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Bush Attends NATO Summit in Latvia

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Ivo H. Daalder
Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution/Fmr. Director for European Affairs, National Security Council
Tuesday, November 28, 2006; 11:00 AM

Ivo H. Daalder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former director for European Affairs on the National Security Council, was online Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss President Bush's visit to Latvia for the NATO summit, where he is seeking to increase troop support in Afghanistan.

Bush to Pursue Fresh NATO Commitments, ( Post, Nov. 28)

The transcript follows.

Daalder is co-author of "Winning Ugly: NATO's War to Save Kosovo" (with Michael O'Hanlon) and other books on foreign policy. Read more of his commentary and analysis on NATO.

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Ivo H. Daalder: Good morning. It's my pleasure to be here this hour to discuss the issues surrounding the NATO summit, which is getting started around now in Riga, Latvia. I'm looking forward to your questions, and a good discussion this hour.

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Vienna, Austria: Good Morning Mr. Daalder,

Don't you think, that the U.S. expansive proposals for global partnership (with S. Korea, Japan, Australia) are more likely to lead to NATO's demise then its renewal?

And my second question:Should NATO move away from decision-making by unanimity and accept "coalitions of the willing" as a model for the future?

Thank you.

Ivo H. Daalder: As one of those (along with my colleague Jim Goldgeier of the Council on Foreign Relations) who has been pushing for greater NATO ties with countries beyond Europe, I can only applaud the effort to establish a global partnership with countries like Japan, Australia, and South Korea (and, I would add, any other democracies that share the values of the NATO members). Ours is a globalized world, in which developments almost anywhere can have devastating consequences everywhere. In such a world, confining our defense to national borders or within regional structures makes little sense. The reality is, NATO has understood this already -- which is why it is in Afghanistan, why it seeks to help the African Union in Sudan, why it offers assistance to deal with natural disasters from Aceh to Kashmir to New Orleans. NATO has gone global already in fact; now it needs ties to other countries who can help in that effort. And ultimately it needs to open its membership doors to those countries as well. For more detail on how and why this is the case, I'd refer you to an article Jim and I wrote for the September 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs

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Washington, D.C.: What is the approximate ratio of NATO/U.S. troops in Afghanistan now? Could you clarify why NATO is more involved in Afghanistan than Iraq? Thank you.

Ivo H. Daalder: There are currently about 33,000 troops in the NATO mission in Afghanistan, about one-third of which are American. (An additional 8,000 or so US troops continue to operate outside of NATO command, primarily in counter-terrorism operations).

The reason why NATO is far more involved in Afghanistan than it is Iraq is simple -- many NATO countries did not approve of the war when it began. Not so Afghanistan. After the 9/11 attacks, the Alliance actually invoked its collective defense provisions -- the very first time it did so in its history. The Bush administration decided that it wanted to fight this war largely on its own (with token involvement of some close allies), and so it rejected the offer of a NATO role. Even when the Taliban was toppled, the administration was leery of too much NATO involvement and opted to give it a stabilizing role focused on Kabul alone. Over time, it has become clear that the effort to stabilize Afghanistan requires many more troops than the US has been able to supply, and the role of NATO has expanded accordingly. Last month, the US even put the bulk of its forces in the country under NATO command. This is now a NATO operation and responsibility in a way that Iraq never was nor ever will be.

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Alexandria, Va.: How has the NATO alliance changed since the end of the Cold War? Wasn't it originally formed to counter the Warsaw Pact/Eastern bloc countries? What does it see as it's primary role today--to be a Western block of sorts to deal with international conflict?

Ivo H. Daalder: Thank you for your question. The Alliance was originally formed, back in 1949, to reassure the west European countries that the United States would stand behind them as it confronted a rising threat from Soviet communism in the East. It was that reassurance that allowed the Europeans to rebuild after a devastating series of world wars, and to emerge within a quarter century as an economic powerhouse in the world, one in which freedom and liberty thrived. The strength of the West -- in military, economic, and political terms -- ultimately helped convince the East that it was in a losing competition for power and influence, and so the cold war ended.

Some thought at the time that NATO would whither as the threat disappeared. But the Alliance has found new purpose and new life ... first by helping to extend the stability, prosperity, and liberty that west Europeans long enjoyed to the East, then by defeating the forces of hatred and fear in the Balkans, and now by helping people in Afghanistan and elsewhere to stand on their own two feet. None of this has been an easy process, but by any historical measure it has been an amazingly successful transformation, that will surely continue in the years ahead.

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Arlington, Va.: We hear a lot about domestic support (or lack thereof) for the war in Iraq in places like Britain and Italy. Is the war in Afghanistan generally much less controversial? It seems that way at least in the U.S.

Ivo H. Daalder: This is an important question. Thank you. I've spent the last three months in Europe (in fact, I'm coming to you from Italy as we speak), and I've been struck how controversial the European involvement in Afghanistan still is. Governments are, in the main, foresquare behind the operation. (This contrasts with Iraq, where even the governments that were supportive of the operation are all pulling their troops out. Italy has almost completed its troop withdrawal; Poland has announced it will be down to zero troops by the end of next year; and Britain announced that it will pull out "thousands" of troops next year as well).

On the street, however, Afghanistan is still highly controversial. Part of the reason is that any operation in which the US is involved is controversial in Europe. Distrust of Washington -- and the Bush administration's true motives -- is exceedingly high everywhere. Part of the reason, too, is that Afghanistan is turning into a very dangerous mission. Nearly every NATO country has suffered casualties in the fighting -- with Canada, Holland, and Britain bearing the brunt, as their forces are doing most of the fighting along with the American troops down south. And then there is the belief that this is a mission impossible -- that even with more troops (which few Europeans have or are willing to deploy) and with more money and goodwill, the chances of stabilizing a country that has suffered a quarter century of conflict and that still ranks about 10th from the bottom in terms of global living standards are vanishingly small. All of which means that it is not all that likely that we'll see the European governments make the kind of troop and financial commitment that many experts belief will be necessary to give this operation a chance to succeed.

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Washington, D.C.: How does it work when U.S. troops in Afghanistan are under NATO command? Are NATO commanders composed of a rotation of officers from different member nations? And this may be an obvious one, but how is the language barrier overcome if troops from different countries are in the same unit? Thanks for clearing this up.

Ivo H. Daalder: Thanks for your question. NATO forces are ultimately under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR), who has always been a U.S. General. But the force commander in the field rotates among contributing nations. Currently, the Brits are in charge, and the US forces in Afghanistan that are part of the NATO operation now report to him.

The working language for NATO operations is English, which solves much of the communication problems. Of course radios need to be able to talk to each other (which hasn't always) been the case in Afghanistan), and within national units the day-to-day language will be their native tongue.

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California: Thanks for the discussion:

Without financial incentives, would anyone other than the U.S. be in Afghanistan? Is the term "coalition of the willing" more akin to a coalition of the bribed and financially coerced?

Ivo H. Daalder: Thanks, CA, for your question. In the NATO operation in Afghanistan, countries committing troops are doing so on their own dime. Every Dutch soldier deployed is payed from the Dutch defense budget, as is the case for the Canadians, the Brits, the Germans and others. Indeed, there are a dozen or so non-NATO countries contributing to the operation -- and all are paying their own way. This is way working with others is the best way for the US to share the burden; while going it alone (or, worse, having to underwrite troop and other contributions as has been the case in Iraq) is awfully expensive.

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Ottawa, Canada: Would you agree the when President Bush linked Afghanistan and Iraq in his "war on terror" it became nearly impossible for European allies to send combat troops to Afghanistan?

Ivo H. Daalder: Thanks, Ottawa, for that question. I would agree that diverting resources and attention from Afghanistan to Iraq may turn out to have been the biggest strategic mistake this administration has made -- making success in Afghanistan that much less likely and making a mess in Iraq that much more likely. Instead of one Afghanistan, which harbored terrorists and posed a threat to the world, we may now have two.

But Afghanistan is very much linked to our fight against terrorism, and the European governments (as well as your own), very much understand that. That's why they were prepared to be a part of any military operation there from the start. That's why many of them sent troops as part of the war to topple the Taliban. And that's why they are contributing troops there today. Now, countries can surely do more; and many of those who have sent troops could allow them to engage in combat (which some governments have refused). As I mentioned earlier, there is some reluctance to do more in Afghanistan because of Iraq and Bush's foreign policy mistakes more generally. But so far, Europe remains committed to this operation, even if it (and the US) could and should do more.

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Bucharest, Romania: What do you think about the idea of a potential implication of NATO in energy security issues? This is an idea highly promoted by the president of Romania, Traian Basescu that intends to propose at the Riga Summit an implication of NATO in the securitization of energy routes (air,sea,land)to Europe, in order to protect the in-put of energy flow- a crucial aspect that affects, in his assessment, the energetic security of all NATO members and beyond. All in all the basic idea is that of implicating NATO in ensuring the security of vital energy infrastructure by land and sea, including the safety of port facilities. Personally , I think that this is a very risky and a very sensitive proposition

Ivo H. Daalder: Thank you for your question. European countries are becoming increasingly reliant on Russian gas for their energy security, and this is naturally a topic that many NATO countries believe the alliance needs to discuss. Already, we are seeing tensions among NATO countries over this issue (among Germany and Poland, for example), and I do believe that it is dangerous for Europe to become over-reliant on energy supplies from a country like Russia, which has shown a willingness to use the dependence of others on its supplies to its own strategic and political ends.

But I agree with you that any thought of NATO taking on a military role in securing supplies is dangerous folly. In the end, these are political and economic issues (best addressed through a diversification of supply), not military ones.

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School of International Service, AU: Mr. Daalder,

What is the current state of NATO expansion, especially in light of Russia's recent attitude toward Georgia? Do you believe NATO will be expanded to Ukraine and then into the Caucuses? Is discussing expansion on this meeting's agenda?

Thank you.

Ivo H. Daalder: Thank you for reminding us of a critical issue on the NATO agenda. For more than a decade, NATO summits have been about enlargement -- about how the prospect and actual accession of east European countries into NATO can help create a Europe that is peaceful, undivided and democratic. This will be the first summit in nearly a decade in which the question of enlargement will be discussed but without any action towards further expansion being taken. The political troubles in Ukraine make talk of early accession, or even beginning down that road, premature. The same for Georgia, where the conflict with Russia makes this a very difficult time to begin the accession process. I believe NATO will continue the enlargement process, but at a reduced rate than has been the norm.

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Falls Church, Va.: Could you comment a bit on the internal, behind-the-scenes politics of the NATO summit? How do the leaders of the key nations relate to each other and how important will these relationships be in forming the outcome of the summit?

Ivo H. Daalder: Thank you for this question. The internal politics at this summit will be different than the past, because some of the key leaders gathering in Riga are political has beens. Tony Blair has been disavowed by his own Labour party, and will step down next year. Jacques Chirac is leaving office next May, and France has turned its attention to the race to succeed him. George Bush has just suffered the biggest political shellacking of his career -- and his mind is already on the next stop on this trip, his meeting with Iraqi PM Maliki. Only Angela Merkel has a bright political future -- but she must surely be wondering with whom she can now work to advance NATO's agenda.

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Ashburn, Va.: Following up on your comment that Iraq will never be a NATO operation...As things stand now, the Iraq situation is at least as big a threat to the West as Afghanistan especially considering the all important oil that comes from the region. Why would we not want to broaden NATO involvement and why would NATO not want to jump at the chance to stabilize that vital region?

Ivo H. Daalder: Thanks, Ashburn, for a very good question. Iraq certainly is a major threat to stability in the Middle East -- and thus to the security of Europe. So why not help out and try to deal with that threat? The answer is two-fold. First, for quite some time, the Bush administration simply wasn't interested in Europe's help. (Remember Rice saying that we would forgive Russia, ignore Germany, and punish France -- not exactly the best way to invite friends.) Second, it isn't at all clear that Europe can do anything that would help improve the situation in Iraq. Things are bad in Iraq, and they're getting worse. The internal dynamic there is driving the conflict, and I'm afraid no external intervention is likely to change that fact for some time. So, yes, what is happening in Iraq poses a threat. But there isn't anything the Europeans can do about it to make it better.

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Arlington, Va.: What, if anything, will President Bush have to concede in order to get more NATO troops in Afghanistan?

Ivo H. Daalder: A very good question, Arlington. I don't think the issue is one of concession by Bush. The issue is demonstrating a commitment to doing everything we can to make Afghanistan a success. Iraq has made that difficult, if not impossible, but I would nevertheless want to see him try. One reason why I favor beginning to withdraw US troops from Iraq is that I don't think they're doing much good anymore over there (nor are they preventing much that's very bad either). But the other reason is that I do think more troops in Afghanistan can make a difference -- and I would like to see us redeploy troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. It's by making that kind of commitment that Bush may be able to persuade the Europeans to do more as well.

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Ivo H. Daalder: Well, my hour is up. I've enjoyed your excellent questions and the opportunity to try to shed some light on the many important issues that you have raised. Thank you.

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