Should the Netherlands leave or stay in Afghanistan?

Recently Afghanistan came in the spotlight again after a party of our coalition government voiced their desire to continue Dutch participation in the Afghanistan war. The other coalition partners do not approve of this idea, as the agreement was that the Netherlands would withdraw in 2010. According to a defense specialist in an article of the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper of yesterday (no English or Dutch link here to the article) the Netherlands would abandon it’s great international role if we left Afghanistan, and it would have consequences for our economy. The latter seems quite far-fetched, and he does not produce any arguments to prove why it is true. I can’t imagine how spending enormous amounts of tax money to participate in the ISAF-mission is less damaging to our economy than not participating.

Putting agreements to withdraw in 2010 aside, it’s better to think about how to solve the ‘problem’ Afghanistan. After 9-11 NATO-members claimed pompously that they were collectively at war because their ally, the United States of America, was attacked. But eight years later many NATO-members are more concerned about shifting the problem to others, possibly specifically the U.S.A. The Afghanistan war is unpopular with the electorate, and all the European nations would rather leave Afghanistan sooner than later.

Those who are in favor of withdrawing from Afghanistan merely seem to think about their own political and electoral interests, and dismiss the larger problem. I haven’t heard a solution to the Afghanistan problem from any of them. If the international community simply abandoned Afghanistan it isn’t hard to imagine that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda would take over soon and massacre the new government. Once again it would turn in a breeding ground for terrorists. I’m not sure what the European withdrawal advocates think what would happen if their nation would withdraw, but my guess is that they think the U.S.A. would simply take over. I’m not sure if that would work and the U.S.A. could handle it all alone, but I’m certain that it is not solidary.

The Afghanistan war isn’t just the U.S.A.’s problem. Unlike the Iraq war, which is a perfect example of American unilateralism, it’s the collective problem of the Western world and the Muslim world. The U.S.A. had 9-11, but the Netherlands had the Hofstad Network and the murder of Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri. Spain had the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the United Kingdom had the London bombings in 2005. There are more examples of Islamic terrorist attacks, and detailed lists of terrorist incidents in general. Take notice that Islamic terrorists have also committed terrorist attacks on Muslim targets, like the Casablanca and Sharm el-Sheikh attacks. The War on Terrorism definitely isn’t a war of the West versus the rest, as some seem to think. It seems like the electorate and the politicians have forgotten about these terrorist attacks already. Everyone should realize that the whole world is affected by the threat of Islamic terrorism, and losing the war in Afghanistan is not an option.

According to general McChrystal, the greatest problem the ISAF faces in Afghanistan is an insufficient amount of troops. To solve this problem I think the Netherlands should stay. However, I think that within the ISAF the burden isn’t shared equally. Let’s use Wikipedia articles describing the participants in the ISAF mission and the population statistics on each countries’ article to calculate the percentage of soldiers relative to total population. I realize it’s a comparison which is far from perfect, but it’s better than nothing.

Contributions of ISAF participants
Nation Personnel % of population
Netherlands 1,770 0.0107
U.S.A. 29,950 0.0097
U.K. 9,000 0.0147
Germany 4,050 0.0049
France 3,160 0.0048
Italy 2,795 0.0046
Spain 780 0,0016

As you can see, Germany, France, Italy and Spain contribute a relatively small amount of personnel. They should contribute thousands more. In an effort to win sympathy, I think it would be a great idea to try to get countries from the Muslim world to join the ISAF-mission.

1 thought on “Should the Netherlands leave or stay in Afghanistan?”

  1. Pingback: Een nieuwe Nederlandse missie in Afghanistan? « Information Overload

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