On NATO’s role in Afghanistan and the protests of today

May 21, 2012

Robert L. Price

Editor's Note: Worldview contributor Robert L. Price is at the NATO summit Monday and will blog throughout the day on NATO policy and summit outcomes. First, he considers summit protests in light of his own experiences:

As a college student and young adult at the University of Notre Dame, I protested around civil rights issues, due process of law and other aspects of U.S. public policy. Back then, I felt our efforts were productive because national public policy received much needed attention and in some instances, positively enhanced policy. We organized student protests around eliminating apartheid in South Africa and pressured our university to divest. Later, we created a process for facilitating and documenting grievances of minority students. I witnessed community protests against the unfair incarceration of black men in the Indiana prison system and opposed the death penalty.

Such work inspired me. I met selfless, committed people who worked for the betterment of our human condition. For me, the protests of my youth were a personal journey that had clear goals.

I got a different sense talking to protesters in Chicago this weekend. I trailed a few downtown protests on Sunday, and when I spoke to protesters their concerns were, as I expected, all centered on war: dismantling NATO and ending the conflict in Afghanistan. But when I asked around, very few people understood the specifics of what the protests were about, what NATO stood for or what specific policy the demonstrations would affect.

Granted, in the months leading up to the summit, the public and local press received little information regarding the logistics, specifics or desired policy outcomes of the summit. It was unclear what or how international policy would be affected by this summit. Many of us did not have a sense of NATO’s relevance in today’s austere world.

I believe the U.S. and NATO have a clear mission in Afghanistan: to eliminate Al Qaeda and leave. I don’t sense the same clarity of mission with the NATO protesters. Do they know what policy initiatives they intend to change? Do they truly understand the culture and people of Afghanistan or the events that led up to the U.S./NATO occupation?

Robert L. Price is an architect and interior designer based in Shanghai, China. He is Worldview's arts and architecture contributor and a Global Cities co-contributor. Price also serves as Senior Associate and Technical Director for Asia at Gensler, a global design firm.