By Sgt. Sara Moore, USA
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 6, 2008 - Though many of its nations have been fighting hard in Afghanistan, action is needed to prevent NATO from becoming a two-tiered alliance in which some countries contribute military forces and some do not, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today at a congressional hearing. Many European nations do not understand the importance of the fight in Afghanistan to their own security, or that NATO's response to the situation says a lot about the future of the alliance itself, Gates said at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
Gates and other leaders have expressed concern that NATO nations have filled the needs specified in the alliance's combined joint statement of requirements for its International Security Assistance force in Afghanistan.
Gates said he is traveling to Munich, Germany, for the 44th Munich Conference on Security Policy, scheduled for Feb. 8-10, and that he will urge NATO defense ministers there to take action to prevent the alliance from turning into one where some countries are willing to fight and die to protect security, and others are not.
"I think that it puts a cloud over the future of the alliance if this is to endure and perhaps even get worse," Gates said of the imbalance.
Gates said implementation of a three-to-five year strategic plan for Afghanistan that lays out goals and milestones along the way would help the situation. He said he proposed such a plan to NATO, and he believes it is being worked on and will be submitted and approved at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, in April.
"My hope is that this strategy will be used by European governments, in part, to help educate their own publics about the importance of this effort in Afghanistan," Gates said.
Gates also asked members of Congress for their help when they interact with members of European parliaments. Elected leaders often have more credibility than military leaders when it comes to convincing European leaders of the importance of the effort in Afghanistan and getting them to communicate that message to the public, he said.
"What is really central here is the fact that I think the governments get it, and they understand the importance, but many of them are minority governments or they're coalition governments that are very limited in what they can do, and what it requires is going out and building political support among their people," Gates said.
The interactions of members of U.S. Congress with European parliaments, the strategic plan for Afghanistan, and the NATO leaders strongly affirming their commitment to Afghanistan will all be key in assuring allied nations provide the forces necessary to supplement the 3,000 U.S. Marines that are headed to the country this fall, Gates said.