war in Afghanistan and the looming Iranian nuclear threat will be
priority issues for the United States as President Bush crosses the
Atlantic this week for what is likely to be his final tour of Europe.
He will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President
Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and British
Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The trip is an important
opportunity for the President to press key European allies to
contribute more troops and resources to the NATO-led effort in
Afghanistan. The English-speaking members of NATO are bearing an
overwhelming proportion of the burden in Afghanistan as most European
countries refuse to play a full role. This is an unsustainable
situation that is causing deep strains in the Alliance and weakening
the fight against the Taliban.
President Bush should also use
this trip to call upon European Union member states to join the United
States in a tough sanctions regime aimed at halting Iran's drive to
develop a nuclear weapons capability. With its extensive support for
international terrorist groups such as Hizbollah and Hamas, its open
threats to wipe Israel "off the map," and its ambitions to become a
nuclear power, the Iranian regime poses this generation's greatest
state threat to international security.
Successful resolution of
these two critical matters will not only revitalize the transatlantic
alliance, but also strengthen two critical fronts in the campaign
against Islamist terrorism.
An Unequal Burden in Afghanistan
United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia (a non-NATO
country) currently provide 35,680 of the 52,900 troops serving in the
NATO-led International Assistance Force (ISAF): over 67 percent of the
total. Europe and the rest of the world provide just 17,200 soldiers,
or less than a third.
This unequal state of affairs is causing tensions in the transatlantic
alliance, and the Canadians, who have already suffered heavy
casualties, have threatened to pull their troops out of the country
unless they are reinforced by troops from Europe.
which still has 4,000 troops in Iraq and is severely overstretched
militarily, has over 8,500 soldiers serving in Afghanistan: more than
the rest of the major Western European powers combined; Germany has
sent just 3,370 troops, Italy 2,350, France 1,670, and Spain 800. The
British even dispatched their third in line to the throne, Prince
Harry, to southern Afghanistan, where he fought for several months
before a media blackout shielding his presence was broken.
is also the critical issue of who is actually doing the fighting. Most
military operations against the Taliban are being conducted by the
British, Americans, and Canadians (with significant frontline support
from the Dutch). As of February this year, these three countries had
lost almost 650 troops since 2001 (85 percent of total fatalities). The
rest of ISAF combined had lost a total of 115 soldiers (15 percent).
European nations, including Germany, continue to operate under a system
of "caveats" that are drawn up by some NATO members to keep their
troops out of harm's way. German forces, for example, are based in the
north of the country, far away from the main battlefields. In fact,
British media have reported that German troops are not permitted to
travel more than two hours away from a major medical facility and that
Luftwaffe helicopter pilots are barred from flying at night, with a
requirement to be back to base by mid-afternoon.
limitations on engagement ignore the reality that NATO is a martial
alliance, not a peacekeeping organization. The stakes are extremely
high, and there is a danger that, in light of the combat restrictions
placed on some NATO troops, the brutal Taliban, backed by al-Qaeda,
will reassert control over vast areas of the country. Not only does
ISAF need thousands more troops to be sent to the war-torn Afghan
nation, but continued success against the Taliban specifically demands
that combat-ready troops be deployed across the southern province of
Helmand, where much of the key fighting is currently taking place.
Germany Must Strengthen Sanctions Against Iran
addition to revitalizing Continental NATO members' participation in
combat operations throughout Afghanistan, President Bush will seek the
support of key European allies for the strengthening of sanctions
Europe and Germany in particular hold the key to
increasing economic pressure on the Iranian regime. In recent years,
Iran has derived roughly 35 percent of its total imports from the
European Union, and European exports to Iran are worth over 12 billion
euros a year.
is Iran's biggest trading partner, with exports worth over 4 billion
euros in 2006, and therefore is capable of exerting extraordinary
economic leverage over Iran. According to a 2007 report by the Realité
EU think tank,
which compiled information from several sources including the
German–Iranian Chamber of Commerce in Tehran, a staggering five
thousand German companies do business with Iran, including heavyweights
such as Siemens and BASF. Two-thirds of Iranian industry relies on
German engineering products, and the German Engineering Federation
(VDMA) boasts of German machine construction exports to Iran worth 1.5
billion euros in 2005, with an increase in 2006.
Unfortunately, Berlin has yet to demonstrate a firm willingness to pressure Iran.
fact, Germany remains the weakest link in the West's confrontation with
Tehran. Despite the huge economic clout that Berlin wields with Iran,
the Merkel administration has not been at the forefront of
international efforts to force the Iranian regime to relinquish its
nuclear aspirations. In contrast to French President Nicolas Sarkozy's
emphatic denunciations of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's highly provocative
statements, Angela Merkel has appeared weak-kneed and indecisive. As a
result, the European Union's policy of "constructive engagement" toward
Iran, championed by Merkel and her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, has
been a spectacular failure.
Tehran's strategy will seek to
splinter Western opinion regarding any potential economic pressure,
thereby weakening the likelihood of sustained international sanctions
outside of the United Nations. Iran's rulers know that they can rely on
both Russia and China to block sanctions at the Security Council and
are hoping that internal divisions within Europe will hamper the
imposition of Europe-wide measures. The success of the Iranian nuclear
programs relies upon a divided West; it is critical that in the coming
days, President Bush remind the Merkel administration of this fact.
No Alternative to Action
to deal with the Iranian threat will result in immense consequences: a
nuclear-armed rogue state ruled by fanatical Islamist extremists that
will have no qualms about using its power to dominate the Middle East
or to arm a wide array of proxy international terrorist groups. It is a
vision of the future that cannot be allowed to come true, and the
European powers, particularly Germany, must reject appeasement in favor
of an assertive policy of zero tolerance for Iran's nuclear ambitions.
This is a time for tough resolve from the German Chancellor and other
key leaders in Europe: Weakness and indifference will only comfort such
a brutal terrorist regime.
At the same time, Europe's major
powers can and must do more on the battlefields of Afghanistan. If this
does not happen, the consequences for the future of the NATO Alliance
could be dire. France's offer of an additional 700 French troops is a
step in the right direction, but it is not enough to make a significant
difference on the battlefield.
Europe's failure in Afghanistan
threatens to tear NATO apart, in which case the most effective
international organization of our time could become irrelevant. It is
time for Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy, Prime Minister
Berlusconi, and other European leaders to fully commit their troops and
resources to winning the war against the Taliban. For the sake of the
Alliance and the broader war against Islamist terrorism, there is no