The EU is Missing in Action in Afghanistan

The withdrawal of Britain’s Paddy Ashdown as a candidate for the post of UN envoy in Afghanistan means that the international community still has some way to go before it speaks with one voice in that country. Such a unified voice is needed, for six years of war and the biggest military operation in NATO’s history have failed to subdue the Afghan insurgency, leaving President Hamid Karzai’s increasingly corrupt government dependent on the continued presence of international forces.

Afghanistan remains the world’s fifth poorest country and its biggest opium producer, with a weak central state that is further debilitated by warlordism and the Taliban insurgency. There are many reasons for this outcome, but at least some of the blame lies with the European Union.

On paper, the EU effort looks impressive. Twenty-five EU nations have contributed troops to NATO’s 35,000-strong army in Afghanistan, and now represent more than half of all troops. EU states command a third of all Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), and, together with the European Commission, have paid for a third of the country’s post-2001 reconstruction.

But European support for the Afghan mission is in fact limited, and cooperation between the biggest EU donor governments and the European Commission remains inadequate.