With Gordon Brown and, reportedly, Barack Obama both agreeing to up their
respective countries’ troop count in Afghanistan, Afghan watchers have
understandably spent the past week focusing on the military component of the
international effort (plus, of course, the nefarious
activities of the Italians).
Yet, as with most large-scale interventions these days, Afghanistan
also enjoys a significant civilian presence-police, rule of law experts,
reconstruction teams and the like. And while the instinct in America is always
to turn to the Pentagon first, we Europeans, with our far more subtle
understanding of the complex nature of modern security challenges, are
much better at deploying this so-called “civilian power” effectively-right?
Wrong. It turns out that the EU’s much-vaunted “comprehensive approach” is
chimerical-a figment more of an illusory European self-image than any
reflection of our performance abroad. In a new report
published by my think tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations, two
security experts argue that Europe’s overseas interventions are being hampered
by three problems: an outdated reliance on models that worked reasonably well
in the Balkans but that are utterly unsuited to places like Afghanistan;
European governments’ unwillingness to treat civilian deployment seriously and
to live up to their commitments on numbers; and tiresome and debilitating turf
wars between the various institutions in Brussels. The EU police training
mission in Afghanistan
is a good example: launched a couple of years ago, the operation was supposed
to employ 400 European police officers; it has struggled to attract 250. And
political wrangling and security concerns have stopped those police trainers
from operating effectively-most police training in Afghanistan is now carried
out by frustrated Americans.
With European electorates growing increasingly sceptical about the value of
foreign interventions, civilian deployment programmes will look like obvious
candidates for the chop to EU governments faced with a squeeze on public
finances. Let’s hope this temptation can be avoided.
This commentary is part of the author’s Prospect blog.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.