War on the Rocks: Reconsidering U.S. Decision Making Within NATO After the Fall of Kabul

From War on the Rocks: ''With NATO, the United States often tries to have it all: U.S. leadership of the alliance and increased allied burden-sharing. Indeed, in addressing the Munich Security Conference in February 2021, President Joe Biden emphasized to allies that that the “U.S. is back” and is determined “to earn back our position of trusted leadership,” while welcoming “Europe’s growing investment in the military capabilities that enable our shared defense.”

But the recent experience in Afghanistan shows how the form that U.S. leadership takes can frustrate allies. Even as U.S. officials consulted with allied officials about Afghanistan, available accounts and Biden’s own explanations suggest that the U.S. decision was based on an assessment of U.S. interests and priorities and was not a shared decision that sought to balance allied concerns. Allies seem to have preferred a more conditions-based troop withdrawal but, once the U.S. decision to withdraw was made, allies had little choice but to end the NATO mission since they could not carry on without U.S. participation. Allies were uncharacteristically public in their criticism of the United States — the U.K. defense secretary characterized U.S. policy as a mistake, while the head of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union Party called the dilemma in Afghanistan the greatest challenge to the alliance since 1945.

Accounts of U.S. decision-making on Afghanistan since 2001 show that reports of decision-making under Biden follow the pattern of past processes: The United States tended to inform allies of U.S. decisions — which, in turn, effectively set alliance policy for the mission — rather than incorporating allied views into the U.S. decision process. As a result, allies effectively became obliged to support a NATO policy that often did not reflect their preferences and concerns. Allies’ frustration could lead them to reduce their contributions to NATO efforts in the future.

As shown in Afghanistan, the United States faces a tradeoff between incorporating allied views into U.S. decisions and compromising allies’ support for U.S. policy. If the United States is serious about strengthening alliances and burden-sharing, this may require finding ways to better incorporate allied concerns into U.S. decision-making.''

Read more about this in War on the Rocks


Photo Credits: US Army, Pfc Ashunteia' Smith, Flickr


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