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NATO, “transforming itself”, turns up heat on Afghanistan

  • November 30th, 2006
  • Posted by EUEditor

riga-resize.jpgLee Duffield writes from the NATO summit media centre in Riga.

The communiqué isued by NATO’s 26 heads of government, or heads of state, at the end of the two days (28 and 29.11.06), is transparent enough, but here and there couched in fairly formal language.

Twenty six politicians and a thousand journalists

That writing habit could be the cause of such a media rush whenever these 26 meet, a driving journalistic urge to grasp and interpret the obscure and arcane; not to mention that NATO’s business, in the end, is war, or at least trying to avert war – which, tragically, always draws a crowd.

I counted 875 work stations in the media centre provided for journalists; together with the immense facilities for television that is a large-cscale installation, and for long periods nearly every desk was occupied.


There was actual political debate this time, not quite a simple anointing of pre-arranged decisions.

It centred on getting more forces for Afghanistan, the commitment there being acknowledged as NATO’s leading preoccupation at this time – in the communiqué, its “key priority”.

There had been pressure on some of the main powers – notably France, Germany, Italy and Spain – to relax their “caveats” on armed commitment in the country.

Especially, General James Jones, the senior commander, was hoping they would stop restricting their troops to certain allocated areas, making them more available to ISAF, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

He might need to call those troops in, if other allies came under pressure, fighting Taliban insurgents, especially in the South.

Forces based in the troubled Southern provinces include Americans, British, Canadians, Dutch , and the Australians.

A decision

In the event the General was able to say that the caveats most bothering him had ben “reduced or eliminated”, so that, over two-thirds of the 32000 troops under ISAF command are “more operational” than they had been a short while ago. The restricted areas remain, but now the troops can be moved out to help deal with emergencies – in military talk, in extremis.

NATO’s Secretary Geneal Jaap de Hoop Scheffen immediately pointed out that the commander of ISAF would almost always be the sole decider of when emergency conditions were on.

The build-up

Other extra personnel and materiel are being put into Afghanistan as a result of this summit gathering: a battalion of Polish soldiers to join the three US battalions making up a mobile force; more fighter aircraft and helicopters, and additional funding for civil reconstruction – an area NATO emphasises, pursuing its goals of stability and democracy for the country.

Other decisions

The much-foreshadowed invitation to the “contact” countries – Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea – to get closer in their relations with NATO, including their preparedness for military operations. We will hear more of this. For one thing Chinese journalists showed great interest in the idea of a Japanese- NATO connection.

Similar invitations at different levels to other groups of partner countries.

Special consideration for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia in their bids to join the alliance.

Changes in on-the-ground military affairs: much more emphasis on developing special forces and the NATO response force, in line with security needs that are more global than in the recent past; better joint air-lift capacity to go with it, using Herculels aircraft; and sophisticated anti-ballistic missile defences for ground forces, (a contract for stage one of same being ceremoniously signed with a transatlantic consortium, on the summit occasion).


The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is therefore moving towards a permanently more global identity, despite some hesitancy among those governments which put caveats on overseas expeditions, (no doubt with much support from among their voting citizens).

It has set this out in a statement now endorsed as its “Comprehensive Political Guidance”, a framework for the continued transfomatiion of this alliance over the coming ten to fifteen years.

The military coalition that lined up in 1948 against the Soviet Union and its allies, has seen some transformation already; several of those very Eastern European countries, the former Soviet republic of Latvia among them, now being part of the new NATO.

In times of securtity threats from insurgents, terrorists, or the destabilising influence of failed states, the 26 leaders have determined to be adaptable.


  • North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO); Riga Summit Declaration, isued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Riga on 29 November 2006; Riga 29.11.06; (2.12.06)
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO); Comprehensive Political Guidance: Endorsed by NATO Heads of State and Government on 29 November 2006; Riga, Latvia, 29.11.06;,htm (2.12.06)
  • Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and Allied Command Operations; Statement by General James L. Jones, Supreme Allied Military Commander Regarding the Outcome of the Riga Summit, Release Riga 28 Nov 2006; Riga 29.11.06

(This report is archived under EUAustralia, Commentary)