Foreign Policy Blogs

The NATO Crisis

nato-logo.pngReferring to the dissipating morale of the American cause, Thomas Paine wrote in the winter of 1776 that "these are the times that try men's souls." One might reflect today on Afghanistan as trying NATO's soul. President Bush envisions a new mission for NATO through Afghanistan, while some see the fissure over troops in Afghanistan as a possible death knell for NATO.

This week President Bush embarks on his final NATO Summit, where he will attempt to persuade NATO allies to redouble their efforts in Afghanistan. His trip will include stops in Ukraine, Moscow, Croatia, and the summit in Bucharest.

The Bucharest summit will raise many issues other than Afghanistan, including the controversial missile defense proposal in Poland (and the alternative proposal in Czech Republic), Kosovo's independence, and whether Georgia and Ukraine should be extended membership into NATO. All of these issues spark contrasts with Russia, which detests the old Soviet states enhancing their standing with the United States. As a diplomatic gesture, Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev were offered invitations to the summit.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili spoke with the Financial Times about the upcoming summit, and portrayed denial of Georgia into NATO as effectively providing Russia with a veto. He also suggested that Georgia could send their troops currently serving in Iraq to Afghanistan, in order to help relieve the troop strain on NATO.

France plans to announce the arrival of an additional 1,000 troops to Afghanistan. Coinciding with President Bush's request for more troops, France will ask NATO members to "devote more resources to rebuilding Afghan society, bringing in judges, teachers, medical workers and civil administrators."

France's boost will help ease fears from Canada's PM Steve Harper, who threatened to remove troops if other allies did not step-up. Additionally, the United States has slated 3,000 Marines for duty in Afghanistan. The strengthening alliance between France and the United States is just a small caveat amid a stronger notion of NATO members splitting over the troop issue in Afghanistan.

Richard Holbrooke writes today that "the conflict in Afghanistan will be far more costly and much, much longer than Americans realize. This war, already in its seventh year, will eventually become the longest in American history, surpassing even Vietnam."

Any troop promises by NATO members other than France will signify a successful trip for President Bush. However, anything less (a likely prospect) will further the crisis.