Talkin' Operation Enduring Freedom blues

In June there were reports that the government is at least interested in taking a larger command role in Afghanistan. Gerard O'Dwyer wrote in the Defense News:

Finland may take over command of the northern-Afghanistan contingent of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), under a proposal by Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen's center-right government.

"Our Finnish troops in Afghanistan are operating in the north of the country at present," Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva said in a statement. "We are examining a broader role for Finland, and that would mean taking on regional command responsibilities. We will discuss this at government level and also discuss the issue with the American government."

Kanerva said the regional command responsibility issue arose when he met with Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, in Washington on June 11.

For the past week or so everyone has been taking turns to opine on the matter. Raimo Väyrynen of the Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs - not to be confused with Foreign Trade Minister Paavo Väyrynen - led the way last Wednesday:
[Väyrynen said] the Finnish government and president should consider expanding the country's contribution to the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan.

The academic said Finland should be open to the possibility of accepting a command in northern Afghanistan, despite the higher demand need for resources and a projected increase in risk.

On Thursday Social Democratic Party's leading lights exchanged views the matter. Former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, a noted NATO enthusiast, is in favor of Väyrynen's views; but former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, a noted NATO opponent, disagrees and thinks that Finland should focus more on Lebanon instead.

Foreign Minister Kanerva (National Coalition Party) weighed in again (fi) on Friday, saying that foreign countries have a responsibility to help Afghanistan back on its feet. He doesn't simply want to send more troops to Afghanistan, but Finland should strengthen its presence in Afghanistan and clarify the principles behind the operation - whatever that's supposed to mean.

On Monday Foreign Affairs Committee chair Pertti Salolainen (Coalition) expressed his wish that the government hurry up and report to the Parliament on its position on Afghanistan and also the NATO Response Force. Today Defense Committee chair Juha Korkeaoja (Centre Party) said he would like a slower schedule.

From a tactical perspective, getting parties and MPs behind the government policy now will provide cover for the government later should the operation end in failure. As far as the general public is concerned, politicians could probably get away with never mentioning Afghanistan again, aside from the - thankfully rare - times there are Finnish casualties.

Still, there seems to be genuine enthusiasm for doing more in some undefined way, especially inside the Coalition. As you might expect, there's a correlation between supporting greater involvement in Afghanistan and openness to NATO membership. A cynical person would suggest that Afghanistan merely provides a tangible way for politicians to display their pro-West credentials.

Update: President Tarja Halonen has gotten in the act (fi). She says a deeper analysis is required and the time for decisions is in the autumn.

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