Select Committee on Defence Ninth Report

3  Afghanistan and the future of NATO

Afghanistan and the Bucharest Summit

70. Over the past decade, NATO has evolved from an Alliance focused on contingency planning for a large-scale conventional war in Central Europe into a highly operational organisation focused on projecting stability beyond its borders. NATO now has a diverse set of missions, with troops deployed on Alliance-led operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Darfur, and Iraq. In Kosovo, the Alliance leads a force of some 16,000 troops as part of KFOR, the NATO force deployed in 1999 to guarantee security and stability in the territory as the diplomatic process, led by the United Nations to define its future status, moved forward. In Darfur, NATO supports the peacekeeping mission of the African Union (AU) by providing airlift support and training for AU personnel. In Iraq, the Alliance operates the NATO Training Mission (NTM-I) which, since 2004, has provided training to middle and senior level personnel from the Iraqi Security Forces in order to build the capability of the Government of Iraq in addressing the security needs of the Iraqi people. In the Mediterranean, NATO operates a counter-terrorist mission, Operation Active Endeavour, monitoring shipping and providing escorts to non-military vessels through the Straits of Gibraltar. This operation is designed to detect, deter and protect against terrorist activity. The Alliance's most significant operational deployment by far, however, is Afghanistan, where NATO commands the 43,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

71. NATO's mission in Afghanistan is likely to be the headline issue on the agenda at the Bucharest Summit. The build-up to the Summit has been characterised by an increasingly fractious debate over Alliance burden-sharing in Afghanistan. The reluctance of certain NATO Allies to participate fully in that mission, to put their troops in harms way, and to shoulder their fair share of the burden of common defence—in terms of both troops and financial contributions—has reflected growing tensions within the Alliance. These tensions relate to the direction of NATO's mission, the prospects of success, and wider the ability of the Alliance to conduct expeditionary operations. The US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has been particularly outspoken in his criticism of Allies for refusing to commit sufficient numbers of troops and resources to the ISAF mission. Mr Gates has warned that there was a real danger that a two-tier Alliance might develop if NATO members do not commit more troops. Speaking after the meeting of Defence Ministers in Vilnius, the US Secretary of Defense said that "we must not—we cannot—become a two-tiered alliance of those who are willing to fight and those who are not…Such a development, with all its implications for collective security, would effectively destroy the Alliance".[64]

72. The perception that Afghanistan is vital for the survival of NATO is increasingly common. In evidence to us, Professor Michael Cox argued that, at present, "there is clearly a very uneven contribution, blood and treasure, through NATO Allies" in Afghanistan. He maintained that "the future credibility of NATO really rests on the outcomes in Afghanistan. This is the great test".[65] This sentiment was echoed by a number of witnesses to our inquiry. Dr Christoph Meyer, of King's College London, argued that Afghanistan would be critical in shaping US attitudes towards the Alliance: "NATO is in crisis as an organisation and its fate may well be decided by how it handles Afghanistan—at least from the perspective of the US".[66] In her recent book, NATO's New Mission, Rebecca Moore warns that "failure in Afghanistan would have nothing short of catastrophic implications for NATO's credibility".[67] Similarly, a recent report from the Atlantic Council of the United States warned that failure in Afghanistan could undermine the credibility of NATO and damage its relevance. It said that "surprisingly, many NATO nations engaged in Afghanistan lack a sense of urgency in comprehending the gravity of the situation and the need for effective action now".[68] It also warned that:

    If the Afghanistan effort fails, NATO's cohesion, effectiveness and credibility will be shaken and the rationale for NATO's expeditionary, out of area, role would be undermined. Member states would become reluctant to embark on other out of area operations, and the United States would be less likely to turn to the Alliance in crisis. This could lead to a moribund Alliance, which could find itself reduced to geopolitical irrelevancy and marginalization, much like the long defunct Cold War pacts of CENTO and SEATO.[69]

73. Following the previous NATO Summit at Riga in November 2006, the Secretary of State for Defence stated that the success of NATO's operations in Afghanistan was crucial to the future credibility of the Alliance. Noting that the Allies had made a "common pledge to provide ISAF with the forces and flexibility to ensure the success of this vital mission," Mr Browne told the House of Commons that at Riga there had been:

    a shared recognition that success in Afghanistan is crucial not just for the Afghan people and for regional and global security, but for NATO itself…Now NATO has taken on this vital but challenging mission, its credibility is now at stake.[70]

In evidence to our inquiry, the MoD reaffirmed the importance of the mission in Afghanistan to the future of the Alliance. It stated that "success on operations remains the primary measure of [NATO's] value and credibility".[71]

74. The Bucharest Summit in April 2008 could well emerge as a watershed moment for the future of NATO's mission in Afghanistan. The Summit will be a key test of the commitment of the Allies to stay the course in Afghanistan. It is also likely to reveal the viability of future Alliance expeditionary operations. Whether the Summit can achieve an agreement to send additional forces to Afghanistan, to remove the restrictions placed by Allies on the use of their troops in theatre, and achieve an overall improvement in Alliance force generation, is unclear. Ultimately, this will come down to the political will of individual allies. If NATO fails to deliver real and lasting improvements in Alliance burden-sharing in Afghanistan, the implications for the future of NATO operations in Afghanistan, and for the unity of the Alliance, would be profound and far-reaching.

The NATO mission in Afghanistan

75. When NATO assumed command of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan in August 2003, it represented a watershed in Alliance history. The mission was the first operation the Alliance had conducted outside the Euro-Atlantic area and was perceived by many to mark the birth of a truly global NATO.

76. The ISAF mission itself had been launched 18 months earlier, following the December 2001 Bonn Conference at which prominent Afghans met under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) to determine the post-Taliban future for Afghanistan. The resulting Bonn Agreement led to the deployment of a 5,000-strong force, operating under the authority of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1386, to ensure stability in Kabul. On 11 August 2003 ISAF became a NATO-led operation and began progressively to expand its area of operation over Afghanistan. In June 2004, ISAF extended into the Northern and Western Provinces, as authorised by UNSCR 1510. In July 2006, ISAF extended into Afghanistan's Southern provinces and 12,000 US troops previously deployed in Afghanistan as part of the separate US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, came under ISAF command. In October 2006, UNSCR 1707 extended ISAF's authority to the Eastern Provinces so that the whole of Afghanistan came under its authority.


77. As of February 2008, there were some 43,250 ISAF troops in Afghanistan drawn from 40 countries, including all 26 members of the NATO Alliance.[72] By far the largest contribution is from the United States which, in addition to the almost 20,000 troops it has deployed in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, has some 15,000 forces operating under ISAF command. The UK, which contributes around 7,800 troops, is the second highest ISAF troop-contributing nation. The ISAF operation is commanded by US General Dan McNeill based in the Command Centre in Kabul. There are four regional commands covering provinces in North, West, South, and East. The political direction and co-ordination of the mission is provided by NATO's principal decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council (NAC). Based on the political guidance from the Council, strategic command and control is exercised by NATO's top operational headquarters, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium.

Table 1: Number of NATO forces deployed as part of ISAF, February 2008

Source: ISAF


78. ISAF describes its mission in Afghanistan as that of "assisting the Afghan Government in extending and exercising its authority and influence across the country, creating the conditions for stabilisation and reconstruction".[73] It defines its "key military tasks" as "conducting stability and security operations in co-ordination with the Afghan national security forces; mentoring and supporting the Afghan national army; and supporting Afghan government programmes to disarm illegally armed groups".[74] In essence, NATO's aim is to deliver the Comprehensive Approach—creating the secure and stable conditions that enable reconstruction and development to be delivered by government officials and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and provide the space for political progress to be achieved.

79. In reality, ISAF's tasks are wide-ranging, reflecting the Comprehensive Approach, including the training of the Afghan security forces, support of aid and reconstruction, and supporting counter-narcotics efforts to high intensity counter-insurgency combat. The efforts reflect the variegated security picture in Afghanistan: a relatively stable North and West of the country where the threat to ISAF troops is comparatively low, and an unstable, and often violent, South and East where NATO Forces, including UK Forces in Helmand Province, are involved in intense and fierce fighting against the Taliban.

80. Despite the coherent explanation of ISAF's role in Afghanistan, one of the problems the Alliance confronts is a lack of consensus about what NATO is trying to achieve in Afghanistan. Dr Michael Williams, of RUSI, argued that "if you ask ten NATO Allies, you will most likely get ten different answers" about what ISAF is trying to achieve. According to Dr Williams, "since practically each ally has a different rationale for being in Afghanistan, they conceptualise the problems differently and prescribe different solutions" which has "resulted in a disjointed Western (and international) approach to the country".[75] This disjointedness has had a direct impact on the Alliance's efforts to bring stability and reconstruction to Afghanistan. Dr Williams argues that it "has meant that the security situation has improved only marginally in some parts of the country and in secure areas it has meant inadequate levels of reconstruction and development". He maintained that "the lack of a joined up approach, coupled with a lack of assistance from the rest of the international community, does not bode well for the future of the mission".[76]

81. During our visits to European NATO capitals in 2007, it was apparent that different countries placed a different emphasis on the various aspects of the ISAF mission. In certain countries, including Germany, Spain and Italy, we heard that NATO's overriding concern should be on providing reconstruction and development for the Afghan people and that the Alliance should reconsider its high-intensity military campaign in the South. In Berlin, for example, we were told that German Forces were underpinning reconstruction efforts in the North of Afghanistan and thereby winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. We heard that a greater effort was needed to bring reconstruction and development to the rest of Afghanistan and that in the South too much emphasis had been placed on the military aspects of allies' operations; it was not possible to extend the authority of the government in Kabul by military means alone. A better balance had to be found between ISAF's military and civilian components. German politicians and policymakers also expressed the view that there was a need for greater clarity about the goals of the Alliance in Afghanistan and a greater sense of what would constitute success and failure. In Madrid, meanwhile, we heard that although Spain was fully committed to success in Afghanistan, it believed ISAF's overriding purpose was humanitarian and reconstruction work, rather than war-fighting. This was a belief echoed in our discussions with policymakers during our visit to Rome; Italy was keen to promote the civilian dimension of NATO's operations. We heard that public support in Italy for NATO's mission in Afghanistan could only be sustained if the Alliance focused principally on delivering reconstruction and development for the Afghan people and in building the capacity of the Afghan government.

82. In others countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, we were told that, while reconstruction and development was seen as central to NATO's mission, ISAF Forces had to achieve the secure and stable conditions in which civilian efforts could flourish. Where the Taliban posed a threat to security, NATO had to engage in military operations. In both Copenhagen and The Hague, we were told that war-fighting and reconstruction efforts had to go hand-in-hand; on their own, neither could have the desired effect. In Paris, meanwhile, we heard that there was in France a general feeling that NATO should stick to its military brief and not seek to extend its role into civilian affairs. During our visit to Brussels, the NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, emphasised the importance of the Comprehensive Approach. He maintained that the answer in Afghanistan was not only a military one; success required a combination of military and civilian efforts.

83. The purpose of the NATO-led ISAF mission is to achieve stability and security in Afghanistan, to deny al-Qaeda and the Taliban the environment in which to operate, and to implement the Comprehensive Approach by delivering the security necessary to enable reconstruction and development to occur. This requires a sustained, long-term military and financial commitment by all contributing nations.

84. There is currently some disagreement between the NATO allies about the objectives of the ISAF mission and the means of achieving them. All agree on the importance of the Comprehensive Approach, but there are differences in the interpretation of its meaning and implications. Achieving a common understanding of ISAF's mission in Afghanistan should be a key priority for NATO at the Bucharest Summit. This is essential if there is to be greater strategic coherence to the Alliance's operations.

Force generation in Afghanistan

85. The difficulties of force generation in Afghanistan have long been a source of concern to us. In our report on UK operations in Afghanistan, published in July 2007, we highlighted the difficulties NATO had encountered in generating sufficient forces for the ISAF mission. We said that we were deeply concerned at the reluctance of some NATO members to provide troops to ISAF and stated that that this was undermining the coherence of ISAF operations on the ground as well as the credibility of the NATO Alliance as a whole.[77]

86. In early 2008, tensions over Alliance burden-sharing and force generation in Afghanistan have reached a new level. Not only has the US Secretary of Defense publicly berated Allies for failing to commit forces to Afghanistan, but some NATO nations with large and valuable troop deployments have begun to question the future of their commitments to ISAF in the absence of more equitable burden-sharing. The Canadians have been particularly critical of the reluctance of certain Allies to fight in Afghanistan. Speaking ahead of the NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Vilnius in February 2008, the Canadian Defence Minister, Peter Mackay, said "we want to see more of a one-for-all approach, including more burden-sharing in the South".[78] The previous month, an independent Canadian commission stated that unless other nations committed more troops and shouldered their fair share of the burden, Canada should consider withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. It argued that "the most damaging and obvious deficiency in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan is the insufficiency of military forces deployed against the insurgents". It warned that "the entire ISAF mission is threatened by the current inadequacy of deployed military resources". Noting that "Afghanistan represents a challenge to NATO's credibility", it argued that "NATO partners will have to assign more forces to Afghanistan and execute a more effective counterinsurgency strategy". It concluded that Canada should maintain its commitment to Afghanistan but only if additional troop contributions from other NATO nations were forthcoming: "Canadian resources, and Canadians' patience," it warned, "are not limitless".[79]

87. In evidence to us, Dr Jonathan Eyal warned of the dangers of the "cascading effect" of national decisions to withdraw, or to stop, contributions, emanating from the internal political dynamics of each contributing nation. He argued that "once the cascade begins, it will become unstoppable and it will prevent NATO from even withdrawing with a bit of honour".[80] Although he did not believe this would ultimately undermine NATO, shatter its credibility, or trigger its collapse, it would nevertheless deal a significant blow to the Alliance. The greater danger, argued Dr Dana Allin was not so much whether the Alliance would survive, since it had "an institutional staying power".[81] Nor did its future credibility depend on the outcome of operations in Afghanistan, since "its credibility in future crises will depend on the perceived stakes of various antagonists in those future crises". Instead, Dr Allin argued that "the greatest existential threat to NATO is the United States, the relative disinterest it may or may not have in the future" and "obviously that would be increased by failure in Afghanistan so it would damage NATO".[82] Similarly, Michael Williams argued that the reluctance of NATO Allies to share the burden in Afghanistan could lead the United States to look for solutions outside NATO; "should the Alliance become increasingly unwilling to act, or willing to do so in rhetoric only, then the logical conclusion is that the United States would wish to establish coalitions of the willing to support US policy".[83] He suggested that "one must ask why exactly the US should work through NATO if the majority of the allies bring little to the table, but to complicate the decision making process immensely".[84] He maintained that "if will and capability are non-existent, the Alliance will not endure as a working organisation in the long term". Although he suggested that it may continue to exist in an institutional form, "it would cease to be a working forum for debate and formulation of transatlantic defence policy".[85]

88. The Canadian commitment to Afghanistan, however, appears to have been secured by the recent announcement from the United States that an additional 3,000 US Marines will be sent to reinforce ISAF Forces, including Canadian troops, predominantly in Southern Afghanistan. Yet, the Canadian experience reveals the depth of tension caused by the current uneven distribution of burdens and risk within the Alliance. As Michael Williams told us, "the situation in Afghanistan is effectively a coalition of the willing within NATO".[86] Despite the fact that all 26 NATO nations are participants in the ISAF mission, the US, UK, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands are the only five countries with significant numbers of troops in the conflict zone in the South of the country. Moreover, the force element deemed necessary by NATO's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (DSACEUR) to fulfil the operational plan in Afghanistan—the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements (CJSOR)—has never been met.

89. The need for greater burden-sharing in Afghanistan was highlighted by the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown, in his statement on Afghanistan to the House of Commons on 12 December 2007. The Prime Minister said that "greater burden sharing by all partners and allies" was important to ensure success in Afghanistan and he welcomed the announcements from Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Estonia that they would maintain or increase their troop numbers. But he said that "this progress must…now be matched by contributions from other countries in NATO, the EU and beyond". In situations "where countries are unable to deploy their own troops or equipment," he said the UK Government was "urging them to look at innovative ways to burden share and help fund those who can".[87]

90. In evidence to us, the Secretary of State acknowledged that "burden-sharing ought to be the proper expression of the collective defence agreement of NATO".[88] He declared, "I have never made any bones…about my desire to see other countries stepping up their play, sharing their fair share of the burden, and deploying those forces that they can".[89] However, he maintained that "there has to be a degree of realism about what can be achieved and…we have made significant progress".[90] Mr Browne argued that Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany had all made important commitments to the NATO mission in Afghanistan by pledging additional troops or by extending the parliamentary mandates authorizing the maintenance of their existing troops in theatre. These decisions had been courageous, especially in the Netherlands where the political circumstances had been "quite challenging".[91] The Dutch had come through the process with "a significant reinforced mandate". There was also a possibility that the French might commit additional forces to Afghanistan in the near future. The Secretary of State argued that, whilst it was essential to achieve equitable burden-sharing, it was also important to "get the balance between burden-sharing and military effectiveness right". A pragmatic approach was required. If certain nations did not have the capacity to contribute troops now, but were willing to make a contribution to allow others who did have the capacity to deploy forces, "then we should take advantage of that".[92]

91. In a subsequent memorandum to our inquiry, the MoD stated that there had been a "substantial increase in troop levels" since NATO started operating in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan in 2006, and provided details of recent force increases and other pledges of support to the ISAF mission from NATO member states:

  • The Czech Republic had agreed to deploy two Weapon Locating Radars to Kandahar airfield in April 2009;
  • Turkey had pledged to provide two additional Operating Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) to help train the Afghan National Army (ANA);
  • Poland had announced a commitment to deploy a further eight helicopters, a mobile training team, and additional support to the Regional Command East Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT);
  • Germany had agreed to provide additional training for the ANA;
  • France had pledged an additional deployment of an OMLT in Southern Afghanistan and had increased its Close Air Support contribution;
  • The United States had announced the deployment of an additional 3,000 Marines to Regional Command South.[93]

92. Succeeding in Afghanistan is, and must remain, at the top of NATO's agenda. All 26 members of the Alliance contribute to the ISAF mission, and their efforts—together with those of the 14 non-NATO nations who participate in ISAF—are vital to the stabilisation and reconstruction of the country. It is essential the Alliance works together in delivering the Comprehensive Approach—creating the secure and stable conditions to enable reconstruction and development to take place and to allow space for political progress to be achieved.

93. This also underlines the importance of clarifying the ISAF mission in a way that is compatible with the Comprehensive Approach and which all NATO member states will support. A number of issues need to be urgently addressed: the appointment of a UN international coordinator, a divided military command chain, differing perspectives on the mission amongst ISAF troop contributing nations, confusion about dealing with narcotics, the effectiveness of the civil aid effort to win hearts and minds, and corruption within elements of the Afghan administration. Indeed, a clearer definition of success in Afghanistan at Bucharest would be extremely welcome.

94. Failure in Afghanistan would be deeply damaging for the people of that country. It would have serious implications for the Alliance's cohesion and credibility. But NATO's continued existence does not depend upon the outcome of its operations in Afghanistan. In any circumstance it would have a role because of its command structure, its mechanisms for harmonising equipment and promoting interoperability between its members, and its function as a political forum for essential discussions about defence and security. However, if the Alliance cannot demonstrate its ability to undertake expeditionary operations, the support of the United States for NATO over the long-term will be diminished.

95. NATO has encountered substantial difficulties in generating sufficient forces for Afghanistan and there are large disparities in troop contributions between different members of the Alliance. In some of the larger troop-contributing nations, there is a perception that the burden in Afghanistan is not equitably shared and that some countries are making sacrifices that others are not prepared to accept.

96. We recognise that not all members of NATO have the capabilities to deploy their forces on expeditionary operations and that some have found it hard to obtain the popular or parliamentary support required to increase their deployments. We welcome, in particular, the pledges made recently by Denmark and the Netherlands to the ISAF mission which show how such barriers can be overcome.

97. More troops are needed in Afghanistan if the ISAF mission is to succeed. We look to our other allies to make additional contributions where they can, be it through increased force levels, pledges of military equipment, or by offsetting the costs of operations. We hope that further progress in force generation can be achieved at the Bucharest Summit. Such progress will be essential to the future of the ISAF mission.

National caveats

98. The issue of national caveats—the restrictions placed by nations on the use of their forces on multinational operations—has 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".[94] 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.[95] 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 concern.[96] However, 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 military operations".[97]

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.[98]

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".[99] 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…we 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".[100] 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…if 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.[101]

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 life".[102] Likewise, 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".[103]

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".[104] 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".[105] 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 to continue".[106]

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".[107] However, he maintained that it was important to be realistic on the issue:

    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.[108]

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".[109] 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.[110] 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".[111]

104. In evidence to us, the MoD states that "a number of countries have removed some or all of the caveats they began with".[112] 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 support".[113] Similarly, the Secretary of State maintained that "significant progress" had been made in removing caveats.[114] 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".[115] 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.[116] 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 will and…that is an important aspect of the Alliance".[117]

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, building…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.[118]

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 arose.

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".[119] 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".[120]

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.[121] 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

65   Q 115 Back

66   Ev 119 Back

67   Rebecca Moore, NATO's New Mission: Projecting Stability in a Post Cold War World, 2007, pp 145-146 Back

68   Saving Afghanistan: An Appeal and Plan for Urgent Action, The Atlantic Council of the United States, January 2008, p 5 Back

69   Ibid Back

70   HC Deb, 30 November 2006, Col 1240 Back

71   Ev 111 Back

72   ISAF Troops Placemat, February 2008, ISAF website, Back

73   ISAF website ( Back

74   Ibid Back

75   Ev 105 Back

76   Ibid Back

77   Defence Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2006-07, UK operations in Afghanistan, HC 408 Back

78   Canadian Defence Minister, Peter Mackay, cited in The Guardian, 7 February 2007 Back

79   Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan, p 34 Back

80   Q 116 Back

81   Q 118 Back

82   Ibid Back

83   Ev 104 Back

84   Ibid Back

85   Ev 105 Back

86   Ev 104 Back

87   HC Deb, 12 December 2007, Col 303 Back

88   Q 218 Back

89   Q 220 Back

90   Ibid Back

91   Q 231 Back

92   Q 225 Back

93   Ev 163 Back

94   Q 115 Back

95   Defence Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2006-07, UK operations in Afghanistan, HC 408, para 45 Back

96   Ibid, para 46 (Q 270) Back

97   General Dan McNeill, cited in The Daily Telegraph, "NATO general frustrated by block on use of troops", 3 March 2008 Back

98   Q 220 Back

99   Q 68 Back

100   Ibid Back

101   Q 69 Back

102   Q 185 Back

103   Q 70 Back

104   Q 186 Back

105   Ibid Back

106   Q 188 Back

107   Q 237 Back

108   Q 218 Back

109   Ibid Back

110   Q 224 Back

111   James Pardew and Christopher Bennett, "NATO's evolving operations", NATO Review, Spring 2006 Back

112   Ev 163 Back

113   Ibid Back

114   Q 220 Back

115   Q 228 Back

116   Q 227 Back

117   Q 233 Back

118   Q 218 Back

119   Ev 111 Back

120   Q 224 Back

121   Ev 154 Back

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