NATO Will Survive Afghanistan

James Joyner tackles one of the more irritating refrains used to argue for the need to succeed in Afghanistan — namely, the claim that NATO’s credibility will not survive failure there. I’d add that to the extent that NATO tried to reinvent itself as an alliance that would project force in out-of-theater operations, there’s a kernel of truth to the claim that Afghanistan has damaged its credibility. But it’s not so much success or failure in Afghanistan that are to blame, but rather NATO’s dismal failure to create a unified chain of command with uniform rules of engagement of the sort that make for effective warfighting. Had NATO demonstrated impressive operational capabilities as an alliance — that is, in terms of strategic and tactical coordination and interoperability — it would have emerged from Afghanistan with its credibility as a deployable force intact, regardless of whether it had achieved its objectives.

As things stand, as an alliance designed to defend its member states against territorial aggression — which is to say, its original and still-core function — NATO remains a pretty potent and credible deterrent. I don’t think anyone will consider that an outcome short of “victory” in Afghanistan somehow makes Europe an inviting target for invasion. At best, Russia might be emboldened to throw its weight around in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe, but guess what? It didn’t take defeat in Afghanistan for that to happen already. Furthermore, NATO isn’t about to fight a war with Russia over a non-NATO nation, with or without a victory in Afghanistan. And if somehow a victory in Afghanistan would have made it willing to, then perhaps defeat isn’t such a bad outcome after all.

NATO has another 15 years of relevance, and during that time, it will continue to guarantee the security of Continental Europe. If anything, Afghanistan will have a salutory effect on its decision-making process regarding interventions outside of Europe.