By Lucio Levi
Afghanistan has the reputation of being the ‘graveyard of empires’. This formula underlines the historical tendency that foreign powers – once the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great, more recently the British Empire and the Soviet Union and now the United States and its allies – failed in the task of pacifying Afghanistan. Owing to the tribal composition of its population made of ethnic groups mutually hostile to each other and the nature of the territory, which represents a serious obstacle to military occupation and rule, Afghanistan is notoriously difficult to govern.
The hasty withdrawal of the American army from Afghanistan represents a new step of the US government toward the renunciation to play the role of world policeman. This happens twenty years after President Bush’s campaign against the Taliban, considered to be a party to the destruction of the Twin Towers, and eighteen years after the invasion of Iraq, being Saddam Hussein suspected to possess mass destruction weapons and protect the Islamic terrorism. What is impressive is the speed of the collapse of the Afghan government, the shameful escape of its head and the rapid Taliban’s recapture of power. These events show that the American support for a corrupt and incompetent ruling class has widened the distance between government and population. The Afghan government, lacking consent, legitimacy and social rooting, fell like a card castle as soon as it lost the support of the American army, which shows how untimely was the total evacuation of the country.
The new brutal and oppressive Taliban regime is responsible for a long list of crimes, like the assassination of civilians and surrendered soldier, and violation of human rights such as freedom of expression,public flagellation, stoning, penalties for “inappropriate dress”, denial of the right to education for girls, permission for women to leave their house only if accompanied by a male relative. But the Taliban’s return to power will not be undisputed. A forerunner message arrived from the terrorist group ISIS-K, which has claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing attack outside Kabul airport which killed 13 US troops and 169 civilians. Apart from the conflicts between violent groups, it is clear that Taliban do not have broken their links with international terrorism. This means that there is the danger that, Afghanistan can become a safe haven for islamist terrorism and host its resurgence in the region. Moreover, it is worth underlining that the political instability generated by the twenty years war has produced 3,5 million displaced people within Afghanistan’s borders and 2,2 million refugees in the bordering countries.
The scandal of the current organization of power in the world lies in the fact that no agreement between the great powers to remove or at least to sanction the Taliban regime has been reached. The divisions that cross international relations prevent it. And yet, it can be said that the war against Bin Laden and al-Qaeda – the first phase of the war on terrorism – has been won by the US. The American monopolarism allowed it. Therefore, the attack on the Twin Towers remains an isolated event. No other similar event occurred on the American ground afterwords, except for a few terrorist assaults waged by “solitary wolves”. But security required the growth of an imposing police apparatus with the consequence thata portion of freedom has been sacrificed in exchange for more security.
The US has recognized the failure of its intervention in Afghanistan, which has led to a change in its foreign policy objectives. Obama had already started the American disengagement from the Mediterranean. And the EU, owing to its political divisions and conflicts of interest, has been unable to fill the power vacuum left by the US, thus paving the way to the military intervention of Russia in Syria and Turkey in Libya. A premise is necessary. The main reasons of the US withdrawal – which is favored by a large majority of US public – is that military expenses have become unsustainable. According to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the war has cost the United States $2.3 trillion. Human costs were equally high: 46,000 deaths in civilian population and 2,400 American soldiers. The military-industrial complex cannot continue to absorb the most advanced technological and human resources and consequently reduce the resources available for Post-COVID-19 recovery plan, which President Biden hopes will help strengthen support for his administration.
The decision to interrupt the cycle of endless wars led to the acceleration of the shift of the centre of gravity of the American global strategy from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Now, Asia comes first and the competition with China has become the top priority. The new security alliance between the US, UK and Australia (AUKUS) is intended to stem China in the Indo-Pacific region. If it is true that both America and Europe need a mutual support to defend and promote democracy in the world, it cannot be ignored that there are significant areas of disagreement. The recent tensions between France and the US on the sale of submarines to Australia, shows how deep is the gap between the two sides of the Atlantic. However, the Western alliance should do everything to avoid a return to the cold war this time not only against Russia but also against China. There are global challenges, such as climate change and nuclear weapons threatening the continuation of life on our planet and terrorism questioning the principle of the rule of law, which demand immediate action and require the adoption of the patient attitude to dialogue and quest of mutual understanding between the protagonists of world politics.
The EU is potentially the vehicle of an initiative for the creation of a new world order based on cooperation. But it should behave as a real union. In the past, the leading European states split over the form of European security and defense. Britain wanted them subordinated to NATO, France wanted them fully independent of NATO, Germany sought to reconcile both views. The withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan has increased pressure on the EU to engage in crisis management in its own neighborhood. In the future, the EU will be obliged to enhance its commitment primarily in political stabilization, peacekeeping and peace enforcement. In her speech on the State of the European Union, delivered at the European Parliament in Strasburg on 15 September 2021, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen stated that Europe needs a “European Defense Union”. The concept of European defense should not be understood in terms of creation of a new superpower, but rather of promotion of multilateralism and a multipolar world system without hegemonies. The European strategic autonomy does not mean that the EU withdraws from NATO, but promotes the reshaping of its organization, contributes to build a European pillar within the alliance and transform it into an equal partnership.