Future of NATO could be in jeopardy if US goes it alone in Afghanistan

Contributed by editor on Feb 26, 2009 - 12:00 AM

Howard's Way.... a weekly
column from the Rt. Hon. Michael Howard QC. MP. 

26 February 2009


I recently attended a conference in Prague on the future of NATO. It
was a very timely gathering.

NATO is 60 years old this year and in April a grand summit will be held
to mark the anniversary. But although the alliance has many achievements
to its credit all is not well. Indeed there are some who question its
very future.

At the heart of the doubts lies the campaign in Afghanistan. The reason
for this conflict is clear. It was in Afghanistan that the attack on the
twin towers in New York was planned. It was in Afghanistan, when it was
controlled by the Taliban, that Osama bin Laden was given a safe haven
from which to plan and organise his attacks on the West. So it really is
important, for the West as a whole that this is not allowed to happen

But not all NATO members are pulling their weight in Afghanistan. Some –
the US, the UK, the Canadians, the Dutch and the Danes – are shouldering
much more than their fair share of the burden. Too many other countries,
even if their troops are present, are subject to all kinds of caveats
which call their usefulness into question.

Not long ago an American captain was wounded in action. The
responsibility for evacuating him from the field of battle to a place
where he could receive medical treatment was entrusted to Spanish
forces. They had to obtain permission from Madrid to undertake the
mission. When that permission had been given it was decided that the
place where the captain lay wounded was too dangerous for the Spanish
helicopters to land. So he had to be taken on a truck to a safer place
from which, eventually, he was lifted out. As a result his leg had to be

The Americans are very long suffering. Imagine the outcry here if a
similar thing had happened to one of our soldiers. But there are signs
that even their patience is wearing thin. Voices are beginning to be
heard in Washington suggesting that the operation in Afghanistan might
be more successful if the US did things on their own, other than through

That could spell the end for the alliance and we would all be weaker as
a result. So a clarion call for action is needed. I hope it comes – and
is heeded at the summit in April.