Quentin Peel had a slightly bizarre column in the FT yesterday, bemoaning the Europeans’ paltry response to Obama’s request for more boots on the ground in Afghanistan. As he notes, European governments are “terrified of offending hostile public opinion that cannot understand – and has never understood – why their soldiers are dying in such a distant land”. He continues [emphasis added],
Part of the problem is that the Nato allies went into the war in 2003 without a common strategy, or a common narrative. Countries such as Germany and the Netherlands persuaded their parliaments that the job was about peace-keeping, not fighting Taliban insurgents. Germany and France also sent special forces to join the US in Operation Enduring Freedom – fighting the Taliban and hunting for al-Qaeda – but they kept it secret.
The British, Dutch and Danes are now much more open that it is a real war, and that Nato’s survival is on the line. Others, including the Germans, are not. There is a logical reason.
“The more the Europeans build it up as make-or-break for Nato, or suggest ‘our security is on the line’, the more they set themselves up for failure,” says a European diplomat. “By keeping it low key, they keep an exit strategy.”
The danger for Nato is two-fold. Without greater European commitment, the war will be “Americanised”, and risk becoming yet more unpopular in Europe. As for the alliance, it is becoming a “coalition of the willing” by default. The fundamental assumption of Nato solidarity is called into question. That is more dangerous than losing the war.
Um – what? How on earth can losing the war be less dangerous than erosion of Nato solidarity, given that Nato doesn’t seem to be able to find anywhere else in the world, besides Afghanistan, where it clearly still has a role?
If policymakers in Nato member states are really going to set out a compelling narrative about why we’re at war in Afghanistan, then surely that narrative needs to rest on what Nato’s trying to achieve in Afghanistan. “Safeguarding Nato coherence” does not seem a very satisfactory answer to that question.