Don’t discount Europe’s commitment to Afghanistan

For decades, Europeans have heard an enduring message from the United States: Do more. Carry your weight. Don’t make America do all the heavy lifting. And this message has been delivered, loud and clear, once again, on Afghanistan.

An honest assessment would conclude that over the years these complaints have occasionally had some foundation. The United States has played a central role in defending the values and the security of the Euro-Atlantic community — something for which Europeans are grateful.

But that honest assessment would also conclude that Europe can pull its weight. That Europe can deliver and can be a real partner for the United States. That is what is happening now in the global mission in Afghanistan. It is important that America recognize its partners’ actions at this critical time, because if it becomes the conventional wisdom in the United States to talk down the European contribution, no matter what Europe does, then it will become impossible to sustain our commitment.

In just the past few months, the European Union has taken important steps to strengthen its common action in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the surrounding region. For the first time, the European Union has adopted a common action plan for the efforts of its 27 member states and the European Commission. The focus is on building strong state institutions because the best way to defeat the insurgency is to help Afghanistan build a government in which its citizens trust and believe.

With the aim of increasing Afghan responsibilities, and in accordance with the priorities set by the government in Kabul, the European Union will concentrate its immediate assistance in six areas: building civilian capacity; strengthening sub-national, or provincial, governance; election review and reform; mechanisms to support the reintegration of former insurgents into society; economic development; and strengthened assistance in building a civilian police force through the E.U. Police Mission in Afghanistan.

On the military side, U.S. allies and partners in the NATO-led military operation have responded clearly to President Obama’s decision to significantly increase American troop levels in the mission. In early December, the other members of the mission pledged an additional 7,000 troops, on top of the almost 40,000 non-U.S. troops already on the ground. More contributions are possible this year. Non-U.S. forces will eventually be about 40 percent of the total; they already endure about 40 percent of the casualties. There should be no more doubt in the United States on whether America can count on its allies; we are proving that in blood and treasure every day in Afghanistan.

But creating stability in Afghanistan requires more than a military and civilian surge from the United States, the European Union, Canada and our partners. It requires a responsive and responsible Afghan government, coordination among the international community and a regional approach in which Afghanistan’s neighbors play a prominent role.

The international community needs to develop a renewed partnership with Afghanistan, whereby in return for continued political, civilian and military assistance, we see clear commitments from the government in Kabul and delivery and responsibility on those pledges. In line with the goals stated in President Hamid Karzai’s inauguration speech, the international community is looking for improved governance through the reinvigoration of cabinet ministries by reform-oriented appointments, and for efforts to actively fight corruption even at the highest levels. Other key priorities include improving human rights (perhaps by setting up a separate ministry) as well as enhancing national reconciliation where possible.

International meetings to be held in London and Kabul this spring are key to creating fresh momentum for our support to Afghanistan. There is a new recognition that we all need to do more and do better on civilian as well as military issues. Everyone understands that one will not work without the other. We need a civilian-military partnership in Afghanistan and the surrounding region as much as we need a partnership across the Atlantic. There is much work ahead in all these respects.

As we enter 2010, three things are clear about this mission. First, it is as necessary as ever, for the security of all nations, that the international community succeed in helping Afghanistan become an inhospitable environment for terrorism. Second, that despite all the difficulties — and they are many — this mission can succeed, first and foremost because the Afghan people want to stand on their own feet and defeat extremism themselves. Third, that the United States cannot do this alone, and will not have to; Europe, and Canada, will continue to be America’s allies, partners and brothers in arms.

Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of NATO.