The World from Berlin What Did NATO Decide?

The NATO summit in Riga ended on Wednesday. But what was accomplished? Some would say, not much.

A Canadian soldier patrols in southern Afghanistan.

A Canadian soldier patrols in southern Afghanistan.

The vultures were circling prior to this week's NATO summit in Riga, Latvia. Many pundits were predicting that if the alliance couldn't come together on a successful strategy for Afghanistan, it would lose all relevance. Others saw a rupture developing between those countries whose soldiers operate in the relative safety of northern Afghanistan and those whose soldiers continue dying in the violent south.

And what happened? Nothing much it seems. Sure there was a lofty closing statement complete with noble goals for the future of Afghanistan. But commentators on Thursday still aren't sure what they are.

Contrary to expectations that "debates about the military and security situation" of Afghanistan will dominate the NATO-summit, it did not succeed to "go beyond the symbolic", the center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports. "It was widely agreed that the problems in Afghanistan cannot be solved exclusively through the NATO military mission", the paper says -- and then suggests that NATO-troops must "combine civic reconstruction with the military element." Though Germany reasserted its insistence that the Bundeswehr remain in the relatively peaceful north of Afghanistan -- a position which earned German Chancellor Angela Merkel scathing pre-summit criticism from her NATO allies -- the FAZ isn't so sure. "It remains to be seen," the paper writes, whether German involvement has reached its limit."

The Financial Times Deutschland is not in the mood to look to the future in Afghanistan -- its commentator on Thursday is just confused. "If clarity ever existed [about the goals] in Afghanistan, it has disappeared," the paper writes. "The security continues to deteriorate, the reconstruction has slowed down and in the meantime many Afghans see the liberators as occupiers," the paper writes. The outlook is gloomy: "Afghanistan is not Iraq but could develop similarly." Even worse, the paper argues, NATO seems to be ignoring the deterioration. "Instead of gaining clarity about the purpose, goals and strategy of the international mission, NATO instead argues about whether or not German should fight in the dangerous south."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung bemoans that nothing really was solved and that the political "caveats" limiting some NATO countries' military involvement "remain controversial." The paper says even Taliban leaders understood that the debate in Riga was "not about the future of Afghanistan but about the future of the various interests of the nations involved in Afghanistan." And what about those interests? Germany, the paper feels, should not stick to its position of keeping its soldiers in the relatively safe north. It's time for new caveats -- those that would allow the Bundeswehr to help out its allies in the south should the need arise.

-- Fanny Facsar, 12:30 p.m. CET


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