23. Afghan War: Largest Military Coalition in History
Student Researcher: Dani Wright (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has become history’s first global army. Never before have soldiers from so many states served in the same war theater, much less the same country. At the [tenth] anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan, the world is witness to a twenty-first-century armed conflict waged by the largest military coalition in history.
With recent announcements that troops from such diverse nations as Colombia, Mongolia, Armenia, Japan, South Korea, Ukraine, and Montenegro are to join those of some forty-five other countries serving under the command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), there will soon be military personnel from fifty nations and five continents serving under a unified command structure.
NATO’s fiftieth anniversary summit in Washington DC in 1999 welcomed the first expansion of the world’s only military bloc in the post–cold war era, absorbing former Warsaw Pact members such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Two years later, after the 9/11 attacks in New York City and Washington DC, NATO activated Article 5—in which the “Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.”
The main purpose of invoking NATO’s mutual military assistance clause was to rally the then nineteen-member military bloc for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and the stationing of troops, warplanes, and bases throughout South and Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Flyover rights were also arranged with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and newly acquired airbases in Bulgaria and Romania have since been used for the transit of troops and weapons to the Afghan war zone.
The 1999 war against Yugoslavia was NATO’s first “out of area” operation—that is, outside of North America and those parts of Europe in the alliance. The war in Afghanistan, however, marked NATO’s transformation into a global war fighting machine. NATO officials now employ such terms as global, expeditionary, and twenty-first century to describe NATO and its operations.
NATO members who have deployed troops to Afghanistan include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, as well as ten European nations that had never before been part of a military bloc—Austria, Bosnia, Finland, the Republic of Ireland, Macedonia, Malta, Montenegro, Serbia, Sweden, and Switzerland. The twenty-eight full original NATO members all have troops there as well.
All of the new members were prepared for full NATO accession under the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, which demands weapons interoperability (scrapping contemporary Russian and old Warsaw Pact arms in favor of Western ones); increasing future members’ military spending to 2 percent of their national budget no matter how hard-hit that nation is economically; purging of “politically unreliable” personnel from military, defense, and security posts; training abroad in NATO military academies; hosting US Alliance military exercises; and instructing the officer corps in a common language—English—for joint overseas operations.
In calendar year nine of the war in Afghanistan, and now with the expansion into Pakistan, NATO has built upon previous and current joint military deployments in Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Sudan, and off the coast of Somalia. In Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, NATO has conducted maritime surveillance and boarding operations, and in the autumn of 2009, NATO deployed its first naval task force off the coast of Somalia.
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