The NATO military operation in Afghanistan is a “NATO operation” in name only. In quality and quantity, most of the forces there are from the English-speaking countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. Without a doubt, some NATO nations like Romania, Poland, and Denmark clearly understand how important this mission really is, especially regarding America’s future commitment to the transatlantic security alliance. In contrast, NATO heavy-weights like France and Germany are barely present and accounted for in Afghanistan. Although Paris and Berlin are happy to micromanage their national deployments in safer parts of the country, they have been reluctant to respond with support that NATO really needs – things like trainers and helicopters.
What is disturbing about the NATO operation in Afghanistan is how smaller (and less affluent) non-NATO countries like Georgia and Macedonia are more willing to go out on a limb than France or Germany. Georgian troops are gearing up for a deployment to the south – where the majority of the action will be seen in the next few months; Macedonian troops faithfully man the front gates at the NATO headquarters in Kabul, where suicide bombers present a daily threat. These countries want to become members of NATO, but they are being blocked by the very same countries that are refusing to carry their weight in Afghanistan – specifically, France, Germany and Greece. The same kind of nearsighted parochialism that leads Paris and Berlin in particular to shirk their “shared” responsibility in Afghanistan is behind their cold shoulder toward NATO expansion.
The United States needs a new alliance strategy, one that relies less on old, purely regional alliance structures like NATO and more on stalwart allies who are willing to pull their weight in defending freedom, and new allies who share that goal. America needs to lead a new Global Freedom Coalition that would complement NATO. We should approach freedom-loving countries all over the world that have been willing to help us fight for freedom. They, and not European countries more interested in building up the European Union than strengthening NATO, should be given pride of place in America’s international relations.
For far too long, France, Germany and some other West European countries in NATO have been living off America’s willingness to overlook their parochialism and tendency to free ride off the United States and a few NATO stalwarts like the UK. They think they can always count on America’s pro-NATO (and even pro-European Union) policies to excuse and cover up their efforts to undermine NATO with competing EU defense policies. They know that the U.S. cares far more about the strength and integrity of NATO than they do, and thus believe they have little to worry about if they shirk their responsibilities in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
The charade is getting old. If they are not worried about being weak and desultory members of NATO, then neither should we be. America should form new flexible alliances with countries that not only need it, but are also willing to truly share the burden of the common defense – like Poland, the Czech Republic, the UK, Australia and South Korea. We need not abandon NATO; but neither should we pretend that NATO is the an alliance whose members are all equally dedicated to the task of common defense and security–or, for that matter, is the centerpiece of America’s alliances. They are not. It’s time we admitted it.