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June 12, 2011 |  17 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Joerg Wolf & Elias Gladstone

Topic Europe's Contributions Should be Recognized

Joerg Wolf & Elias Gladstone: Despite significant popular opposition to the Afghanistan war, most European NATO member states continue to send troops into harms way. The US media and strategic community, however, often downplays Europe’s role in the country, case in point Professor Russell Berman from the Hoover Institution.

President Obama is to blame for the "hollowing out of the trans-Atlantic partnership", which has degenerated into "empty symbolism" to the effect that "there is no alliance on any of the major issues of the day." This is the thesis of Russell Berman, professor at Stanford and senior policy fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Writing for the popular online magazine The Daily Beast, owned in part by Newsweek, he makes factual errors in his criticism of European contributions to NATO's Afghanistan mission:

[Obama] was completely unable to convince any European ally to increase troop commitments to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Some, like the Netherlands, have in fact already withdrawn, and others are likely to follow suit. (…) The net effect of the Obama administration policy in this arena amounts to a nearly total Americanization of the war. It's hard to see the multilateralism in it—nearly as hard as it is to find Europeans on the front lines.

The Daily Beast did not bother to fact check Professor Berman's claims, choosing instead to misinform their readers and reinforce prejudices against Europe.

1. Russell Berman is wrong in stating that Obama was "completely unable to convince any European ally to increase troop commitments." The fact is: 36 European countries have increased the number of their troops in Afghanistan since Obama became president. Only three European countries have decreased the number of troops. The increase was bigger than the decrease by 9,361 troops.

The tables below are based on NATO statistics from January 12, 2009 (i.e. one week before Obama's inauguration) and June 6, 2011:

Assistant Secretary of State Philip H. Gordon acknowledged the European contributions in October 2010, one year after the surge:

In Afghanistan, in the wake of the President’s speech in November 2009, Europe contributed about 7000 additional troops, over 100 training teams for the Afghan army and police, and nearly $300 million for the Afghan National Army trust fund. European nations now have almost 40,000 troops in Afghanistan and the total European contribution to Afghanistan since 2001 comes to $14 billion.

2. Professor Berman is incorrect in writing "Some [European allies], like the Netherlands, have in fact already withdrawn." No European NATO member has pulled out. While it is true that the Netherlands has withdrawn combat units, it still has nearly 200 troops under the Command and Control of COMISAF.  In addition, in January of this year the Dutch government announced the deployment of a 545 strong team to train and instruct the Afghan police, which will make a valuable contribution to the Alliance’s counter-insurgency strategy.

3. Professor Berman's claim that it is "hard" "to find Europeans on the front lines,"  is wrong and insensitive to the families of dead soldiers.

Since Obama took office, European troops did not just increase in numbers. They also took on increasingly risky missions. US Defense Secretary Gates today paid tribute to Europe’s contributions on the front line:

Consider that when I became secretary of defense, there were about 20,000 non-U.S. troops from NATO nations in Afghanistan. (...) Today, that figure is approximately 40,000. More than 850 troops from non-U.S. NATO members have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. For many allied nations, these were the first military casualties they have taken since the Second World War. (...) It is a credit to the brave ISAF troops on the ground, as well as to the allied governments who have made the case for the Afghanistan mission under difficult political circumstances at home.

Research conducted only last year at the University of Cambridge has shown that British soldiers have been killed at a rate nearly four times higher than their United States counterparts. Also see Foreign Policy Magazine's calculations of troop fatalities relative to the military-age population.

It is understandable that Americans expect more support from Europe in Afghanistan. But if Professor Berman cares about strengthening trans-atlantic relations, he could refrain from making factual errors that alienate Europeans.

Joerg Wolf is editor-in-chief and Elias Gladstone is an editor at atlantic-community.org.

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Unregistered User

June 10, 2011

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Interesting. When you add up all the contributions from the many smaller European countries, you get pretty significant numbers.

The attacks against German troops in the "quiet North" are increasing constantly.

Germany lost four young men in their twenties in the last weeks in three attacks. As an expert on Germany, you would think that Russell Berman would read German newspapers or watch German TV and learn about the funerals.
 
Unregistered User

June 10, 2011

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Excellent article. I have always pointed to the FP article cited. Actually some European countries take the heaviest proprtional burden in Afghanistan.
 
Mike  McCormack

June 11, 2011

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I would agree with the authors that the particular comments addressed here are very much off-base. I would also agree that general criticism toward European allies overlooks those who go above and beyond in terms of contributions (in my personal experiences Denmark, which is used in one of your examples, is certainly well-recognized in this respect by US policymakers). You will have no argument from me that those on the ground are undertaking their duties with the utmost professionalism while doing so under the harsh conditions of a combat zone.

Even still, it is also worth noting that one of the largest contributors, Canada, is soon to end its combat mission in Afghanistan. The fact that Canada's main area of operation has been within one of Afghanistan's most violent areas (Kandahar) will make the strains of the departure even worse for the rest of the alliance. Why is it that this void is being filled primarily by Americans instead of allied nations from less-restive areas? Another problem comes from the long-term attitude toward the military by the governments of several European allies. The fact that most have failed to meet the NATO benchmark of spending at least 2% of GDP on the military has trickled down to create an inadequate supply chain in ISAF. Most of all, the existence of "national caveat" policies has hampered overall combat effectiveness in the alliance (while Berman's specific wording on this is overly harsh, the point he is perhaps trying to make is a very important one). Indeed, I do think that the failures of national governments to maintain a proper approach to the ISAF mission gives short shrift to the contributions and sacrifices made by the soldiers on the ground on a daily basis. Nonetheless, the attitude taken by many European allies on this operation are far too glaring to ignore, even within the valid arguments made here.
 
Joerg  Wolf

June 11, 2011

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@ Mike
Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

Yes, the Obama administration and the US military recognizes the contributions from Denmark and many other European countries, but I don't see much of such recognition from Congress, the think tank community and especially the media.
Okay, they don't have to express their love all the time, but what I do not like is factually wrong statements on Europe's increased contributions and Obama's achievement in securing them.

What I find very common (and annoying) are statements on how the United States needs to spend soo much on defense, because Europe does not and that the US still has to take care of Europe's defense.

This was certainly true during the Cold War, but most Germans (and probably other Europeans as well) do not see how the US is defending Europe in the expensive wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Rather the popular perception in Germany is that we have been sending thousands of young men and women to Afghanistan for nine (!) years out of solidarity with the US after 9/11 rather than a perceived threat. (Al Qaeda is global, but the Taliban are not engaged in jihad against targets in the West) The government deserves some respect for staying the course despite strong popular opposition.
If you want Germany to fill the void left by the Canadian withdrawal, how should our government explain that to the voters?

I wrote a bit more on Gates' comments on defense spending and the debt crisis here:
http://atlanticreview.org/archives/1487-Neocons-and-Liberal-Interve...

Good points on the benchmark. Do you remember when it was passed? I don't remember right now. And how formal/binding is the benchmark anyway? Should the benchmark be reconsidered given the debt crisis on the one hand and increased military efficiency caused by successful (?) pooling European resources over the last few years?
 
Felix F. Seidler

June 11, 2011

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NATO in general and all European states face the problem that the United States turn their attention to the Asia Pacific. However, no one can complain that most powerful country on earth shifts its focus on the hotspots of world politics. Allies like Australia, Japan and South Korea are, therefore, likely to receive much more US appraisal than the broke Europeans.

Beside the discussion, whether Europeans spend enough on defence or not, we have to keep in mind that a "stand alone operations" capability is in Europe´s own interest. In the next mostly Europe affecting crisis the already stretched US capabilities may be bounded elsewhere (e.g. Persian Gulf/Iran, Western Pacific/East China Sea, South China Sea, Gulf of Oman/Pakistan, Horn of Africa/Yemen/Somalia). Hence, Europeans cannot avoid pooling, specialization and the set-up of true joint European brigades or naval strike groups.

On the political level I see a really worrying development on both sides of the Atlantic. We have growing numbers of US politicians who always criticize Europeans for less defence spending, caveats or self-effacement and of European politicians (often with a very poor understanding of international affairs) who criticize the US for nearly everything they do. We are absolutely lacking significant numbers of "Transatlanticers" and that´s why have the steadily occurring unqualified criticism. However, I have no concept how to solve that problem, but Germany could start by appointing a new coordinator for transatlantic relations after this seat is empty for almost two years now.
 
Joerg  Wolf

June 11, 2011

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@ Felix

Thank you for your input.

I basically agree. I like your suggestions concerning a new coordinator for transatlantic relations. This position should be filled ASAP.

Though, this post has not been empty for two years. The CDU/CSU-FDP government appointed SPD politician Ulrich Klose as coordinator five months after they were elected. It took them quite some time to find someone. (They could not find someone from their own parties? Or they appreciated Klose very much as he is respected across party lines and is well connected in the US as well.)

Klose started as Coordinator for German-American Cooperation in April 2010, but he resigned at the end of January 2011 after less than a year in office. Maybe it was too much work doing this job in addition to the tasks as a member of parliament. Four months after his resignation this position has not been filled yet... What a shame.

Though you may be "excused" for thinking that this position has been empty for two years because Klose's work was not as visible as the work from his predecessors Karsten Voigt.
 
Felix F. Seidler

June 11, 2011

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Joerg, yes and thanks for the correction.

However, it really surprises me that I, with my party affiliation and huge interest in transatlantic relations, have not heard about Klose´s work. Probably, more people have not heard about that. It is quite uncommon to put a member of an opposing party on such a position. Normaly this is followed by significant inner party criticism, like Wolfgang Schäuble faces in case of Jörg Asmussen (SPD). No criticism means that people do either not know or not care about this position. Though this underlines my points from above of poor informed politicians and missing Transatlanticers.
 
Joerg  Wolf

June 12, 2011

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Professor Russell Berman responded to our criticism with an update below his Daily Beast article that is longer than his original article.

This is my response to that update:
Yes, the United States started an impressive surge in Afghanistan last year, while the European NATO members "just" increased their troops. This means that the share of European compared to US troops is today lower than it used to be. The US surge, however, is temporary and Obama is expected to declare soon how many troops he will withdraw. European countries are sovereign and are not obligated to follow every US policy decision.

Moreover, this does not change the fact that Berman was factually wrong in stating that the Obama administration "was completely unable to convince any European ally to increase troop commitments" and "some [European allies], like the Netherlands, have in fact already withdrawn." Professor Berman's claim that it is "hard" "to find Europeans on the front lines," is wrong and insensitive to the families of dead soldiers.

Such statements will not encourage Europeans to increase their support US led wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere, which is Prof Berman's goal. Today, nearly ten years after 9/11, European countries have 37,000 troops in Afghanistan. That's an increase of 11,000 troops since Obama became president. Why is not Berman acknowledging this at all? Think about all the European families who have a loved ones serving in Afghanistan!

Four Bundeswehr soldiers were killed in three attacks in Afghanistan's North in the last two weeks. Our article was written after I read about the funerals and before Secretary Gates' speech. Two in three Germans want their country to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. The German government, however, stays the course.

Only if US think tankers appreciate the European contributions to Afghanistan, is there a chance that Europe continues to follow the US leadership and support the wars that the US political and think tank elite cares about.

Secretary Gates' strong criticism of European NATO members is largely valid, but not new. His criticism caused more buzz in the US press and think tank community than in Germany. Most folks here heard it before and shrug it off, which is sad, but that's how it is and a matter for another article. Bottom line: His lecturing is not effective.

As an outgoing defense secretary he played bad cop, while President Obama was the good cop, who charmed Merkel with awarding her the Medal of Freedom. Obama apparently hopes that Germany will act like a leader, if its chancellor is treated like one. I think this charming strategy is better than lecturing, but won't have much of an effect either. (Merkel is not Sarkozy or Berlusconi)

What we need is more mutual understanding and respect for the existing transatlantic cooperation, which should not be taken for granted at a time, when we do not have a strong common enemy like the Soviet Union. We need to reduce sweeping generalizations, Eurobashing and Anti-Americanism in the media.

We also need a broad debate about the transatlantic alliance in general. Atlantic-community.org provides such a forum for constructive debate. This debate has to go beyond the usual and tiny expert circles, but has to include society at large. Unfortunately, there is a strong perception in Europe that "transatlantic partnership" means that America starts wars and decides the strategy, while Europe has to follow without having any say and without any appreciation. This perception has to change.


Daniel Larison makes similar points in the American Conservative:

"There are few worse ways to persuade European governments and publics that they have the wrong priorities than to lecture them on their insufficient support for Afghanistan and Libya. While the non-U.S. NATO allies pledged support to the U.S. after 9/11, European nations have no particular security interests in achieving U.S. goals in Afghanistan. If the American public has soured on the war in Afghanistan and doesn’t understand its purpose, imagine how baffling it must be to Europeans to have their soldiers in Central Asia. European governments have continued to support the war in Afghanistan long after they were obliged to do so, and despite lending support that they don’t have to provide they are routinely lectured for not doing enough."
http://www.amconmag.com/larison/2011/06/10/gates-strange-definition...
 
Claudiu Dan Degeratu

June 13, 2011

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@Joerg Wolf & Elias Gladstone,
very good article, of course, I would prefer to read much more about other topics but the Russell Berman's article deserved this reply. These are the facts, Europe increased constantly its political and military commitments despite the financial crisis. Including France, I must say.
It is also fair to say that most of the European contributions have 2 major issues: national caveats and the stress of the high operational tempo.

The NATO benchmark of spending at least 2% of GDP is not anymore official agreed.
Tags: | NATO |
 
Mike  McCormack

June 13, 2011

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Joerg,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments. To respond to some of your points:

“What I find very common (and annoying) are statements on how the United States needs to spend soo much on defense, because Europe does not and that the US still has to take care of Europe's defense. This was certainly true during the Cold War, but most Germans (and probably other Europeans as well) do not see how the US is defending Europe in the expensive wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.”

Given current budget issues you'd probably even find a lot of Americans (including top policymakers) who agree with you on that point.

"Rather the popular perception in Germany is that we have been sending thousands of young men and women to Afghanistan for nine (!) years out of solidarity with the US after 9/11 rather than a perceived threat. (Al Qaeda is global, but the Taliban are not engaged in jihad against targets in the West) The government deserves some respect for staying the course despite strong popular opposition.
If you want Germany to fill the void left by the Canadian withdrawal, how should our government explain that to the voters?"

Certainly Germany (as well as many other European countries) have taken a lot of domestic heat for their commitments to Afghanistan. Now take what I'm about to say as a "food for thought" comment rather than my own personal opinion (as the issue is too complex to make it this black-and-white), but if a government is going to deploy its military to Afghanistan with the conditions placed by many European countries, is it fair to its allies and the soldiers themselves to undertake such a commitment at all? Afghanistan is not like KFOR or many of the other peacekeeping missions where the threat of violence against foreign peacekeepers is relatively low. It is my opinion that governments became too comfortable with missions along the lines of the latter and thus did not properly equip their militaries with the conditions necessary to actually take part in a war. To answer your question, it would certainly be very difficult for the German government (among others) to make that case to their voters. However, a system in which an ally takes part in a war while attempting to shirk the burdens placed upon them doesn't make for a very good alliance.

"Good points on the benchmark. Do you remember when it was passed? I don't remember right now. And how formal/binding is the benchmark anyway? Should the benchmark be reconsidered given the debt crisis on the one hand and increased military efficiency caused by successful (?) pooling European resources over the last few years? "

The benchmark is more of a pledge than a mandatory requirement for membership (and it's been in place for some time as far as I know). I'm not sure I'm for getting rid of it altogether, even despite current budget/debt problems on the part of many governments. Many countries never made it much of a priority when they did have the budgets to support it, and we're now seeing the results of such policies with Libya. What is the point of having a state-of-the-art system like the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft when your budgets have only allowed for a handful of qualified pilots to fly them, or when allies run short on munitions after only a month of running an air campaign? The idea of pooling resources is certainly a very worthwhile proposal, but NATO members who would rather go that route than fulfill what is expected of them in the alliance need to say so. Otherwise, the alliance will continue to be viewed as the US leading the blind without a real purpose.

 
Bernhard  Lucke

June 14, 2011

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A very good article that illustrates the differing perceptions of geopolitics at both sides of the Atlantic.

I would even go a step further and say, regardless (!) what the Europeans do, it will always be wrong for the point of view of the "hawks" in the U.S. The "Europe-bashing" is in my opinion nothing else than the search for a scapegoat in order to mask the failure of the strategy!

Imagine a few possible scenarios and their results:


1) European states conduct a "surge" according to the example of the U.S., completely following U.S. command and strategy.

-> result: this will be something the citizens really feel and will likely have consequences in form of demonstrations, loss of elections, and so on. At least in Germany, it is likely that the government will politically not survive and the final result will be a quick and final termination of the European engagement.


2) The Europeans strongly increase their long-term military spendings and design their own military concepts, e.g. for Afghanistan. .

-> result: this could quickly develop into something the U.S. might consider directed against their leadership. Between Europe and the U.S., a dangerous and unnecessary rivalry might develop.


3) Europeans withdraw from Afghanistan

-> result: The U.S. will be deeply disappointed and consider Europe not a loyal partner any more.


I would say the European nations did the best they could, and American commentators should be more careful with the criticism. The strategy in Afghanistan was wrong, and there's no point blaming European troop numbers for the critical situation. We can hope that things will improve soon, but at some point it might be time for the U.S. to tell Europe "so sorry guys, but we failed" and acknowledge defeat.

But in order to maintain the myth of the invincible U.S., some hawks like Berman find it more comfortable to find a European scapegoat by simply making up the needed numbers. Such arrogance won't increase the readiness of the allies to help in the future, though. It would be better to discuss the practical questions of the mission at eye level. I have argued before that the inflexible attempts to enforce success by simply more and more troops will likely end in disaster.
 
Darrell Calvin Brown

June 14, 2011

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But I thought the bounden duty of military troops was to stand in harms way. Who else would you suggest get sent forth; civillians?
 
Joerg  Wolf

June 14, 2011

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@ Darrell

Skip the sarcasm, please. Do you have anything to contribute to this debate?
 
Jason  Naselli

June 14, 2011

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@ Bernhard

I agree with you in that I think the unfortunately shrill state of current political debate in the U.S. creates a no-win scenario; those inclined to belittle Europe will, but it doesn't add to the debate and can drown out more reasoned opinion (of which there is probably more than generally acknowledged).

I think the issue is less about whether the numbers are correct or not and more about what a reduction in European commitment would mean. Criticism from the U.S. of European nations reducing their commitment rings hollow when the U.S. is vacillating on its how long it will remain as well; and without a well-defined strategy, it is incumbent upon the U.S. to justify to its allies their continued investment in Afghanistan. Moreover, if a U.S. presence is going to extend beyond the next few years, it is unlikely many European countries could follow for that extended period given public opinion, and U.S. decision makers need to respect this. There is certainly room to debate the 'two-tiered NATO' argument and other burden-sharing issues, but it is not the main problem in Afghanistan. In this respect, I agree with the Daniel Larison excerpt Joerg posted: if Americans are realizing that Afghanistan is a difficult and potentially long term mission with ever decreasing benefits, how could they criticize their allies for cutting their losses now?
 
Natasha L Lamoreux

June 15, 2011

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Joerg,

Thank you for this informative article.

I particularly appreciate the comments regarding the respect and tribute that is due to the families of the soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in this conflict. The professor's piece was particularly disrespectful in that regard.

At the risk of making a too-broad general statement, many Americans, and American leaders in particular, are all too eager to over-state the American military contributions in various conflicts. While there is no doubt that the American military plays a major and decisive role in many situations, we must not minimize the contributions of others, either in our praise of American military might or our criticisms of the American military industrial complex.
 
Olga  Kolesnichenko

June 17, 2011

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Thank you for this article. Atlantic Community has published many materials about Germany great contribution to security of Afghanistan, that is very available effort and very important for the future analysis for articles and books.
 
joe  stone

June 21, 2011

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One can only hope there will a convergence of public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic as to the future of NATO. It would seem to be the European public have arrived at the place that NATO is a one way alliance. It would therefore seem the logical way forward is for the European nations of NATO to withdraw from the alliance and to fully embrace the concept of European Defense Force.
 

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