The global situation now is much different than it was ten years ago when NATO entered Afghanistan. NATO, in its new Strategic Concept (NSC) adopted in Lisbon summit in November 2010, presented a vision of the Allies for the next decade, not only the reflection of the whole spectrum of threats (traditional and new) but also to provide guidelines on how to tackle them. In the year since, NATO has been involved in another major operation in Libya and launched an initiative, Smart Defense, designed to deal with the defense implications of its members’ financial problems.
However, the ISAF mission in Afghanistan launched ten years ago remains the biggest challenge the Alliance has faced, and it has lessons for a majority of the Alliance’s major issues. With this in mind, NATO’s main focus should be on the following goals:
- NATO must develop more rapidly deployable troops
Territorial defense remains the fundamental role of NATO but the majority of current security threats originate far away from members’ borders. The armed forces of NATO member states must also reflect the character of current threats. With a major conventional attack on NATO is currently very unlikely, members must continue to develop quickly deployable armed forces which will be ready to respond to new threats and intervene in distant regions in a short timeframe.
- NATO must be able to access local resources in a variety of regions
NATO must be not only able to deploy its troops wherever required but must also have suitable support capabilities which reflect the character of particular geographical regions and the substance of the threats. The operation in Afghanistan demonstrates the necessity of having the military approach supported by civilian and, importantly, local assets.
- NATO must continue reaching out to international organizations
Broader and deeper cooperation with relevant international organizations is inevitable. The NSC pays a big attention to importance of partnerships and cooperation with other international organizations especially EU, UN and OSCE, and NATO should do the same. Most importantly, NATO and the EU should emphasize the necessity of constructive mutual cooperation with the aim to minimize unwanted duplication.
- NATO must focus more on enhancing cooperation with Russia
At the Lisbon summit the both sides seemed to have patched up some of the disputes from the age of the Cold War and focused on constructive cooperation in the field of missile defense. But one year after the summit the good will has broken down and it is more than clear that there are still serious differences on this and other issues. Despite this, NATO cannot afford to worsen relations with Russia because Russia still remains a strategic partner for NATO, and it must keep engaging Russia because Moscow will not be the one that takes the lead. There are still many areas, like a stable Afghanistan, where the interests of NATO and Russia converge and in which cooperation would be mutually beneficial. NATO must downplay the missile defense problems and focus on them.
- NATO must ensure the Afghanistan transition is a success
At the Lisbon summit the Allies agreed that the process of transition in Afghanistan would be completed in 2014. However this doesn't mean that all coalition troops will leave the country then; NATO will continue to train Afghan army and police after the end of the transitional process and Afghanistan after 2014 will undoubtedly also need the financial help of NATO countries to meet its present challenges.
Stability in Afghanistan cannot happen without Pakistan. Perhaps NATO’s biggest challenge is to settle disputes with Pakistan and find an effective way of cooperation especially today when the US-Pakistani relations have been getting worse because of US unilateral actions in Pakistan.
Tomas Teleky is a member of the Slovak Atlantic Commission (SAC) and MA student at the Faculty of Political Sciences and International Relations, University of Matej Bel in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia.