Europe has spent the last year contemplating a long list of expectations for the next US president, an exercise that has generated an enormous amount of excitement and anticipation. But as Europe has slowly come to realize that the United States has its own set of expectations, its rising tide of enthusiasm about the US election has started to ebb. Europeans now understand that they will be asked to do more in the world, especially in Afghanistan. Both Senator Obama and Senator McCain have articulated their intentions to ask NATO allies to send more troops and lift national caveats should they be elected president. However, most European capitals, facing overstretched militaries and mounting skepticism about the Afghanistan mission back home, find it difficult to imagine delivering anything but a gentle "no" when Washington calls early next year. Short of troop commitments, though, there are three low(er)-cost, high-impact contributions Europe could make in Afghanistan.
While Washington's first priority is to secure additional troop commitments for the mission in Afghanistan, it fully recognizes that shortfalls exist in many other areas. Therefore, if Europeans are intent on declining US requests to send more troops but worry about starting their relationship with the next US president on a low note, they should consider increasing commitments in other areas. First on that list should be police trainers.
Policing is an area where Europe, most notably Germany, has already assumed a leading role. In 2002, Germany took the lead in training Afghan law enforcement officials and sent about 40 trainers to Kabul. When that mission was criticized for the pace with which it trained officers and its lack of resources, the EU launched its own police mission (EUPOL) in 2007. Since then, the EU has been training the trainers and helping Afghans develop and implement a national policing strategy. But both Europeans and the Afghan government have acknowledged that EUPOL remains woefully understaffed with just over 100 officers and another 100 civilian experts. In May, the EU pledged to double that number to 400, although defense experts on both sides of the Atlantic estimate that Afghanistan needs at least 2,000 - 3,000 additional police trainers. Europeans should consider bridging that gap with an additional pledge of 500 trainers. Doing so would not be without its challenges, especially as the EU is preparing to launch a sizeable and important policing mission in Kosovo. Given that maintaining the status quo only delays the point at which Afghans can take responsibility for their own security, which in turn, delays when Western troops can return home, asking each EU member state to send an extra 15-20 trainers might not be a bad idea.
Europe should also look at the possibility of significantly enhancing the EU's civilian presence on the ground. In addition to police trainers, the West's mission in Afghanistan sorely lacks civilian experts in areas such as the rule of law, agricultural reform, health, education, and institution building. Over the last six years, Europeans have made contributions in many of these areas both through the EU mission and national contributions to the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. (Europeans have also contributed large sums of much-needed development assistance.) But like the EU policing programs, these crucial civilian experts are simply too few in number to have a major impact. Yet the EU and its member governments have provided personnel with these skills in Bosnia-Herzegovina and other parts of the Balkans with considerable success. The people of Afghanistan have shown that they are not short on ideas for building their future but many civil servants simply lack the ability to implement their ideas and integrate them across various levels of government. This is an area where Europe could play an enhanced role while simultaneously showcasing its renowned soft power potential.
Europe could respond to
American requests to do more with concrete proposals aimed at addressing some
of Afghanistan's unique challenges. For example, Western aid desperately needs
to be prioritized. Could a country in Europe or a group of European countries
take the lead in this area and conduct a comprehensive assessment of what gaps
remain? What about the border region with Pakistan, home to a number of
extremist groups? Could Europe use its good diplomatic offices to host a
major regional conference on this volatile region? Some have advocated
negotiating with the Taliban. How might European leaders assist in thinking
through the substance of such a dialogue and how should the West identify those
that should be party to such negotiations? Narcotics trafficking is yet
another pressing challenge (perhaps Afghanistan's most difficult). Multiple
foreign and local proposals have been generated in recent years - ranging from
new methods for poppy eradication to legalizing the crops for medicinal
purposes - but consensus and resources remain elusive. How could Europe lead
the international community towards a new common strategy?
When Washington calls European capitals next year, asking for additional assistance in Afghanistan, the answer should not be a definitive no. Short of more boots on the ground, there are countless valuable contributions that Europe could make on top of existing commitments. Providing more police trainers, or civilian experts for PRTs, or help with sorting out assistance priorities, or new diplomatic initiatives would individually or collectively do much to stabilize Afghanistan. Of course, Europe shouldn't increase its contributions just in the name of maintaining a positive relationship with the next US president. It should do so because the dangers and consequences of failure are very real - both for the people of Afghanistan and the people of Europe.
Julianne Smith is the director of
the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a member of
the board of Atlantic Initiative U.S.
The article was originally published in German in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung on October 10, 2008 and is republished here with kind permission from the author.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Thorsten Benner & Lars Zimmermann: Afghanistan Debate: Parliamentary Hearings Crucial for Germany
- Bernhard Lucke: It is Time to Withdraw from Afghanistan
- Djörn Eversteijn: Out of Afghanistan Menas out of Business for NATO