In the nineties Senator Richard Lugar made his seminal statement about NATO going either out of area or out of business. Lugar was totally right – then. NATO had to accept new commitments beyond its territory, proliferate stability, enforce peace and enable civic actors to engage in post-conflict peace building were it to sustain its legitimacy. NATO since then has been of vital importance with SFOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with KFOR in Kosovo and, most recently, with ISAF in Afghanistan.
ISAF is faced with growing resistance and ever more brazen attacks by restrengthened Taleban fighters. NATO allies like the UK, Canadian, Danish and Dutch squadrons take over greatest risk in surpressing the insurgency in the south, US troops in the east of Afghanistan.
All these nations suffer huge losses in order to promote the collective mission of NATO. Major allies like France, Germany, Italy and Spain however, are avoiding prolonged and regular commitment to support allies in the demanding task of crushing emboldened Taleban fighters. France is even about to withdraw its special forces within ‘Enduring Freedom’ from Afghanistan. All of them cite their allegedly essential missions in both the north and the west of Afghanistan and in Kabul. Withholding support, however, seriously undermines allied solidarity and widens the rift within NATO. Domestic considerations and lack of political will must not undermine the military logic of NATO’s ISAF engagement.
At the end of the day, ISAF commitment is about fighting; fighting with most modern equipment provided for and financed by all NATO allies. Any member country which withholds essential support for the mission is undermining cohesion within the alliance.
Furthermore, restrained engagement seriously weakens the fighting capability and efficiency of NATO in Afghanistan. It is true that ISAF together with Provincial Reconstruction Teams has to provide the infrastructural rebuilding of Afghanistan by making the environment secure and safe; war fighting, however, is still the crucial prerequisite for achieving these civil purposes. Lack of allied cohesion may risk alliance failure in defeating the insurgency. If NATO does not prevail in Afghanistan, were even to shamefully retreat from Afghanistan, NATO’s credibility will be irreversibly wrecked.
Given the current backsliding of major NATO members like France and Germany NATO risks going out of business because of going out of area.