency
      campaign being waged in Afghanistan and the wider US-led Global War on Terrorism.11
      Therefore, it seems unlikely that the NATO countries currently doing most of the fighting
      in Afghanistan can expect any new large scale commitment from their European allies.
      These nations simply do not place the same importance on the GWOT and remain
      suspicious of unchecked US power.
           As a result of the general unwillingness of many NATO nations to commit forces to
      combat roles, the US and a select few countries have and probably will continue to do
      most of the more dangerous work in Afghanistan. The recent increase of US and British
      forces in the southern part of Afghanistan is largely a reflection of this reality. NATO
      contingents of less-willing or less-able members can continue to perform important but
      less dangerous tasks behind this shield. Within the larger GWOT this likely means that
      the US will increasingly rely upon a small number of close allies. Many of the older
      original members of NATO have now drifted away from the US while newer members,

132   Canadian Army Journal Vol. 11.2 Summer 2008
   often from the former eastern bloc have aligned themselves more closely with US
   interests.12 For some of these countries, the decision to support US objectives hinges
   less upon Afghanistan and more upon their own perception of national interest and
   longstanding fears of more powerful neighbours. Overall, the Afghan experience has
   exposed the vastly differing positions within NATO members on the necessity and proper
   course for this larger war.
        While NATO countries have committed to the goal of a stable, free and functioning
   Afghan state, there are obvious differences with regards to the effort needed and the
   relationship to the wider GWOT. The reluctance to deploy more troops and the
   prevalence of national caveats are all indications of this difference of opinion. The actual
   conduct of operations within NATO, and specifically the International Security Assistance
   Force (ISAF), also illustrates the gulf between the US and some of its historic NATO
   allies. While the NATO nations see many important benefits in a stable Afghanistan, the
   increase in violence in recent years and the allied response has exposed the very real
   differences over the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan and against terrorism

1. Andrew J. Bacevich, “NATO at Twilight,” Los Angeles Times 11 Feb 2008: 1.
2. Rene De Nevers, “NATO’s International Security Role,” International Security Vol. 31, No. 4 (Spring 2007): 37.
3. Ibid.
4. Stephen Biddle, “Afghanistan and the Future of Warfare,” Strategic Studies Institute (November 2002): 10.
5. Paul Gallis, “NATO in Afghanistan: A Test of the Transatlantic Alliance,” Congressional Research Service Report for
Congress 7 January 2008: 3.
6. Bacevich 2.
7. Gallis 5.
8. Bacevich 2.
9. Gallis 62.
10. Al Pessin, “Pentagon Moves to Blunt Gates’ Rebuke of NATO Allies.” Los Angeles Times 16 January 2008: 1.
11. Bacevich 2.
12. Gallis 25.

                                                             Canadian Army Journal Vol. 11.2 Summer 2008                 133

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