European and American leaders have recently made a priority of renewing trans-Atlantic goodwill. They have accomplished much in this area, particularly in their cooperation on Afghanistan. At their summit in April, NATO allies committed themselves specifically to a new, ambitious and comprehensive approach to the country. That was the easy part. The real test, however, will be how – and how fast – they can implement this new strategy. NATO must convert its pledges on paper into realistic contributions.
The alliance must turn to underappreciated resources to do this. The European Union and its member-states have been contributing substantially to civilian capacity-building efforts and the reconstruction of vital infrastructure (schools, water treatment and roads). These contributions are critical if NATO is to succeed in its mission. And they must continue.
But success will also require NATO to step back from its one-dimensional focus on the military aspect of the mission. The alliance must explicitly recognize the critical role for civilian efforts. And each member of the alliance must determine the assets that they can best contribute so that the alliance can simultaneously pursue military and civilian goals.
NATO leaders have already affirmed that a comprehensive and integrated mission is essential for progress. Europe needs to diversify its contributions and raise its military profile, and the US needs to determine how to best deploy its allies’ capabilities. These are the challenges for the months ahead. NATO has no time to lose. The next year is critical if the alliance wants to gain the upper hand in Afghanistan.
Opportunities for NATO to reverse Afghanistan’s current downward spiral exist if the allies can take advantage of their complementary abilities. This paper will recommend five areas on which the US and Europe should focus to do this. These recommendations are not intended to provide an exit strategy; it is too soon to tell how events will unfold. But they can offer options to reclaim the international initiative through joint effort.
Christopher Davis is currently a research fellow at the Bertelsmann Foundation.