NATO’s Secretary-General pushed back against European complaints that the U.S. administration had not consulted allies over the decision to pull out from Afghanistan.
“You see different voices in Europe, and some are talking about the lack of consultation, but I was present in those meetings,” NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with the New York Times published on Friday. “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.”
Several diplomats and EU leaders have complained about a lack of consultations, as the decision to pull out has ignited fears of a terrorist attack on European soil and of a new possible wave of asylum seekers knocking at the EU door, after the 2015 migration crisis.
“When the United States decided to negotiate with the Taliban under the Trump administration, and then to confirm their withdrawal, they made very few — if any — consultations with their European partners,” Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said in an interview published on Wednesday.
Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, recognized however that the consultation was somewhat artificial, because once the White House decided to withdraw, “it was hard for other allies to continue without the United States. It was not a realistic option,” he said.
And he argued that “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 hard, once U.S President Joe Biden decided to leave.
EU diplomats have mixed views on what went wrong. In general, they tend to agree that it would have been impossible to ask parliaments to send more soldiers and spend more money once the U.S. decided to leave. But some also say that discussions at NATO were not frank enough.
“There is a real problem of dialogue in NATO,” Portuguese Defense Minister João Gomes Cravinho told POLITICO last month. Although he also agreed that Biden was right when he said “there were no significant protests against [his decision to withdraw U.S. troops], either in the NATO summit in Brussels, or in the ministerial meetings of defense and foreign ministers in April, where this matter was discussed.”
Stoltenberg also warned against the risk of duplication in talks to set up an European military force.
The debacle in Afghanistan has relaunched a debate among EU member states to boost collective defense, an in particular to set up a rapid entry force of 5,000 soldiers. The project is led by France, but Eastern and Baltic countries have doubts because it could duplicate NATO efforts and weaken the alliance.
Stoltenberg reiterated his view that “we’ve been pushing for more European allies to do more on defense, but not as an alternative but as part of NATO.” And “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,” he said.