I have been on twitter this morning chatting back and forth about Europeans and NATO, admonishing folks who generalize a bit too much about those lazy, pacifist Europeans. It is tempting to say that Americans fight and break things. ISAF stands for International Security Assistance Force, the NATO effort in A-stan, but also stands for I Saw Americans Fight. But the division of labor is not Americans fight and then leave while Europeans watch and then build. That would be NATO vs. EU, perhaps.
But Europeans did fight in Afghanistan--most of them. The only real exceptions were folks like hte Greeks who only sent 15 troops for quite a while and then a bit more than that, but I doubt any left their bases. The big distinctions are between the Danes, Brits, Poles, and Dutch on one side and Germans, Italians, Spaniards, and Hungarians on the other in terms of who engaged in significant combat. And to be fair, the Germans reduced their restrictions over time and engaged in more combat, including offensive operations. Mostly after 2009. The French? Their Special Operations types were busy from 2004-2007 in Spin Boldak (border region in Kandahar province), but their conventional forces were pretty much restricted to peaceful Kabul until 2007. Sarkozy changed all of that, deploying the French to Kapisa where they experienced as much "kinetic" stuff as the first category of Europeans.
Of course, comparing Europeans to Americans inevitably slights the country that is neither in Europe nor American: those pesky Canadians. As I have blogged and written, the Canadians started off restricted and doing mostly garrison duty in 2002 (although their snipers recorded the longest successful combat shot), but changed their stance in 2005 leading to a very forward leaning approach until they left Kandahar in 2011.
So, while I, like everyone else, like to generalize and use broad categories, let this be my monthly reminder that the relevant categories for deploying force in combat, in counter-insurgency, in stabilization ops is not Europeans vs. Americans. Instead, as our piece coming out in International Studies Quarterly next month asserts, it has far more to do with how many folks are in the decision-making loop at home--is it a presidential system, a Prime Minister only needing his or her party, or a coalition government.