NATO's Lisbon meeting agenda: Afghan withdrawal and emerging threats
A NATO meeting in Lisbon Friday will redefine the organization for 21st century threats. But Afghanistan will also be a focus as Karzai has stepped up criticism of NATO.
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But at the same time doubt is developing over whether the 2014 goal will be met. All eyes will be on President Obama when the leaders discuss Afghanistan on Saturday for hints of any wavering in US intentions. Administration officials say Obama is sticking by his plan to begin a “conditions-based” drawdown of US combat forces in July 2011, but some officials (in particular at the Pentagon) now expect the drawdown to be light – some say symbolic – at the outset.Skip to next paragraph
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Suggestions that the 2014 date is not set in stone are also surfacing. Mr. Sedwill, NATO's Afghanistan representative, said Wednesday that while “the balance of the mission would have shifted” by the end of 2014, some areas of Afghanistan may still require a NATO military presence into 2015.
The Afghanistan war may be a separate item on the summit’s agenda, but the NATO mission there will heavily influence the discussion of the alliance’s new “strategic concept” that leaders are set to approve.
What's the concept?
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says Afghanistan has taught both “how to” and “how not to” lessons for future alliance interventions. For one thing, he says that the training of local security forces must be an integral part of any operation from the beginning. In a speech last month, Mr. Rasmussen noted that NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan only got going in 2008. “Waiting that long was a mistake,” he said, suggesting that it put off when “we can go home.”
Another lesson of Afghanistan, Rasmussen says, is that – unlike the conventional military conflict NATO was envisioned to deter, or eventually fight – the 21st century’s threats will rarely if ever be addressed by military intervention alone. That will mean more focus on humanitarian and civilian-led development missions in places that are at risk of harboring international terrorist threats.
Adapting a 20th century alliance to 21st century threats will mean a stronger focus on emerging threats – like cyber attacks on the alliance members’ financial system, or defending against the growing threat of ballistic missiles – and less dependence on traditional military structures. NATO leaders are expected to enshrine these concepts in their new vision, for example by approving the deployment of a missile defense system to protect member countries.
The new concept will also mean trimming back a bureaucracy that has expanded to 14 agencies and a command structure with more than 13,000 employees and numerous headquarters. Following leaders’ edicts for a more streamlined and efficient organization with better coordination of members’ capabilities, NATO officials are proposing a cut of nearly 4,000 command structure employees and the number of agencies down to three.
In the interest of getting the over-all concept approved, however, NATO is only offering a “generic model” for its own bureaucratic reform and is not yet specifying which headquarters and which employees would be lost.
As countries like the US that are currently trying to rein in defense spending know, a likely way to kill a reform proposal is to specify who will bear the brunt of “streamlining” and cutbacks.