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Demand On NATO For More Say

  • February 11th, 2008
  • Posted by EUEditor

fitzgibbon-joel-google-abc.jpgAustralia has demanded a change in relations with the NATO alliance so that it gets full consultations on the use of is troops in Afghanistan.

The Defence Minister in the new federal government, Joel Fitzgibbon, said he expected consultation would begin; following his return to Australia (12.2.08) from a meeting of Defence Ministers of countries contributing to the Afghanistan international force, held last week in Lithuania.


The gathering for the Afghanistan allies, both NATO members and non-NATO, also included the United Nations, European Union and World Bank, and was held in tandem with a NATO Defence Ministers meeting.

Thirty-seven countries contribute to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which now has 42 250 personnel, though the troops come under the command structure of the twenty-six member NATO alliance.

Mr Fitzgibbon has seized on the anomaly that under rules of the Alliance, only NATO member governments have access to the full portfolio of strategic information on any theatre.

When its Defence Ministers meet three times a year, representatives of the so-called “contact countries”, (Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea), aren’t invited; a matter he took up with the NATO Secretary General, Japp de Hoop Scheffer.


Today the Minister told ABC radio Australia’s 1000 troops in Afghanistan had been committed without adequate arrangements for consultation; and he reiterated complaints against some of the NATO countries for not increasing their military engagement there.

“I made it very clear that we’re disappointed that some NATO countries aren’t doing more and I made it just as clear that if Australia is to continue to make a contribution in Afghanistan, we expect a seat at the decision-making table …,” he said.

“A government can’t make informed decisions about whether to send our people to war and to lead them in the battlefield if it doesn’t have information about the strategy …

“I’m, frankly, very surprised and disappointed that the former government was making decisions to send our men and women to war and to keep them at war without having a seat at the decision-making table, basically doing so on a no-questions-asked basis …

“I had both a private commitment from the Secretary General of NATO that he’d do all he can to address the situation …”

The question of representation has been raised at other times, in EUAustralia Online; see BACKFILE, below.


In the meantime the American Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, has told a NATO security conference in Germany that the alliance cannot survive if it’s in two tiers: members willing to fight, and members not willing.

He said the Afghanistan campaign was tied in with Europe’s security because of an international threat from “violent Islamic extremism”.

He was adding to the pressure on some of the NATO countries, including France, Germany and Italy, to further extend their initial commitments to protect civil reconstruction work, by taking on bigger combat roles.


Last April, NATO spokespersons called the increase in Australia’s commitment a case of “backbone” the organisation was looking for, from member countries. See EUAustralia Online, “NATO Hails Afghanistan Commitment”, 11.4.07.

A few months later, when Defence Ministers met, and discussed Afghanistan, there was no Australian representation, prompting the following, from EUAustralia, “Commentary: Shoalwater Bay or Brussels”, 16.6.08 :-

“Australia There and Not There”.

“The World War One song, ‘Australia Will Be There’ might need some adjustment in 2007 if the structure of military policy is fully taken into account.

“As the allied effort is under NATO command, NATO Ministers have a say in the overall planning, which includes the planning for Afghanistan.

“Each time such meetings take place, the organisation confirms that Australia and the other “contact states” from the Afghan fighting — New Zealand, Japan and South Korea are not represented.

“There are assurances however that information is comprehensively shared and that regular consultation takes place.

“It is not the same as being there if important matters come up which might concern Australian interests, such as the question of “caveats” or restrictions on some of the friendly forces.

“(Australians would recall a famous incident at the Versailles conference, where the Australian Prime Minister, being at the table, and perceiving some slight from the United States, had to remind the gathering of the number of Australian war dead).

“The formal structures of NATO rule that the North Atlantic Council, the Ministers’ meeting, has to be confined to member countries.

“They do permit regular high-level councils of countries closer to the main focus of NATO’s remit in and adjacent to Europe, which enter into different forms of official partnership agreements with the alliance.

“Therefore, this week, Ministers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia were present for a gathering with the NATO Ministers; the ‘contact countries’ don’t have the same formal links.”


EUAustralia Online, “Australia Wants Change as Afghanistan Allies Meet” (6.2.08); “Visiting the Diggers and the Allies” (23.12.08); “NATO War Council on Afghanistan” (15.5.07); “NATO Heads Look at New Roles for Australia and ‘Contact’ Countries” (26.11.06); “Afghanistan: Action Role for Australians with NATO” (17.11.06).

Joel Fitzgibbon, Defence Minister (Australia), “Australia demands place at NATO table”, interview, Alexandra Kirk, “AM”, ABC, 12.2.08, (12.2.08).

NATO, “Defence Ministers discuss key challenges in Afghanistan and Kosovo”, 7-8.2.08., (12.2.08).

Picture: Australian Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon.