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NATO Disappoints

Last week’s NATO summit was disappointing on many levels. The member states refused to endorse a membership action plan for Ukraine or Georgia, thus seeming to give in to hysterical Russian objections—something that will only encourage more Russian truculence in the future. They did admit Croatia and Albania to the alliance, but they did not let Macedonia through the door because of overwrought Greek objections to that state using the same name as a province of Greece.

The members did not agree to a major increase in troop strength in Afghanistan, which is badly needed. The French did come through with another battalion (1,000 troops) for eastern Afghanistan, but that was about it. That means, as usual, the U.S. will have to send the bulk of the needed troops, even though we are already far more committed in Iraq than any other NATO member. The NATO members did agree to set up a trust fund to help Afghanistan, thereby giving states unwilling to send troops a way to contribute to the success of a key NATO mission. But it remains to be seen how much will be pledged and (more importantly) how many of those pledges will actually be delivered.

On another issue relating to Afghanistan, and one that did not get nearly as much attention as it deserved, the NATO members agreed in principle to increase the size of the Afghan National Army from an authorized level of 86,000 to 120,000. But as pointed out in this Guardian article, the actual increase was put off until 2010 at the earliest. That is worrisome because the Afghan army, while growing in competence, is far too small for the task of pacifying a country with a larger land area and population than Iraq.

While Iraq has around 200,000 soldiers, Afghanistan has only 55,000. As noted in this Christian Science Monitor article, Afghan and American experts think that Afghanistan needs at least 200,000 soldiers, but asked for NATO’s help to equip and train only 120,000 because that is the most they thought they could get. Even that lesser level has produced more rhetorical than actual support from NATO. Unless NATO members step up, there is a real danger that the alliance’s most critical “out of area” mission will fail and drag down the alliance with it.