John McCain, U.S. Senator, R-Arizona
Speech at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy
In August, 1941, in the midst of a world convulsed by war, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill convened to “make known certain common principles ... on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.“ In issuing the Atlantic Charter, these two statesmen did not simply plant the seeds of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They prompted new thinking about transatlantic security, a conception that did not rest solely on the shifting tectonic plates of geopolitics or the narrowly construed interests of the nation-state, but rather in an alliance of liberal democracies, one sharing the will and means to safeguard their interests and their values against external threats.
Sixty-six years after the Atlantic Charter, it is clear that NATO has transformed the world. And the world has transformed our alliance. It is unlikely that President Roosevelt or Prime Minister Churchill could have envisioned NATO’s last summit, held not in Washington or any western European capital, but in Riga, Latvia. Or last September’s meeting of the North Atlantic Council, convened in Afghanistan. Or the visits to NATO headquarters recently by, among numerous others, the Emir of Qatar, the Australian Foreign Minister, the Israeli Defense Minister, and the President of Kazakhstan.
As the challenges to the transatlantic democracies have become truly global in scope, NATO has shown a remarkable flexibility in adapting to the new post-Cold War, post-9/11 world order. We see this in many ways: the transformation that has occurred since the 2002 Prague summit, the creation of the NATO Response Force, Operation Active Endeavor, NATO’s stability operations in the Balkans, its new security dialogue with leading Asian democracies, and the alliance’s support to the African Union in Darfur. But this flexibility - and indeed the fundamental character of NATO - is tested by the alliance’s most important endeavor today: stabilizing and reconstructing Afghanistan. And while there are many other elements of NATO’s global role, I would like to devote the majority of my remarks to this unique enterprise. The future of our alliance is now intimately bound with the outcome in Afghanistan, and our success or failure there will impact not only the security of each of our member states, but also the credibility and effectiveness of NATO itself.
It has been a long five and a half years since the crumbling of Taliban rule. In the United States, at least, Afghanistan has moved off the front pages of newspapers and magazines, replaced by the dire situation in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and North Korea’s weapons tests. But Afghanistan is anything but yesterday’s news.
In fact, the stakes there have never been higher. The fighting in 2006 was fiercer than any time since Afghanistan’s liberation, with an increase in coalition casualties from the previous year, a doubling in the number of roadside bombs, and a fivefold rise in the number of suicide bombings. The poppy crop hit another all-time high, and Afghanistan is now the source of 90 percent of the world’s supply of raw materials for heroin. The Taliban is resurgent in several areas throughout the south and east of the country, and the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan have publicly feuded over who is to blame. Four months ago, General David Richards, the British commander who led NATO troops in Afghanistan, stated that if the lives of average Afghans do not visibly improve within six months, a majority could switch allegiance from the government to the Taliban. Time is short, my friends.
These difficulties should not obscure the real progress Afghanistan has made over the past five years. More than two million refugees have returned, the economy has improved, infrastructure expanded, education enhanced, and elections held. Most importantly, the people of that long-suffering country were freed from the murderous Taliban rule. In Afghanistan’s first genuinely free elections in 2004, 80 percent of eligible Afghans voted in favor of the democratic future the Taliban had denied them. These are historic accomplishments. But the challenges there remain great.
Failure in Afghanistan risks a reversion to its pre-9/11 role as a sanctuary for al Qaeda terrorists with global reach, a defeat that would embolden Islamic extremists, and the rise of an unencumbered narcostate. Now that NATO has assumed control of security operations and of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams sprinkled throughout the country, the future of our alliance is directly at stake. If NATO does not prevail in Afghanistan, it is difficult to imagine the alliance undertaking another “hard security“ operation - in or out of area - and its credibility would suffer a grievous blow.
We are doing many things right in Afghanistan, and there are encouraging signs of international recommitment to Afghanistan. In order to solidify these gains and avoid failures, let us first move beyond the false debate over whether to focus on military operations and security or on building governmental institutions. Both are essential elements of any successful counterinsurgency strategy.
Military recommitment must begin with NATO countries providing an adequate number of troops for the fight. The United States recently announced plans to increase its forces in Afghanistan by some 3,000, notwithstanding the strains imposed by deployments to Iraq. Britain, Poland, Lithuania, and others have made similar moves. Nevertheless, coalition forces remain below the level NATO says is necessary to instill adequate security. Compounding this problem are national caveats that limit some forces from engaging freely throughout the country. NATO commanders must have the flexibility to use forces from any contributing country in a manner that will ensure victory, and their ability to do so will be tested. There should be no divergence among the allies over Afghanistan - it is a quintessentially multilateral operation that should not admit unilateral restrictions that may endanger its success.
There will undoubtedly be an offensive this spring in Afghanistan; the only question is whether it will be NATO’s offensive or the Taliban’s. NATO members can help ensure that we keep the Taliban on their heels by at least matching the U.S. troop increase of 3,000 and by reconsidering national caveats.
The training and equipping of a professional, inter-ethnic Afghan National Army has gone well but not far enough. With only 30,000 men under arms - and with current projections for no more than 70,000 - it is too small today and may be too small tomorrow for a country of 31 million. We should aim to build a national army that can take on all the significant and enduring security challenges facing Afghanistan. Ultimately, a transition to increasing Afghan responsibility will allow our own forces to redeploy. In the meantime, NATO should welcome Afghanistan into the Partnership for Peace. Doing so would institutionalize our train and equip programs and enhance civil-military relations in a democratic framework.
And while we train the military, we must not do so at the expense of the police, which remain poorly paid and trained. There is a desperate and immediate need to employ more foreign police trainers in Afghanistan. Germany has the lead on police training, and Germans should be proud of their country’s involvement in Afghanistan. Yet today there are just 41 German instructors, and the number of German-trained police is well below the number trained by the U.S. I hope that Germany would significantly increase its leadership in this regard.
There is no more important non-military objective than developing respect for the rule of law. Prosecutors and judges in Afghanistan remain poorly paid, insufficiently skilled, and corrupt - and the corruption is intimately bound with the drug trade. To take just one graphic example, an Afghan prosecutor earns $65 per month - a tiny amount even in Afghanistan - while a UN interpreter makes some $500 per month. The temptation toward corruption and the lack of justice undermines faith in the Afghan government as a whole, and hands the Taliban an issue with which to gather support. Italy, which has spearheaded judicial reform, could help rally the international community to devote a larger share of aid dollars to legal reform, and increase its own contributions. In doing so, it should look for ways to assist the dynamic new Attorney General and his staff as they prosecute corrupt officials at all levels.
As an element of this effort, we should encourage the judiciary to crack down on drug cartels. The narcotics trade threatens to undermine every success achieved since 2001, and if it succeeds, we will fail. Ending the pernicious effect of drugs on Afghan society is no easy task, but it begins with projects that provide economically sustainable alternatives to poppy cultivation. In presenting such projects, however, it is necessary to realize that their success is intimately connected with the need for infrastructure, such as irrigation for crops and a road system that can bring goods to market. Britain, which has the lead on counternarcotics programs, can help marshal the international community to take a comprehensive approach to this pervasive threat that directly impacts our own societies.
Reconstruction and development are central to any successful counterinsurgency campaign, and yet the resources devoted to Afghanistan pale in comparison to the amounts we have expended in Iraq on a smaller population. General Karl Eikenberry, the outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has said bluntly that we are not investing enough money in the country, and that, “Where roads end, the Taliban begins.“
The U.S. Administration’s new request for $10.6 billion, $2 billion of which would be devoted to reconstruction and anti-narcotics projects, is a welcome sign, and we applaud the European Commission’s pledge of $780 million in aid over four years. Yet the international community still falls far short in meeting its prior pledges and in committing the resources Afghanistan needs to avoid failure. It would be a significant sign of multilateral commitment to Afghanistan if Europe would at least match the $10 billion pledge from the United States.
Much responsibility for events in Afghanistan rests, of course, with the Afghans themselves. This long suffering people have made many courageous strides since 2001, but a long road lies ahead. This path would be made smoother with a rapprochement between Kabul and Islamabad. The Afghan government needs to strengthen the state, expand its reach, crack down on corruption, and put more qualified officials in place. The international community should establish governance benchmarks and hold the Afghan government to them - to do otherwise risks losing support of a disaffected population.
We must also continue to press Pakistan to eliminate Taliban sanctuaries, especially in the tribal areas, and disrupt Taliban command and control structures. This means ensuring that its agreements are carried out: the Taliban immediately violated last September’s North Waziristan accord, and since then cross-border attacks have tripled.
The war in Afghanistan will not be quick, inexpensive, or easy. On the contrary, the situation there requires more resources, more time, and more commitment. We must prevail. I am confident that we will, and that it will be a signal success in the history of our alliance.
Allow me to turn for a moment from Afghanistan to a region that can be a post-conflict success. Eleven years ago, the Balkans was in flames, characterized by ethnic cleansing and widespread violence. For the first time the region is today poised to move forward. Montenegro is independent; Croatia, Macedonia and Albania have NATO Membership Action Plans; and NATO is looking at the Balkans for its 2008 expansion. Now it is time to move toward final status for Kosovo, transition continuing responsibilities in Kosovo to increasing European control, and close the door on the region’s painful past. In so doing, we must ensure that Serbia can look toward the future as a modern, prosperous, European nation.
I hope that Russia would embrace these aspirations for Kosovo and the Balkans. So far, it has not. And I remain concerned about the long-term possibilities of Russian democracy and the direction of Moscow’s foreign and energy policies.
Today’s world is not unipolar. The United States did not single-handedly win the Cold War in some unilateral victory. The transatlantic alliance won the Cold War, and there are power centers on every continent today. Russian leaders’ apparent belief to the contrary raises a number of difficult questions. Will Russia’s autocratic turn become more pronounced, its foreign policy more opposed to the principles of the western democracies and its energy policy used as a tool of intimidation? Or will it build, in partnership with the West, a democratic country that contributes to the international rules-based system? While our hopes are obviously for the latter choice, recent events suggest a turn toward the former. This is unfortunate, and the U.S. and Europe need to take today’s Russian realities into account as we form our policies. Moscow must understand that it cannot enjoy a genuine partnership with the West so long as its actions, at home and abroad, conflict so fundamentally with the core values of the Euro-Atlantic democracies. In today’s multipolar world, there is no place for needless confrontation, and I would hope that Russia’s leaders would realize and understand this truth.
To encourage Russia along a more positive path, and to achieve any of the many items on the ambitious international agenda, we need the attraction of a strong and vigorous transatlantic partnership. That means a NATO that is proactive in confronting the 21st century challenges, not merely reactive toward the problems of yesteryear. That means an alliance that, though its core membership may lie with the transatlantic nations, has partnerships that span the globe. That means a strong and vigorous Europe and an America that rises above its difficulties in Iraq, as it has done in so many past instances.
The debate in the transatlantic relationship - over who is to lead and who to follow, whether to act in concert or unilaterally, or if the bonds that unite us are stronger than interests that divide us - that debate is over. Our interests, though not always perfectly congruent, are rarely diverging. For half a century, our forebears rose to each other’s defense, eased each other through crisis, and confronted one another when any of us fell short of our common principles. In the process, we nurtured a friendship for the ages. Let no one trifle lightly with this legacy.
Though not by our own choice, our generation has been called to build a new global partnership in defense of the core ideals of civilization, ideals under attack by the forces of violence, extremism and chaos. This challenge should cause us not to question our values, but rather to redouble our commitment to their defense. Billions of people around the world now embrace the ideals of political, economic, and social liberty, conceived in the West, as their own. This is the true legacy of our victory in the Cold War.
The rise of new centers of power in Asia and beyond will necessarily diminish the West’s privileged position in the international system. But to the extent that this system is governed by notions of pluralism, democracy, and free markets, we can be confident that the universal embrace of these principles will be a greater source of security for our people than any amount of raw military power. From Kandahar to Darfur, from Munich to Minsk, our values are worth fighting for. I am confident that the transatlantic partnership is up to the challenge.