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COMMENTARY: Rudd Taking NATO – Afghanistan Concerns To The Top

  • March 24th, 2008
  • Posted by 7thmin

rudd-abc.jpgThe Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, (picture) says he is going to the NATO summit next month to promote improvements in the allied deployment in Afghanistan.

He will see leaders of the European Union at Brussels on his way.


Australia has 1000 troops in Afghanistan under a NATO command structure, and since the election of Mr Rudd’s new Labor government last November, it has been demanding a more active role in decision-making.

The Defence Minister , Joel Fitzgibbon, has declared that progress with the war effort and civil reconstruction is “not good enough”.

“We lack common objectives; we lack an overall strategic and coherent plan”, he told Australian television, following a meeting with his Ministerial colleagues in the North Atlantic Alliance, in Lithuania last month. (See EUAustralia, “Demand on NATO for More Say”, 11.2.08; “More say on Afghanistan”, 18.2.08).

He said then that Alliance leaders had promised full consultation in the lead-up to the April summit.

Before this year it was rare to find Australian diplomatic or military officers present as observers, or interested in commenting on Afghanistan talks within NATO – and Ministerial visits occurred in “down time” when the top-level meetings weren’t on.

By attending at Defence Ministers’ meetings, and now a full summit of the allied Heads of Government, the new government has stepped up the level of engagement.

The troop commitment to Afghanistan is smaller than the larger European member countries in ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), but is concentrated in some of the more actively contested territory in the country’s South.

Mr Rudd is interested in adding to pressure on those European states, like France, Germany or Italy, to further increase their commitment – including the removal of restrictions on how and where their soldiers can be deployed.

“I want to be confident that NATO collectively and the European contributors to it have embarked upon a long-term strategy to success in Afghanistan and against fixed benchmarks”, he says.


The visit to Bucharest will be part of a seventeen-day journey by the Australian Prime Minister, to the United States, Europe, and China, from 27.3.08.

It will begin with consultation in Washington, with President George Bush and other leaders in government, and also at the United Nations in New York.

Mr Rudd is to see the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, during a stop at Brussels, 2-3.4.08, on a range of global issues including trade and climate change. It’ll be a timely agenda, following up on the recent EU summit, and its timetabling of action on the climate change problem, (see EUAustralia accompanying report, 24.3.08).


The following is an excerpt from the Prime Minister’s statement on the forthcoming mission:

“Consistent with the importance the Australian Government attaches to multilateral engagement, I will hold discussions at the United Nations in New York.

“In Brussels I will meet the President and senior members of the European Commission. My objective is to expand our relationship and cooperation with the Commission on global foreign policy challenges, the WTO Doha round of international trade talks, and climate change.

“In Bucharest, I will be attending a summit meeting of NATO Heads of Government which will decide on ways of improving the effectiveness of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) strategy and mission in Afghanistan.

“In the United Kingdom (4-8 April), I will meet Prime Minister Brown and other senior members of the Cabinet. I will hold meetings with the financial and broader business sectors and hold talks on climate change issues. I will be addressing the Confederation of British Industry and Australian Business on future growth sectors of the Australian economy.

“I have accepted Prime Minister Brown’s invitation also to attend a conference of the Progressive Governance Summit which will bring together around 15 national leaders from different countries …”

The final leg will be in China (9-12.4.08), taking in scheduled meetings with the President, Hu Jintao, and Premier, Wen Jiabao.

ISAF in Afghanistan, with 40 contributing states, operates under NATO command, though Australia and 13 other countries in that alliance are not members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.


Prime Minister, Australia; Visit to the United States of America, Europe and People’s Republic of China, media release, 4.3.08., (24.3.08).

ABC Television (Australia), Lateline, “Rudd to assess long-term NATO strategy in Afghanistan”, 20.3.08.