What Are You Prepared to Do?

NATO and the Strategic Mismatch Between Ends, Ways, and Means in Afghanistan — and in the Future

Published in: Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, v. 34, iss. 5, May 2011, p. 383-401

Posted on RAND.org on April 30, 2011

by David E. Johnson

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This article examines ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operations in Afghanistan as a way to get at the strategic disconnects in ends, ways, and means that the author believes are endemic to large-scale protracted stability and COIN (counterinsurgency) operations against adversaries who do not pose palpable existential threats to the members of an alliance. The article focuses mainly on the period that followed President Barack Obama's December 2009 announcement of a civilian and military "surge" in Afghanistan through the early stages of the ISAF offensive in Marjah, which began in February 2010. The article concludes that the fundamental strategic issue is that the Allies are not willing (or able) to devote enough resources to achieve their stated objectives. No matter how much the "Ways" might be improved, the "Means" are not sufficient to attain the "Ends." Thus, what is needed is a more realistic understanding of what ISAF can accomplish in Afghanistan and what NATO might be expected to accomplish in future operations.

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