NATO has rarely succeeded in striking the right tone. In fact, the world's most important defense alliance has always come out on the shrill side -- musically speaking, at least.
For the ceremony marking the organization's establishment, in Washington on April 4, 1949, the organizers chose George Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So." And the ceremony to mark the acceptance of seven nations from the former Soviet bloc into NATO in 2004 was accompanied by the soundtrack to the film "Titanic."
With this track record, it can be counted as progress that music by Georges Bizet will be on the program when NATO leaders attend the ceremony to celebrate the alliance's 60th birthday in the German spa town of Baden-Baden on Friday. Barack Obama will be attending the event, which will be held in the city's famous Kurhaus building. The US president will be accompanied by the co-hosts, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and two dozen other heads of state and government.
The renowned German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter will perform extracts from Bizet's opera "Carmen," and the building's famous casino will remain closed for the duration of the event. At least this landmark NATO ceremony won't be accompanied by a musical faux pas, with the possible exception of the sad demise of the title character, a Gypsy woman who places her future in the hands of a fortune-teller and meets her death.
In the French city of Strasbourg, and across the Rhine River in the German town of Kehl and in Baden-Baden, there will be much talk of the pact's impressive achievements over the last six decades. There will be talk of the alliance's important role as a peacekeeper, both for the West and the rest of the world. And there will be talk of the historic achievement of having kept so many important countries in line during stormy periods, and of the formally successful expansion of NATO from its original 12 founding nations to include a group of 28 members by the end of this week, when Albania and Croatia are set to join the party as full members for the first time. These are all reasons to celebrate for an alliance that skeptics once claimed would not last longer than the 20-year term of the treaty signed by its original members. Indeed, the Washington Post wrote at the time that the ceremony was probably more impressive than the act of formation itself.
But all improvements aside, this year's summit is still unlikely to be completely free of dissonant tones. Behind the scenes, and beyond the feel-good photo ops and self-congratulatory eulogies, all signs point to trouble on the horizon. There will be fireworks between the "Old Europe" of the West and the "New Europe" of the East, and, despite all of Obama's efforts to remain open and willing to participate in consultations, between the dominant United States and the also-rans, i.e., the rest of NATO.
The alliance must be "relatively revolutionary" in seeking a new orientation, and it must adjust its strategy to confront new challenges, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a government statement on Thursday. Merkel also pointed out that the alliance will have to cooperate more effectively with civilian organizations in the future. "Germany owes a debt of gratitude to NATO and the solidarity of its allies," the chancellor said. With the exception of the far-left Left Party, everyone in the German parliament, the Bundestag, seemed to agree. The trans-Atlantic defense alliance has been a success story, as evidenced by the impressive number of candidates waiting in line for membership.
Nevertheless, the alliance faces an existential crisis that could tear it apart. This is not because NATO faces disbandment for reasons of irrelevance or idleness. In fact, the opposite is the case: NATO doesn't know what to do next, and it runs the risk of stretching itself beyond its capacity. Either it claims the role of the world's policeman for itself, or it will unintentionally slide into this function. And it will do so without sufficient finances, personnel or weapons -- not to mention a lack of acceptance by the population in most NATO members of the alliance's role as a global fire department.
Some praise the trans-Atlantic defense alliance for having "won" the Cold War. It is undeniable that NATO, in the years of its sharp ideological conflict with the Warsaw Pact states, did not fire a single shot, and that the mutual nuclear and conventional deterrent worked. Then, at the end of the 1980s, came the collapse of communism and, on Sept. 11, 2001, a terrorist strike against the heart of America -- and with it, the need to redefine the alliance.
Today, NATO is involved in several different military operations. It is waging a bitter war in Afghanistan and its soldiers are securing the peace in Kosovo, a new country that has not even been recognized by NATO members Spain and Greece. It is patrolling the Mediterranean in the search for terrorism suspects, it is helping to combat pirates off the Horn of Africa and it is training Iraqi security forces.
Should NATO really be doing more, as some of its military masterminds demand -- such as protecting the West's energy supply with armed force? Should it hunt down al-Qaida terrorists worldwide and take military action against serious human rights violations in places like Darfur as a subcontractor to the United Nations -- or perhaps even as a rival?
And how should NATO handle an increasingly self-confident, aggressive Russia -- by accepting Ukraine, with the Crimean port of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is still based today? By welcoming a gambler like Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who could trigger the alliance's obligation to come to the aid of one of its members by provoking Russia, and possibly force the West into a military conflict with Moscow? Where should NATO's borders be drawn -- geographically or conceptually?
The War in Afghanistan 'Can't Be Won Militarily'
BRUSSELS, NATO HEADQUARTERS, BOULEVARD LEOPOLD III. A large, ugly building on the outskirts of the city. Security is tight, in light of the constant fear of an attack. The building's interior houses a small city, complete with supermarket, cafés and banks, as if to say that anyone who enters the alliance headquarters should not have to leave again to satisfy the banal needs of everyday life. Long corridors lead to austere offices and sterile conference rooms.
The only art to be seen is outside the office of the secretary general: a watercolor of flowers, a photo from Afghanistan depicting a NATO soldier helping a sick person and a sculpture that is a copy of a Roman original in the Vatican Museum. The alliance has 5,200 civilian employees and an annual budget of about €2 billion ($2.7 billion). No fewer than 320 committees attend to the infrastructure of this bureaucratic Moloch, which includes managing the roughly 60,000 troops currently deployed on combat missions around the world.
The French, who withdrew from the military command structure 43 years ago, are currently demonstrating the extent to which jealousies are tied to the principle of proportionality. Now Paris, under President Nicolas Sarkozy (whose NATO nickname, in a reference to his celebrity wife, is the "Sultan of Bruni"), is returning to the fold in full force, and in the process is fiercely bargaining for every post. Skeptics say that even the position of NATO secretary general is consistently a search for the lowest common denominator. Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who has held the position since January 2004, is seen as one of these relatively weak compromise candidates. Long ridiculed as an unforgiving advocate of the Iraq war and as the "poodle" of former US President George W. Bush, he has since managed to adopt a more independent stance toward Washington.
In a conversation with SPIEGEL, Scheffer, who has just returned from Afghanistan, is surprisingly self-critical. The war in Afghanistan, he says, "can't be won militarily." Instead, he adds, the goal should be to capture the "hearts and minds of the people." According to Scheffer, "we must be careful to avoid civilian casualties while battling the insurgents," and to achieve this, cooperation with Iran is needed. The secretary general believes that NATO needs a new strategy. "Ten years ago, it took a tank division to impress a country. Today this can mean sitting down in front of a computer to launch a cyber attack or turning off the gas supply."
And should NATO take charge when these incidents occur? The secretary general raises his hands defensively. "No, not everywhere. Just where we can offer added value. NATO has neither the money nor the capacity to become a sort of globo-cop. But if Pakistan asks us for help, as it did after the earthquake in late 2005, should we say no? The same applies when our ships are patrolling in areas where pirates are up to no good. Taxpayers nowadays expect more from us than the defense of territory."
Scheffer says that he is proud to be able to say: "I have learned new things in my position." He is leaving his position in July, at 61. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, 56, is considered the favorite to succeed him.
The Obama team can be credited with generating a new sense of confidence in the alliance in the wake of the crippling Bush years, in which solidarity within NATO was systematically destroyed. Vice President Joe Biden has visited Brussels, as has Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But no one knows yet whether the new approach in Washington really represents a new direction or simply a tactical rapprochement. And despite all of NATO's self-adulation as an "instrument for preserving peace," some would like to see a critical review of the history of the alliance.
By the spring of 1947, the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union had cooled into the beginnings of the Cold War. Then-US President Harry S. Truman announced his doctrine, which called upon every nation to choose between democracy and communism in the future. But the defense pact that was later signed in Washington was not just directed against the socialist East, but also against the Germans, who were still perceived as a threat at the time. The first secretary general, Britain's Lord Ismay, said that NATO should "keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down."
The articles of the NATO charter, while making reference to the UN Charter, obligate members to "settle their international disputes by peaceful means" and prohibit NATO from engaging in wars of aggression. In the highly significant Article 5, an armed attack on a single member is defined as an attack on all members, and it obligates the remaining members to come to the aid of the member under attack. A new feature in the history of alliance systems is the economic and cultural cooperation the partners impose on one another to defend a free, democratic "way of life."
From its very beginnings, NATO has violated its principles when it saw fit to do so. Under the alliance's criteria, Portugal, under then-dictator Antonio Salazar, should never have been allowed to be one of the founding members, but Lisbon's strategic importance prevailed. The acceptance of Greece and Turkey, which are still at odds over the Cyprus issue today, was done primarily as a deterrent to Moscow. The first phase of NATO was completed with the accession of Germany on May 6, 1955. While the West cooperated with the West Germans to protect itself against its enemies, which also included East Germany, the East responded by forming the Warsaw Pact, barely two weeks after Bonn's acceptance into NATO.
The stabilization of the status quo -- in the form of the doctrine of "mutual assured destruction" achieved through both sides having nuclear weapons -- became the principal goal of the alliance. However this policy came at the cost of people risking their lives to fight for their rights on the other side of the Iron Curtain -- in East Berlin, in Budapest and, in 1968, in Prague. The major military blocs battled each other behind enemy lines with dirty secret operations, with the CIA and NATO deploying their "Gladio" agents to address the KGB's provocations. But live ammunition was only used in the proxy wars in which the ideological rivals engaged in what was then termed the Third World.
The United States and Europe grew apart for the first time in the days of the Vietnam War. West Germany, as a country bordering the Warsaw Pact, continued to benefit from NATO guarantees and, as global détente began to emerge, it was able to launch its new policy toward the East known as "Ostpolitik," or "change through rapprochement." The signing of the Helsinki Accords at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975 represented an important step toward breaking down the two blocs.
But one year later, when the Soviet Union began to deploy mobile SS20 mid-range missiles west of the Ural Mountains, the East-West conflict came to a head once again. Then-German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt warned against a strategic imbalance and urged the alliance to take retaliatory action, a request that was well-received in Washington and developed into the NATO Double-Track Decision and new rearmament efforts. This prompted hundreds of thousands of people in the peace movement to take to the streets.
It is still a matter of dispute today whether the policy of strength demonstrated with the Double-Track Decision forced the Warsaw Pact to its knees, or whether the Soviet bloc was simply doomed to fail because of its lack of economic flexibility.
The Warsaw Pact states collapsed like a house of cards. The Soviet Union disappeared from world history, not with a bang but with a resigned whisper.
As a rule, alliances also perish after they have won. Massive changes in the international order required either the disbandment of NATO or radical modification of its purpose: a redefinition of relations with Moscow and its tragic hero of change, Mikhail Gorbachev.
'One Cannot Rely on American Politicians'
MOSCOW, A PLAIN, SIX-STORY NEW BUILDING NEAR THE DOWNTOWN AREA. Tea with the Nobel Peace Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev. The images of his foreign policy triumphs cover the walls in the building occupied by his foundation: pictures from the disarmament summit in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik in 1986, and from the visits to Germany, when hundreds of thousands were caught up in a wave of "Gorbymania." But anyone who meets with Gorbachev today will not encounter a politician in retirement who is at peace with himself, but a man caught between melancholy and rage. He brought down the Berlin Wall, and he held out his hand to NATO in reconciliation. And now he sees the fruits of his life's work disappearing before his eyes.
It is happening domestically, as the freedoms the Russians acquired as a result of his glasnost policies are gradually being dismantled in the Putin era. And it is happening abroad, where his vision of a "common European home" has become a distant memory. Although he does not absolve his successors in office of all culpability, Gorbachev believes that leaders in the West were primarily responsible for undesirable developments. "Unfortunately," he says, "experience has shown that one cannot rely on American politicians."
Gorbachev, 78, is wearing a dark-gray turtleneck sweater under a charcoal suit, and for a moment he seems like a man attending his own political funeral. But then his rage and bitterness bubble to the surface. He lifts himself out of his chair, moving as quickly as a man his age can move. He reaches for a book, opens it and points agitatedly to one of the pages: "Here, this is the transcript of my meeting with (former Secretary of State) James Baker."
It was a warm winter day, February 9, 1990. There was a thaw in the weather, and Gorbachev vividly remembers every detail of those few hours. The American secretary of state was visiting Moscow, attending a meeting in the Kremlin's St. Catherine Hall to discuss German reunification. Gorbachev remembers being asked whether he preferred a unified, unfettered Germany outside NATO and perhaps with its own nuclear weapons, or a Germany integrated into the Western alliance, and the commitment "that NATO would not expend its territory a thumb's width eastward." The general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party made it clear to Baker that he preferred the latter, but added that any expansion of NATO toward the Russian border was unacceptable.
Gorbachev sees his trust in the agreement betrayed. "Washington thought, at the time, that we no longer existed as its rival, and that it could get away with anything. The United States was intent on building a new empire." In 1999, the former Warsaw Pact countries of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined NATO, and Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Baltic nations followed suit in 2004. "And each time, Germany voted for the NATO expansion eastward." Gorbachev normally has nothing but warm words for former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, but "in this regard, the Germans also did not keep their word."
Gorbachev would love to turn back the clock to November 1990. According to the CSCE's Charter of Paris, signed with pomp and circumstance by East and West, "The era of confrontation and division of Europe" had come to an end. On the sidelines of the conference, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, which was on the verge of disbandment, issued a joint declaration stating that they were "no longer enemies," but intended to build new partnerships and offer each other "the hand of friendship." Some 73 percent of Russians held a positive view of America at the time, and only 17 percent saw NATO as an enemy. Today more than two-thirds of Russians have a negative opinion of the United States, while 62 percent see NATO as the enemy. One of the few things Moscow politicians across the ideological spectrum can agree on is the view that this is the West's own fault.
In the eyes of many of his fellow Russians, Gorbachev is the "gravedigger of the empire." They mock him for his appearances in Louis Vuitton advertisements and envy him the five-figure fees he commands for speaking engagements, which produce the income to fund his institute. He is a co-owner of the Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper critical of the government. At a recent appearance in the United States, he was greeted with enthusiastic applause when he said: "I can tell you, America needs perestroika right now!" He was not talking about reforming the financial system or rebuilding the social welfare state. Instead, he was referring to taking a new approach to his vision, which he failed to turn into reality. "I am pinning my hopes on the two young presidents, Obama and Medvedev," he said at the end of his lecture.
The fact that Gorbachev has high hopes for the presidents does not mean that he welcomes the Kremlin's every personnel decision. And Moscow's current NATO ambassador is among the most controversial representatives of Russia.
Breakfast with Dmitry Rogozin, 45. Moscow's man is serving blini at his Brussels residence. The former journalist and co-founder of an ultranationalist party is seen as a living paradox: a brutal diplomat. "There are officials in Brussels who refuse to be in the same room with me for more than 30 minutes because they think this could be hazardous to their health. Some wives are even said to have masses read to cleanse their husbands of the voodoo magic I have sprayed on them," Rogozin once said.
He is the perfect host, as charming as he is accommodating. He lives in an impressive villa, complete with collections of powerful motorcycles and stylish samovars, and is a cigar aficionado.
But Rogozin pulls no punches politically. Since the end of the Warsaw Pact, NATO has been stumbling like a sumo wrestler without an opponent, says Rogozin. He believes a "NATO that is globalized to such an extent" is digging its own grave.
Rogozin, like Gorbachev, sees NATO's eastward expansion as a lapse, and he believes that the small Baltic countries and Poland are trying to drive a wedge between NATO and Russia. "How long do we want to allow them to continue playing us off against each other?" The war in Yugoslavia, which NATO launched a decade ago without a UN mandate, was also a serious mistake, says Rogozin. He refuses to accept the argument that it was Western European governments, including Germany's former Social Democratic and Green Party coalition government, that agreed, reluctantly and for humanitarian reasons, to participate in this combat mission. "The war brought endless suffering to people, and it led to serious political consequences. It's just a matter of time before the Kosovo bomb, which NATO has placed under its own chair, explodes."
Rogozin has a sarcastic take on NATO's attempts to encircle Russia: "The closer their bases get to us, the easier it is for us to strike them. We would have needed missiles in the past. Today machine guns are sufficient." And when it comes to the alliance's newest would-be members, Rogozin recommends accepting "Hitler, Saddam Hussein and then-Georgian President Saakashvili." In Ukraine, he says, not "many more than the members of President Yushchenko's family" want to join NATO, which, as he claims, is even less popular in Ukraine than it is in Russia.
In his interview with SPIEGEL, Rogozin is reluctant to add more fuel to the fire. He has just met with US Secretary of State Clinton and now expects the Americans to "abandon the provocative plans for the supposed missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic." He sees opportunities to substantially reduce nuclear weapons. And he believes in shared Eastern and Western interests: in Afghanistan, where he is convinced that only Moscow can guarantee supply routes for NATO troops, and in Iran, whose nuclear program also has Russia worried and where the Kremlin wields considerable influence. Nothing works without Russia, the ambassador says, directly or indirectly, with each of his sentences.
The outspoken Rogozin welcomes the fact that, after a months-long chill caused by the Caucasus war, the NATO-Russia Council will now meet once again. He praises the Kremlin's concept for a security order that would stretch "from Vancouver to Vladivostok." He even wants to raise his glass to a future project. "Perhaps NATO could develop into PATO, a Pacific-Atlantic alliance. We just cannot allow troublemakers to deter us."
The Skeptical New Europe
TALLINN, INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR DEFENSE STUDIES. The people Moscow's NATO ambassador describes as "troublemakers" have their headquarters here, in the Estonian capital. It is here that the voice of the "New Europe" is perhaps the loudest, the fiercest and the most filled with outrage. About 180 kilometers (112 miles) from Tallinn, two medieval fortresses face each other like warring sisters across the Narva River, which flows along the border between Estonia and Russia. On the eastern shore stands Ivangorod Fortress, built during the reign of Czar Ivan III, while on the western shore -- in one of the new NATO members -- stands Hermann Castle, which the Teutonic Knights used as an outpost form 1346 onwards.
Estonia is a textbook example of how diametrically opposed versions of history can be experienced in the same place-- a lesson for someone who has just been given a view of the world from the Russian perspective. Kadri Liik, 38, the dynamic director of the International Center for Defense Studies, a think tank supported by Western government funds, is the prototype of the "new" Europe that is extremely critical of Moscow.
As a teenager, Liik demonstrated against Soviet abuses in her native city. She studied in Great Britain, where she earned a master's degree in diplomacy, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union she was named "media adviser" to Estonia's first ambassador to Moscow. Nowadays she advises the government on security issues. For Liik, NATO's eastward expansion, including the Baltic countries' acceptance into the alliance, is a "success story" -- and also a matter of course. She sees NATO as her country's only insurance policy against the "hardliners in the Russian government" who, in her opinion, still have not accepted the independence of Eastern European countries.
"Russia supposedly wants friendly relations with its neighbors, but for them that is just another word for subservient," says Liik, who has long black hair and eyes that flame with anger. She cites the cyber attacks that massively disrupted data traffic in Estonian network in the spring of 2007 as evidence of Moscow's malicious intentions. The youth organization of Putin's "One Russia" party has since claimed responsibility for the computer manipulations.
And then there was that war in the Caucasus. For Liik, Aug. 8, 2008 is as critical a date in history as Sept. 11, 2001. On that August day last year, she says, the Russian army invaded Georgia, showing its true face.
But wasn't it actually Saakashvili who began the hostilities? "That's just a technical issue. The Russians were the ones who provoked the Georgians. They are the aggressors, and it is a serious mistake for NATO to return to business as usual with them. Russia's neighbors, at any rate, will never do so again."
Liik sees appeasement policies everywhere she looks. Western Europe, in particular, is showing "endless patience" for Moscow, which she attributes to a "dangerous dependency" on Russian natural gas and oil deliveries. Liik wants to see the accelerated admission of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, with no ifs, ands or buts. She sees no evidence anywhere of Moscow playing a constructive role, not even in Afghanistan, that other current NATO hot spot.
Alliance of the Unwilling
KABUL, ISAF HEADQUARTERS, GREAT MASSOUD ROAD. The Taliban changed its tactics some time ago. Now it no longer attacks its enemies in open battle, but instead uses suicide bombings and plants explosive devices along roadsides. More than 1,000 Western soldiers have already lost their lives in Afghanistan. Most of them were Americans, but 152 Britons, 116 Canadians and 30 Germans have also died. In the seven years of the military mission there, Afghanistan has not become safer, neither for Afghans nor for the rest of the world. What is going wrong in Afghanistan?
The highest-ranking Western military official in Kabul, American four-star General David McKiernan, 57, is sitting in his office at the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The building, with its old wooden façade, is a former sports riding club, around which the NATO troops have built their container city in the middle of the Afghan capital. McKiernan has about 70,000 men under his command, including 62,000 ISAF troops from 42 countries. Most of them are Americans, however.
McKiernan is a tall, blonde man. He spent eight years living in Germany. In those days, the 1970s, the West's goal was to defend the famous Fulda Gap, that is, to prevent Warsaw Pact forces from marching into the West German state of Hesse through what was then the East German state of Thuringia. Today McKiernan's goal is to prevent al-Qaida fighters hiding in Afghanistan from "infiltrating Europe or the United States."
But at the moment McKiernan has other concerns. During a mission against an alleged Taliban group in the troubled Helmand province, ISAF soldiers inadvertently killed eight civilians. The population there is protesting against the Western allies. The commander of local British forces complains that the extremists used the victims as "human shields." Only a few days earlier, the deadly payload of a US fighter jet struck a group of nomads in Herat. In the Gozara district, American troops killed three terrorists, but three children, six women and four innocent men also died in the attack. In 2008, 2,118 civilians died, a 40 percent increase over the year before. Although the insurgents are responsible for most of the victims, a third of the casualties are caused by Western and Afghan forces.
"It'll get worse before it gets better," predicts an officer at McKiernan's headquarters in Kabul. He has his sights set on the "surge," a troop buildup that has already been announced. The GIs are doing something that many European NATO troops prefer to avoid: They are challenging the Taliban. It is already clear that 2009 will be the bloodiest year since the operation in Afghanistan began more than seven years ago. This has little to do with ISAF's original mandate.
In 2002, when the British General John McColl assembled the first 5,000 ISAF soldiers in Kabul after the war against the Taliban was over, their mission was merely to preserve the fragile peace. Today ISAF is a war machine geared toward achieving peace through violence. This was not what the NATO partners agreed to.
After the attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, the US's European allies believed that a situation in which they could be called upon to defend a common ally had occurred for the first time. But the Americans made no use of this offer. Instead, they asked for volunteers to join the Afghanistan mission. ISAF was created, as well as a robust counterterrorism force tightly managed by the Americans -- an effort to circumvent NATO's complicated political voting processes.
The result today is an alliance of the unwilling that has become almost impossible to maneuver. A number of NATO countries protect themselves against any overly intrusive demands by the Americans with secret "national provisos." After the United States had withdrawn many of its combat troops and special units to send them to Iraq, the forces remaining in Afghanistan suddenly needed every soldier they could get. But the NATO nations are pursuing their own interests in Afghanistan, which also affect how willing they are to make sacrifices. The Germans never truly believed that they were defending their democracy in the Hindu Kush, when former Defense Minister Peter Struck convinced them to extend their Afghanistan mission. They feel committed to the NATO alliance, but not without limits.
For a commander like McKiernan, the lack of a uniform commitment on the part of the NATO members is already practically the worst-case scenario. Because of the national provisos, known in military jargon as "caveats," he cannot deploy many contingents outside certain provinces, while others cannot be used to fight terrorists or in the war on drugs. The Germans have been especially adept at protecting their soldiers from dangerous missions. The lawyers in Berlin sent NATO "clarifying remarks" explaining that their men could only use lethal force in cases of self-defense or to protect innocent third parties. This categorically rules out an offensive hunt for the Taliban and makes the German contingent almost useless when it comes to effectively fighting the insurgency.
On the battlefield, this has given the Germans the reputation for being slackers, or "fair-weather warriors" who are never around when things get serious. "Is the life of a German soldier worth more than that of a Canadian?" the Montreal Gazette asked, after Germans had allegedly failed to support Canadian troops during heavy fighting in the south. "For us ze war is over by tea time, ja," Britain's Sunday Times wrote derisively, responding to reports that helicopters carrying German medics were leaving the operation zone "to comply with health and safety regulations" at about 4 p.m. every day, to ensure that they would reach their base by sundown.
McKiernan's displeasure is obvious. "The Germans are good soldiers, but it's a political decision," he says diplomatically. At the end of this week, US President Obama plans to introduce the US government's new strategy for the alliance's efforts in Afghanistan to his NATO partners. He will call it the "AfPak" paper, to emphasize the US government's intention to treat the Afghanistan-Pakistan region as a single entity in the future. The focus on Islamabad and the sanctuaries for the Taliban leadership and al-Qaida in Pakistan will be just as strong as it is on Kabul. Obama has recognized that the situation appears to have deteriorated, and that the West is "not winning the war" in Afghanistan. NATO, says Obama, must become stronger in Afghanistan and coordinate its forces more effectively. This, he says, will require a "more comprehensive strategy, a more focused strategy, a more disciplined strategy."
To achieve his goals, Obama is promising more soldiers and more money. Besides the additional 17,000 troops already announced, another 4,000 will be deployed as trainers and advisers to the Afghan armed forces. Obama wants the US Congress to approve a 60 percent hike in spending, which currently weighs in at about $2 billion (€1.48 billion) a month. The US president will also call upon the allies to up their commitments, if not militarily, then at least financially.
The goal, according to the Obama administration, is no longer to impose a Western-style democracy on Afghanistan. In Obama's view, the military mission cannot continue indefinitely, and an exit strategy is needed to remove US troops from their involvement in Afghanistan. Accordingly, the main, indispensable goal will be to deprive the al-Qaida terrorist organization of the safe havens from which it can conduct its worldwide terrorist operations.
Despite the American president's welcome new modesty, as well as his willingness to improve the living conditions of the Afghan population with a stronger civilian presence and to negotiate with "moderate" Taliban, there are doubts when it comes to the criteria his negotiating partners would have to fulfill. A German cabaret artist put it this way recently: "What exactly is a moderate Taliban? Someone who stones people to death with pebbles?"
When Obama presents his new strategy to allies at the summit later this week, only one thing will be clear: NATO is not about to run out of things to do -- at least not before the venerable alliance's 70th birthday.
ERICH FOLLATH, SUSANNE KOELBL, MATTHIAS SCHEPP, HANS-JÜRGEN SCHLAMP, ALEXANDER SZANDAR