NATO cannot afford the luxury of a purely ceremonial summit meeting in Istanbul on Monday. Its most important current operation — leading the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan — is in serious trouble, short of troops and unable to fulfil its mission. Before NATO took command of the Afghanistan force last August, the force’s mandate was limited to Kabul. In October, the Security Council authorised the force to expand operations throughout Afghanistan. This should have been a chance for NATO to demonstrate its military relevance in the post-cold war world. Yet so far, NATO’s performance has failed to meet Afghanistan’s pressing needs.

NATO’s European members have contributed well under 5,000 troops to Afghanistan. The US, Britain and, most recently, Karzai have called for NATO to step up its efforts. Protecting the September elections is one reason for doing so and to keep Afghanistan from falling back into a collection of local fiefs in which groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban can again take root. NATO members have a right to complain that the US has short-changed Afghanistan of American troops. But US mistakes do not excuse NATO’s poor performance. Securing a shattered Afghanistan is in the direct interest of the entire Atlantic alliance. Its leaders need to face up to their responsibilities. — The New York Times