NATO and Afghanistan
Robert Gates recently criticized NATO for welshing on their commitments to Afghanistan.
"I am not ready to let NATO off the hook in Afghanistan at this point," Gates told the House Armed Services Committee. Ticking off a list of vital requirements -- about 3,500 more military trainers, 20 helicopters, and three infantry battalions -- Gates voiced "frustration" at "our allies not being able to step up to the plate."
That set of a storm of outrage in European capitals. In an article soon to be available to non-subscribers of the Wall Street Journal Gates repeats the accusation unabashedly, but in less strident tones.
In his speech, Mr. Gates praised NATO allies for their contributions in Afghanistan ... but he said pointedly that more effort is needed and the alliance must find a way to win the fight against a resurgent Taliban.
"In NATO, some allies ought not have the luxury of opting only for stability and civilian operations, forcing other allies to bear a disproportionate share of the fighting and the dying," Mr. Gates said. He named no individual countries, but U.S. officials have been pressing Germany to do more.
NATO, through its International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, is in charge of the military mission in Afghanistan, although the top commander is an American, Army Gen. Daniel McNeill, and the U.S. is the biggest provider of troops. Of the 42,000 total ISAF troops, about 14,000 are American. The U.S. has another 13,000 separately hunting terrorists and training Afghan forces.
The code word Gates used is the warning that NATO would become a 'two-tier alliance', that is to say one consisting of Free Riders piggybacking on those who are willing to do the Lifting.
"We must not -- we cannot -- become a two-tiered alliance of those willing to fight and those who are not," Mr. Gates told the Munich Conference on Security Policy, where Afghanistan was a central topic. "Such a development, with all its implications for collective security, would effectively destroy the alliance." ... A central theme of Mr. Gates's speech was his assertion that al Qaeda extremists, either in Afghanistan or elsewhere, pose a greater threat to Europe than many Europeans realize.
The only way to discourage Free Riding is to ensure only those who contribute can capture the benefits. In the context of NATO the only way that could be accomplished would be to limit intelligence distribution, for example, to the Lifters. The Free Riders would find their access expired. But this would effectively split the alliance. Moreover it would create vulnerable spots in Europe -- which is objectively a strategic theater -- which an enemy could attack.
But if the current situation continues, some form of Pay-As-You-Go security scheme in NATO may have to be implemented.