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Updated: 11-Aug-2003

SHAPE News Summary & Analysis

11 August 2003

  • NATO takes over peacekeeping force in Afghanistan


Media focus on NATO’s takeover Monday of the peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, generally describing it as a historic move, which marks the Alliance’s first ever operational commitment outside Europe. Most observe that NATO’s takeover will eliminate the task of searching for a new lead nation every six months.

NATO began its first operation outside Europe in its 54-year history Monday when it took command of peacekeepers in Kabul, reports Reuters. Speaking at a news conference after Lt. Gen. Van Heist, outgoing ISAF commander, transferred command to Lt. Gen. Gliemeroth from NATO, notes the dispatch, Gen. Jones called NATO’s takeover “a signal moment in the history of the Alliance,” and stressed: “We are making a clear statement of transition, which is from the 20th century defensive bipolar world, into the multi-polar flexible need for rapid response across a myriad of threats.”

Earlier, AFP reported that Gen. Sir Jack Deverell, commander-in-chief of NATO Allied Forces North, which will be responsible for Afghanistan, called NATO’s takeover a “a milestone” in NATO’s development. “It represents a real break from the NATO of the past to a NATO which is more relevant and has greater utility in the uncertain security environment we find in the future. It certainly meets the demands of the United Nations to have an organization which is capable of taking a much longer view of the operations in the Kabul area,” Gen. Deverell was quoted saying.

NATO’s takeover of ISAF is generating positive reactions and commentaries.
Hailing NATO’s leading role in Afghanistan as a “milestone,” Belgium’s De Standaard highlights that the move also has implications for restoring the Atlantic bond after the damage done by the Iraq war. “Through internal divisions and the U.S. attitude to the Alliance, NATO seemed to be demonstrating its own redundancy,” the newspaper remarks, adding: “In the United States, there is a school of thought in power that sees the mission of the world’s sole remaining superpower as being to organize the world as it sees fit. It therefore sees more virtue in temporary ad hoc coalitions than in permanent structures. The fact that NATO is now assuming the leading role is an indication that Washington is again becoming aware that the Alliance retains its importance. There are now opportunities for repaired transatlantic relations. European and also Belgian diplomacy must seize these opportunities. The discussion over what has happened is now a subject for historians. The return of a multilateral world order counts for more than the settling of old scores.”

The BBC World Service considered that NATO’s takeover marks a significant moment in the history of NATO—“a recognition that the biggest danger now to its members is international terrorism. It is a departure from NATO’s traditionally defensive strategy.” The Alliance is now prepared to be proactive, in tackling any perceived threat, concluded the broadcast.

Under the title, “The new NATO practices for the real thing,” Sueddeutsche Zeitung comments: “11 August 2003, 12 hours Kabul local time, marks the beginning of a new NATO, deployable anywhere, anytime. Afghanistan is the real test case for this ‘new NATO.’” Referring to Iraq, the newspaper argues that the next challenge is already looming on the horizon. For the time being, adds the newspaper, the Alliance is only assisting the Poles there in establishing their stabilization force. By the end of the year at the latest, Washington and London will provoke a debate at NATO headquarters with the objective of assigning to the Alliance its own sector in the desert.

Recalling that France has long opposed an expansion of the Alliance’s role outside its traditional boundaries, Le Figaro writes: “Paris gave its go ahead to the operation in Afghanistan last spring for the sake of saving transatlantic relations which were badly damaged by the war in Iraq. After its interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, NATO is acquiring a global competence in the field of peacekeeping. To give itself the means for this, it is establishing the NRF. After half a century during which it played a passive, deterrent role, the Alliance has never been more active.”

In a contribution to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns writes that by assuming the lead for the UN-sponsored force providing security for Kabul Monday, NATO rewrites history. “NATO shows it is serious about a transformation that has been in the works for almost two years,” Burns stresses and adds: “The ISAF operation is an expression of our new emphasis on confronting global terrorism and the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. Taking the ISAF lead in Kabul unquestionably moves the Alliance beyond the traditional transatlantic sphere and out to where it is needed most…. NATO’s leadership of ISAF demonstrates that the revitalization of the NATO Alliance that began after Sept. 11, 2001, is becoming reality in Afghanistan. By assuming the ISAF lead, the Alliance begins to make good on the agenda of transformation agreed by NATO’s heads of government at the Summit in Prague last November. Crossing into South Asia represents further evolution for NATO toward the modern, transformed Alliance needed in our dangerous international security environment.” Referring to calls for an expansion of ISAF’s mandate beyond Kabul, Burn further says: “This idea will need to be considered seriously once NATO has settled into its role in Kabul. One option for NATO’s expansion through ISAF would be to support and complement the development efforts of the Provincial reconstruction Teams.”

Several media speculate that NATO’s arrival in Kabul could give impetus to calls to expand ISAF to Afghanistan’s provinces.
NATO today embarks on a landmark mission when it takes over ISAF, marking the Alliance’s first operation outside Europe since it was established 54 years ago, writes the Financial Times. But, adds the newspaper, diplomats warned Sunday that once NATO consolidates its position in Kabul, it will come under increasing pressure from the UN and non-governmental organizations to change its mandate to allow it to go beyond the capital. Another article in the Financial Times reports that the UN Sunday suspended field work in southern Afghanistan after a series of attacks on aid agencies in the provide, as the Taliban said it was planning to extend its offensive against the government to the north of the country. “The latest disruption to reconstruction efforts came as the transfer to NATO Monday of ISAF reignited the debate about whether to extend peacekeeping operations to Afghanistan’s provinces,” notes the article.

Two leading Belgian dailies recall, however, that Gen. Jones recently said a change to ISAF’s mandate would require an adjustment in force levels.
Stressing that “NATO’s political and military leaders consider that an extension of ISAF’s mandate is ‘premature,’” La Libre Belgique observes: “Gen. Jones recently said that NATO is going in Afghanistan with a clear mandate: It is taking over the ISAF mission in Kabul. He clearly considered that any change to the mandate will require an adjustment of force levels.”
In a similar vein, Le Soir writes: “Gen. Jones believes that any change to ISAF’s mandate, which must first be approved by the UN, would require an adjustment of force levels.”


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