Two speeches (can you believe it?) on NATO and Afghanistan

Paul Wells points out the apparent inconsistency between Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s two major speeches about Afghanistan and the future of the NATO this month. He’s right of course that MacKay seems to have, at the very least, shifted his emphasis.

Still, it looks to me like MacKay is systematically working to make Canada’s voice on these important issues heard in advance of the NATO defence ministers Feb. 19-20 meetings in Krakow, Poland, and that show of active engagement on the world stage—a rare thing from this government—looks good on him.

To recap, in Munich on Feb. 8, MacKay said:  “In spite of the challenges, I would suggest that, if Afghanistan was a litmus test for NATO, the Alliance has already passed. Simply put, no other organization could have accomplished in Afghanistan what NATO already has. It has proved that it can adapt. It can be flexible.” He added, however, “But it’s a real effort. It needs continued work and attention.”

Then, in London yesterday, he switched to fleshing out what he meant by ongoing work and attention, serving up a reminder that some alliance members need to “pull their weight and do more.” That has to be heard as a reference to European NATO members, notably France and Germany, who have kept their troops in Afghanistan out of the worst zones, leaving the real fighting to the U.S., Britain, Canada and a few others. “I cannot stress enough the importance of the mission in Afghanistan to the future of the Alliance,” MacKay went on.

“In the same way that NATO’s intervention in Kosovo forced NATO to confirm the political values that form the core of the alliance, Afghanistan tests the ability of the alliance to execute its most basic mission in the 21st century and in a global context. If NATO cannot deter or defeat the physical threat facing Alliance members and indeed contribute to building security for the larger international community, then what is NATO for?”

I find it interesting that  MacKay says intervening in Kosovo proved that NATO knew what political values it stood for, while fighting on in Afghanistan is the test of the alliance’s ability to get a job done militarily. This seems to me to smack of real thinking about NATO’s fundamental attributes. Frankly, it’s not often of late that a Canadian minister with an international portfolio bothers to express a view on such questions.

So I’m inclined to give MacKay a break, even if a plain reading of his Munich and London speeches suggests a rather abrupt change of tone between them. Better a bit of gear grinding between two interesting attempts to set out Canada’s perspective and priorities than the more familiar, dispiriting silence.

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