Afghanistan as NATO's Test Case

NATO insists that Afghanistan is its No. 1 priority, yet it hasn't acted that way. For months, it's been promising more peacekeeping troops, so that it can expand its presence beyond the cities of Kabul and Kunduz, and help secure the country in advance of its first direct presidential election in September.

But the military alliance, in charge of the 6,000-plus troops of the International Security Assistance Force there hasn't delivered, even though the country has become more volatile. The alliance is flirting with failure by not fulfilling its promises, the NATO secretary-general said last month.

NATO has the opportunity to align vision with action at its summit next week. The future of Afghanistan is at stake, but so is the meaning and usefulness of the alliance, originally set up to defend Western Europe against a Soviet-led invasion.

Since the cold war, NATO has tried to adjust to a different world order. First, it recognized that protecting its interests can mean having to deploy beyond Europe. Second, it understood that the only way to successfully execute out-of-area deployments is to restructure its forces and capabilities.

But Afghanistan, where these two goals come together for the first time, shows a wide gap between theory and practice. Not only has NATO deployed too few troops, it has failed to do the necessary restructuring to support them - witness Germany's reliance on Ukrainian aircraft to transport its soldiers to Afghanistan.

The danger of terrorism as a worldwide threat should motivate NATO to live up to its commitments, but so should the promise of its defeat. In Afghanistan, 4 million people have registered to vote - about half of the eligible population. Thirty-six percent of those registered are women, a significant percentage for that part of the world. They are worth protecting with more troops and equipment.

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