Thursday, April 24, 2008

NATO Reform, for Canada's sake

Time magazine ran a story this week focusing on Canada’s experience in the war in Afghanistan. It’s hardly a revelation (to our class anyway) that Canadian forces have experienced the highest death rate of any ISAF participant. However, it’s somewhat more alarming that with 82 dead out of a force of 2,500, Canada has had a higher percentage of its troops KIA in Afghanistan than the US in Iraq.

Such a high toll in Canadian lives and mounting domestic opposition have driven the Canadian Parliament to demand 1,000 NATO reinforcements as well as a shift in the duty of Canadian ISAF troops away from combat operations. In return they have guaranteed a Canadian presence in Afghanistan through 2011.

Ranked #14 in the world for net military expenditures, it’s not unreasonable to expect Canada to make a significant contribution to NATO missions. What is unreasonable is letting other, more powerful NATO allies off the hook. The major coalition combatants in Afghanistan are the US, UK, Denmark (!) and the Netherlands.

Admittedly, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, etc… do have sizeable deployments in Afghanistan, but these forces are all severely hindered by their home governments in their ability to actually engage with the Taliban. So although it’s nice to have them around, they could be doing a lot more.

While it would be difficult for domestic political reasons for NATO to require all countries to share combat duties equally, there must be some mechanism to reward those nations that shoulder the burden. As Time suggests, “NATO rules should be rewritten to ensure that countries that invest disproportionate military and financial resources should have some of their costs subsidized by the alliance.”

Such a step would ensure that all alliance members continue to contribute to trans-Atlantic security as the NATO mission shifts to address post-Cold War threats.

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