“Assisting Afghanistan: The importance of a comprehensive approach

Speech by NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero, at the GLOBSEC Conference

  • 17 Jan. 2008 - 17 Jan. 2008
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  • Last updated: 02 Dec. 2008 15:48

Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the invitation to speak at this most important conference.  The theme of our session, this morning, seems to me particularly appropriate.  Afghanistan and a Comprehensive Approach are vital issues, and they are vital issues not just for NATO and individual Allies, but also for the whole of the wider International Community.

As we meet here today, more than 60,000 troops are deployed under NATO command in operations and missions on three different continents.  In Europe, NATO is keeping the peace in the Balkans, notably in Kosovo, where we are facing a particularly challenging period.  In the Mediterranean, the Alliance is conducting naval anti-terrorist patrols.  In Iraq, NATO is training Iraqi security forces.  And in Africa, NATO is supporting the African Union in Sudan with strategic airlift. 

But it is, of course, in Afghanistan that NATO is conducting what is probably the most important, and challenging, mission in the Alliance’s history.  I should point out that NATO is in Afghanistan at the request of the United Nations, under the authority of a United Nations Security Council mandate, and with the approval, and support, of the democratically elected Government of Afghanistan. 

The Alliance-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, ISAF, is now made up of some 40,000 personnel.  Brave men and women from every one of the 26 NATO member States, as well as from 13 partner countries - countries who are not members of the Alliance, but who nevertheless realise the importance of the NATO-led mission there and are keen to assist.  And let me say at this point, while I am here in Bratislava, how much NATO appreciates the Slovakian contributions to NATO and to Alliance-led operations.  In addition to the forces deployed in Kosovo as part of KFOR, Slovakia is also providing significant support to ISAF, with an engineering unit in Regional Command South, as well as personnel at the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Pol-e-Khomri and at the ISAF headquarters in Kabul.  Minister, we are very grateful for this contribution.

In Afghanistan, ISAF is conducting an extremely wide range of military activities - combat, counter-insurgency, peacekeeping, reconstruction and development, even humanitarian aid.  In previous operations these activities have normally been carried out one after another, but in Afghanistan, all of them are now being performed concurrently.  What we now have is a “blurring of edges”, making it difficult to clearly identify where one activity starts and another finishes, or the dividing line between military and civilian activities.

Inevitably, press coverage of Afghanistan often tends to focus on the bad news stories, and fails to show the significant progress that NATO’s active engagement has led to in Afghanistan.  I do acknowledge that the progress is, in some cases, fragile.  But we do see clear signs of progress, in many areas – more children, including girls, in school; better functioning institutions; improved economic growth.  Of course, the challenge before us is to sustain and reinforce that progress.  That is why the Alliance has already stepped up its own contribution and is committed to a long-term effort in the country.  But sustaining the progress in Afghanistan cannot be done by NATO alone. 

We all know that military force is not enough on its own to safeguard and promote security.  Lasting progress in Afghanistan will only come if security improvements are accompanied by improvements in other fields, such as job opportunities, medical facilities, education services, power supply, and transport infrastructure.  Although the NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams scattered in the Afghan provinces can provide some help in this regard, their task really does require a broader, concerted effort by the International Community, including civilian reconstruction organisations and agencies, Non Governmental Organisations, and international aid financing.

Lasting progress also requires more visible in-country ownership – by which I mean Afghan ownership.  Without this, outside agencies may eventually even be regarded as “occupiers” and the indigenous government will be perceived as weak and ineffective.  Hence the need to develop an overarching strategy that fully supports the Afghan society and political structures, and can be seen to be in the hands of the legitimate Government of Afghanistan.

Delivering this overarching international strategy, with the necessary in-country ownership, is what NATO means by the term “Comprehensive Approach”.  This Comprehensive Approach, this overarching international strategy, means first of all the effective coordination of military and civil elements.  But it also means the effective coordination of the international actors and the Government of Afghanistan.  So what does it entail in practice?

First of all, let me make it clear that we are not talking just about “NATO’s Comprehensive Approach”, but about NATO’s contribution to a Comprehensive Approach by the whole of the International Community.  In planning and conducting its operations, NATO has always sought to embed them in a wider framework, linking the provisions of security to the pursuit of reconstruction and development.  However, in the past, this has tended to be done on an ad hoc basis, linked to initiatives on the ground by key individuals and local force commanders.

What we need instead, is a structured and effective coordination at the local, national and institutional level, where each organisation’s efforts are complemented and mutually reinforced.  This should be with a view to achieving common, or at least similar, goals.  And it must be done in a way that doesn’t compromise any organisation’s independence.  Nor must it infringe on the humanitarian space to which Non-Governmental Organisations understandably attach great importance.

In pursuing the development of its contribution to such a structured Comprehensive Approach, the Alliance is looking at making improvements in four areas of work.

First, in the planning and conduct of its operations.  We need broader and more timely Allied political-military assessments and planning of our operations that take full account of all the military and non-military aspects of a NATO engagement through the entire duration of our presence, with clearly identified goals.

Second, there is potential for better application of NATO’s lessons learned process, and greater use of NATO training, education and exercises opportunities.  Joint training of civilian and military personnel at all levels would contribute to enhancing mutual trust and confidence between NATO, its partners, and other international and local actors, encouraging better co-ordination.

Third, NATO is looking to enhance co-operation with external actors.  For many, this is the heart of the Comprehensive Approach.  Achieving lasting mutual understanding, trust, confidence, and respect among the relevant international organisations and actors will render our respective efforts more effective.  This necessitates extensive civil-military interaction.  In other words, the engagement with the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, and other international organisations, with Non-Governmental Organisations and relevant local bodies should become a matter of routine, and not an exception.

Finally, an area of work where considerable effort is required is the area of public messaging, public diplomacy.  A Comprehensive Approach cannot be effective unless it is complemented by sustained and coherent public messages.  Media strategies of main actors should complement each other, and all participants must guard against blaming each other for perceived problems or set-backs.  And I should also like to point out that there is a vital role for individual nations to play.  Nations need to ensure that they speak with a single voice and that they harmonise their own work in the different organisations to which they belong – it is pointless to say and do one thing in one organisation, and to say and do something quite different in another.

So, for NATO, a Comprehensive Approach is one that promotes cooperation and coordination between international organisations, individual agencies and NGOs, as well as with the host government.  Achieving this now in Afghanistan represents for us a major challenge.  However, and again I wish to emphasise this point, NATO cannot deliver this Comprehensive Approach all on its own. Of course, NATO has a major contribution to make within a Comprehensive Approach, but it is not NATO that can lead this effort: that is the United Nations’ role.  The United Nations has the overall international responsibility for coordinating the necessary civilian and military aspects of peace building in Afghanistan, alongside the Government of Kabul.  And the work under way in New York to identify a new UN Special Representative in Afghanistan, and to define its mandate, goes exactly in this direction.

Delivering a truly effective Comprehensive Approach is not going to be easy.  But we need to do it, and we need to do it now. And I should like to conclude by highlighting what I believe to be our three main challenges. 

First, we need to continue to build the relationship and cooperation between the United Nations and NATO.  And this is one of the reasons why I am delighted to be sharing this panel with my friend and colleague Antonio Costa  from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  I am sure he will talk about the fight against drugs in Afghanistan, and let me recall in this respect the significant contribution that ISAF, in a supporting role to the efforts of the Afghan Government in counter-narcotics, is providing within its operational mandate.
In Afghanistan and Kosovo, NATO is working for the UN, under UN mandates.  And our cooperation on the ground in those theatres is excellent. 
We need to match this level of cooperation at the institutional level. And I am pleased to say that there are many signs that this is now happening.

Second, effective co-operation between NATO and the European Union.  Even though 21 countries are members of both NATO and the EU, we face challenges in enabling the two organisations to work together.  I do not expect the well-known difficulties which constrain this relationship to disappear overnight.  But we must find pragmatic and flexible ways of working together, and this is going to require political will from all members of both organisations.

And third, cooperation with NGOs.  I fully understand why NGOs have traditionally been sceptical of too close an association with military institutions and their peacekeeping forces.  But leading NGOs are now increasingly recognising the importance of ensuring that the military understand their objectives, and that they act in a way which promotes the  humanitarian delivery of these objectives.  We hope this best practice will be spread.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me conclude by saying that if we can deliver in Afghanistan the Comprehensive Approach I’ve just outlined – and I firmly believe we can - then it is not just NATO and its Allies who will benefit.  The whole of the international community will. And most importantly, it will be the country, and people, of Afghanistan who will feel the greatest benefit of all.

Thank you for your attention.