North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) defence ministers will hold a series of virtual meetings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday of this week to address the crises facing the organisation in the territories of Afghanistan and Iraq. They are also scheduled to discuss NATO 2030 and common security challenges with Finland, Sweden and the European Union.
This is the first meeting since the appointment of Joe Biden as the new US president, which NATO sees as "an opportunity to prepare for the NATO summit in Brussels later this year", Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an official statement. He also stressed the vital importance of the 2030 initiative: The NATO 2030 initiative will be high on the agenda and we will present a set of proposals to defence ministers to begin preparations for the summit.
Stoltenberg referred to the proposals to be discussed at these meetings, such as increasing funding for "deterrence and defence" activities, strengthening the resilience of allies and, above all, maintaining information and technological superiority, as well as strengthening political coordination among all NATO members and cooperation with like-minded but non-member partners.
The most controversial issue will be addressed on Thursday, when ministers will discuss NATO's deployed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The secretary general also mentioned in the communiqué the peace process in the Afghan region, which he said "remains fragile and the level of violence remains unacceptably high". The intention for the time being is not to end the organisation's presence, at least until "the time is right". Assessing the situation and monitoring all developments closely is now key in order not to make any missteps that could increase tension in any of the regions.
In relation to the Afghanistan crisis, US Defence Department spokesman John Kirby announced Secretary Lloyd Austin's decision to reaffirm the country's commitment to NATO. To this he added the idea of withdrawing US military forces from the country presided over by Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, planned for the month of May, but which he says cannot yet be officially announced until there are guarantees of the security that the move would entail. This withdrawal would finally culminate with the agreement reached in February 2020 by Washington with the Taliban movement.
The case of Iraq is quite different. The organisation intends to 'launch an expanded mission in Iraq, with more training for allied personnel and advice to security institutions throughout the country'. The year 2021 will be the seventh consecutive year in which NATO increases defence spending. The distribution of this spending is also to be reviewed at this meeting because, they argue, "since 2014, the European allies and Canada have contributed an additional cumulative $190 billion". Because of this, Stoltenberg proposes mutualising funding, which, according to him, would have great advantages and would contribute to improving the sharing of the economic burden, something that the United States has been demanding since the Obama era.
Currently, each country is financially responsible for the expenses generated by the weapons it contributes to a given mission. The Secretary General's proposed major change would strengthen NATO's economic policy, although Jens Stoltenberg's fundamental objective remains to strengthen article 5 of the NATO Treaty - which imposes mutual defence in the event of aggression - "Spending more money together would demonstrate the strength of our commitment to article 5, our pledge to defend each other".