Just in time for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to NZ, Paul Buchanan calls for more public discussion about NZ’s role in international security operations.
Buchanan laments — rightly — the lack of debate about serious issues and in particular on foreign policy as we near an election. He singles out our international security policy for attention; most urgently our commitment to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) nation-building and counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan needs to be re-evaluated “in light of events on the ground.”
That commitment expires in September. NZ has “approximately 160 security personnel” in Afghanistan, says Buchanan, 140 of them involved in reconstruction work. A few months ago Prime Minister Clark rejected increasing NZ troop numbers there.
It’s a divisive issue, NZ’s involvement providing the trigger for the Alliance’s self-destruction, amongst other things. I have vehemently opposed the Iraq invasion from the outset, but reluctantly accept the need to counter Al-Qaeda and their Taliban supporters. Elsewhere in the blogosphere, Bomber @ TUMEKE! deplores the high rate of civilian casualty, but provides more analysis than prescription (apart from proposing that the west buy the opium crop to make morphine).
The problems in Afghanistan are clear. With the focus on Iraq, too few troops have given the Taliban space to recover and reassert themselves, while increasing the NATO forces’ reliance on airstrikes, with the inevitable civilian casualty toll. And things are getting worse. There is a clear need for more troops to reduce the dependence on airstrikes and to check the Taliban.
Buchanan assesses the options for NZ. We could withdraw. We could keep our presence at current levels, engaged in relatively safe nation rebuilding. As Buchanan writes, this is the most likely option come September, and is the safest, as it keeps New Zealand personnel away from the front lines in relatively low cost support roles, in an election year. The third course is to increase NZ troop numbers, by reinstating the SAS presence or by increasing the regular troops involved in reconstruction activities.
The third option is the costliest and the riskiest, in terms of troop safety and the domestic reaction. However, the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, and it needs to be considered. But it would have to be part of a broader effort, perhaps after the US elections should the US starts to withdraw from the Iraq adventure. And subject to strict time limits and the like.
I’m not very impressed with the arguments in favour of increased involvement on the basis of “special relationships” with the US and the likes. The US has shown too often just how much value such relationships have when push comes to shove. But I don’t think that we can stand by and watch as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda recover their bases in Afghanistan.