Outlining his strategy to “bring this war [Afghanistan] to a successful conclusion” in a nationally televised address last night, President Obama stated that he was confident of securing additional military and civilian contributions from America’s NATO allies in the days and weeks ahead. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Brussels later this week to meet with NATO Foreign Ministers, and will stand alongside countries like Britain and Slovakia which have already announced additional troop deployments for Afghanistan. Other nations, such as Poland and Italy will likely pledge additional contributions too, fulfilling a total projected increase of 5,000 European troops to complement 30,000 additional U.S. troops.
However, Hillary Clinton will not have an easy job convincing Europe that America is serious about winning in Afghanistan. Having only partially filled his commanding officer’s request for up to 80,000 additional troops, President Obama’s speech did not represent an unflinching endorsement of Gen. McChrystal’s recommended counterinsurgency strategy. And the commitment of the Commander-in-Chief to victory in Afghanistan is crucial to convincing Europe to do more. Obama’s repeatedly stated determination to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by July 2011 is likely to have a chilling effect on Europe’s various commanders-in-chief: they managed to stave off repeated requests from President Bush for additional troops and equipment; so, why not just wait the clock out on President Obama? And there has long been lag-time between what Europe has promised and what it has actually delivered.
But the real calculation that Europe must make about winning or losing the war in Afghanistan, regards their safety and security. The threat posed by Islamist extremists is global, and European security is at stake in Afghanistan just as much as America’s is. For too long, several Continental allies have hidden behind pretexts and excuses, forcing other members to carry an unfair share of the burden. Since the beginning of the Afghan campaign in 2001, the United States and the United Kingdom have committed disproportionate amounts of blood and treasure to uprooting radical extremism at its source. Other geographically smaller nations have fought bravely too, alongside countries not even within the NATO alliance. France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain can no longer hide behind political pusillanimity. Newer members of the alliance, including Romania, Albania, Poland, Bulgaria and Croatia also have an opportunity to take the initiative within the alliance and shape their standing within the transatlantic alliance.
President Obama made it clear in his speech that NATO’s credibility is at stake. He has invested much of his young presidency courting the leaders of Europe, visiting the Continent multiple times since his election, as has his Vice President, Secretary of State and other senior officials. Now is the time for Hillary Clinton to leverage this Administration’s strong public diplomacy investment, and realize tangible gains from Europe in the form of troops, equipment, money and political support.
However, if the United States continues to be failed by Europe in this endeavour, then America will have genuine cause to doubt NATO’s founding ethos that transatlantic security is indivisible. And Europe may consequently find itself without America’s security guarantee, which has kept peace in Europe for the past 60 years. The stakes in Afghanistan could not be higher – for freedom, for security and for the future of the transatlantic alliance.