Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Free-riding Freddy

As did the Irish commander of the Darfur and Chad expedition did, British defense secretary John Hutton points out that Europe’s money isn’t where its’ mouth is in Afghanistan.

"There should be no-one in NATO who believes that all that is needed is a bit of soft power, a bit of nice warm words for the Afghan government. That is not going to beat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban," Hutton said in a press conference in London ahead of a keynote speech later.

"We need a full complement of effective forces and we don't have those in theatre at the moment."

Without naming specific countries who he wanted to do more, Hutton added that it was not fair to expect the Americans to do all the "heavy lifting."

"We are going to have to do more, all of us in ISAF need to understand that, if we want this mission to be successful," Hutton said.
The point has been made often enough before by authorities in European NATO member states. There too, virtually nothing became of the complaints. Even Nicolas Sarkozy, someone who actually gets the problem, could only commit another 600 troops and get away with it politically, while the US has scheduled a surge of 30,000 troops to oppose what is expected to be a post-winter assault by the Taliban and al Queda to take large parts of territory out of the hands of the Afghan government. Those 600 French troops, as professional as they are, still represent a relative commitment by population of 1/10th of the force the United States is.

The problem is quite simply that the public in European societies aren’t ever convinced that there is much of anything worth defending, correcting, or fighting for. It’s why so many are willing to resort to calling for any other instrument (talks, dropping aid in the zone, placation of one form or another) because at the moment the question comes up, it doesn’t sound openly like the language of evasion.

It doesn’t ever seem to be a matter of dealing with an issue like supporting Afghanistan’s nascent pluralism, but of dealing with what someone is asking of them.
In his speech Hutton was set to accuse other European countries of "freeloading" on the back of US and British military commitments in Afghanistan, according to the Daily Telegraph and Financial Times.

Speaking to reporters, Hutton added: "We've got to step up to the plate, everyone in NATO's got to do that and the point of my remarks later on today will be to say it is not honest, credible or I think sustainable for us constantly to say, 'well the Americans can do it all.'

"That isn't an alliance, that's one-way traffic. That's not good enough."
And if a statement like that, like so many we’ve heard before, moves the issue an inch in one direction or another, it would be a miracle. Just when it is that the European public at large is moved to act on any of their famous empathy for those suffering and for the concept of defending the freedoms and human rights remains to be seen.

Surely they already get the fact that for America, unilateralism is still the only option, but other than the likes of John Hutton, the issue is one of managing the “social awkwardness” of continuing to milk America’s capacity to commit.

For the Europeans though, that complex is actually a lot closer to home. In their back yard, in fact:
That NATO cannot work effectively with the European Union - particularly in Kosovo and Afghanistan - is incomprehensible to me. I do not disregard national concerns about the lack of formal agreements for contact between EU and NATO missions. But I do not accept that our armed forces should suffer the consequences. Nor that we should be hampered in addressing shared security concerns.
To contextualize just how close something has to be to barely matter to them, Kosovo directly abuts the border of an EU member state, Pristina is 243 km from Thessaloniki, and yet not only was an American intervention required, 10% of the personnel there are American. The EU’s outward disposition and structure, as well as that of any bilateral effort by more than one EU member state at present is such that it can literally do nothing relevant for itself by itself.

The public seems unconcerned.

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