Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Multilateralism motivates U.S. allies

November 21, 2001


— France's most deadly combat aircraft are joining the U.S. manhunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Germany's ruling leftist coalition has put troops on alert to fight in Central Asia after a half century of opposing such deployments. Japan has put aside pacifist reserve (and legal barriers) to help wage war on terror.

U.S. air power guided to targets by small but effective commando units on the ground has accomplished much more in five weeks than just chasing the Taliban from most Afghan cities. The effective use of force in this phase of the Afghan campaign also points the way toward a muscular multilateralism that could be a dominant feature of international relations in this decade.

America's allies did not have to be hectored into committing national assets and their soldiers' lives to this U.S.-led battle. The Pentagon would have preferred to fight alone, with a little help from Britain. But for their own reasons, other European allies have chased after military roles in the Afghan campaign.

While the State Department emphasizes how much the United States needs coalition partners and ladles out economic aid and political bribes to support this view the Pentagon has been showing how much coalition partners need the United States in developing effective countermeasures to global terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

This capabilities gap seems to have registered on both the public and the politicians in Europe, where the recent Northern Alliance battlefield successes have stemmed an erosion in support for the war. French President Jacques Chirac, who faces a tough re-election battle next year, went on national television last Friday to announce that French troops and combat aircraft were being deployed to take part in the Afghan campaign.

The exact military role Germany will play in Afghanistan is still under discussion. But Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who also goes to the polls in 2002, engineered a historic vote of confidence authorizing the deployment last Friday. Schroeder faced down his coalition partner, the Greens, and the left wing of his own Social Democratic Party, which opposed the Gulf War and the Kosovo campaign of 1999.

In contrast to Kosovo, where 19 NATO nations coordinated air targeting and argued inconclusively over the use of ground troops, European participation in this war is on a bilateral basis and undertaken under clear U.S. command authority. This is no accident.

The Europeans have clambered aboard because they (correctly) sense that the long campaign begun in Afghanistan represents a watershed in alliance management as well as world politics. The abstract and strained debate over the alleged "unilateralism'' of George W. Bush and the "global engagement'' of Bill Clinton has become flesh and blood in the streets of Kabul and Kandahar, and in the grim wreckage of the World Trade Center.

Questions of national survival and America's role abroad in the 21st Century were made real challenges for Bush in a single day: Sept. 11. His peers abroad leaders like Chirac, Schroeder, Britain's Tony Blair and Japan's Junichiro Koizumi who make big political questions their life's work understood quickly what was at stake for Bush, and for them.

With us or against us was more than a Bush appeal for help; it was also a prophecy of the war's two possible outcomes. With their troops and planes, other nations are voting for an engaged America that is capable of decisive leadership on global security.

Jim Hoagland is a syndicated columnist with the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post syndicate.

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