The European Union aspires to gain geopolitical weight. But it does not even have a single voice in the face of international challenges. The Community institutions say that Europe should not be a playing field, but a first-rate player. But when the United States says it is leaving Afghanistan – a unilateral decision by Donald Trump executed by Joe Biden – no country raises its voice or presents an alternative. Of course, they signed a statement in April with great ceremoniousness: “NATO assembled one of the largest coalitions in history to serve in Afghanistan. Our troops went to Afghanistan together, we have worked together and now we are all leaving together. We thank everyone. those who participated in and supported this mission, including the Afghan security forces. We honor the sacrifices of those who paid the highest price for their service. ”
The US calls on countries to bring the end of evacuations to Friday and begins to withdraw its troops from Kabul
However, when the last leg of the withdrawal from Afghanistan is reached and the Taliban take over the country in less than a week, European leaders begin to put their hands to their heads. But all avoid public criticism and none dares to offer a plan B, much less to propose a deployment to replace the American one, knowing what that can mean in European public opinion.
What’s more, when Joe Biden ignores European prayers to extend the August 31 deadline for leaving Afghanistan to maintain safe routes to the Kabul airport, neither offers to deploy their troops to help. or replace the Americans to try to extend the times for evacuations. And, furthermore, even if these troops had been deployed, the experts point out that they would be missing one of the fundamental elements: the information available to the United States on the ground, although that information did not make them foresee at any time the collapse of the country in time. record.
Indeed, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is stripping European foreign policy and demonstrating its dependence on the United States. To the point that a few minutes after the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, asked the US president for more leeway, Joe Biden publicly announced that he would not postpone the withdrawal beyond August 31.
But it is also showing NATO’s dependence on the United States. In an interview with European media, including El País, the Secretary General of the Atlantic Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, defended himself: “It is very important to note that NATO continues to be a very strong alliance. True, we invoked Article 5 in 2001. But we did not invoke it to protect Afghanistan. We invoke it to protect the US, which is a member of NATO. Our motive for going to Afghanistan was to prevent attacks against the United States and other allies, and for 20 years we have prevented Afghanistan from being a sanctuary for terrorist groups that might plan and organize attacks against NATO countries. That has been a significant achievement. The plan was not to be there forever. Afghanistan is a tragedy for the Afghan people, the end of the mission was a tough and difficult decision, but it does not change anything in the commitment of the allies to protect each other. And it does not change anything in the credibility of Article 5, because it was to defend the United States from terrorist attacks and that is what we have done. It was not to protect Afghanistan. ”
A few days ago, former British Prime Minister Theresa May lamented in the British Parliament the “message that the withdrawal from Afghanistan sends to those who want to harm the West” and, also, asked the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, if he had done everything what is possible to find an alternative to the departure of the US troops. “What does it say about us as a country, what does it say about NATO if we depend entirely on a unilateral decision made by the United States?” May wondered.
Johnson did not answer the question, but the question remains in all European capitals: Europe’s complete dependence on a unilateral decision made by the United States. The absence of own autonomy abroad.
The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, recently pointed out in El Confidencial and AFP the shortcomings of the EU in the wake of the Afghan crisis: “Europeans have no other choice. We must organize ourselves to deal with the world as it is, and not with the world we dream of. We must analyze how the EU can unfold and influence international relations to defend their interests. Our strategic autonomy continues to be one of the priorities of our agenda. ” And this, for Borrell, supposes a deployable joint military reaction force: “We will propose to equip the Union with a force of 50,000 troops, capable of acting in circumstances such as those we are seeing in Afghanistan.”
That is, a European army of their own for situations like the current ones, in which European leaders ask Biden for more time to get their people out of Afghanistan, but Biden does not give them the time and European leaders do not take their soldiers there either.
Borrell himself, in mid-June in the European Parliament, I saw a gloomy horizon: “Once Western troops are withdrawn, it will be a difficult situation for the Afghan people. The Taliban control more than half of the country’s territory and have less and less incentive to negotiate, so the short-term prospects for a peace agreement look bleak. ”
Lack of consultations
Jeremy Shapiro, researcher at the think tank ECFR, states: “Several European allies of the United States have strongly complained about Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, how it has been carried out and the lack of consultations with NATO allies who also had troops in Afghanistan. But since At the beginning of NATO’s operation in Afghanistan, European countries willingly, even enthusiastically, subscribed to the US strategy, regardless of whether it made sense. Complaining now, when everything has collapsed, it seems, at best petulant and, at worst, irresponsible. ” He adds: “The fundamental lesson of the collapse in Afghanistan is that, to protect their interests, Europeans will need to develop the will and capacity to exercise their own strategic sovereignty, including the capacity for military intervention with little or no US support.”
In this sense, an article in The New York Times reflected this Tuesday: “The Afghanistan fiasco has left many Europeans more convinced than ever that they cannot trust the United States to ensure their safety, regardless of who is in the White House.”
Can or should Europe rest the defense of its geostrategic interests in the White House? To what extent does the “America is back” pronounced by Joe Biden mean the same in Washington as it does in European capitals? The German Defense Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has asked, for her part, not to criticize the US for the withdrawal of troops, while there was no support in Europe to prolong the operation in Afghanistan.
“At the beginning of this year”, the minister in the German Parliament asked, “would the majority of the members of the Bundestag have been in favor of extending the operation in Afghanistan indefinitely, with a high military intensity and with the risk that would German soldiers have been killed in combat? Would such a decision have been received with broad public support? Would there have been extensive debate in support of the operation in the media, the public and social media? would they now have been willing to support such a long and tough operation, probably with many casualties? If we cannot answer these questions with a Yes of course, we must refrain from pointing fingers at other nations, and in particular the United States. ”
Meanwhile, the August 31 deadline is getting shorter and shorter, with US forces taking two to three days to shut down their operations in Kabul. Thus, the United Kingdom wants its army to leave at least 24 hours before that, which means that they are likely to leave on Friday or Saturday, while the French evacuation operation from Kabul airport will probably end on Thursday, it has announced. this Wednesday the Minister of European Affairs, Clément Beaune.
The European Union aspires to gain geopolitical weight. But she doesn’t even own her time to manage the evacuations in Kabul. It remains to be seen what is left of the announcement of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, this Wednesday, when she affirmed that the operation has to continue beyond August 31, in a sign that Germany is going to try to find alternatives to the airport in Kabul.