France's promise to send a battalion of troops to eastern Afghanistan represents a "significant and historic re-engagement" in NATO, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday, adding that conditions had been met to extend Canada's role in the region.Significant and historic? France is sending 700. That's what constitutes significant and historic these days.
"Our NATO partners have agreed to a comprehensive new plan to balance and synchronize our military and civilian agendas," Harper said, speaking to reporters at the NATO summit in Bucharest.
Harper confirmed that France's proposal — which would free up U.S. soldiers to go to Kandahar — along with "considerable" progress in acquiring unmanned surveillance drones and large helicopters, met the demands Canada had set out to extend its mission to 2011.
In the context of the lack of support from NATO populations for more military engagement, France should be given credit for doing this much. NATO nations know that the Afghan mission is coming to an end in the next few years and that their domestic populations don't support a long term military engagement in Afghanistan. But the French contribution is clearly not as monumental as Harper is portraying it. Instead, it feels like a bare pass, given the months of cajoling and pleading in getting just this moderate commitment from NATO on this mission. The French commitment is not even directed to the south. They're going east. So it's the Americans now who'll be joining our troops in the south where combat is the most severe and to whom we will be inextricably bound up. This is not exactly an expansion in terms of the burden sharing in the riskiest part of Afghanistan to the European allies. In that respect, it's a failure.
No wonder they were lowering expectations going into these NATO meetings. The bar has just barely been met and in a manner that was not preferred. And then, of course, there's that whole nagging question of just what 1,000 additional troops will accomplish in any event.