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Speech summary - NATO’s Twenty-first Century Challenges: the Road Ahead

Commentary, 22 October 2008
International Institutions
Speaking at RUSI earlier this week, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General John Cradock outlined how NATO is managing its procedural and strategic challenges. He argued that success is within the alliance’s reach if it can develop a comprehensive, integrated and flexible approach and the necessary political will.

Speaking at RUSI earlier this week, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General John Cradock outlined how NATO is managing its procedural and strategic challenges. He argued that success is within the alliance’s reach if it can develop a comprehensive, integrated and flexible approach and the necessary political will.

By Lisa Aronsson, Head, Transatlantic Programme, RUSI

Rather than reflecting the facts in Afghanistan and listening carefully to military commanders’ remarks, recent Western media coverage has tended to highlight phrases suggesting that the military leadership has lost all faith in operations. On 6 October 2008, outgoing commander of the British forces Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith was quoted as saying the Taliban would never be defeated. Earlier this week, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General John Craddock spoke at RUSI and some journalists reported him as saying that Western efforts are ‘disjointed in time and space’ and that political will is ‘wavering’. Taken out of context, these assessments largely miss the point of both Carleton-Smith’s and Craddock’s remarks. At RUSI, General Craddock offered a cautious but rather optimistic assessment of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. He argued that success is entirely within the Alliance’s reach if it can provide a safe and secure environment for the Afghan government and for the international community to follow through with governance, reconstruction, and development.

The General began by outlining the Alliance’s external challenges. The ISAF mission in Afghanistan remains its top priority and the nature of the situation and of its adversaries in that region remains ‘complex and challenging’. Military and civilian efforts need to be more flexible, cooperative, and comprehensive and this requires adopting a fluid approach and allowing for overlap between roles and responsibilities. Secondly, Craddock pointed out that the Afghan government is unable to tackle the narcotics problem without NATO and the support of the international community. The narcotics trade feeds both the insurgency and the corruption problem while impeding legitimate commerce and governance. Finally, he suggested that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region remains problematic and requires engaging with Pakistan in a flexible way to build an Alliance between the two governments and ISAF. NATO can expel extremists and establish security in a given area but in the longer term that security depends on capable policing, law enforcement, an effective justice system and good governance. To meet these challenges, the SACEUR called for more attention to the relationship between security and governance and for a more integrated, flexible, and comprehensive approach.

Craddock referred to RUSI analysis that NATO’s problems in Afghanistan are not specific to the ISAF mission but reflect some ‘hard-hitting’ questions that the Alliance must answer about its purpose and role in the world. How will the organization respond if members remain uncomfortable with out-of-area missions? Will it scale back after nearly twenty years of post-Cold War transformation? Finally, how will the Alliance manage both expanding membership and conflicting views over the use of force? Craddock agreed with RUSI analysts, suggesting that these questions revolve around the Alliance’s ambition and how it relates to capabilities and politics. While media attention focused on Craddock’s reference to the ‘more than 70 national operational restrictions’ and to ‘wavering’ will, Craddock also argued – almost in the same breath – that these are internal challenges ‘over which we in NATO have much control’. Craddock argued that the Alliance must ‘continually assess the role it wants to have in the current security environment and assess its capabilities and its will to fulfill that role’. To achieve this, he called for a comprehensive global strategic threat assessment to be followed by a twenty-first century strategic concept, which is a goal shared by many as NATO members approach their sixtieth anniversary next year.

Finally, the SACEUR highlighted the principle of consensus decision-making and the policy of ‘costs lie where they fall’ as other important internal challenges that date back to NATO’s Cold War years. He called for the Alliance to explore systems of common funding and to rethink the policy that the same nations must bear both the military and the monetary costs of deployment. Also, while the consensus principle has given NATO legitimacy and international support over the years, it now stands ‘squarely in the path of agile decision-making’. These are significant challenges but Craddock suggested that outcomes in the Defense Ministerial Meetings two weeks ago are ‘testament to our willingness to take on these challenges.’ NATO demonstrated rapid decision-making in its response to piracy off Somalia’s coast; it resolved to increase its expeditionary capabilities; and it committed to take on a heightened role in the counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan. NATO’s procedural and political challenges are grave but Craddock’s remarks show NATO is taking the necessary steps to manage these challenges and that with political will and effort, success is within NATO’s reach.

Craddock concluded that ‘internal and external challenges abound’ in NATO’s operations but that NATO is taking the necessary steps, that ‘NATO is succeeding’, and that it is making a difference in Afghanistan and elsewhere. NATO has the ambition and the military capabilities to address these challenges and he called upon member states to deliver the political will. NATO is already addressing those hard-hitting questions about its purpose and role in the twenty-first century security arena. Yes, it is still a Cold War organisation but it is every bit ‘as important today as it was during the Cold War’.

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