NATO's European Members Must Do More For Afghanistan: Analysis

Feb 19, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2011

It's not going so great. That, in a nutshell, is the NATO Secretary General's assessment of the war in Afghanistan.

In a weekend op-ed in the Washington Post, Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer wrote that corruption is endemic, NATO's approach is too piecemeal, Afghanistan's leadership is very much wanting, and the West doesn't understand the conflict.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer also claimed that Europe is growing weary of the war and the Europeans are getting increasingly restive. They want results, and they want their troops home.

He is hardly singing solo. However, the Sec-Gen overlooks one very important aspect of the war in Afghanistan. NATO's European members are not doing their share of the heavy lifting.

Many of Europe's left-leaning politicians are hearty and constant critics of NATO. They claim it is dominated by America, primarily for American interests and that NATO will always be an alliance for war. The Euro public appetite for the Afghan war was, and remains, low. The domestic political climates mean there are relatively few European troops in Afghanistan and contingents are mostly stationed in the relatively safe north and north-west, working not in combat but in reconstruction.

It's important work, someone has to do it. But when you have US, Canadian and UK (and some Dutch) troops in the southern regions dealing with ambushes, terrorist strikes, warfare and the relentlessness of Taliban attacks, losing soldiers ever day, you understand why the NATO alliance may be suffering from some strain. Norway and Germany have sent relatively few troops to Afghanistan and have refused point blank to have their armies in harms way. Germany has not responded well to requests for them to enter the theater of conflict.

"If we are pressured, we get stubborn and obviously it has a very counterproductive effect," Karsten Voigt of the German Foreign Ministry told NPR last year, as if explaining away some recalcitrance during toilet training.

The NATO Sec-Gen says that his organization's problems lay within its random approach and not within Europe's refusal to be part of the action. He argues that a smarter strategy must be put on the table and out in the countryside.

As America has pledge another 32,000 troops into Afghanistan by summer, it is not too much to demand that NATO allies understand the role of an alliance - that if you are fighting a war it is not about picking and choosing soft or hard options. You fight the war together.

On the delicate question of the rule of law, Mr. de Hoop Scheffer argues that endemic corruption must be tackled by throwing support behind good government. He says - quite rightly, that the problem "in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban it's too little good governance."

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer's suggestion that the international community add more support to the corruption-laden government is, however, baffling. Yes, Afghans need and deserve a good government. So why bolster President Hamid Karzai, who oversees a breathtakingly corrupt administration and criminal economy, which fosters everyone from the petty official whose palm needs to be greased, to allegedly his own brother who is entrenched in the opium trade?

In the seven years of the Karzai government, there has been scant progress in literacy, infant mortality, unemployment, malnutrition, and infrastructure like gas, water and electricity, despite billions and billions of dollars of aid money. The talk about corruption, which goes on and on and on in Afghanistan must make its way to Karzai and ultimatums must and should be made.

In the NATO Secretary General's own words, "The world simply cannot afford to fail in Afghanistan. Within the NATO alliance and the international community more broadly, we must absorb the lessons from the past as we chart the way forward."

I hope he listens to himself.