U.S. Marine General James Jones, who led NATO forces from 2003 until earlier this year, told journalists in Washington on December 21 that the alliance's troops are still needed in Afghanistan, but establishing the country as a self-sustaining democracy can be only be done by strengthening its civil institutions and eradicating the huge trade in opium.
The Problem Is Drugs
Jones said it's time for NATO countries to focus their attention on reconstruction and development in Afghanistan.
In his view, it's still necessary for NATO forces to help the government of President Hamid Karzai to fight the Taliban insurgency. But he said the real problem in Afghanistan is the drug trade and the money it generates.
"I think the Achilles heel of Afghanistan is the narcotics problem," Jones said. "I think the uncontrolled rise of the spread of narcotics, the business that it brings in, the money that it generates is being used to fund the insurgency, the criminal elements -- anything to bring chaos and disorder."
Jones said that without funds from the opium trade, the Taliban wouldn't be able to afford to continue its insurgency.
The Central Government Must Be Bolstered
In addition, Jones said, NATO and the government in Kabul have to focus on strengthening Afghanistan's judicial system and reforming the police.
Perhaps most important, Jones said, Karzai must make his central government more visible outside the capital, to show that it's in charge, especially along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, which the Taliban often crosses to escape NATO forces.
Jones made his comments during a wide-ranging presentation at the Washington offices of the Atlantic Council, a private organization that promotes understanding of the NATO alliance. For much of his appearance, he focused on the future of NATO. He said the alliance is strong, that no member seems interested in leaving, and that several nations still hope to join.
Militarily Strong, Politically Weak
Jones said the military arm of NATO is fully in the 21st century, but its political arm remains bogged down by the priorities of individual nations at the expense of the alliance.
"How we spend our money, what we spend our money on, is definitely still in the 20th century, and sooner or later NATO will have to address whether you want 350 committees, all acting on the rule of consensus," Jones said. "Is that really how you get your best advice?"
For example, he said NATO's civilian leadership has been slow to approve a piece of equipment, known as a "blue-force tracker," that helps the alliance's forces avoid friendly-fire casualties. He said the tracker is relatively inexpensive and readily available, but it's still not in the hands of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
One questioner asked Jones about the Georgia and Ukraine’s prospects for accession. He said that with the recent political reversals in Ukraine, it seems the people in that country are less eager to join the alliance. He said Georgia's effort, which has more popular support, is more likely to be successful.
But Jones cautioned that a country should be required to do more than merely want to enter the alliance.
"The standard ought to be pretty high," he said. "And I think that the standard ought to be that there is a rule of law, there is a functioning economy, there is a -- some adherence to democratic values, there is a subordination of the military to civilian authority, and there is essentially a social structure that's working and effective. My belief is that members of NATO should bring value to the alliance, and only when they have proven themselves to bring value to the alliance should the alliance offer membership."
The High Price Of U.S. Unilateralism
One questioner asked about the trouble the United States has been having with its allies since U.S. President George W. Bush decided to lead an invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Jones agreed that the United States' reputation has deteriorated since then, both among allies and also throughout the Muslim world. He noted that even the Turks, whose country has long been a staunch NATO ally, believe the United States is their biggest enemy.
But Jones said Washington can restore its good name around the world if it resumes cooperation with its friends, particularly through NATO.
"We as a nation, I think, need to understand that we can't do it alone and that we need our partners and friends," Jones said. "We need to value our forward basing and express our appreciation for those bases with our allies. And I think we can turn this around pretty quickly."
Jones said his country's reputation already is improving. He recalled seeing signs of what he called "expressions of togetherness" at the NATO summit in Riga last month.
A U.S. military vehicle damaged by insurgents near Kandahar (epa)
HOMEGROWN OR IMPORTED? As attacks against Afghan and international forces continue relentlessly, RFE/RL hosted a briefing to discuss the nature of the Afghan insurgency. The discussion featured Marvin Weinbaum, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and RFE/RL Afghanistan analyst Amin Tarzi.
LISTENListen to the entire briefing (about 83 minutes):
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