NATO: Go Big or Get Out
The choice in Afghanistan is stark, and
it's Canada's job to persuade the alliance to fish or cut bait, says ROLAND
The Globe and Mail
25 October 2006
NATO has only two
options in Afghanistan:
make a major commitment of additional resources to Afghan reconstruction, or
plan a phased withdrawal. As a major contributor of troops to this mission, Canada should
press its NATO allies to face up to this difficult decision.
Canada's interest in Afghanistan is
to prevent the country from becoming, once again, a major base for
transnational terrorists who pose a threat to Canadians or our allies. That
requires building governmental institutions that most Afghans view as
legitimate and that are capable of maintaining a reasonable level of security
in most parts of the country.
These are not impossible goals, and much has been achieved in the past five
years. Presidential and parliamentary elections have been held, and some 1,000
schools, clinics and government buildings have been built. In real terms, the
non-drug economy has grown at an impressive average of 15 per cent a year. Most
Afghans do not want the Taliban back in power. And unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is not verging on civil
But recent trends are discouraging. A strengthened insurgency has made much of
the country unsafe for civilian development personnel. Local warlords and drug
traffickers are reportedly collaborating with the Taliban against the
government. And ordinary Afghans are showing signs of mounting disaffection
with their own government's inability to provide security and public services.
If these trends continue, the Afghan mission will fail. Defeat will come
slowly, not on the battlefield but in the minds of Afghans, most of whom simply
want security and opportunity for themselves and their families. If the
legitimately elected government of Afghanistan and its foreign backers
cannot provide such essentials, Afghans will look elsewhere.
Having acknowledged that Afghanistan
has reached a “tipping point,” NATO now wants to accelerate reconstruction
projects during the expected winter lull in fighting, and is looking for 2,500
But much more is needed. This mission is the most under-resourced international
stabilization operation since the Second World War. For example, there were
20.5 international peacekeepers in Kosovo per 1,000 inhabitants, 19 in Bosnia, 10 in Sierra
Leone and 3.5 in Haiti. The ratio in Afghanistan is
a paltry 1 to 1,000. From the beginning, the operation has been hampered by a
lack of international forces to help the Kabul
government establish its presence throughout the country.
Afghanistan has also
received less international aid per capita than many other war-torn countries,
including East Timor, Bosnia, Rwanda,
Sierra Leone and the Solomon Islands.
But appeals for more troops and aid will only work if contributing governments
are convinced that further sacrifices will make a difference. NATO is having
trouble finding more soldiers, in part because its appeals are not accompanied
by a new strategy or renewed commitment to the operation — and the status quo
is not inspiring confidence.
A new strategy is needed to reverse the slow slide in Afghanistan and
to rally NATO members.
First, stop destroying opium poppy crops. Eradication is not working. Worse, it
is alienating poor farming communities and fostering resentment against the
government and foreign forces. Instead, we should explore ways of regulating
(and perhaps even taxing) the opium trade, using a portion of production to
reduce the global shortage of opium-based pain medicines.
Second, make police training a priority. Police are largely in the hands of
local strongmen. Most are poorly equipped and organized, function on the basis
of personal loyalty to a commander, and are accountable to no one.
Third, get serious about rooting out official corruption. President Hamid Karzai recently sidestepped a new process for vetting
high-level police appointees by appointing a regional strongman, with links to
organized crime, as police chief of Kabul.
In the judiciary, too, unqualified people have been installed because they are
loyal to various factions, undermining public confidence in the government.
Fourth, build an Afghan army that can stand by itself.
Newly trained units are performing well, but the current plan is to train only
70,000 soldiers. This will almost certainly prove inadequate. There are already
about 70,000 international and Afghan troops in the country (40,000
international forces and 30,000 Afghans), yet security remains a problem.
Replacing NATO forces with Afghan recruits will produce an army of similar size
but considerably less capacity. To stand on their own,
Afghan forces will need to be much larger.
Fifth, the flow of Taliban fighters from their safe havens in Pakistan must
be contained. Insurgencies with foreign bases have rarely been defeated. In
September, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor proposed
joint patrols of Canadian and Pakistani troops on both sides of the border, a
proposal that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf summarily dismissed. NATO
must speak with a single voice and privately make it clear to Gen. Musharraf
that Pakistan's lucrative position
as a close ally will be in jeopardy unless he does more to address
Pakistan-based threats to Afghanistan.
NATO will need to refocus its efforts on all five elements of this strategy and
make a major new commitment of diplomatic, military and development resources
if it is to be successful in Afghanistan.
The mission cannot be accomplished on the cheap.
If NATO chooses not to make this commitment, it should not wait around for
conditions to worsen. It should withdraw, because the current course is a
recipe for creeping defeat — and that would do untold damage to the alliance.
This puts Canada
in a difficult spot. Our troops are in the most strategically important and
dangerous part of Afghanistan,
committed until 2009. Yet, many NATO members are reluctant to contribute
further to the mission.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he wants to restore Canada's
position of leadership in world affairs. Now he has a chance to do so. His
difficult task is to convince his fellow NATO leaders that the alliance needs
to make a tough choice in Afghanistan:
Go big, or get out.
Roland Paris is associate
professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa
and author of At War's End: Building Peace After
Civil Conflict. He was a foreign policy adviser in the Department of Foreign
Affairs and the Privy Council Office from 2003 to 2005.
Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20061025.wxcoafghan25/BNStory/Afghanistan/home
Paris’ website: http://aix1.uottawa.ca/~rparis