A question of intent

  • 2006-11-29

cartoon by Jevgenijs Cheksters

The recent NATO summit in Latvia attracted far more attention than might normally be expected. For starters, it was hosted right on the doorstep of Russia, which was vociferously opposed to the three Baltic states joining the organization right up until the moment they put pen to paper. As such, the summit was as much a confidence-boosting exercise for NATO members as an opportunity to thrash out new policy. At a time when NATO's international role is far from clear, the Riga summit was a timely reminder that the organisation still has a vital role to play in world affairs and that it is a real force to be reckoned with.

But aside from the symbolic significance of the choice of venue, the real talking point of the summit was 's as everyone expected 's NATO's prolonged and increasingly problematic involvement in Afghanistan.
When NATO troops went into Afghanistan five years ago, it seemed as though they would simply be on a mopping up mission after the resounding success of the U.S.-led invasion which overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

Over the last year, however, the Taliban have made a significant comeback. NATO took over responsibility for security in Afghanistan from the United States this year, but the 32,000 troops under its command are fighting the toughest ground war in the alliance's 57 years.
NATO is suffering an average of five fatalities per week, which is roughly comparable to the losses suffered by Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Bush's call for NATO allies to provide more support in Afghanistan is understandable. The U.S.A. and the U.K. are providing by far the biggest number of troops. Although some 37 countries have troops in the NATO-led international force, some 90 percent of troop casualties come from just four countries: the U.S.A., the U.K., Canada and the Netherlands.
Afghanistan is a major turning point for NATO. The organization must not be seen as yet another wing of American foreign policy, and as such it is vital that other alliance members use their influence to find a common goal, shared by all. It's certainly premature to talk about admitting Macedonia, Croatia, Albania and even Georgia to the alliance until NATO is a little clearer in its aims and its means of achieving them.

But for now the summit certainly showed the Baltic states in a good light. Latvia may have drafted every policeman and his neighbor to enforce the stringent summit security arrangements, but at least it showed that NATO is strongly appreciated in this part of the world.