When Barack Obama became President, the debate in European capitals was over how quickly they could decrease the number of troops contributed to NATO’s war in Afghanistan. Yet in the past week, something remarkable has happened in NATO, some of our European allies are actually sending more troops to Afghanistan, not just for temporary duty to safeguard a national election, but for the longer term goal of buying time for the stabilization of a non-Taliban regime in Kabul.

This is a major change in national policies, especially against strong public impatience with the political and military situation in Afghanistan. Who deserves praise for sparking this critical improvement in transatlantic solidarity?

The most obvious candidate is British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Brown reversed the trend to withdraw troops by promising 500 additional British soldiers and made a very public call this week for all of Europe to contribute 5,000 more forces for Afghanistan. Brown has made a very bold decision in the face of public and media opposition, particularly in light of the reported lack of respect and amity shown to him by the Obama administration. While there have been numerous calls over the years for greater military commitment from Europe to NATO’s historic mission in Afghanistan, what stands out is that in the past week the call is actually being answered by the United Kingdom, Germany, and Slovakia. And there may be more to come.

Another actor who deserves credit is NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Rasmussen has been a prominent advocate of increasing Europe’s overall contribution, though his public language tends to be focused on augmenting the more palatable non-combat efforts such as the training of Afghan army and police forces. Nevertheless, he has consistently and strongly promoted the need for Europe “to accelerate the process of transition to Afghan lead,” with additional commitments of both combat and non-combat contributions. Rasmussen has also brought new levels of energy and resolve to strengthening NATO’s sagging political will and overcoming bureaucratic and national stumbling blocks in NATO’s partnerships.

Perhaps the credit for these new commitments to NATO should go to President Obama? After all, it is the promise of change from his administration that generated phenomenal public acclaim in Europe and provided a more appealing face for America’s need for allied support in Afghanistan. Yet, while Obama remains very popular, his relationship with Europe has been defined more by perceived personal neglect and embarrassing public gaffes with the U.K. and the timing of his missile defense policy, than diplomatic success.

This suggests that credit may be due instead to Vice President Joe Biden, who has made more trips to Europe than Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While it remains to be seen who (if anyone?) is driving this administration’s policies on Europe, Biden is certainly one of the key players. He has taken the diplomatic lead in the sensitive cases of Georgia and the Ukraine, while trying to avoid doing damage to the Administration’s greater priority, relations with Moscow. Biden has also done yeoman’s work salvaging relations with Central Europe after the manner in which the new U.S. missile defense policy was imposed. It is no coincidence that rather than withdrawing forces after the transatlantic chill in September, Slovakia pledged more troops to Afghanistan, while Poland and others seek to do so, just a few weeks after Biden’s latest trip to the region.

There are many others who deserve praise for Europe’s increased support. Should we thank German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg for the political will to make a marginal, but influential commitment of additional forces? Or does the credit belong to the German voters for making the change in German policy possible by putting Merkel in power with a stronger CDU government? What about French President Nicolas Sarkozy for fueling a more inclusive environment with the reintegration of the French military into NATO? Please put forward others you believe are contributing to this recent increase in European support for the allied mission in Afghanistan.

Something is going right in NATO and that does not happen as often as it should within the alliance. While the level of troop increases may seem small, it is the change in direction from withdrawal to augmentation that is a major victory for NATO. Let us praise those that are responsible and support their efforts for improving the alliance and building peace in Afghanistan. (photo: BBC)