Among America’s self-described foreign policy ‘realists,’ there is a common trope according to which the best way for the United States to get its allies to do more is to show them some tough love – particularly by doing less. That theory has just been put to a test in Afghanistan. It has failed spectacularly.
Contrary to the caricature of the protracted conflict in Afghanistan as a distinctly American endeavour, both the combat operations and the efforts at reconstruction were supported by an extraordinarily diverse coalition of countries, from New Zealand, through much of Europe, to Turkey.
Of some 150,000 British troops who served in Afghanistan during the past two decades, almost 500 were killed and 2,000 wounded. Germany, meanwhile, lost 59 soldiers in battle, and Poland lost 44. Europeans had good reasons to be there, too – and not only as a symbolic display of commitment to the transatlantic alliance. The 2015 refugee crisis and terror attacks in cities including Paris, Brussels, or Nice, demonstrated that Europe could not easily insulate itself from instability in the Middle East.
The tough love theory of burden sharing would suggest that the American withdrawal would incentivise Europeans to step up – particularly given that they had a direct stake in the outcome. What has happened instead, however, was the complete opposite. As the US plans to leave were firming up, Europeans rushed to the exits too. German and Polish troops left at the end of June, while the UK maintains a small contingent to assist with evacuations.
With America’s erratic withdrawal, the rapid downfall of Afghanistan’s capital, and the chaos at Kabul airport, where exactly is Europe? Having spent the weekend tweeting about a host of other subjects, including the G20 and North Macedonia, it took until Monday for the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs Josep Borrell to co-sign