By Griffin W. Huschke, Mayme and Herb Frank Research Fellow
This week’s NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal will provide many interesting storylines, from Dmitri Medvedev’s inclusion on ballistic missile shield negotiations to improving alliance members’ infrastructure against cyber attacks. But it seems that NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan will once again be the primary focal point of the meetings, due to President Obama’s announcement of a new Afghanistan strategy that will keep ISAF troops in Afghanistan until December 2014. This new strategy, which has been hinted at for months, is a “phased four-year plan to wind down American and allied fighting in Afghanistan [which] will be presented at a NATO summit meeting in Lisbon later this week, the officials said. It will reflect the most concrete vision for transition in Afghanistan assembled by civilian and military officials since President Obama took office last year.”
Some believe, however, that this new strategy will cause a fissure in the transatlantic community. Pessimistic transatlantic scholars point to the lukewarm reaction of alliance members after the release of the Obama administration’s initial Afghanistan policy review, which was well before the financial crisis forced a prolonged period of budgetary cutbacks. As member states slash defense budgets, they are moving farther away from spending the suggested 2 percent of GDP on defense, making it more difficult to deploy troops. Other claim that because public opinion outside of the United States has long been opposed to continued involvement in Afghanistan, it will be difficult for member states to commit to Obama’s strategy in the current period of extreme political uncertainty.
The problem with arguments doubting NATO’s adoption of the 2014 withdrawal date is that member states have known for months about the administration’s plan. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has mentioned 2014 as the withdrawal date since summer, and was, unsurprisingly, immediately in favor of the administration’s new plan. The Secretary General’s statements, as well as rumblings from officials in ISAF countries, demonstrate that NATO members have been discussing the possibility of an extended stay in Afghanistan for some time. Even the increasingly mercurial Afghan President Hamid Karzai helped lay the groundwork for the new strategy, claiming at the UN in July that the 2014 date would best serve Afghan interests.
There is simply too much political and military integration in the transatlantic community for Obama’s plan to meet unexpected resistance at Lisbon this week. Statements by political officials have shown that the new strategy has been under discussion for months, and member states have likely agreed to the terms in private. The United States has worked well with NATO countries on ISAF deployments in the past, and inter-alliance military cooperation remains strong. While there is likely to be the requisite amount of grandstanding, politicking, and political concessions inherent in any international summit, the passage of this new deployment strategy is a good example of a functioning transatlantic community.