The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, was established in 1949 after World War II with the goal of safeguarding the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means. It was a defensive strategy [ii] meant to prevent another devastating world war. NATO, an alliance initially born to twelve member states, was an effort to protect member nations in Western Europe against the communist states in the East. At the time, the threat of communism was too great to be handled alone. NATO was intended to be a security organization based on the common interests of the members and was not intended to be a military organization. Because all feared the communist states surrounding them, the North Atlantic treaty had an important Article V which stated that if one country was attacked, this attack would be considered an attack against all members. NATO operated on the policy of collective defense against a common fixed threat [iii] . After the fall of their common threat, the Soviet Union, NATO has struggled and has not yet found a permanent role in the international community. It has been playing a revolutionary active role in the war on terror even though this is not in keeping with its original purpose, proving how NATO has been able to evolve from a defensive force into a, “global security agency with worldwide reach and influence [iv] “.
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In Afghanistan, beginning in 2001 and continuing still, NATO has been determined to wipe out terrorism and to establish a stable government even though Afghanistan has never been a particularly stable nation. In 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew from the country, and Afghanistan erupted into chaos as many inefficient political groups competed for power. Due to a fear of communism, the United States, along with other Western Nations, aided the Taliban political faction in taking control of Afghanistan. The Western Countries saw the Taliban as the only group that possessed the capability of regaining control to restore order and stability as well as suppressing communism in a devastated country. Yet, this happiness was short lived as in 1998, U.S embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. Blame fell on Afghani Islamic terrorist group member Osama bin Laden. Naturally, the United States was angry and demanded compensation as surrendering bin Laden to U.S custody. The Taliban group refused to listen. On September 10, 2001, President George Bush extended an ultimatum: either surrender bin Laden or the U.S will use any means necessary of destroying the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, a terrorist group associated with the Taliban. On September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda retaliated and carried out the 9/11 plot, hijacking several planes and flying them into several American buildings.
Less than twenty-four hours after the September 11 crisis, NATO declared the attacks to be an attack against all the nineteen NATO member countries within the terms of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treat, changing the parameters of the global world order [v] . NATO took on its first ever peacekeeping mission and pledged to help the United States in its fight against terrorism, marking the beginning of NATO’s new role that includes crisis management and peacekeeping [vi] , working to shape a stable and prosperous world [vii] . An unprecedented event in history, NATO was now fighting in its first mission far from European soil on a mission to wipe out terrorism. In 2006, NATO solidified this new responsibility when declaring at the Riga Summit that, “Terrorism, together with the spread of weapons of mass destruction, are likely going to be the principal threats to the Alliance…By contributing to the international community’s efforts to combat terrorism, NATO helps ensure that citizens can go about their daily lives safely [viii] .”
NATO’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan evolves past the original defensive purpose to an offensive stance, carrying out missions which were never envisioned at the time the alliance was created [ix] . As NATO strays further from its intended purpose, there is a controversy surrounding whether the alliance is necessary because as NATO has been concerned with fighting the war on terrorism, there have been no concerns in line with the original goal of defending its members’ territory [x] . However, while this may seem to be a detriment to NATO’s purpose, it is necessary for NATO’s role to evolve in a rapidly changing world because despite a new ambiguous role in a post-communist world, Europeans and Americans realize that every new security threat will most likely imperil the other to some degree [xi] . So, the fight on terror is a strategy to maintain a stable world.
In Afghanistan, NATO has been a major contributor. First, NATO took command of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which has responsibility of conducting the security and stability operations across Afghanistan. The UN-mandate and acting within UN peacemaking terms give NATO’s military mission an unquestionable legality and political legitimacy in an area far outside of European territory. The ISAF was created at the Bonn Conference in December 2001 under UN terms with the goal of aiding the new Afghani government structure to create a secure environment and to support reconstruction works in Afghanistan. On August 11, 2003, NATO took became responsible for the command, coordination, and planning of the ISAF. Previously, every six months, a different nation would assume control of ISAF operations. With a continual NATO presence, smaller countries are able to play a role in the Afghanistan war and a stable multinational headquarters is always present. At first, the ISAF was limited to protecting around Kabul, but in October 2003, the UN expanded the ISAF mission so that the ISAF would become responsible for protecting all of Afghanistan.
Presently, the ISAF trains the Afghan National Security forces, disarms illegally armed groups, and raises money for ammunition, providing humanitarian assistance, and reconstruction of areas. In addition, the ISAF supports the counter-narcotics efforts. Politically, the ISAF has also been working on aiding the Afghan authorities in strengthening their institutions to help establish good governance and rule of law to promote human rights [xii] . In a country torn apart by corruption and terrorism, the ISAF is working to reverse these trends.
For all its successes, NATO has met with obstacles due to fighting far from European soil. Because there is a lack of will and coordination among European governments, there is a shortage of decent troops and equipment [xiii] . NATO’s mission in Afghanistan has brought to the surface several tensions between fellow members. A main issue in NATO has been its relationship with Russia. As Russia is becoming more authoritarian, Central European members of NATO are wary of Russian intentions and the lack of a defensive protection strategy. Western European nations demand engagement [xiv] . Another big division in NATO is the difference between the priorities of Europe and the priorities of the United States. European investment in security and defense is at an all-time low, and Europe is constantly split on the use of military force [xv] . In addition, a main inhibitor of the progress made in Afghanistan has been the limit of each country’s involvement. Members are taking different roles in the war, and some nations are more involved than others. Dr. Charles Kupchan, professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and former director for European affairs at the National Security Council writes that, “The Canadians, British, Danes, Dutch and Romanians have taken on more demanding missions [xvi] ” in contrast to the Germans which have politically-imposed caveats restricting the use of their troops. Because not all countries are contributing equally, the amount of progress made against the terrorists is not great.
Put bluntly, “If the Europeans want to save NATO, they must spend more money on defense and transform their bloated armies into smaller fighting forces, easily inter-operable with America’s. NATO’s mission in Afghanistan needs urgent expansion and reform” [xvii] . Kupchan affirms this idea and acknowledges how members need to put their differences aside. He states, “Members will need to learn how to tolerate [those deep-seated differences] and strike reasonable compromises if NATO is to remain effective in the absence of a clear strategic consensus”. He goes on to say that NATO needs to reform its method of operating and describes how nations need to provide more funding of alliance missions, rid of caveats, and improve unity of command [xviii] .
NATO is and will continue to play a major factor in the stability and unity of the West as a political community [xix] and will continue to adapt as necessary to the rapidly changing world stage. In Afghanistan, NATO must be a more cooperative unified bloc if it wants to be successful in reconstructing the country. If the member nations cannot stand together to defeat the Taliban, a common threat, then what is NATO capable of [xx] ?