Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 12:28 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 12:28 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Getting stuck in Afghanistan


Fergus Hanson


2 February 2009 15:54

Will writes in with this reply to two earlier posts from Sam. I disagree, in part (my comments follow).

I think you are putting a little too much emphasis on the Dutch.

A meeting was held late last year (17 September 2008) between Joel Fitzgibbon and Herve Morin, his French counterpart. Following this meeting Herve Morin made this statement.

Notably absent in all this are the Dutch. While a lot of recent Australian government rhetoric has been designed to try and pressure the Dutch to commit to future Afghan deployments, this manoeuvre is over. The Dutch have been clear in indicating their desire to withdraw from the conflict, and appear prepared to do so.

Following the inauguration of Obama and a recent series of Anglo-Dutch discussions held in Australia, Fitzgibbon's assessment of likely future Australian involvement in the conflict has changed. He has said that he 'unfortunately' does not believe Australian forces will be withdrawn before 2012, and he has put forward conditions (which, you correctly note, will probably be met in at least a minimal sense) for increased Australian deployments.

Couple this with a new administration in the White House, which has made the satisfactory pursuit of the Afghan war, alongside its key allies, a major policy goal, and the prospects for an increased and sustained Australian commitment appear, to me, greater than ever. This will likely take the form of an additional battalion. I'm not suggesting Australia will deploy alongside the French, as we did with the Dutch. Simply that NATO countries other than America will be increasing their commitment to the Afghan conflict some more.  

I'm not sure I fully agree about the Dutch for three reasons: First, having spent two and a half years working in the Netherlands following the Dutch political system I got the impression things are not always as they appear — especially when it comes to Afghanistan. The Dutch government is an awkward coalition that pulls together opposing political parties which makes appealing to all constituencies via contradictory political noises a must.

Second, the Netherlands is, deep down, pro-American — after all, the pilgrims that filled the Mayflower left from Leiden. There's certainly a domestic constituency that likes to bash the US, but the Netherlands remains transatlantic in its outlook. Third, if no NATO country steps into the Netherlands' shoes what can it really do? Just walk away and force the Australians to scale back their presence too?

The other point I'd take issue with in Will's reply, is that Australia is obviously not a NATO member and the mission in Afghanistan is a NATO affair. Surely, it is far more reasonable that other non-contributing NATO nations should chip in before we get asked for more troops.