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NATO can't blink in Afghanistan

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Will the Dutch again decline to move Europe forward as a unified group of responsible nations? Last year, voters in the Netherlands rejected the European Union's proposed constitution. Now Dutch lawmakers may disrupt NATO plans to expand international forces which it leads in Afghanistan.

The lawmakers are concerned that if they approve sending 1,200 more Dutch troops to Afghanistan, their soldiers will face serious danger.

That's because the Dutch reinforcements, along with more British, Canadian, and other soldiers, would be deployed to the volatile south, where violence is common and the need for combat far more likely than in Kabul and other areas where NATO forces act more as peacekeepers. Like the Dutch, many Europeans fear being dragged into war.

Blocking the deployment, however, would be a huge blow to the integrity of the NATO military alliance, which still wrestles over mission and resources since it completed its job as the cold-war defender of the West. A Dutch denial could be read as a sign that NATO is unwilling to face an era of new threats that lie beyond Europe's borders and that could require sacrifice of life.

A Netherlands "no" would send a signal of weakness to terrorists who still operate along the Afghan/Pakistan border. And it would let down Afghans, who expect NATO to fulfill its commitment to provide security for rebuilding this struggling democracy beset by warlords, opium, and poverty. Also, Washington would surely be displeased. It's counting on the NATO-led expansion - an increase from 9,000 to about 15,000 troops - to allow a US drawdown in Afghanistan of 2,500 troops this year.

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