An important conference of the North Atlantic Council (the main decision-making body of NATO) had place on Wednesday 14th April. The foreign and defence ministers of the 30 allied countries took part in the video conference at the summit. Among them, there were also Anthony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, respectively State Secretary and Defence Secretary of the Biden administration, who took part in the meeting directly from the NATO general headquarters in Brussels, where they were welcomed by the Secretary Stoltenberg. He recognised their presence as the “testimony of the importance of the transatlantic bond and of the engagement of the United States in consulting their allies” and he described the conference as “an important demonstration of our unity”.
In particular, the subjects of the discussion were two: the future of the military presence of NATO in Afghanistan and the new tensions between Ukraine and Russia, triggered by the military preparations that the Kremlin seems to be carrying out at the border, where the highest flow of men and vehicles has been recorded since the invasion of Crimea in 2014. Yet it is especially what was decided concerning the joint military commitment (American and numerous European allies) in Afghanistan, in the context of the NATO Resolute Support mission, that determined the special attention reserved on this occasion to the North Atlantic Council conference. Indeed, at the end of the day of discussion, Secretary Stoltenberg announced the decision of the Organisation to proceed with the withdrawal of the troops from Afghanistan in the context of the Resolute Support mission starting from 1st May 2021 - just as the same announcement was being pronounced overseas by President Biden, from the same room of the White House from where George W. Bush had informed American citizens of the beginning of hostilities in Afghanistan. Therefore, American and allied troops (altogether about 10,000, of which 2,500 were American) will leave the Afghan territory together: “we went into Afghanistan together, we adjusted our position together and we are united in leaving together” is what Secretary Stoltenberg declared. This was echoed by US State Secretary Blinken, who recalled that the Atlantic alliance intervened in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, based on Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which envisages that an armed attack against one of the contracting parties represents an attack against the whole alliance: “20 years ago, after the United States was attacked on 9/11, this alliance invoked Article Five for the first time in its history. An attack on one, is an attack on all. Together, we went to Afghanistan to root out Al-Qaeda, and prevent future terrorist attacks from Afghanistan, directed at our homelands. Now, we will leave Afghanistan together and bring our troops home”. The coordination and solidarity which marked the mobilisation, in other words, will also characterise the demobilisation of the last troops still on the ground, starting from 1st May.
This one will be organised, coordinated and cautious and it will take a few months, according to Stoltenberg and it has been confirmed by the declaration undersigned by the meeting attendees. In particular, Biden foresees that it will be concluded by 11th September 2021, day of the twentieth anniversary of those attacks at the heart of the United States that justified the NATO mobilisation in Afghanistan. The decision to recall the troops and suspend the military commitment in the Country springs from the conviction that “there isn’t a military solution to the challenges that Afghanistan faces”, as stated in the final declaration of the North Atlantic Council, and that the alternative - a military commitment of indefinite duration, which could require an even biggest deployment of men and resources compared to the current one - is not bearable. In substance, the decision of demobilisation was presented as the only possible option, even if dangerous. Stoltenberg and Blinken and Austin underlined, on one hand, that the objectives of the NATO mission have now been achieved, and on the other that the disappearance of the military presence should not be interpreted as a sign of the interruption of the relations between the Atlantic alliance and Afghanistan. Indeed, NATO will remain vigilant regarding the possible re-emergence of a terrorist threat, it will continue to provide support to the Afghan government and security forces, as well as to support the peace process and to work diplomatically to reach a lasting political agreement between the Afghan government and Taliban forces, and it will preserve its efforts in terms of cooperation for development. Furthermore, in many occasions the State Secretary Blinken was confident that, after the disappearance of the NATO military presence, other countries keen on the stability of Afghanistan will come forward to give their contribution, so far made necessary by the Atlantic commitment.
Regarding the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Secretary Stoltenberg expressed full support of the Atlantic alliance for Ukraine, which sees its sovereignty and territorial integrity threatened by the Russian aggressiveness, and strongly demanded to Russia “to proceed instantly to the de-escalation, to suspend its aggressive provocations and to respect the international engagement”. The ministerial conference of the North Atlantic Council had place after the meeting between Secretary Stoltenberg and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, alongside the NATO-Ukraine commission meeting, in which the two discussed the alarming situation at the Russian-Ukrainian border.
Translated by Lucica Oana Maris