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Expect A Civilian NATO Counterpart To McChrystal Later This Month

On a blogger conference call, Adm. James Stavridis, the military commander of NATO, said he was a “100 percent supporter” of a much-debated proposal for the alliance to empower a senior civilian to coordinate diplomatic, political, development and other civilian support to work with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the military commander in Afghanistan. “We are not going to deliver security from the barrel of a gun,” Stavridis said. “Gen. McChrystal needs a strong civilian partner.” What’s more, Stavridis indicated that the debate around the position is over: the alliance will name such a senior civilian official at an international conference scheduled for the end of January in London, Stavridis said.

For months, Obama administration officials and their European allies have debated the optics of empowering a senior civilian for Afghanistan, noting that Amb. Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, can only reach back to the U.S. government’s civilian components, not to those of allied nations. (McChrystal, the commander of both U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, can do both, but only on the military side.) Eikenberry also doesn’t have the institutional authority to coordinate the civilian contributions of NATO partner nations on the ground. All that adds up to a mismatch of effort, even when non-U.S. partners — whether in NATO, or the United Nations, or non-NATO partners like the Japanese — seek to provide non-military aid for Afghanistan. The objection to the proposal is that empowering a senior civilian NATO contact for Afghanistan might send a message to the Afghans that their country is further becoming an international client. That’s why a senior European diplomat told me in December, “This has been discussed entirely within the context of the strategic theme of turning responsibility over to the Afghans.”

But apparently that objection has been overcome. Stavridis said there were “three or four… terrific people” being considered for the job who can “hit the ground running” and be in Afghanistan by “mid-February at the latest.” While Stavridis sounded at times like he had a specific candidate in mind, he declined to announce any names, saying instead, “Watch the London conference.”

But Stavridis did point to a recent editorial in the International Herald Tribune that floated some names — not for the NATO Afghanistan job, but to succeed Kai Eide as chief U.N. diplomat in Afghanistan. Stavridis’ comments seem to indicate that the alliance is looking at these candidates for the chief civilian job. Here’s what the IHT suggested on December 30:

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, is currently considering three candidates: Staffan de Mistura of Sweden, Jean-Marie Guéhenno of France and Ian Martin of Britain. Of these, we believe Mr. Guéhenno has most clearly demonstrated the qualities necessary for what is a very tough job.

If Guehenno gets the U.N. job, that suggests de Mistura and Martin are the active candidates for the NATO job. And if the conference is in London, perhaps the British diplomat Martin might end up with the Kabul assignment.

Still, Stavridis didn’t say that. Instead, he emphasized the need for the new position. “Just as we are finding way [towards] real interagency cooperation, broadly conceived, in the U.S. government, that’s absolutely crucial in Afghanistan as well,” the NATO commander said.

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