Spanish Troops for Afghanistan

Spain has agreed to send 500 additional troops to Afghanistan, including combat troops, but otherwise mainly in a training capacity to the Afghan army. This is more welcome news, politically speaking. But I think it lends weight to the charge made by French Defense Minister Hervé Morin, in defending the Afghanistan war before the French Parliament, that Europe has undermined its political weight by announcing its various troop increases one by one, as opposed to adopting a common position in a coordinated manner.

In essence, the immediate declaration by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, following President Barack Obama’s speech at West Point, that NATO would contribute 7,000 additional troops was tailored to Obama’s political needs.

But Obama’s strategy review was carried out unilaterally, with a notable lack of input from — and transparency for — the NATO allies. As one Socialist deputy pointed out, that is in direct contradiction to the logic behind French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to reintegrate the NATO command structure earlier this year, which was supposed to increase France’s leverage in the alliance’s strategic decision-making process.

This is clearly a European problem, one that can’t reasonably be placed on American shoulders. France and Germany wanted to wait until the Afghanistan conference in late-January to determine whether or not they would deploy additional troops. (For both, it looks very improbable.) Had all of Europe taken the same position, it almost certainly would have added weight to the combined impact of their response, while also providing cover for those who decided to not increase troop commitments. But the U.K., Poland, Italy and now Spain felt that the American political calendar should take precedence.

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