The Netherlands is talking about sending an additional 1,200 troops to Afghanistanâ€™s Uruzgan province. The Dutch already have 540 people working in Afghanistan under the umbrella of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) peace mission and another 674 under the umbrella of Operation Enduring Freedom. For other Dutch international deployments look here.
Why is it hard for the Dutch to finally make good on a promise their government made back on December 22nd 2005?
Well, for starters Afghanistan is becoming increasingly dangerous and with the spectre of the Srebrenica disaster still haunting the Dutch collective memory sending more troops in may be politically hazardous.
The prospect of potential failure in Afghanistan may very well have been one of the reasons why the Dutch government did not actually make a â€˜promiseâ€™ but merely expressed their â€˜intentâ€™ to send more troops and left the final decision to Parliament. Not a smart move. D66 (Democrats 66, progressive liberal in the European sense) expressed its opposition against sending more troops as (translated quote):
After four years of battle the Americans have not succeeded in subduing terrorism in this province. The Netherlands wonâ€™t be able to succeed in that either with a reconstruction mission that is not even aimed at re-establishing security. But if there is no security, then there can be no reconstruction either. Therefore this mission â€“ all good intentions notwithstanding – is doomed to fail.
With the Americans seemingly desperate to â€œrotate or adjust their deployment in Afghanistanâ€ it should have come as no surprise that considerable pressure was mounted on The Netherlands to send more troops. Paul Bremer, in an interview with Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, predicted that the United States would â€œpunishâ€ The Netherlands if it reneged on its intention to send more troops. Translated quote:
Consequences will then be inevitable, according to Bremer. â€œI suppose from time to time the American government and Congress will have to make decisions that influence Dutch economic interests. It would not be hard to foresee that in this case decisions will be made that are not in the interest of the Dutch.â€
According to Bremer there is a divergence of opinions between the US and large parts of Europe on the question of how dangerous Muslim extremism is. â€œWhat many Europeans do not understand is that September 11th was an earthquake to almost every American. Most Americans realize they are living in a very dangerous world. Europeans much less so.â€
In todayâ€™s Elsevier magazine Kurt Volker, the US diplomat to The Netherlands, stated that Bremer, as a civilian, does not speak for the US administration and that â€œHe is just promoting a book that he wrote.â€ In any case the, now implied, threats did not go down well with a number of Dutch people who felt them to be a threat to their sovereignty. The whole affair does shed some light on how decisions are being made on an international level. In my opinion all this dilly-dallying of the Dutch before sending troops is not so much an example of democracy in action (discussing the pros and cons) as it is about unsteadiness in decision making. And that cannot be good for the proper execution of a mission:
“Occasionally one wonders if some governments think sending forces to Afghanistan is the equivalent of a parade down The Mall or down the Champs-Elysees,” he said.
“There is always the complaint by the Afghans that we are perhaps a little bit too passive and not willing to be pro-active,” Mr Vendrell said. “This perception would be strengthened if the Netherlands found it impossible to send forces to the south.”
Either you do it or you do not. I would not want to see a second Srebrenica in Afghanistan.
Editorial comment: The decision to send troops to Afghanistan has not been made yet, therefore I needed to edit the original version of this post.