Afghanistan in 2014: Importance to stretch well past borders
December 27th, 2013
07:45 AM ET

Afghanistan in 2014: Importance to stretch well past borders

By Frederic Grare, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Frederic Grare is senior associate and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The views expressed are his own. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

As the U.S. exit from Afghanistan nears, we can expect to hear steadily more about the lessons we should have learned since international intervention in the country back in 2001. But one dimension of the Afghan effort that might get overlooked next year is this: how has the Afghan conflict impacted transatlantic solidarity?

The short answer is that transatlantic relations may well be another long-term victim of the war in Afghanistan.

The Afghan operation started as a spectacular demonstration of the solidity of the transatlantic alliance in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when NATO activated Article V of its collective defense clause for the first time in its history. But the limits of cooperation were quickly demonstrated, eroding the foundations of transatlantic solidarity. Whether they can be fully restored remains to be seen.

Afghanistan has been a story of frustration on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the early disagreements was over the relative importance of military operations versus a broader political approach – while the United States tended to focus on the former, European states emphasized the latter. The resources that each side was capable and willing to engage in Afghanistan played a role in this initial difference, but this doesn’t explain everything. Europeans had a genuine problem with the U.S. approach, which, over the years, kept focusing on security at the expense of politics and a sustained effort at national cohesion. As a result, all Afghan political institutions were created in a way that reflected Washington’s desire for expediency rather than a need to ensure the political system’s sustainability.

Torn between their willingness to demonstrate solidarity with Washington after 9/11 and their perception that the goals of the mission, as defined by Washington, were unachievable, many European countries limited their investment to the minimum and sought instead to bring their troops home. Others, in particular the closest American allies, decided to stick to U.S. strategy even when they knew it was bound to fail. These allies paid a heavy human, financial and political price, but seemed to take some absurd comfort in the fact that the failure would be a collective responsibility.

In parallel, the temptation in Washington to blame the Europeans for the coalition failures in Afghanistan grew as it became increasingly clear that, despite the official rhetoric, the United States had achieved none of its objectives. If al Qaeda has been weakened, none of its local affiliates has been eradicated and its reemergence remains a possibility in 2014 and beyond – the reality is that the Afghan state that is emerging from the reconstruction effort is in no position to prevent this happening on its own once U.S. forces have withdrawn next year.

Ironically the impending exit from Afghanistan has only exacerbated ill feelings on both sides of the Atlantic. In spite of the principle “in together, out together,” Washington decided unilaterally to withdraw, but felt let down when some of its partners decided to anticipate its own departure.

The consequences of this mutual frustration are unlikely to be spectacular. European states are too dependent on the United States for their own security to snub Washington. Nor is Afghanistan the sole reason for Washington’s diminishing commitment to European security. With the existential threat of the Soviet Union long gone and given European governments’ dwindling capacity to contribute to collective security, the continent no longer constitutes a strategic concern for Washington. At the same time, the war-weary and fiscally-stressed United States is increasingly reluctant to commit to foreign military adventures. These two phenomena, neither of which is directly or exclusively related to Afghanistan, are pulling the two sides of the Atlantic apart.

Future conflicts may not exactly look like Afghanistan, but there is a good chance they will share some of its characteristics, in particular the primacy of politics and the relatively secondary character of military force. In Afghanistan, most U.S. allies concurred with the perception that the conflict could not be solved kinetically. However, for a variety of reasons, they never really stood against that dominant U.S. paradigm. Instead, they let themselves become part of a succession of U.S. military strategies that all proved short lived.

The result of all this is a collective failure that from next year will very likely translate into a loss of credibility not just for the U.S., but for the entire Western alliance.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • Afghanistan

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    "U.S. exit from Afghanistan in 2014"? What exit? Is that why Obama and his right-wing cronies are trying to keep some 15 to 20,000 troops there well after 2014? And don't forget folks, the reason we went into Afghanistan in the first place was because of it's vast underground mineral resources under the guise of the "War on Terrorism" back in 2001!

    December 27, 2013 at 9:02 am | Reply
    • banasy©

      "Obama and his right wing cronies.
      Name them. We would not see such intransigence in Congress if Obama had any "right wing cronies".

      We see our usual war mongers, but they are in no way cronies of the POTUS.

      Chrissy is right.

      December 27, 2013 at 11:42 am | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy

        What about John McCain and Lindsey Graham plus half of Congress for starters, banasy? They all work for the all powerful M.I.C. in Washington D.C. as well as Barack Obama!

        December 27, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
      • banasy©

        I specifically included them in my "We see our usual war mongers, but they are in no way cronies of the POTUS."
        Because Graham and McCain most certainly are NOT "cronies" of the POTUS.
        They ARE Netanyahu's, but NOT Obama's.

        December 27, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Look, it's the Afghans and their representatives at the Loya Jirga that want the US to remain in Afghanistan. They have no confidence in their own security forces, which will collapse, without the billions pumped into their defence system.
        Indeed, Iraq's prime minister al-Maliki did realise it was a mistake not to let US troops stay in Iraq. Now he's begging Obama for help. This mercurial Hamid Karzai is playing chicken with Obama and refuses to sign the BSA by the end of this year. His game is to remain relevant until he steps down and extorts more from Washington.

        December 28, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  2. chrissy

    I dont think its Obama who wants to keep those troops there @ Joseph. More like that warmongering Congress! Because im sure if YOU think about it, he doesnt have any "cronies"! Its congress against the POTUS!

    December 27, 2013 at 11:31 am | Reply
  3. chrissy

    Lol thanks @ banasy. I admit i did get quite the chuckle out of that when i read it the first time....and i gotta admit i still am. Lol but it would be very nice if he were to acquire a few of them as "his cronies" wouldnt it? Maybe then that useless lot might actually accomplish SOMETHING!

    December 27, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Reply
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    December 27, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  5. Danro

    Dear Mr. Grare, I have to disagree with your analysis about the state of NATO. First, the fact that the NATO alliance agreed to go to Afghanistan shows its strength. The alliance was meant as a defensive alliance against the Soviet Union in Europe. Afghanistan and Central Asian is very very far away and does not share any borders with any NATO member countries. Second, the members of NATO trust US more than they trust each other. Even after 60 years of peace most if not all European countries do not trust each others enough to create a pan-European military force. The reason is who rules that military? Germany, the largest and most powerful, The French, the British, who don't trust the Germans or even the French, the Italains, Greeks, who? The existence of NATO shows the weakness of Europe and only the Europeans are responsible. Then you say that the operation in Afghanistan has strained our allies because of our policies. Lets remember that the largest partner besides the US is Germany. Germany has had to deal with its new role in the world vis a vie its relationship to its military. Many Germans are against Germany's involvement militarily period. The other Europeans are the Brits and the French who have limited involvement. Also lets remember that this operation has lasted 12 years. That's a long time to be involved in any conflict. The fact that we are still there, including the members of NATO shows its success.

    December 27, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Gee Danro, you sound like a politically paid speaker for the right-wing thugs in Washington by praising this most unholy of alliances! This alliance is no more than a tool for Washington to control more and more of Europe and it appears to be only too successful at that!

      December 27, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Reply
  6. Danro

    The success of Afghanistan is depended on making peace between the many groups and their national allies in the region. The Pashtuns are allied with Pakistan, the Tajiks have ties to Tajikistan and so on. The key I believe is to involve Iran. The Iranians were allied with the Northern Alliance pre 911 so they would be very important to counterbalance the Taliban. Also Indian, and China should be more involved. The problem I believe with Afghanistan is its close relationship with Pakistan.

    December 27, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Above all Danro, the U.S. and it's rubber stamp NATO allies need to get out of Afghanistan once and for all! Only then can there be a genuine peace!

      December 27, 2013 at 7:10 pm | Reply
  7. Matthew Kilburn

    The United States had to attempt a political solution in Afghanistan. You simply can't have a vast swath of lawless area where anyone and everyone can hide and plan and cause trouble. This isn't the 1800s, or even the 1900s, when you have days or weeks of notice that an enemy is plotting something.

    Lets assume for a minute that we had taken a very limited approach to our post-9/11 reaction. We went in, we bombed the Al-Qaeda camps, we sent a couple of special forces squads to chase Bin Laden. Maybe we even bombed the Taliban. Within a year, every bit of damage we had done to the terrorists would have been repaired. It isn't just about taking revenge – its about making sure the people who hate you have fewer places to safely be.

    December 27, 2013 at 9:28 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      You forgot to mention Matthew, it's also about control. The U.S, policy is as it always was is to make Afghanistan one of our own satellite states such as Poland was to Russia after WW2. This is our true objective. As Russia promoted Communism, we promote pseudo-democracies!

      December 28, 2013 at 10:46 am | Reply
  8. chrissy

    The ONLY reason we went into that war is because certain people think war makes money so dont kid yourself! They were selfish and were only thinking of financial gains and human loss and suffering NEVER entered their minds! May they rot in he!! one day for all the pain they've caused. Mainly GWB and Cheney!

    December 27, 2013 at 11:06 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      The other reason we went into Afghanistan, chrissy, was to get control of that country's vast underground mineral resources such as copper and lithium as well as make money our of the obscene war that ensued there. This is why we want to make Afghanistan other one of our satellite states. In short, this is neocolonialism in disguise!

      December 28, 2013 at 10:52 am | Reply
  9. chrissy

    Lol @ Joseph, just as i SAID its all about the MONEY!

    December 28, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Reply

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