Thursday, February 14, 2008
The World's Reluctant Auxiliary Policemen
According to this Jamestown Foundation report, US-Turkish relations -- which had been thawing recently -- just hit another snag over the US' request that Turkey step up its military participation in Afghanistan. Turkey already has 1,000 troops in the Afghan theater, most of them in and around Kabul, but they're restricted by rules of engagement that limit them to firing in "self-defense". Washington would like Ankara to send in more boots, especially to the south and west where the fighting is going on, and loosen up their trigger fingers.
Ankara isn't too pleased about the request being perceived as a quid pro quo for American intelligence that helped it target PKK camps in Iraqi Kurdistan since last November. Also, with 100,000 Turkish troops massed on the Iraqi border to engage the 3,000-strong PKK guerilla/terrorists in the Qandil Mountains, it's unlikely Turkey can spare too much of its military muscle...
More than anything, this just demonstrates the way in which the failure in Afghanistan is having a very serious impact not only on the region, but also on our relationship with our coalition allies. Robert Gates' two recent sorties excoriating NATO countries for not ante-ing up with needed troops and material serve as further illustration.
And while our unpopular commitment in Iraq definitely complicates the picture and has degraded the Afghanistan mission, the force generation questions that are being raised with our NATO allies extend beyond that particular theater. They are the same questions that France is raising with regard to EU defense (although for its own strategic reasons), and get to the heart of how the EU will define its identity in the coming multi-polar world.
As Hubert Vedrine often puts it, Europe has to decide whether it wants to be a continent-wide Switzerland or a world power. And if it wants to be a world power, capable of advancing its interests and shouldering its share of the responsibility, it has got to not only develop a greater force projection capability (ie. dramatically increased military budgets for the majority of the continent), but also develop the political will to act. Whether that will is expressed through NATO or the EU is another question to be resolved, but it's contingent on answering the first.
Afghanistan might not be the best barometer, because it's been compromised by the Iraq connection. But if they've grown wary of the "world's reluctant policeman", then sooner or later Europe (and "emerging" countries like Turkey, India, and Brazil) are going to have to come up with an alternative.
Update: Click and ye shall find. Apparently I've stumbled on the "collective unconsciousness" meme of the day, since The National Interest has got not just one, but two articles on related subjects (peacekeeping missions and German combat participation in Afghanistan).