In The Media

After Afghanistan, how will we fight the next multination war?  

by Stephen Saideman

The Globe and Mail
January 17, 2014

Winston Churchill once said that “There is at least one thing worse than fighting with allies – and that is fighting without them.” His situation, Britain alone facing the Axis powers after the summer of 1940, was an extreme one, but the quote illustrates the paradoxes that come with waging war while in an alliance. As 2014 seems to be the year that we look back and ponder what the Afghanistan war means for the future, the question becomes: what of NATO?

For everyone who participated, the experience was profoundly frustrating. As always, there was an uneven sharing of the burden. Canada used to be criticized for not spending enough of its gross domestic product on its military compared to many other countries. In Afghanistan, the burden-sharing problem was one of of blood, and, this time, Canada, along with several other countries, bore a disproportionate share of the burden. So, it is not surprising that there are many in Canada and in the other burden bearers (Denmark, Great Britain, Netherlands, U.S.) who are reluctant to do anything like this again. On the other hand, those that got the most criticism for not doing enough (Germany, Italy, Spain, etc.) feel as if they sacrificed a lot, losing significant numbers of soldiers but received no credit for it abroad and much criticism at home.

So, can we expect things to change the next time? To be clear, there will be a next time. Just as Kosovo created similarly sour sentiments about future NATO operations, Afghanistan may create a short period of reluctance followed by more NATO efforts. The reality is simple – most countries cannot fight alone and the one that can, the United States, has learned in Iraq that going alone is quite difficult. Moreover, the Iraq example serves another lesson – that coalitions of the willing have many of the same problems as NATO and other formal alliances but with fewer benefits. Just as there were contingents deployed in Afghanistan under the NATO banner that refused to do certain things, the U.S. found that members of the coalition of the willing in Iraq also had limitations on what they were allowed to do.

Given the challenges of Afghanistan, can we expect NATO to reform and eliminate the caveats and other restrictions that get in the way of military co-operation and more even burden-sharing? No. NATO’s institutions and those of its members are rather stubborn and are unlikely to change now or anytime in the future. Specifically, NATO’s Article V, which is the heart of the alliance – “an attack upon one is considered an attack upon all” – includes an opt-out clause – each country is to respond as each deems necessary. That clause will remain precisely because NATO decisions require consensus: all must agree not to veto a decision. And one can only get consensus if countries have the ability to opt out of things that they are unwilling to do.

Which leads us to the second set of institutions – the ones that vary across the democratic members of the alliance. There is a basic difference between coalition governments and everyone else. In a coalition government, the various parties in cabinet must negotiate to agree to participate in overseas deployments. In these negotiations, the less enthusiastic parties will make demands of the more enthusiastic parties, and these conditions become restrictions upon the mission. Germany was not alone in this process, as coalition politics shaped the performance of many countries in Afghanistan and later over Libya. For other kinds of democracies, these decisions about whether to deploy and whether to impose conditions on the troops are largely in the hands of the presidents and prime ministers who have more latitude. These individuals may choose to restrict what their troops can do, as president Chirac chose, or they can choose to grant significant discretion, as president Sarkozy decided.

The basic reality is this: democracies do not give up control of their troops when they send them abroad to participate in multilateral military operations. Doing so would be a huge breach in civilian control of the military, a fundamental component of modern democracy. Therefore, we cannot expect countries to change how they manage their militaries, even if such management led to underperformance in Afghanistan.

The reality is that any future military efforts will face the same kinds of challenges as NATO faced in Afghanistan. But NATO is not going away, as the alternatives have proven to be even worse. Coalitions of the willing have less legitimacy and much less of the history of common doctrine, interoperability and exercises that NATO has. To paraphrase Churchill, NATO is the worst form of multilateral military co-operation except for all of the others.

Stephen Saideman is Paterson Chair in International Affairs, CDFAI fellow and co-author of NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTERS
 
SEARCH
PODCAST

An Update on the NAFTA Renegotiations

May 21, 2018


On today's Global Exchange Podcast, we touch base with CGAI's North American trade experts in light of a busy week on the NAFTA file in Washington. After months of hard-pressed negotiations, and 6 weeks of 'perpetual' discussions in Washington, the deal has reached its next turning point, with Congressional leadership signalling that they'd need a new deal by May 17th in order to have it passed before U.S. mid-term elections in the Fall. With no deal in sight, and the Congressional deadline now in the rear-view mirror, we sit down with Sarah Goldfeder, Laura Dawson, and Eric Miller to ask where we go from here.


IN THE MEDIA

Between Trump, Iran and North Korea, Canada’s G7 has a high potential for chaos

by Chris Hall (feat. James Trottier & Colin Robertson), CBC News, May 18, 2018

The struggle Trudeau could face if Kinder Morgan walks away from Trans Mountain

by Robert Tuttle & Michael Bellusci (feat. Dennis McConaghy), Bloomberg News, May 18, 2018

Canada 'a laughing stock': Experts react to Trans Mountain indemnity

by April Fong (feat. Dennis McConaghy), BNN Bloomberg, May 18, 2018

AUDIO: NAFTA update

with Danielle Smith (feat. Sarah Goldfeder), Global News Radio, May 18, 2018

VIDEO: NAFTA Deadline Day (@ 3:00)

with Don Martin (feat. John Weekes), CTV Power Play, May 17, 2018

VIDEO: Deal or no deal on NAFTA: Canada and U.S. send mixed messages

with Rosemary Barton (feat. Colin Robertson), CBC The National, May 17, 2018

Trump’s 'submission' strategy is not working so expect NAFTA talks to drag on

by Kevin Carmichael (Feat. Eric Miller), Financial Post, May 17, 2018

Backstop deal may be last hope for TransMountain pipeline, says former oil executive

by CBC News (feat. Dennis McConaghy), CBC News, May 17, 2018

Stuck with limited oil export options, Liberals may regret B.C. tanker ban

by John Ivison (feat. Dennis McConaghy), National Post, May 17, 2018

Feds OK early start to construction of navy’s new supply ships

by Lee Berthiaume (feat. Dave Perry), The Canadian Press, May 17, 2018


LATEST TWEETS

HEAD OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 421-7th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 4K9

 

OTTAWA OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6

 

Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: contact@cgai.ca
Web: cgai.ca

 

Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.

 

© 2002-2018 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001

 


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email