Last week the Sun-Times, one of Chicago’s two major dailies, reported that the president and his wife will host complementary receptions during next month’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit attended by the heads of state and government (presidents and prime ministers), defense ministers and foreign ministers of 50 countries supplying troops for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force war effort in Afghanistan.
On May 20 President Obama is to host a working dinner with the heads of state of NATO’s 28 member states at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears football team; the same night a dinner for perhaps all 22 non-NATO countries providing troops for the alliance’s over decade-long military campaign in Afghanistan will be held at the Field Museum of Natural History not far away from sports stadium.
First Lady Michelle Obama is to officiate over a “spouse dinner” with NATO’s women’s auxiliary the same evening, possibly at the Symphony Center complex.
The fifty nations with troops serving under NATO command in Afghanistan are collectively referred to in NATOese as Troop Contributing Nations.
The Sun-Times listed the contributors in alphabetical order and the roster is both impressive and not a little alarming: Never before have armed forces from so many states participated in one war, surely not on one side under a unified command and in a single war theater, much less in one country.
The NATO nations are Albania, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the United States.
The non-NATO (or rather not yet NATO) contributors are in almost all instances members of one or more NATO military partnership programs, listed in parentheses below:
Armenia (Partnership for Peace, Individual Partnership Action Plan), Australia (Contact Country), Austria (Partnership for Peace), Azerbaijan (Partnership for Peace, Individual Partnership Action Plan), Bahrain (Istanbul Cooperation Initiative), Bosnia (Partnership for Peace, Individual Partnership Action Plan) El Salvador, Finland (Partnership for Peace), Georgia (Partnership for Peace, Individual Partnership Action Plan, NATO-Georgia Commission), Ireland (Partnership for Peace), Jordan (Mediterranean Dialogue), Macedonia (Partnership for Peace, Individual Partnership Action Plan), Malaysia, Mongolia (Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme), Montenegro (Partnership for Peace, Individual Partnership Action Plan candidate), New Zealand (Contact Country), Singapore, South Korea (Contact Country), Sweden (Partnership for Peace), Tonga, Ukraine (Partnership for Peace, NATO-Ukraine Commission) and the United Arab Emirates (Istanbul Cooperation Initiative).
Other nations that are providing or have provided (Switzerland until 2008) military and security personnel for ISAF and for the Afghanistan-Pakistan war front in general include Afghanistan (Afghanistan-Pakistan-International Security Assistance Force Tripartite Commission, NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan) Colombia, Egypt (Mediterranean Dialogue), Japan (Contact Country), Kazakhstan (Partnership for Peace, Individual Partnership Action Plan), Moldova (Partnership for Peace, Individual Partnership Action Plan) Pakistan (Afghanistan-Pakistan-International Security Assistance Force Tripartite Commission) and Switzerland (Partnership for Peace).
That is, military forces from all six inhabited continents.
In addition, NATO troops are stationed in military bases in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and the bloc has transit centers in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, all five Central Asian countries being members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.
The war in Afghanistan has been employed as the longest, largest and most ambitious effort to date by the U.S. and NATO to consolidate an integrated expeditionary military force ready for global deployments.
That effort has built upon three previous stages in the development of the above objective: In Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.
With Bosnia, in 1996 NATO led 60,000 troops under its Stabilisation Force command from its current 28 members, although 12 of those would join in the decade of 1999-2009 after proving their mettle in the missions in Bosnia and later Kosovo. They were joined by contingents from Australia, Austria, Egypt, Finland, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand and Sweden among others.
Three years later NATO moved into the Serbian province of Kosovo in charge of the 50,000-troop Kosovo Force with soldiers from its then-19 members, nine more which would join in the following decade and several partnership members which would later send troops to Iraq and/or Afghanistan, including Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, Mongolia, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine.
From 2004-2010 the U.S.-led Multi-National Force – Iraq consisted of troops from 22 of NATO’s current 28 members, all but Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg and Turkey. Canada, France and Germany compensated by increasing their troop strength in Afghanistan, where they among the largest contributors after the U.S. and Britain.
The twelve new NATO states – Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia – all had troops in Iraq during the period of most intense combat, for the most part in the Polish-led South-Central zone which was supported by NATO.
NATO partner states in addition to the nine that joined the alliance in 2004 and 2009 also served their apprenticeship in Iraq: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Australia, Bosnia, Georgia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Tonga and Ukraine.
In 2008 the above nations started withdrawing their contingents from Iraq ahead of redeploying them to Afghanistan, where they remain.
The steady military involvement of the same 50 or so nations over the past sixteen years in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya (Sweden, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, an Istanbul Cooperation Initiative member, provided warplanes for NATO’s six-month air war last year) demonstrate how the U.S. has used NATO in the post-Cold War period to forge an international intervention force unparalleled in history, working together in active and post-conflict war zones under the same command, often in integrated units, with interoperability of weapons, tactics and language.
Over the past decade the U.S. and NATO allies have conducted annual military operations in two of the three countries that border both Russia and China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan – Operation Khaan Quest and Operation Steppe Eagle – to advance that global integration. Last month Mongolia became the first nation to join NATO’s Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme instituted a year ago.
The 50 heads of state gathering in Chicago next month, like the chiefs of defense staff and military experts from 66 countries (over a third of the world’s nations) that met at NATO headquarters in late January, represent a growing U.S.-led military network that is the main threat to world peace.