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

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Venus vs. Marsh in northern Afghanistan

I find myself at agreement and disagreement with Jari Lindholm, at the same time. Is the U.S. bidding farewell to its allies? Jari is asking. His assertion that Germany, and Scandinavian (and several other) European countries are growing tired of the fight in Afghanistan is not contentious. But while I wouldn't deny it, there is some qualifying needed... it is of course not so much the "fight" that these "countries" are getting tired of - it is rather the political elites of these countries getting tired of being associated with the fight, to which these countries' soldiers come closest mostly when attacked by IEDs and suicide bombers. They are also getting tired of spending a lot of money on a presence in Afghanistan that they know is not about working for too great changes there. Call that Venus vs. Marsh in northern Afghanistan...

What does not necessarily follow from this, seeing an "Americanisation" of the Afghan campaign (which had started long before General McChrystal was appointed) is (i) that the mentioned European countries will withdraw troops from Afghanistan soon; (ii) that there will be an exposed flank as a result, in the north.

Proposition number two may be criticised in that, as much as this is possible with the generally inconducive social context (mostly only bubble spaces of Pashtun presence), there is already an exposed flank, and insurgents are making inroads there.

Regarding proposition number one, there may be both pros and cons, of course. First the pros.

The anniversary NATO summit brought only much going-through-the-motions. One the eve of the French reintegration into the military half of NATO, Sarkozy promised that the time of empty talk has now ended, and then... mostly failed to follow up on this when it came to Afghanistan. No major non-U.S. troop contribution came with the Summit - certainly no readiness to realistically gauge the true requirements of the Afghanistan mission.

Also, a couple of months ago (at the end of January) I noted here a vague impression of mine, that key ISAF countries' intention now may be just

"to make the election times tolerable, and provide a sort of false feedback as to what we should want in Afghanistan. And it may not be enough for that in the first place. But even if it is, it's no good for NATO and Afghanistan strategically. For one thing, certain members of the Alliance, who are already deep into the COIN laboratory down in the south, are feeling the fatigue. Meanwhile, others staunchly refuse to think in strategic terms, and see it as ideal Afghanistan policy to field "peace-keepers" in Afghanistan and then bring back from there as many as possible, with essentially no other objective whatsoever. Therefore, if the going gets tougher despite the minor upcoming surge, many will cry Doomsday. If the going gets temporarily easier, some will say that's the right moment to exit. Whatever happens, the discourse may continue to turn into the same direction..."

On the other hand, NATO just doesn't (not) work so that the countries concerned could (or even would) just leave behind their area of operations when there is no clear answer to the question of who will be "covering America’s ass in the north," as Jari put it.

Now, for the least important counter-argument, which is to do with ethics (no, don't laugh), of course it is not really appropriate to complain about the "Americanisation" of the mission when there was never a genuine readiness to "Europeanise" it, never a readiness to even balance it... So is it now supposed to be de-Europeanised as a punishment for Americanisation? Wouldn't Europeans leaving be about Europeans bidding farewell?

If something similar still comes to happen in the upcoming years, one should add that aid money could go a long way to keep insurgents out from the northern areas. Aid in general, as well as aid to Afghan security forces. European countries spent a HUGE amount on Iraq. If they would spend on a similar scale in Afghanistan, with military costs decreased, that could even be beneficial in some countries' cases.

I know, I know... I didn't offer much linear argumentation in this post. Only much if-this-than-that-or-not. The problem is I can't help this...

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