98. The issue of national caveatsthe restrictions
placed by nations on the use of their forces on multinational
operationshas received particular attention and has prompted
much criticism. National caveats impose limitations on the use
of Allied forces which complicate the task of theatre commanders
and necessitate the deployment of additional troops to cover for
those which cannot be employed in certain kinds of operations.
Professor Cox argued that national caveats, and the issue of burden-sharing
as a whole, posed a real problem for NATO. It was "undermining
and doing some really major damage not only in this country but
in other countries who are members of the
Alliance who are
contributing in blood while others are doing it less so, for all
sorts of peculiar and specific national reasons".
In our Report on UK operations in Afghanistan, published
in July 2007, we said that while there had been progress in reducing
national caveats, we remained concerned that such caveats risked
impairing the effectiveness of the ISAF mission. We called on
the Government to press ISAF partners to reduce further the restrictions
placed on the use of their Forces.
In evidence to that inquiry, the former commander of NATO forces
in Afghanistan, General David Richards, told us that it was the
number of troops, rather than caveats, which had been his greatest
the ISAF Commander, General Dan McNeill, has said recently that
national caveats are "frustrating in how they impinge on
my ability to properly plan, resource and prosecute effective
99. The Secretary of State for Defence told us in
evidence that important progress had been made in removing or
limiting the scope of national caveats. He maintained that the
Riga Summit had led to a marked reduction in the restrictions
placed by Allies nations on the use of their forces in Afghanistan
and insisted that further progress had been made since Riga.
100. Witnesses to our inquiry also emphasised that
it was important to understand the reasons why some countries
chose to impose restrictions on the use of their forces, which,
they argued, were in some cases justifiable. Sir Paul Lever told
us that it was important to be realistic about the issue of national
caveats. When the UK deploys its forces, "we take quite a
close interest in how, where and under what rules of engagement
they are to be used".
It was only natural other governments would do likewise. He pointed
out that the UK was "usually pretty relaxed" about deploying
its forces as part of a NATO mission, "but in other contexts
have been very insistent that ultimately we retain control over
how they may be used and in particular the extent to which they
should be put in harm's way".
Sir Paul accepted that it would be "highly desirable"
if other nations "were less restrictive" in their use
of caveats, but he maintained that:
the reasons some of them are restrictive are
not just a matter of perversity; it is because they have either
domestic constitutional arrangements or domestic political constraints
which mean they are more comfortable with their armed forces being
used in one particular theatre.
It would undoubtedly be highly desirable
all allies gave what might be called carte blanche and said, 'Here's
our contingent. Deploy it as you like', but that is not how the
real world is.
General Jack Deverell adopted a similarly phlegmatic
perspective and suggested that "caveats are going to be like
death and taxation, they are an inevitable part of our military
Charles Grant, of the Centre for European Reform, argued that
"we have to accept that some countries will send troops on
certain missions with caveats. It is a real pain" but "the
only thing we can do is use the power of persuasion".
101. Tackling the issue of national caveats, ultimately,
comes down to an issue of political will. Although General Fry
accepted that the imposition of caveats by some NATO members risked
jeopardising the success of ISAF's mission in Afghanistan, he
noted that "military mechanisms to make force generation
any better are completely exhausted".
According to General Fry, removing caveats was, ultimately, an
issue of political will for the countries which imposed them and
for the Alliance as a whole. Like Charles Grant, he argued that
the only means of lifting or limiting the scope of caveats was
through negotiation: "this is really now a matter of convincing
other nations of their political responsibilities to the health
of the Alliance as a whole".
General Fry argued that this approach held some promise since
there had been "very considerable advances from where we
were [at the start of the NATO mission] in 2003; those have got
102. In evidence to us, the Secretary of State acknowledged
the difficulties the restrictions created for the Alliance, in
that "even countries which come to this environment with
caveats find themselves out-caveated by others and that dynamic
is having an effect".
However, he maintained that it was important to be realistic on
we have to accept in operations, such as the
operation in Afghanistan, where we are talking about the deployment
of forces by sovereign nations, that the ultimate decision over
how, when and where their forces will be deployed will lie with
those sovereign nations.
103. The Secretary of State also said that it was
important to recognise that different allies had different capabilities
which had an inevitable impact on the kinds of tasks they were
able to perform in theatre. According to Mr Browne, it was "unrealistic
to expect every NATO member to be able to conduct every military
task at the same tempo and certainly not with the tempo that we
can generate in the United Kingdom".
Indeed, he argued that participation in the ISAF mission was having
a "transformational effect" on the outlook and capabilities
of Allied countries which was progressively having a positive
impact through the removal, or the limitation in the scope of,
caveats. Nevertheless, it was important to recognise that "countries
are at different stages of their transformation than others"
and this would be reflected on the ground.
This perspective mirrors the argument put forward by James Pardew
and Christopher Bennett, who argued, in the NATO Review, that
"as NATO broadens its operational experience, nations are
moving to eliminate or reduce the restrictions they place on the
ways in which their contributions to operations may be used".
Increasingly, countries were "reducing national caveats as
they become used to the complexities of operations".
104. In evidence to us, the MoD states that "a
number of countries have removed some or all of the caveats they
Where restrictions remained, their effect was limited by the fact
that the Commander of ISAF (COMISAF) "is fully aware of any
remaining caveats and can plan around them". The MoD also
emphasised that there had been agreement from all nations to extend
their operations in the case of a requirement to provide "in-extremis
Similarly, the Secretary of State maintained that "significant
progress" had been made in removing caveats.
He argued that the Riga Summit had improved the situation and
maintained that "I believe we are progressively winning this
argument and there are clear indications that we are".
He argued that there were "a number of countries which have
significantly changed in what they do and what they are prepared
to do". He cited Canada and Denmark as two "outstanding"
examples of the success NATO had had in removing caveats.
Moreover, Mr Browne said it was instructive to compare the experience
of troop contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, a number
of countries had withdrawn their troops as the politics within
those countries had changed. In Afghanistan, however, no country
had chosen to withdraw its forces, which reflected a commitment
by all NATO countries to the principles of the Alliance. According
to Mr Browne, this was "an important aspect of political
that is an important aspect of the Alliance".
105. The Secretary of State recognised, however,
that further steps towards the elimination of national caveats
were required. A key test of the Bucharest Summit would be the
extent to which progress on burden-sharing in Afghanistan would
be achieved. In terms of operations in Afghanistan, Mr Browne
said that, from the UK's perspective, success at the Summit would
involve the Alliance:
re-endorsing its collective commitment to Afghanistan,
on the success the Alliance has already achieved
to date and agreeing a plan for the future. Bucharest will be
successful too if it maintains momentum and capabilities in force-generation
both for Afghanistan and more widely.
106. During our visits to European NATO capitals
we raised the issue of national caveats and asked about the extent
to which their impact on the effectiveness of operations could
be limited. In Berlin, we heard about the constitutional restrictions
upon the deployment of German troops on overseas operations and
about the lack of popular support for any military deployments,
including to Afghanistan. We were told that Germany imposed no
caveats on the use of its forces in Afghanistan but that those
forces operated under a mandate, the terms of which had been agreed
by NATO in Brussels, and this had to be approved by the German
Parliament, the Bundestag. We also heard that German concerns
over the deployment of forces were, to a significant extent, a
product of German history. The fact that there was a German presence
in Afghanistan at all was highly significant; even ten years ago
such a deployment would have been unthinkable. Despite the limitations
of the mandate, we were told that Germany had made a commitment
to NATO that it would assist in Southern Afghanistan if a crisis
107. In Madrid, we were told by politicians and academics
that while Spanish public opinion supported troops working on
reconstruction projects, it would not support a war-fighting role;
if the Spanish government asked the Senate to alter the role of
Spanish forces, it would be refused. A similar concern was revealed
during our discussions at the Italian Ministry of Defence in Rome;
the Italian public was supportive of peacekeeping and reconstruction
efforts, but not war-fighting.
108. At the French Ministry of Defence in Paris,
we heard that national caveats would not be a problem provided
the objectives of the mission were clearly defined. It was also
important to remember that operational deployments carried a political
risk; they had to be backed by popular support.
109. In Copenhagen, during the course of our discussions
at the Folketinget, the Danish Parliament, we were told that while
Denmark remained firmly committed to the ISAF mission, and that
all five major parties had supported that mission, Danish politicians
nevertheless faced a huge task in conveying to voters the importance
of its deployment to Afghanistan. As in many other European countries
parliamentary approval was required to sustain its troop commitments.
110. During our meetings in The Hague, we heard that
the Dutch government could not deploy its forces without parliamentary
support and that widespread support was necessary. In our discussions
with our counterparts on the Dutch Defence and Foreign Affairs
Committees, we heard that there was a strong sense in the Netherlands
that the Dutch were doing more than their fair share in Afghanistan
and that there was public frustration that other countries were
not doing more. The situation in Southern Afghanistan, in particular,
looked more like a coalition of the willing than an alliance.
At the Dutch Ministry of Defence, we heard that the issue of national
caveats should not be tackled by berating other NATO Allies for
failing to do their share. Not all European countries had the
ability to mount expeditionary operations. Instead, the best and
most effective way of dealing with caveats was to ask what capabilities
those countries had and how they could be made available.
111. The ultimate decision over whether to deploy
forces on operations is, and must remain, a matter for each sovereign
member state of the Alliance. UK Forces are deployed in Afghanistan
without any caveats imposed upon their use, but the public and
Parliament maintain a close interest in how those forces are used.
The ability of any nation to commit its forces on operations is
governed by the willingness of the public to sustain those commitments
and by ability of any nation to sustain expeditionary operations.
However inconvenient, caveats are an inevitable part of military
life. The real challenge is to prevent them from impairing operational
effectiveness. There is no doubt that caveats can have a detrimental
effect on the coherence of NATO's operations. Although some important
progress has been made in removing these restrictions there remains
a long way to go. Further progress is essential at Bucharest.
112. The debate on national caveats would benefit
from greater clarity about which countries do and do not impose
caveats on their force commitments to ISAF. We call upon the MoD,
in its response to this report, to provide a full breakdown of
the national caveats imposed by each member of the Alliance on
the use of their forces in Afghanistan and to state which countries
impose no restrictions.
Afghanistan and the future of
Alliance military transformation
113. The MoD maintains that NATO's experience in
conducting operations in Afghanistan has become "a significant
driver for change in the Alliance" and that this "underlines
the importance of Allies acquiring flexible, rapidly deployable
and sustainable expeditionary capabilities".
In evidence to us, the Secretary of State referred to "transformational
effect of ISAF on certain countries". He said that "that
process is ongoing" and that it was a priority for NATO to
ensure "that forces throughout the Alliance are transformed
to be able to be deployed with the capabilities that are necessary
to face the challenges of the modern world".
114. The future of NATO's expeditionary role is likely
to be determined, to a significant degree, by the Alliance's experience
in Afghanistan, as Michael Codner, of RUSI, told us in evidence.
Success in Afghanistan is likely to reinforce that role; anything
less than success could well undermine it.
115. NATO's leadership of ISAF has arguably led to
important changes and, in some cases, improvements in the way
the Alliance employs its command and force structures, and how
it plans, conducts and supports expeditionary operations in remote
and challenging theatres. The experience of deploying land, air
and maritime forces for extended periods at considerable distance
from their home bases has had an impact in enhancing Allied expeditionary
capabilities, both operationally and logistically. It has also
had some impact in improving the ability of the NATO Allies to
sustain ISAF operations in Afghanistan. NATO's experience
in Afghanistan since 2003 has served to highlight areas in which
the Alliance needs to improve. It has revealed the need to equip
NATO better for expeditionary operations, to improve further defence
planning and force generation processes, and to improve significantly
its expeditionary military capabilities. To this extent, Afghanistan
has helped to promote the military transformation of the Alliance,
even if there remains a long way to go.
64 US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, cited in
The Guardian, 7 February 2007 Back
Q 115 Back
Ev 119 Back
Rebecca Moore, NATO's New Mission: Projecting Stability in
a Post Cold War World, 2007, pp 145-146 Back
Saving Afghanistan: An Appeal and Plan for Urgent Action,
The Atlantic Council of the United States, January 2008, p 5 Back
HC Deb, 30 November 2006, Col 1240 Back
Ev 111 Back
ISAF Troops Placemat, February 2008, ISAF website, www.nato.int/isaf/index.html Back
ISAF website (www.nato.int/isaf/index.html) Back
Ev 105 Back
Defence Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2006-07, UK
operations in Afghanistan, HC 408 Back
Canadian Defence Minister, Peter Mackay, cited in The Guardian,
7 February 2007 Back
Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan, p 34 Back
Q 116 Back
Q 118 Back
Ev 104 Back
Ev 105 Back
Ev 104 Back
HC Deb, 12 December 2007, Col 303 Back
Q 218 Back
Q 220 Back
Q 231 Back
Q 225 Back
Ev 163 Back
Q 115 Back
Defence Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2006-07, UK
operations in Afghanistan, HC 408, para 45 Back
Ibid, para 46 (Q 270) Back
General Dan McNeill, cited in The Daily Telegraph, "NATO
general frustrated by block on use of troops", 3 March 2008 Back
Q 220 Back
Q 68 Back
Q 69 Back
Q 185 Back
Q 70 Back
Q 186 Back
Q 188 Back
Q 237 Back
Q 218 Back
Q 224 Back
James Pardew and Christopher Bennett, "NATO's evolving operations",
NATO Review, Spring 2006 Back
Ev 163 Back
Q 220 Back
Q 228 Back
Q 227 Back
Q 233 Back
Q 218 Back
Ev 111 Back
Q 224 Back
Ev 154 Back