Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Where is Europe?

by Peter Henne

I am always amazed at the multiple layers in just about every seemingly-simple news story, as a piece in today's
New York Times demonstrates. A program set up in Afghanistan to woo Taliban foot soldiers away from the militant group is faltering, due to organizational problems and a failure on the part of the international community to provide the promised funding. I have been very interested in this program, and if this falls apart, it would be disastrous for stabilization efforts there.

Several questions arise from the story. Are the difficulties due to disorganization on the part of the Afghan government? Fatigue among the international community? Or is it, as the story mentions, due to the apparent strength of the Taliban? These are all useful points, but one of the most interesting--to me, at least--is the question of what this tells us about US-European relations.

The conference that set up this program included numerous countries, with most major European states
attending, and resulted in grand promises to develop Afghanistan. But many European donors have yet to fulfill their pledges. Of course, the United States could give more--although it appears we have donated a good amount--and countries outside Europe need to step up. But as Europe becomes increasingly integrated politically and takes a more prominent place in the international arena, it should also assume more responsibilities. The relatively sparse contribution so far is just one example of European states' failure to do so (it should be noted, however, that Estonia fulfilled its pledge).

A possible explanation for this was offered by Roger Cohen in the same issue as the above story on Afghanistan, in which he decries President Obama's lack of attention to Europe (Robert Kagan has raised the same point, but I admit I ignored him at the time). Europe is undoubtedly free-riding on US efforts, putting the minimal amount of resources in to please the United States in places like Afghanistan, but hesitant to commit anything more. Any good realist would expect them to do so. But free-riding was attempted all throughout the Cold War, and was headed off by fears of the Soviet threat and the patient efforts of US leaders. In the absence of a major threat, and with European publics less then enthused about international military endeavors, only persistent and intelligent diplomacy will keep Europe engaged in Afghanistan. And as the funding issues show us, the United States can't stabilize Afghanistan on its own.

There is of course the usual foreign policy caveat that it's an election year and the economy is all anyone is thinking about. But Americans expect leadership from their President, and there would be no better example of leadership than President Obama convincing Europe's leaders to shoulder their part of the burden in Afghanistan.

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