Political Promise

British Foreign Policy: Afghanistan and Libya

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2011 at 5:57 pm

We are rapidly approaching our tenth full year in Afghanistan, fighting a force determined to repel any Western influence within its borders. Yes security conditions have improved over the years and the Afghan Security Force is growing in number and capability, yet a definitive end is certainly not in sight and here lies the issue, writes RS.

When fighting a counterinsurgency campaign anywhere in the world military force is, of course, a must; however, in this type of war – war amongst the people – a political strategy is of utmost importance. After all, no counterinsurgency is won with military might alone. It is therefore reassuring that MPs have recently called for greater emphasis on further talks and negotiations with the Taliban in an effort to create stability in the country and thus alleviate Western security concerns. However, it is the political strategy in the UK that this article is concerned with.

At the NATO summit in Lisbon late last year, David Cameron offered a “firm commitment” to withdrawing British combat troops from Afghanistan by 2015. This creates an issue of strategic significance.  Mr Cameron’s remarks run contrary to the views of the US and the NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who make it clear that the end of combat operations is conditions based. The issue with such a contrast in policy is best demonstrated through the eyes of the al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Afghans themselves. In a country that still has extremely volatile areas, particularly in the south of the country where the coalition is finding it difficult to secure and reconstruct, it is in the interests of al-Qaeda and the Taliban to continue their resistance, knowing full well that the West has the watch but not the time. From their point of view it is just a matter of holding out until 2015. Now of course the UK contributes a small amount of personnel and resources when compared with the US, yet it is this type of warfare that demands legitimacy through stable coalitions. Without full support from the UK, who provides the second highest number of troops in Afghanistan and is operating in one of the most dangerous parts of the country, international support is likely to deteriorate further, placing the whole operation between a rock and a hard place. The Afghan citizens themselves are torn between supporting a barbaric and theocratic Taliban who will be in Afghanistan interminably, or support a disintegrating Western coalition that is looking for a way to withdraw while simultaneously claiming victory. Such a situation does not bode well for our interests since it fails to win Afghan hearts and minds – key to succeeding in any counterinsurgency.

Afghanistan is not the only shaky area of the current government’s foreign policy. The recent Strategic Defense and Security Review was supposed to reflect our international interests and intentions with the ultimate aim of ‘Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty’ but instead resembles a cost cutting exercise more akin to ‘Securing Britain in an Age of Austerity’. This would not be such an issue if were not for David Cameron’s leading rhetoric regarding Libya and the potential for a ‘No Fly Zone’, a task that would involve huge resources which Britain no longer has. Such are the consequences when failing to prepare in an age of uncertainty.

Looking ahead then, it is evident that Afghanistan is in Britain’s interests for more than just counter-terrorism and security reasons. If we fail in Afghanistan, or are seen to fail there, this will have a vast detrimental affect to the reputation and voice of NATO in future security related issues. In international affairs, countries and organisations must be able to make credible threats in order to, for example, stop a dictator from killing his own people. If such a threat lacks credibility it may lead to a situation where the likelihood of conflict increases as the recipient of the threat simply does not feel threatened and continues his reign of terror. Furthermore, the recent SDSR does not reflect the rhetoric of the current government. A leader cannot call for a ‘No Fly Zone’ and then expect the international community to provide the bulk of resources.

Britain must think quickly and logically about its security interests and foreign policy. If it wants to continue punching above its weight and get involved in countries such as Libya, whilst honoring its commitment in Afghanistan, it must have the resources to do so and this can only be achieved by reevaluating the SDSR. Most importantly though, Britain must continue its support in Afghanistan but realign its position to one based on conditions, not on time.

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