29 Feb. 2008

"Afghanistan and NATO: Forging the 21st Century Alliance"

Speech by NATO Secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking Brookings for the invitation to address you today. It provides you with a change from the daily diet of the presidential campaign, and provides me with the opportunity to address some of the most pressing questions before NATO today. Anyone who has followed the international news even from a distance these last few weeks couldn’t have missed what these pressing questions are. Are we failing in Afghanistan? Is Allied solidarity breaking down? And are we witnessing the emergence of a two-tier Alliance?

Clearly, there is a perception on the part of some NATO Allies that others are not pulling their weight. Notably here in the U.S., there is a palpable feeling that some European Allies are under-performing in Afghanistan, and that they are either unable, or unwilling, to make a greater effort. Needless to say, those Allies who have been criticised feel that their own efforts and sacrifices are under-valued, and complain about being treated unfairly.

As the Secretary General of NATO it is my job to calm the waves, no matter who might have caused the storm. But if I plead here today for a greater dose of moderation and realism, it is not just because I see it as my professional duty to promote transatlantic harmony. In my view, we simply cannot afford to play the blame-game, and we can even less afford to play it publicly. What we should be doing instead is focussing all our efforts on building on the successes we have already achieved, and identifying how best to move forward, together.

So how do we do this? First, we need a better appreciation, broadly shared among all 26 NATO Allies, of what is at stake in Afghanistan. Second, we need an honest appraisal of where we stand in this mission. Third, we need to take a hard look at how we can further enhance our operational effectiveness. And finally, we must have a more fundamental debate about our Alliance and the way it operates in a radically different security environment. Allow me to say a few words on each of these issues.

First, what is at stake in Afghanistan?

First and foremost, our very own security – here and in Europe, as much as in Afghanistan itself. In an age where external and internal security is interwoven, Afghanistan is a mission of necessity rather than choice. Just seven years ago, Afghanistan was the Grand Central Station of terrorism. If this mission were not to succeed – and let me be very clear, it will – Afghanistan would once again pose a clear and present danger to itself, its region and the broader international community.

Something else is at stake in Afghanistan, and that is our evolving relationship with Asia. Afghanistan is a fragile country in a tough neighbourhood. It borders the Muslim Republics of the former Soviet Union. It also borders Iran, Pakistan, and China – three nations whose development will have truly global implications. Each of these countries – and I would also include India – will be affected by the situation in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is perhaps the most obvious case. Islamabad has stepped up its support for our mission, and that is very much appreciated. But the Pakistanis make no secret of their doubts about our stamina. They do not believe that we will be in Afghanistan long enough to turn the tide. And that once we leave, they will be left with the Taliban, as was the case after the Soviet withdrawal. Greater stability in Afghanistan means greater stability in Pakistan. But the opposite is also true: the likely outcome of a more unstable Pakistan would be a more unstable Afghanistan. Pakistan is a nuclear power. I don’t want to elaborate any more here, except to say that the words “Taliban” and “nuclear” don’t go together very well.

This brings me to the relationship between the West and Islam. Our engagement in Afghanistan is an engagement for moderate Islam. Every school we build, and every development project we protect, move this country away from the reach of the jihadists. Let me be clear: we are not implanting our values on the Afghan culture. We are simply giving moderate Islam the chance it deserves. That is why our engagement in Afghanistan has a truly global aspect. It demonstrates that the international community supports those who want to wrest themselves from the grip of radicals and extremists.

We are not in Afghanistan to try to impose our own Western social model on a country with a very different culture and tradition. But we are in Afghanistan to help Afghans build a society which respects fundamental universal values. We can only succeed if the international community and the Afghan government work together as partners on the basis of these shared values.

So the stakes are high – higher, perhaps, than some of us are ready to admit.

But this begs the question: “how we are doing?” Are our efforts faltering, as parts of the media seem to imply? Are they even futile, as some segments of our publics seem to believe?

It is clear that we are engaged in heavy fighting in some parts of the South; there is still widespread corruption across the country; and the opium crop is, to some extent at least, funding the insurgency. These difficulties are real and we have to face them honestly and squarely. But they are not insurmountable. Nor is the overall situation as gloomy as it may appear. Indeed, for a country that has just emerged from 30 years of war, Afghanistan has made quite remarkable progress. What the international community is patience – something we seem to have lost in the age of the 15 second sound bite.

I won’t spend too much time on statistics. Suffice it so say health care access is up. Refugees have come back in the millions. There are more and more banks, more cell phones. 70% of the security incidents are confined to less than 10% of the provinces. In areas where good governance is being practised, security is up and drug production is down. The legitimate Afghan economy is picking up steam. And so it is no surprise that a large majority of Afghans want us to stay to finish the job we started, and to help their country stand on its own feet. Bottom line – there is no reason for gloom and doom.

As for the Taliban, they have lost every direct engagement with our troops. Their use of roadside bombs and suicide attacks has also estranged them even further from the Afghan people. As President Karzai told me last week, those kinds of attacks are more hated than they are feared by the Afghans. As long as NATO is around, the Taliban don’t stand a chance of re-conquering the country and playing host to Al Qaeda. We may not be able to defeat them in one decisive battle – this is not classical, set-piece warfare -- but I am convinced we can marginalise them enough to give Afghanistan the breathing space it needs.

And let me make one point. I do not agree with the intelligence analysis I read about a few days ago, which said the Taliban controlled ten percent of the country. That is not the analysis of our commanders. And there is no reasons to make a negative of a strong tribal structure in Afghanistan – this is, after all, a country with a tribal tradition for centuries.

This is where we stand. The window of opportunity for helping Afghanistan to turn the corner has not at all closed. It is still wide open. So, on to the key question: how can we do better?

First, we all need to discard once and for all the illusion that there is a clear choice between development work and combat operations. This has had a corrosive effect on our engagement right from the start. And, as we now see, it has been an artificial distinction all along. Building a school may be seen as an entirely benign act. But let’s not kid ourselves. In Afghanistan, building a school is politics. Empowering women is politics. Providing opium farmers with alternative livelihoods is politics. Each of these steps is moving Afghanistan away from the medieval ideas championed by the Taliban. Hence, we are all potential targets, whether soldier or development worker, and whether in the North or the South or anywhere else in the country.

It is up to the political leadership in each of NATO’s member nations to set the record straight in this regard. Clearly, an Alliance of 26 sovereign nations means 26 different political and military cultures, and it also means 26 different constitutional realities. We need to take these into account. But we cannot afford the notion that certain Allies have only limited responsibilities and are confined to specific areas. Afghanistan is one country and one strategic theatre for NATO. We cannot have 26 different strategies. We need one NATO strategy.

There are already clear signs of this growing solidarity. The US has taken the lead with its additional commitment of 3,200 marines; but other Allies are stepping up to the plate as well. Poland, France, Belgium and the UK are increasing their strength; Germany will take over one of the ISAF Quick Reaction Forces. In fact, in the last two years NATO has added 27.000 extra troops to ISAF, the majority of them non-US troops. When you consider how we started in 2003 – with just a few thousand soldiers in and around Kabul – the progress is striking

Of course, there is much more that we can and must do as NATO Allies. We must fill completely the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements for ISAF, and eliminate the remaining shortfalls in combat forces and what we call “enablers”, for example unmanned aerial vehicles. We must work to remove the remaining restrictions on the use of our forces, to further enhance COMISAF’s operational flexibility. We need to accelerate our training of the Afghan National Army, and enable the ANA to build on its successes in recent operations together with ISAF. I saw for myself in Musa Qala last week that they can succeed – which has enormous psychological importance for the Afghan people. We also need to increase our efforts to help Afghanistan with security sector reform more generally. And we need to devote more resources to improving NATO and ISAF’s strategic communications in theatre.

I want to stress that NATO Allies are not alone in their Afghanistan mission. At this moment, 14 non-NATO nations contribute to ISAF, from Australia to Singapore. This demonstrates that in an era of globalisation, countries from all across the globe share certain security interests – and it also demonstrates that NATO is an excellent mechanism for translating such common interests into a common military operation.

Clearly, ISAF’s contribution to creating a secure environment is indispensable. But greater security must go hand in hand with stronger development. And that means that other, civilian actors must step up their support as well – together, the international community must increase the number and effectiveness of Provincial Reconstruction Teams; help the Afghan Government and international agencies with their counter-narcotics efforts; support the work of the United Nations, which I hope will increase its presence in the south soon; and assist the Government of Afghanistan in delivering basic services and implementing sustainable development programmes. Let me also mention that we need a strong UN coordinator in Afghanistan, soon, to help coordinate and step up the overall effort.

But it is not just ISAF and the International Community who have to do more – so must the Afghans. Afghan ownership means that the Afghan Government must serve its people responsibly. It must fight corruption more resolutely; uphold universal values and human rights; ensure that the rule of law prevails for all in Afghanistan; and work closely with the Afghan Parliament. In a nutshell, all Afghan leaders must realise that providing good governance is the best investment in their country’s future.

This appears like a fairly long “to-do” list – for ISAF, for the International Community, and for the Afghans. And it is clear that to pursue these objectives will require perseverance. But it also requires benchmarks – to allow us to measure success, and adjust our strategy whenever necessary.

What kind of benchmarks do I have in mind? Let me give you just three brief examples. I believe that, over the next 5 years, at regular intervals, the entire international community is going to have to take stock of progress in standing up a fully equipped and trained Afghan National Army of 80,000 and an Afghan National Police of 82,000 professional personnel. On helping to build Afghan national institutions whose authority extends across the country and which can provide basic services. And whether narcotics production is diminishing significantly, so that it no longer poses a threat to good governance.

In less than five weeks’ time, we will have our Summit in Bucharest. It will be NATO’s largest Summit ever, with over 60 nations and many international organisations and institutions taking part. At that Summit, our Heads of State and Government will approve a political-military strategy that will set common goals and common benchmarks. This will send a powerful message that the scale of our efforts matches the severity of the challenge. It will demonstrate that all the 26 NATO Allies, as well as the many non-NATO countries that are contributing to this mission, have the commitment and patience to see it through. And it will underscore that the entire International Community, not just NATO, has a stake in Afghanistan’s success. All those messages will also be part of a forward-looking vision statement that we will make public.

Finally, allow me to say a few words on NATO’s longer-term development. Afghanistan has already provided us with a host of lessons to learn – from the need to review our force planning and force generation processes, to the urgency of limiting caveats and enhancing the usability of our forces. And in that sense, Afghanistan has become a real catalyst for NATO’s evolution, very much like our Balkans engagement was in the 1990s.

And let me point that we are still there. 16000 NATO soldiers are keeping the peace today in Kosovo. It is a volatile period; but there has been no inter-ethnic violence in Kosovo, no mass refugee flows, no burning churches. What we have seen is in Belgrade: extreme rhetoric, mobs burning the US embassy and others.

I believe it is crucial that we further accelerate this political and military transformation of our Alliance – by doing more in Afghanistan, certainly, but also by taking a hard look at how we can defend our populations against other emerging threats such as cyber attacks and attacks on our energy infrastructure; which are, in my opinion, roles NATO should take on where we add value. By pondering what role missile defence could play in protecting ourselves against the consequences of proliferation. By making better use of NATO as a unique forum for transatlantic political dialogue. By building bridges with other institutions and countries across the globe. And, last but not least, by helping to fulfil the aspirations of those countries that aspire to membership in NATO. In all these different areas, the Bucharest Summit will deliver. And in all these areas, the inspiration and leadership of the US will be vital.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As our strategic environment has changed, so must our understanding of Allied solidarity. During the Cold War, Alliance solidarity was “institutionalised”. All we had to do was to deploy the forces of the NATO Allies along the inner German border and on our northern and southern European flanks. This would ensure that all Allies would be involved in any fighting right from the outset. And that no one could bail out.

In the face of today’s threats and challenges Allied solidarity can no longer be expressed simply by lofty statements, or by the peacetime deployment patterns of our forces. Today, Allied solidarity is put to the test in our operations. It is a challenging test, and there will be times when some may feel that we are failing that test. But I remain optimistic. Not least because – as Churchill, Eisenhower and many other great leaders have said – the one thing that is worse than fighting in a coalition is having to fight without one. And as far as coalitions go, none is better than NATO.

Thank you.