BRUSSELS — Pushing again in opposition to European complaints that the Biden Administration had did not seek the advice of its allies over the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general, stated these objections had been exaggerated and that NATO had given unanimous approval for the withdrawal way back to April.
Mr. Stoltenberg additionally stated that speak of a brand new, separate European Union navy power — which some have argued is critical within the aftermath of the collapse of Afghanistan — may solely weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance and divide the continent.
“You see different voices in Europe, and some are talking about the lack of consultation, but I was present in those meetings,” Mr. Stoltenberg stated late Thursday in a wide-ranging interview at NATO’s headquarters. “Of course the United States consulted with European allies, but at the end of the day, every nation has to make their own decision on deploying forces.”
He acknowledged that the session was considerably synthetic, as a result of as soon as the United States determined to withdraw, he stated, “it was hard for other allies to continue without the United States. It was not a realistic option.”
Mr. Stoltenberg is described by these accustomed to his pondering as sad with the choice by President Biden to go away Afghanistan by Sept. 11 with out situations. He had urged “a conditional withdrawal” that may have required the Taliban to comply with via on its promise to hunt a negotiated political resolution.
In the interview, Mr. Stoltenberg declined to substantiate that model of his views, however argued that when NATO determined to assist the Biden plan in April — in a gathering with no voiced objections from different allies — there was no level revisiting the choice.
NATO allies did push for a political course of, Mr. Stoltenberg stated, even after former President Donald J. Trump signed a bilateral cope with the Taliban in February of 2020 that excluded the Afghan authorities and set May 1 for American troop withdrawal. “The problem was that the Taliban did not want to negotiate if the government in Kabul was part of those negotiations,” he stated.
Asked in regards to the Taliban’s failure to maintain its guarantees, Mr. Stoltenberg, with solely a 12 months left to his second time period, sighed.
“We were all aware that this was a difficult decision and we were faced with a difficult dilemma,” he stated, “threaten to leave and risk the Taliban returning, or to stay, but then with more fighting and more casualties.” Everyone understood the dangers, he stated, if not the velocity of the Afghan authorities’s collapse.
Asked if he pushed Mr. Biden to insist on a conditioned withdrawal of their assembly on June 7, every week earlier than Mr. Biden got here to Brussels for his first NATO summit assembly, Mr. Stoltenberg shrugged. “The decision was made in April and all allies agreed,” he stated, “so I felt that after the decision was made, then the main focus was on how to make sure that we were able to implement it in the best possible way.”
Mr. Biden has been pilloried within the United States for his resolution to withdraw final month, in opposition to the recommendation of prime generals, and for the rushed, chaotic evacuation.
But Mr. Stoltenberg, defending Mr. Biden, blamed the fast collapse in Afghanistan not on Washington or NATO however on the Afghan authorities. “What we saw was a collapse of the political and military leadership, and that triggered the collapse of the whole defense against the Taliban.” Mr. Stoltenberg was requested whether or not the U.S. and NATO departures had a psychological and logistical impression that abetted the Afghan collapse. “There will be of course a lot of analysis and scholars looking into this,” he stated. “My main focus is how we can preserve the gains made in the fight against terrorism and how you get people out of Afghanistan.”
Nearing the top of his second time period, Mr. Stoltenberg is credited with attempting to maintain NATO collectively within the face of Mr. Trump’s public skepticism about its worth and the American function in it. That meant defending Mr. Trump’s calls for for extra allied spending that typically bordered on the deferential.
But given the significance of the United States to an alliance the place 80 p.c of the navy spending comes from nations that don’t belong to the European Union, Mr. Stoltenberg has been brazenly solicitous and supportive of Mr. Biden, too, not simply on Afghanistan but additionally on China, Washington’s major diplomatic concern.
He stated he was personally “heartbroken to see the Taliban being back,” however he insisted that for European nations the political issue of staying in Afghanistan had been underestimated.
“For European allies to go to their parliaments and ask for more money and more soldiers to send into harm’s way in Afghanistan in a mission launched to protect the United States” would have been very exhausting as soon as Washington determined to go away, he stated. “This is about more than European capabilities, this is about deep politics, about what’s reasonable to expect from allies that went in to support the United States.”
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that got here after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, together with floggings, amputations and mass executions, to implement their guidelines. Here’s extra on their origin story and their document as rulers.
But a former French ambassador to NATO, Philippe Errera, advised final week at a convention in Estonia that one of many classes for NATO is to have extra frank discussions with the United States, even when they’re troublesome.
Among NATO allies, stated Mr. Errera, now director normal of the French Foreign Ministry, there was a “shared responsibility in not having used NATO for what it should be — a place where we can openly put the hard questions on the table.” Afghanistan could have been a particular case, given 9/11, he stated, however added: “We cannot just sweep the elephant under the rug. Otherwise there comes a point where you can’t walk in the room anymore.”
In the aftermath of the collapse of Kabul, the European Union’s international coverage chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, has urged the creation of a new rapid-reaction force of some 5,000 troops or extra to have the ability to deal with operations just like the Kabul airport with out the Americans. Other Europeans have known as for the revival of plans shaped within the early 2000s to create battle teams of prepared nations, and a few have even resurfaced an older unrealized aim of getting 50,000-60,000 troops capable of deploy inside 60 days for as much as a 12 months.
This is a recurring argument for Mr. Stoltenberg and one he regards as deeply damaging to trans-Atlantic safety. While at all times urging extra navy spending from European allies, he stated “any attempt to weaken the bond between Europe and North America will not only weaken NATO, it will divide Europe itself,” a longstanding aim of Moscow.
“We’ve been pushing for more European allies to do more on defense, but not as an alternative but as part of NATO,” he stated. “Any attempt to establish parallel structures, to duplicate the command structure, will weaken our joint capability to work together because with scarce resources we need to prevent duplication.”
Asked in regards to the risks of blending the conflict on terrorism with nation-building, Mr. Stoltenberg hesitated. NATO’s job was combating terrorism, he stated, and governments and assist companies made their very own selections about nation-building. NATO tried to supply them safety, however concentrated on its personal mission.
Mr. Stoltenberg nonetheless advised that governments ought to suppose exhausting earlier than utilizing power to resolve issues.
The failures of Western intervention ought to remind everybody, he stated, “how serious it is to use military force and to go into another country.” If historical past has any lesson, he stated, “it’s that it’s easier to start a military operation than to end it.”