The aphorism, “America cooks, Europe does the dishes,” became a popular way to describe the transatlantic relations in the late 1990s. At the time, the saying referred to Europe’s lead role in Balkan reconstruction efforts. It was not used pejoratively, but reflected the honest division of labor between allies following the American led humanitarian interventions in southeast Europe.
If the saying were updated today and applied to the Afghan war perhaps “Europe” would be replaced by “The United Nations.” To be sure, this is not to diminish Europe’s important contributions in Afghanistan. Rather, it speaks to the outsized role that the United Nations has played in reconstruction efforts there.
Yesterday, the Security Council acknowledged the centrality of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and extended its mandate by one year. Since inception in 2002, UNAMA has taken the lead in critical rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, ranging from the repatriation of refugees to election assistance and life saving of humanitarian work. When Afghanistan becomes a self-sustaining government, it will be due in large part to the availability and expertise of UNAMA workers.