NATO in Afghanistan – A challenge to transatlantic burden sharing
On March 3, GMF hosted a discussion entitled "NATO in Afghanistan: A challenge to transatlantic burden sharing," featuring Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Volker, German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth, and Canadian Deputy Head of Mission Guy Saint-Jacques. GMF Senior Transatlantic Fellow Michael Polt moderated the discussion.
The conversation revealed consensus on the current state of the ISAF, the NATO mission in Afghanistan. All of the discussants expressed satisfaction with the current level of progress on building schools, improving access to health care, and encouraging the return of refugees. They affirmed the solidarity of the ISAF member nations, attributing any sense of division largely to media sensationalism rather than policy differences on the ground.
A discussion of priorities for the immediate future revealed a few differences between each countries' policy. While all of the speakers identified narcotics production as a key threat to Afghanistan's stability, some defended crop spraying while others supported a strict policy of encouraging alternative livelihoods without destroying poppy fields. Proponents of crop spraying argued that narcotics production has become an agribusiness in Afghanistan, with an impressive infrastructure and centralized control among a few wealthy drug lords, and that destroying these crops has little effect on small-scale farmers.
National roles in the training of Afghan police forces were contentious as well. All of the discussants stressed the importance of police training in empowering Afghans to take an active role in stabilization, but some said the political compromise of removing hundreds more policemen from their country's streets was an insurmountable constraint.
Participants also pressed the speakers on European policies of making security guarantees to individual Afghan communities, which require a fast response capability relying on the availability of light helicopters. Speakers responded that the lack of helicopters is a byproduct of Cold War military planning, and purchasing more is a long-term challenge. They also stressed the necessity of repairing helicopters in Afghanistan, rather than shipping them back to Europe or the United States.
The speakers acknowledged that the disconnect between public perception and their own views of the situation on the ground is an important challenge to the continuing success of ISAF. One speaker noted that on the most fundamental level, public in both Europe and the United States remains unconvinced that long-term security commitments and investments abroad are necessary in the post-Cold War context. Another countered that public support for ISAF could be bolstered by the development of a new narrative more closely tying the importance of stabilizing Afghanistan to the security of Western countries, and that forming a new narrative is best approached as a transatlantic project, rather than one by individual governments.