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NATO displays unity despite divisions over Afghanistan and European defense

NATO is not very keen on internal debates and above all it had to give the impression of quickly turning the page, Thursday 21 and Friday 22 October, in Brussels, after the debacle during the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the recent crisis between three of its main members. The United States and the United Kingdom on one side, France on the other were they going to settle their accounts publicly at this meeting of defense ministers, after the announcement of the Aukus partnership for the Indo-Pacific , which nullified a very large contract for submarines concluded between France and Australia?

This did not happen and, under the leadership of Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, grievances were silenced as the organization set new goals for itself: “rearmament” in the face of Russian and Chinese threats, a strengthening of the collective defense, refocusing on the defense of European and American territory (“Forces in the right place, at the right time”). All with a “transformation” objective which should be materialized at a forthcoming summit in Madrid in June 2022.

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For Mr. Stoltenberg, who tries to erase what is, also, a personal defeat, the Afghan mission was not ” a failure “. There was, anyway, no alternative to withdrawal, he argues, except to see the violence increase further. On the American side, we only agreed that there was “Lessons to be learned”, at the end of twenty years of an operation which will have mobilized up to 140,000 soldiers but will have ended in the return to power of the Taliban. “The reflection is in progress”, provides leadership for NATO.

Hushed official words

The alliance also says it will monitor the new regime’s promises of respect for human rights or freedom of movement for citizens. However, it does not provide any indication as to the number of Afghans who worked for the Western forces and who could not have been evacuated.

If, behind the scenes of the ministerial meeting, the conversations focused on the crisis of American leadership, the lack of consultation between Washigton and its allies or the controversies over the development of a European defense seen as competition from the transatlantic organization , the official words were hushed. No question, on the side of Mr. Stoltenberg or a high-ranking American diplomat, to evoke the themes of European sovereignty, or autonomy. But good to talk about the necessary “Collaboration” and of a “Better synchronization” in order to “Common progress”.

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