US National Security Adviser James L. Jones on Afghanistan: 'We Will Not Solve the Problem with Troops Alone'

US National Security Adviser James L. Jones talks to SPIEGEL about his skepticism regarding calls for more US troops to be sent to Afghanistan, the chances of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands and President Barack Obama's leadership style.

US military personnel attached to ISAF are seen at Orgun-E Camp, Afghanistan in this Nov. 5, 2009 photo. Zoom
REUTERS

US military personnel attached to ISAF are seen at Orgun-E Camp, Afghanistan in this Nov. 5, 2009 photo.

SPIEGEL: General Jones, it's now 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded. Has the world become a safer place?

James L. Jones: Tremendous accomplishments were made over a number of years to bring freedom and democracy to that portion of Europe that was left out of the drive. The events that took place 20 years ago meant for the whole of Europe much more peace and much more opportunity for the citizens that had lived on both sides of the wall.

SPIEGEL: But it was not yet the "end of history," as the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama and many others predicted. What is the gravest threat to the American homeland today?

Jones: I worry most about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in such a way that they could be acquired by non-governmental organizations, like terrorist groups, especially the radical groups that we know are trying to get these weapons. We're convinced that if they were to get them, they would use them. When a nation state has a nuclear weapon, it's a little bit easier to control the use of it, but for non-governmental groups it's much more difficult. We are obviously worried about North Korea and Iran, but the threat that's hardest to control is the non nation states, groups of individuals who could acquire such a weapon and what they would do.

SPIEGEL: Do you assume that some terrorist groups are close to that goal?

Jones: We're doing a good job nationally and internationally to make sure that we safeguard that eventuality from happening.

SPIEGEL: Is Pakistan the most dangerous place in the world, given that the Taliban and al-Qaida are increasing their sphere of influence?

Jones: Pakistan is certainly a point of strategic interest for us, for the alliance, and for much of the watching world because of the fact that they are nuclear -- they do have nuclear weapons, and they do have an ongoing insurgency.

SPIEGEL: Is it possible that the civilian government and the armed forces could lose control over these nuclear weapons?

Jones: It is something that we work on with the Pakistanis regularly. I've been assured that they're doing everything they can to make sure that these weapons are very tightly controlled and secured.

SPIEGEL: And you think the generals are assessing the situation realistically?

Jones: We are cooperating very closely. We hope that they are successful in combating their insurgencies because since 2006 this has become a real cancer on the border regions.

SPIEGEL: The Obama administration is reviewing the strategy for Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, is asking for additional troops.

Jones: Generals always ask for more troops. Take it from me.

SPIEGEL: You would know. You're also a general and you were in Afghanistan from 2003 to almost 2007 ...

Jones: ... and of course when I was there I asked for more troops. When we started in 2003, we had to develop a plan. So by definition, you have to ask for people.

SPIEGEL: And now you support General McChrystal's demand for 40,000 additional troops?

Jones: We are in the middle of a process with the president and all of his advisers in assessing the overall situation in Afghanistan. I believe we will not solve the problem with troops alone. The minimum number is important, of course. But there is no maximum number, however. And what's really important in Afghanistan is that with this new administration we insist on good governance, that it be coordinated with economic development and security, and that we have much, much better success at handing over responsibility for these three things to the Afghans.

SPIEGEL: To President Hamid Karzai, who has just been reelected after a controversial election?

Jones: To the Afghans. And we will put much more emphasis on battling corruption and putting competent and honest people in positions of authority. We will be working with our friends and allies to do that.

SPIEGEL: When do you expect a final decision on McChrystal's request?

Jones: It will be a decision made by all NATO members, not just the US president. As part of NATO we are one of 28 nations, and we are going to closely follow NATO's discussions of the McChrystal request. It's a NATO request of which the US will do a portion of it, but we think other countries will do their share as well.

SPIEGEL: What do you expect from the Germans?

Jones: I think that will be for Germany to decide. Germany is the third largest troop contributing nation and it has been at the forefront of developing the Afghan National Police, which is something that Germany can do better than us, because they have the training base and the culture for that kind of police training. In the end NATO will decide as a whole who will be responsible for particular contributions.

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National Security Adviser James L. Jones: "Generals always ask for more troops. Take it from me." Zoom
AFP

National Security Adviser James L. Jones: "Generals always ask for more troops. Take it from me."



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