June 29, 2004

NATO In Iraq: A Coalition of the Willing Within NATO?

So, to what extent will NATO be getting involved in Iraq?

Optimists (and pessimists!) point to the NATO statement on Iraq announced in Istanbul.

Here's the text of the statement with the key language highlighted:

We, the 26 Heads of State and Government of the nations of the Atlantic Alliance, meeting in Istanbul, declare our full support for the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Iraq and for strengthening of freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law and security for all the Iraqi people.

We welcome the unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 1546 under Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations as an important step towards Iraq's political transition to democratic government. We pledge our full support for the effective implementation of UNSCR 1546.

"We are united in our support for the Iraqi people and offer full cooperation to the new sovereign Interim Government as it seeks to strengthen internal security and prepare the way to national elections in 2005.

"We deplore and call for an immediate end to all terrorist attacks in Iraq. Terrorist activities in and from Iraq also threaten the security of its neighbours and the region as a whole.

"We continue to support Poland in its leadership of the multinational division in south central Iraq. We also acknowledge the efforts of nations, including many NATO Allies, in the Multinational Force for Iraq, which is present in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and in accordance with UNSCR 1546. We fully support the Multinational Force in its mission to help restore and maintain security, including protection of the United Nations presence, under its mandate from the Security Council.

"In response to the request of the Iraqi Interim Government, and in accordance with Resolution 1546 which requests international and regional organisations to contribute assistance to the Multinational Force, we have decided today to offer NATO's assistance to the government of Iraq with the training of its security forces. We therefore also encourage nations to contribute to the training of the Iraqi armed forces.

"We have asked the North Atlantic Council to develop on an urgent basis the modalities to implement this decision with the Iraqi Interim Government.

"We have also asked the North Atlantic Council to consider, as a matter of urgency and on the basis of a report by the Secretary General, further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions in response to the request of the Iraqi Interim Government and in accordance with UNSCR 1546.

The italicized language above, of course, means nothing.

It's merely an expression of solidarity with the Poles and other NATO member countries that happen to be on the ground in Iraq already.

It involves no explicit nor implicit going forward obligation on behalf of NATO.

That said, the bolded language does mean something.

What, skeptics ask?

Well, NATO has at least now formally met and adopted a policy that explicitly calls for offering "NATO's assistance to the government of Iraq with the training of its security forces."

Some observers are poo-pooing this as mere political theatrics.

Here's Ivo Daalder as quoted in the New York Times:

It's a political declaration with no real practical meaning. Countries that will provide training were doing so before the declaration, and I doubt that countries that were not will now be so inclined.

Is Daalder right?

The French view, as showcased over at Le Monde (French language), would seem to bolster Daalder's view.

In that article, entitled "A Minimal Accord Found at NATO to Assist Iraq," the view from Paris is basically thus: 1) the French pushed for "as little NATO as possible" and got it; 2) aid/training to Iraq forces was approved in principle, but the modalities will need to be worked out in future meetings (and are still open for debate); and 3) there is concern in the French delegation of "slippage," ie. technical/training support leading to actual bona fide troop committments.

Here is a quote from a member of the French delegation that highlights perhaps the key issue: "La mission de formation revient aux Etats ; ce texte ne lance pas une opration collective qui aurait permis ds aujourd'hui de planter le drapeau de l'OTAN en Irak."

Paraphrasing, from the French perspective then, NATO has assumed no collective obligations post-Istanbul regarding Iraq (including training of Iraqi forces). Rather, such obligations merely run to individual states within NATO so that "no NATO flag is planted in Iraq."

That's really the core issue in all of this, isn't it?

Is NATO a collective alliance that undertakes actions jointly (albeit with specific troop country mixes and numbers etc hammered out case by case)?

Or are we defining the alliance down whereby empty declarations are made (often for domestic political reasons) that don't have any material carry-on effect in the real world?

In my view, and perhaps I'm being too optimistic, I think NATO is still more the former than the latter.

Put differently, I don't necessarily think NATO is dying a slow death because of the end of the Cold War (no Soviet threat), the faltering NATO effort in Afghanistan, and the lack of more NATO involvement in Iraq.

More specifically, and re: Iraq, I suspect Daalder is likely wrong that no new countries will enter the mix.

While Schroder and Chirac nixed the idea of sending any German or French forces (under a NATO flag or otherwise) to Iraq to train Iraqi forces--they have confirmed they will train Iraqi police (France) and Iraqi officers (Germany) in locations outside Iraq (at least per the Le Monde article linked above).

Also worth bearing in mind? Recently, elite opinion on both sides of the Atlantic continues to focus on the need for a trans-atlantic rapprochment.

And I'd wager that a post-Istanbul consensus is going to emerge that has the proving ground for achieving such cooperation being material assistance for training of Iraqi forces.

To help constitute an effective rapprochment, such training will need to be undertaken by many NATO members--if to varying degrees--but in a manner that looks to be the product of a collective, coordinated, cohesive alliance at work.

I still think that will be the likely outcome once all the details get hammered out in Brussels.

Put differently, and per my title to this post, I don't think we are now merely casting about for coalitions of the willing within NATO.

P.S. NATO needs urgent help in Afghanistan too. The parties (like France and Germany) that look to just be making modest contributions in Iraq should step up more significantly in Afghanistan.

There are more than two million military personnel in the forces of the European NATO allies," Bereuter said, "yet only two percent of those forces are deployed on NATO missions in Afghanistan and the Balkans.

"The NATO allies have promised to make more than 1,000 infantry companies available for NATO missions. They have promised to make more than 2,000 helicopters available for NATO missions. They have promised to make almost 300 transport aircraft available for NATO missions. Yet, for the mission in Afghanistan, the allies seemingly cannot find a few more infantry companies, cannot find a few more helicopters, and cannot find a few more transport aircraft that are essential to avoid failure.

"This is a failure of political will, pure and simple," Bereuter said. "It is a failure that jeopardizes the success of the mission in Afghanistan and jeopardizes the very credibility of the Alliance."

Pas serieux, as the French might say.

That said, per the NATO summit in Istanbul, a little more help is on the way (text from NYT article linked above):

NATO leaders also announced Monday that the alliance would expand its security role in Afghanistan, fulfilling a political pledge the alliance made months ago. They have cobbled together enough forces and equipment including helicopters, cargo planes and quick-reaction forces to honor the agreement. Under the plan, NATO would expand to about 10,000 troops from the 6,500-member force in and around Kabul, the Afghan capital, to operate a total of five provincial civilian-military reconstruction teams.


Posted by Gregory at June 29, 2004 11:06 AM
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