Canada wants "frank" talks on NATO in Afghanistan

Mon Feb 16, 2009 3:09pm EST
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By Luke Baker

LONDON (Reuters) - The struggling effort to defeat the Taliban and bring security to Afghanistan means it is time for a "frank discussion" about the future of NATO, Canada's defense minister said on Monday.

In comments that are likely to aggravate some NATO partners, Peter MacKay told an audience in London that all alliance members needed to pull their weight otherwise the 60-year-old security pact faced an existential crisis.

"We need to have a frank discussion about the future of NATO," MacKay told the Royal Institute of International Affairs, known as Chatham House, while underlining that Canada, a founder member, remained committed to the organization.

"The U.S. re-emphasis on the mission in Afghanistan -- with the commitment of more troops, more development, more diplomacy -- has brought a predictable sigh of relief from some around the alliance," he said, suggesting some members saw it as a chance to sit back and say 'it's okay, the Americans will handle it'.

"As the United States says, its contribution is designed to reinforce, not to replace ... We all need to maintain our collective effort so that we maximize the official contribution from the United States," he said.

NATO defense ministers are due to meet in Krakow, Poland, for informal meetings on February 19-20. MacKay said he would use the meeting to hammer home the importance of all 26 members fulfilling their obligations to the organization.

In the past, criticism like MacKay's has been a veiled reference to the need for Germany, France and other major NATO states to step up contributions, bringing them into line with those made by Britain, Italy, Canada and the United States.