NATO pacifism

If Canada and the Netherlands follow the example of other continental powers and avoid further military engagements against the Taliban, then Afghanistan will have prolonged NATO's existence for a number of years. It will not have staved off the inevitable collapse of the alliance, as the Europeans are unable to stomach military fights or bodybags. For a group that mocked the American public for squeamishness after Vietnam, the anti-Americanism in Europe has taken a wrist-slitting pacifism to declinist extremes.

Asked whether the future of Nato was at stake, Gen McNeill said: "I think all 26 members realise that from a military context, and that is primarily why Nato is here, this is a decision point. Either we are going to get it done, or we won't."

Gen McNeill said that the 58-year-old alliance was holding together, but added: "There is a lot of political dialogue in various capitals, especially in mainland Europe."

His warning comes after Brigadier John Lorimer, the commander of British forces in southern Helmand Province, said the troops faced a "marathon mission" lasting decades in Afghanistan.

Like so many deployments that look static in theatre, Afghanistan depends upon the continuation of a secular regime in Pakistan. That weakened and fragile failure could prove a tipping point. If Islamists gain control of the country and its nuclear weapons, NATO will not survive the bigger scuttle of the parts of the West as it backs down. It does not bode well that hard-line Talibanisation is creeping into the 'settled areas' beyond the tribal strongholds backed by fundamentalist militia violence.