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Relations, two security experts argue that Europe’s overseas interventions are being hampered by three problems: an outdated reliance on models that worked reasonably well in the Balkans but that are utterly unsuited to places like Afghanistan; European governments’ unwillingness to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.