Sunday, November 1, 2009

Peacekeeping in Afghanistan

As Japan debates its role in Afghanistan, it may want to examine two decisions made last week by American allies.

The first is that the Germans have accepted the conclusion of a NATO investigation on an airstrike ordered by German commanders against a pair of hijacked Afghan tanker trucks that confirmed the attack as appropriate. The second is Seoul’s agreement to reintroduce Korean troops into Afghanistan to guard their aid workers.

Both allies are adjusting their policies to the realities of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. They now “protect” their humanitarian and reconstruction efforts. They will pursue "peacekeeping" by all mean.

Like Japan, Germany is constitutionally forbidden to participate in any war, unless as an act of defense. And like Japan, Germany’s history makes its people hesitate in any use of force. This restraint is slowly giving way to the demands of modern counter-insurgency. The German-ordered air strike and a change in their rules of engagement to not wait until they are fired upon are examples of this change.

The South Koreans had pulled out of Afghanistan two years ago after Korean Christian missionaries were kidnapped and two murdered. On Friday, October 30th, the South Korea government announced that it would expand its reconstruction team now helping to rebuild Afghanistan to 130 to 150 workers (from 25). A Foreign Ministry spokesman emphasized that “Our troops will not engage in battles except for the security of our workers and for self-defense,” Mr. Moon said.

The Japanese I have met who focus on Japan’s Afghan policy are convinced that they can be “honest brokers” in the region. They believe the Japanese are perceived as apart from the Americans. Thus, they plan to send aid workers in unarmed to the less restive areas. And they are committed to working with all parties to create a safer Afghanistan, claiming to have developed ties with even the Taliban.

The Times questions if Americans will ultimately fight one kind of war and their allies another. Yet the open-ended and escalating war may require a fundamental reconsideration of our allies’ no-combat principles. As the Times notes “The Germans may not have gone to war, but now the war has come to them.”

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