What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

On NATO, the false Kantian/Hobbesian dichotomy, and German heavyweights

This is what I came home to from SGIR's Turin conference (attending which I spent the last couple of days). A delegation of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly, or more exactly its Defence and Security Committee, visited Afghanistan at the beginning of September, and they put together a new progress report. Some of their conclusions seem to match up with my earlier takes on the situation in southern Afghanistan (see for instance here and here; for even more context see also this news report, from today, on Kandahar here).
A key excerpt from the press release on the report:
"The NATO mission still suffers from a lack of personnel and assets, the delegation assessed. While NATO forces are able to clear any given area of insurgents, they do not have enough personnel to 'backfill' and hold a cleared area after a successful operation. Nor are there enough trained and capable Afghan National Security Forces to do the job independently. The end result is the re-infiltration of cleared areas by insurgents, and an inability by local populations to commit to actively support NATO and the central government."
Some elaboration on what's needed specifically for NATO:
"The most pressing needs include: additional trainers to quicken the standing up of the Afghan National Security Forces; additional theater-appropriate helicopters, an absolutely necessity in the rugged terrain and great distances of Afghanistan; and additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, critical for knowledge of the battlespace and a tool that contributes to minimizing civilian casualties.
National caveats overall had been significantly reduced since the Riga summit, and nations with forces in the south, where most of the heavy fighting was taking place, did not have significant restrictions. However, General McNeill, COMISAF, called remaining caveats 'vexing,' stating that they still hampered his ability to concentrate military mass when needed, with sufficient speed to make a difference."
Another issue then is whether there is an overall strategy that's worth following:
"The delegation concluded that perhaps the central political/strategic problem facing NATO in Afghanistan was the absence of a well-defined strategic vision for its presence there. While NATO has successfully expanded its presence throughout the country, and while the personnel on the ground is performing brilliantly at the tactical level, the Alliance simply does not yet have a sufficiently explicit goal for what it wants to achieve in collaboration with the Government of Afghanistan. Without such a vision, our forces in Afghanistan will continue to perform their current tasks with great success; they may not, however, succeed in creating the fundamental conditions of security and stability necessary for the emergence of an Afghan political solution."
Back at the conference I mentioned I've been to, I raised the question in a discussion if one of the sources of confusion in state-building ventures such as ISAF's is that while nominally the West tends to aim at a "Kantian" outcome (say, an immaculate liberal democracy), bound by what one may argue for in a 'politically correct' way, in practice what it really wants is more of a "Hobbesian" outcome in the sense of having in the areas concerned an effective sovereign that is able to secure us by preventing or stopping any negative spill-over effects arising from those areas. Some people there at the conference may have interpreted this as though I myself would only be able to think in terms of an artificial Kantian/Hobbesian dichotomy (with those two fine people, or rather a simplified reading of all their ideas, taken totally out of context of course). But no: I meant that it's difficult to formulate a strategic vision with such West-centric conceptual confusion in the background, which then leads to the constraint-driven negotiation of a potentially dysfunctional and non-satisfying compromise outcome on the ground - with the West negotiating that partly with itself, in the debate over what means and methods are acceptable or necessary. (If somebody wishes to read more from me about the discourse on state failure, here is a link to a study of mine, in pdf).
As to what will happen to NATO if the ISAF mission fails because of a lack of commitment? Hm, I'd rather go with the colloqially put hypothesis that "the West is a unique animal" (I've just read this quoted in Richard Rupp's book, "NATO after 9/11: An Alliance in Continuing Decline"), meaning that problems, albeit serious they may appear, are usually sorted out eventually. (I'm only at the beginning of Rupp's book, so we'll see how much it changes my assumptions.)
But predicting things like that is not necessarily a rewarding task. For illustration, let me quote John J. Mearsheimer here, a major thinker of Realism (with a capital 'R') in International Relations Theory, from his study "Back to the Future – Instability in Europe After the Cold War" (International Security, 1990, 15:1, 5-56). Back in 1990, he wrote all sorts of things about Europe's future, predicting nuclear proliferation on the continent even, for which some tend to mock him, whereas he in fact was just using a set of Realist premises to get to formally largely logical conclusions. This is what he wrote in a footnote about NATO's future and Germany's likely policy towards it:
Picture: Prof. Mearsheimer outlines a future, back in the past (Photo credit: John J. Mearsheimer)
"There is considerable support within NATO’s higher circles, including the Bush administration, for maintaining NATO beyond the Cold War. NATO leaders have not clearly articulated the concrete goals that NATO would serve in post-Cold War Europe, but they appear to conceive the future NATO as a means for ensuring German security, thereby removing possible German motives for aggressive policies; and as a means to protect other NATO states against German aggression. However, the Germans, who now provide the largest portion of the Alliance’s standing forces, are likely to resist such a role for NATO. A security structure of this sort assumes that Germany cannot be trusted and that NATO must be maintained to keep it in line. A united Germany is not likely to accept for very long a structure that rests on this premise. Germans accepted NATO throughout the Cold War because it secured Germany against the Soviet threat that developed in the wake of World War II. Without that specific threat, which now appears to be diminishing rapidly, Germany is likely to reject the continued maintenance of NATO as we know it." (Mearsheimer, 1990: 5-6)
Having been an outright erroneous assumption for over a decade and a half, may that footnote be relevantly quoted in today's context, with Germany reluctant to back up ISAF's mission (held to be a make-or-break for NATO) with more troops or a deployment to Southern Afghanistan, as well as after the pre-Iraq war shift in ex-Premier Schröder's foreign policy? Mearsheimer, as a Realist, of course didn't take into account domestic politics that much, so for example he didn't consider the well-known coalition burden-sharing dysfunction of 'involuntary free riding'. The latter is quite relevant for Germany, where the current leadership faces both pressure from the outside to do more on Afghanistan, as well as pressure from the inside to do less. It will be interesting to see what the outcome of the clash of those forces will be. I've read with much interest this interview by Germany's Der Spiegel with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Is it a "German or other European political heavyweight" that we need to get some more serious coordination going to unify efforts to stabilise Afghanistan? As always, I have my doubts, but perhaps, perhaps. (Although, to give a twist to all this betting here, Paddy Ashdown may not be suitably German, only sufficiently "other European").

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