Why is China not getting involved in Afghanistan?
Geostrategic consequences of the withdrawal from Afghanistan
DW: The USA and with it NATO are withdrawing from Afghanistan on September 11th. Where do you see the reasons for this decision?
Markus Kaim: Two factors were probably decisive. First, the frustrating inconvenience of the mission. The high costs and commitment resulted in only modest success. This fact evidently provoked a certain hopelessness in the long run. Second, it was joined by a very fundamental tiredness in the USA to continue to be involved in such stabilization missions, based on a cost-benefit calculation that was not particularly encouraging.
With his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, Joe Biden is in a way joining the trail of his predecessor Donald Trump.
Indeed, this fatigue is widespread not only among Republicans but also among Democrats. The first signs could already be heard from Barack Obama, for example when he declared, "Now is the time for nation building at home" - time to take care of the care of your own country. Trump's decision in principle to withdraw from Afghanistan gave President Biden an opportunity that he only had to seize. So he was able to explain that after the negotiations with the Taliban, his government couldn't help it.
Which Afghanistan strategy after the troop withdrawal?
Mind games in Washington
The final withdrawal of troops is a turning point for Afghanistan, but also for American foreign policy. What are the consequences for both sides?
It will be difficult for Afghanistan. Terrorism, drug trafficking, political instability, to name just a few, threaten the country with many dangers. It is true that President Biden has apparently come to the conclusion that the time of major foreign missions is over. On the other hand, the US government does not want to drop the country, but continues to support the Afghan government with humanitarian aid and development aid.
I think there are a lot of mind games going on in the White House right now. Afghanistan remains a military partner of NATO. It would be conceivable, for example, that the USA would continue to station drones and special forces in Pakistan, which, depending on the situation, carry out short, rapid missions in Afghanistan to combat terror groups such as Al-Qaeda or the local branch of the "Islamic State".
Do you see terrorism as the greatest challenge facing Afghanistan?
It's an enormous challenge. There is, however, another one that is of a completely different nature, namely geostrategic. If you look at the map, you can see that Afghanistan is, in a way, a forecourt of China. It cannot be ruled out that China will become more active than before once the US has left Afghanistan. One thinks, for example, of the huge infrastructure projects that Beijing is launching in many parts of the world and thus pulling them into its sphere of influence. Think, for example, of parts of Africa, of the Western Balkans, and increasingly also of the Middle East, such as Iran. China's geostrategic influence could continue to grow. In the west you have to ask yourself if you want that. And if you don't want that, you have to ask yourself what you can say about it.
"For the time being, there will be no more Bundeswehr missions like in Afghanistan"
China's role in focus
So a new era of geostrategic rivalries?
Yes. In my opinion, the western states have reason to curb their withdrawal from Afghanistan in a political sense. It would be good if it were accompanied by a general strategy for the region. Indeed, in June, NATO commissioned a new strategic concept. The relationship with China will also play a role in this - especially the question of what it has to oppose to China's influence. For example, US bases in the region could continue to be an important element of a fundamental presence. It doesn't have to be NATO as a whole. It is enough if individual allies are present.
Markus Kaim: Geopolitical rivalries will be decisive
So are we at the beginning of a new era of bloc formation?
We are facing a turning point. We are currently witnessing the return of great powers. Russia and China are very big powers, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are at least quite influential powers. The attempts to stabilize individual countries, such as the Afghanistan mission wanted, are apparently coming to an end. In their place comes the focus on dealing with geopolitical rivals. For the time being, there will be no more Bundeswehr missions like in Afghanistan.
That could result in increasing political disorder below these blocs.
Yes. The United Nations will probably have a difficult time with its conflict management in the future. Think, for example, of the missions in the Congo or in Mali. So far, these missions have not been particularly successful either. In the future, the UN could find it even more difficult to obtain the necessary support for such missions. If, for example, the Bundeswehr, but also the armed forces of other countries, hold back on larger missions abroad, this is likely to have considerable effects on the UN missions. International conflict management is weakened.
Finally: what do you expect for the future development of Afghanistan? Could it be possible to keep at least a fragile peace?
The withdrawal poses a number of problems for the Afghan government. It is unclear, for example, what consequences the NATO decision will have for the peace negotiations with the Taliban. It is feared that the Islamists could take power in the country shortly after the international withdrawal. The arduous strides that the country has made over the past few years will then be useless.
Markus Kaim is a Senior Fellow in the Security Policy research group of the Science and Politics Foundation. He is also a lecturer at the Institute for Political Science at the University of Zurich and guest lecturer at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
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