February 8, 2008
BERLIN (AFP)–A raging Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in eastern Europe were set to send the sparks flying at the annual Munich security conference this weekend.
But fresh from a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in Lithuania, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was expected to make little headway in pressing Washington’s aims, particularly when it comes to Afghanistan, experts and diplomats believe.
“Afghanistan is going to be the centerpiece of the conference,” said Daniel Korski from the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“America will continue to make the point for more burden sharing and more troops…There will be a continuation of the rhetoric and the Americans will bring out the bogeyman of NATO’s failure.”
But Gates is likely to draw a blank, Korski added: “Spain, Germany, France and Italy will not be able to provide the reinforcements requested.”
Commanders in Afghanistan have been calling for around 7,500 extra troops for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. ISAF currently comprises 42,000 troops from 39 countries.
In fierce fighting more than 6,000 people, including nearly 220 international soldiers, were killed there last year – the most since the U.S.-led toppling of the Taliban regime in 2001.
The U.S. wants Germany, France, Spain and Italy not only to boost troop numbers but also to aid U.S., U.K., Dutch, and Canadian forces fighting a resurgent Taliban in the south of the country.
Germany for instance leads ISAF in the relatively calm north of Afghanistan but with elections looming in 2009 and public support for Berlin’s six year-old Afghan mission slipping, it is wary of becoming further enmeshed.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government stresses instead the reconstruction role of its 3,200 troops, and last week Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung rejected a sharply-worded request by Gates for more help in the south.
(AP Photo/Fritz Reiss)
Jung says he will defend this position in Munich.
Germany’s refusal means other countries are also unlikely to step up to the plate, and this in turn could see the existing alliance unravel.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has threatened to withdraw his country’s 2,500 troops unless NATO provides reinforcements.
Since 2002, 78 Canadian soldiers and a senior diplomat have died in roadside bombings and in fighting. Next month sees a crunch vote in Ottawa on whether to extend Canada’s combat mission beyond February 2009.
Gates is also unlikely to get an easy ride over sausages and beer in Munich when it comes to Washington’s plans to site parts of a missile defense shield in eastern Europe.
The 10 planned interceptor missile sites in Poland and associated radar stations in the Czech Republic, which the U.S. wants operational by 2012, are designed, Washington says, to intercept projectiles fired from “rogue states” like Iran.
But Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov is expected to use his appearance in Munich to hammer home Moscow’s strong dislike for the plans, since the installations will be placed on what it sees as its doorstep.
Sergei Borisovich Ivanov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used a Polish newspaper interview on Thursday to accuse Washington of imperialism and seeking to encircle Russia with the project.
“When you look at a map, it becomes clear that everything is concentrated around our borders,” he told Gazeta Wyborcza.
The annual security conference in the Bavarian capital will bring together around 250 delegates from 50 countries including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, NATO head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and Mohamed El Baradei, head of the U.N. atomic agency.
Jakob Gijsbert “Jaap” de Hoop Scheffer