October 5, 2009Af-PakAfghanistanChinaEuropean UnionForeign AffairshistoryIndiainternational relationsjihadismilitaryNATOPakistanrealpolitikSecurityTalibanUnited States

The roots of Obama’s Af-Pak predicament

US power is bound to decline if it continues to rely on a trans-Atlantic alliance

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Henry Kissinger injects a strong dose of strategic wisdom into the squabbly-wobble that is being passed off as an Afghanistan policy review on by the Obama adminstration.

Concurrently, a serious diplomatic effort is needed to address the major anomaly of the Afghan war. In all previous American ground-combat efforts, once the decision was taken, there was no alternative to America’s leading the effort; no other country had the combination of resources or national interest required. The special aspect of Afghanistan is that it has powerful neighbors or near neighbors—Pakistan, India, China, Russia, Iran. Each is threatened in one way or another and, in many respects, more than we are by the emergence of a base for international terrorism…Each has substantial capacities for defending its interests. Each has chosen, so far, to stand more or less aloof.

The summit of neighboring (or near-neighboring) countries proposed by the secretary of state could, together with NATO allies, begin to deal with this anomaly. It should seek an international commitment to an enforced nonterrorist Afghanistan, much as countries were neutralized by international agreement when Europe dominated world affairs…If cooperation cannot be achieved, the United States may have no choice but to reconsider its options and to gear its role in Afghanistan to goals directly relevant to threats to American security. In that eventuality, it will do so not as an abdication but as a strategic judgment. But it is premature to reach such a conclusion on present evidence. [Newsweek, emphasis added]Dr Kissinger highlights one manifestation of the broader issue: across the world, the United States is attempting to solve twenty-first century problems relying on a twentieth-century alliance of nineteenth-century powers.

The Atlantic alliance—between the United States and Western Europe—might have been useful (see tailpiece) to deal with the mainly Europe-centric conflicts (the two world wars’ and the Cold War) of the last century, but it has proved to be rather useless in addressing the emerging security challenges of this century: the rise of China, the growth of international jihadi terrorism, nuclear proliferation and environmental/natural disasters.

Accusations of an arrogant Washington apart, it is also true that the European states were more interested in showing their flag in Afghanistan than to actually do the fighting. Unwilling to take casualties towards a cause they see as remote, Europe has been looking for a flight out of Afghanistan for a good part of the last eight years. Moreover European states have a vastly different strategic perspective as far as jihadi terrorism goes—they have the luxury of believing that by appeasing them at home, they can escape being targeted.

The Obama administration would do well to heed Dr Kissinger’s advice. One reason Washington’s Af-Pak strategy is in such a rut is because it has neglected exploring options that would leverage the interests of Afghanistan-Pakistan’s neighbours. As long as it tries what is effectively a unilateral route (the European & international component of the coalition being negligible) the United States will find its policy options restricted to withdrawal, attrition or escalation. A new partnership—that weaves regional powers into a co-operative framework—would change the rules of the game. If it is an extraordinary challenge, then in Richard Holbrooke, Mr Obama has the extraordinary man to handle it.

Tailpiece: The much celebrated Anglo-American alliance that won the Second World War had as many as 2.5 million Indian troops fighting on its side.



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