The experience of ‘New Europe’ in Afghanistan

This concludes my ongoing review of Hynek and Marton’s book on state-building in Afghanistan.

I combine the chapters on Poland. Lithuania and the Czech Republic not as a slight to the contributions of the three nations or any indication of fault with the  chapters but just that so many of the themes discussed throughout the book show up in these chapters and I don’t want to repeat myself too much.  So, please take as a given the general domestic and foreign considerations I’ve discussed in the earlier chapters as applying here as well except for the following.

Oddly enough, Poland seems to have resisted initial requests to join the war in Afghanistan and used its presence in Iraq as an arguement as to why it could not contribute forces to a second conflict.  This seems to be the opposite reaction most nations took and given that we are talking about the time period of 2003-2005 this sounds like a bad Polish joke (How’d the Poles avoid the dangers of going to war in Afghanistan?  They volunteered to go to Iraq.)

When they did decide to play a more active role in Afghanistan, the Poles sold it to their people as fulfilling their NATO obligation.  Despite all the nonsense spread here in the U.S. about ‘New Europe’ being more enamored with freedom than their Western counterparts, the Eastern Europeans were making a calculated play.  They were either new or perspective memebers of NATO and the prospects of a resurgent Russia was (and remains) a serious concern.  So, many adopted the strategy of participating in NATO’s wars as a way to ensure NATO protection.

Since the alliance hasn’t been tested (although the events in Georgia in 2008 must have made everyone quite jumpy) it’s not clear how effective that strategy was/is but it’s probably the best option they’ve had at guaranteeing their nationhood.  (btw, did you know that Baltic states don’t have any jet fighters in their inventory?  Shocking!)

Poland’s story seems to be one of coming to the party but not getting a seat at the table.  Despite having more than 2,500 hundred troops in country, they’ve not been able to parley that into direct influence in NATO.  That may be because Poland’s Afghanistan strategy has been (pure conjecture here) so explicit in describing it as a quid pro quo (at least in their eyes) for a guarantee to secure Eastern Europe.

The Czechs may be the one nation examined in the book to place economic considerations at (or near) the top of their list of reasons for taking part in Afghan operations.  The Czech Ministry for Business and Industry lobbied for a PRT in Logar to gain access to copper deposits there.

The Lithuanians seemed to bite off a bit more than they could chew, volunteering to run a PRT in Ghor province that they believed would be safe from the worst of insurgent and criminal activity.  They were disabused of that notion by 2008 and have also found that they weren’t able to provide the civilian component to the PRT and unwilling to pony up the cash required for reconstruction projects.

But, in one case their experience was similar to many other, larger coaliton partners:

On 19 Auguest 2009 (four and a half years after LIthuania made up its mind to establish and lead a PRT), after four and a half months of preparation and active discussions and adjustments by various institutions, the government of Lithuanaia finally endorsed [a national strategy].

Overall, the book is a well done look at the experiences of different national approaches to the war in Afghanistan and the domestic and international dynamics which shaped them.  While this book is probably aimed primarily for academic audiences, almost all the chapters would be a worthwhile read for those interested in the subject.  A hearty TwShiloh thank you to Peter for the opportunity to review this…definately worth the time.


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