The Protectorate of Afghanistan

8-03-09, 10:52 am

Editor's note: Norman Paech is a foreign policy expert in Germany's Left Party.

The majority of our contemporaries are convinced that we are in a historic period of transition to a new system of world order. Its future shape, however, is rather unclear. Only one thing is emphasized time and again with striking certitude: An era of disorder, dissolution and chaos lies before us, and it is likewise unclear where it will end. The certainty of this prognosis is based on experience with the aggressiveness with which capitalism is pursuing its globalization into every last primary stock, market and village. In this dynamic of imperialist occupation of all the Earth’s resources we find the entire political toolbox, from negotiation and diplomacy, threats, blackmail, deception and bribery to targeted military intervention and classical warfare.

From the perspective of the countries that are more likely to be the battlefield than the command centre of future wars, the perception of this fate is particularly sober and clear. The Indian writer Amitav Gosh, for instance, concisely summarized the “packaging of capitalism and empire” in this vein in Die Zeit (18/2005): “It is strange to think that the fall of the Berlin Wall is still widely read as a vindication of ‘capitalism.’ The truth is that the world’s experience over these last fifteen years could more accurately be read as proof that untrammeled capitalism leads inevitably to imperial wars and the expansion of empires. If that were not the case, then surely the almost-uncontested reign of a single system would prove to be an epoch, if not of universal peace, then certainly one in which there would be a broad agreement on the means of ensuring peace? Yet what we see is exactly the opposite. We find ourselves in a period of extraordinary instability and fear, faced with the prospect of an endless proliferation of thinly-veiled colonial wars. (…) In other words: a program for permanent war – the prospect once beloved of Trotskyists, and now embraced afresh by neoconservatives [in their] ‘Project for the New American Century’.”

The militarization of foreign policy

What unites observers in North and South alike is a firm belief in the potential for war inherent in what is generally termed globalization. This term has gradually come to stand not only for the promise of economic and social development worldwide but also for the expectation, even inevitability, of coming wars. This expectation is not only reinforced by the empirics of daily war bulletins from four continents but also confirmed by the objectives expressly set out in the latest military strategies of NATO dating from April 1999 and the USA from September 2002. Even the EU, which was originally an exclusively economic community and has only recently matured into a political union, has developed a powerful military arm that, according to the 2003 “European Security Strategy”, is to shoulder military “defense” tasks worldwide in the future.

These modern strategy papers of the United States, NATO and the EU, but also the White Papers of the Bundeswehr since 1992, contain clear references to military interventions in those regions where the states see their core economic and political interests threatened. In addition, the novel task of crisis intervention calls for a different time frame than classical defense within the scope of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which is linked to a direct attack against the territory of a Member of the United Nations. Since a crisis does not necessarily manifest itself in military aggression but rather – as the NATO Strategic Concept of 1999 also puts it – in the dissolution of states, religious rivalries or disruption of the flow of vital resources, the response must be preventive rather than purely defensive.

In the Solana Paper, for example, which was adopted by the European Council in December 2003 as the “European Security Strategy”, one can thus read: “With the new threats, the first line of defense will often be abroad. The new threats are dynamic. (…) This implies that we should be ready to act before a crisis occurs. Conflict prevention and threat prevention cannot start too early. (…) We need to develop a strategic culture that fosters early, rapid and when necessary, robust intervention. (…) As a Union of 25 members, spending more than 160 billion Euros on defense, we should be able to sustain several operations simultaneously.”

This “strategic culture” is not all too far removed from preventive concept of the National Security Strategy of the United States of America. In the words of two academic apologists, the political scientist Herfried Münkler and the peace researcher Dieter Senghaas, the object is the establishment of “an imperial order by insuring prosperity zones at the edges.” (Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, 5/2004). In keeping with the military mindset of any imperial order, war is accepted by both as an unavoidable means of ensuring security: “The pressure [!] to an increasing politics of intervention is also the reaction to the consequences of globalization at the periphery. The question remains whether order is produced on the surface and the rest are excluded. However, war is endemic in these new 'imperial barbarian zones,' namely in the form of pacification war from the center to the periphery and devastation war from the periphery to the center.”

The wars against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, which could just barely be legitimated by invoking human rights, the war on terror and efforts to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction, are to be understood as tests of such “pacification war.” “Devastation war from the periphery” means the various terrorist attacks since 11 September 2001, whereby the term intentionally obscures the respective extent of destruction wrought by the two kinds of war. In fact, the readers of Münkler’s book “The New Wars” are exhorted to “learn to think of the category of empire in the future as an alternative political category, namely as an alternative to the territorial state.” The so-installed imperial monopoly on force, according to Münkler, is therefore to be hailed as peace guarantor, guardian of political and cultural values and insurer of extensive trade relations and economic structures.

Installation of corrupt governments

We must also see the new wars of the 21st century against – or, as the case may be, in – Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the acute threat of war against Iran in this broader context: On closer examination, we are talking about the transformation of an entire region that encompasses an area with over 500 million people and stretches from Turkey’s Kurdish southeast to the Russian-Kazakh border, the province Xinjiang in western China and Kashmir in the north of India and of course also includes the entire Arabian Peninsula in the south. Its strategic importance stems neither from the multitude and heterogeneity of its states nor from the enormous size of its population but from its still gigantic reserves of oil and natural gas, which will be vital to the Atlantic industrial states for the foreseeable future.

One thing is beyond doubt: This large-scale project of transforming the Greater Middle East was not just prompted by the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. It was already planned long before in view of the increasingly explosive Palestinian conflict, the abortive attack on the “mullah regime” in Iran by means of Iraq and the dangerous regressive drifting of Afghanistan under the unpredictable Taliban following the withdrawal of the Soviet Union. The entire region was unstable and increasingly eluded the reach of Western interests, whereby Iran was seen as the fulcrum of instability and threats to U.S. interests. 9/11 was consequently just the trigger that set in motion a meticulously prepared intervention machine – a machine, however, that exclusively relied on the military. The latter was admittedly exceptionally well designed to meet the demands of intervention and conquest of adversaries but only inadequately suited to the subsequent tasks of occupation and so-called reconstruction. And the crux, after all, is essentially the second phase, which is rather crudely but accurately termed “regime change” or, somewhat more euphemistically, “nation building” and “good governance.”

Two US authors, Ronald D. Asmus and Kenneth M. Pollack, described this objective in their 2002 publication “The New Transatlantic Project” in the following way: “The West cannot and should not seek to impose its own models of governance on the region. The transformation of the Greater Middle East will inevitably entail elements of democratization, free market economics, rule of law, and progressive education as we understand them. But it is not up to us to dictate the final shape the region adopts. Instead, our goal should be to help the voices for progress in the region be heard and to help craft a new society. We do not know what Arab or Islamic modernity will look like. We can help the peoples of the region to lay the foundation for achieving it. But it will be up to them to define it.”

Appealing words, but they are just as far from reality as Washington is from Kabul. This is not, however, attributable to a thwarting of the two authors’ idealistic visions by the bad reality of the Bush administration but instead to their project itself. For their first test case was Afghanistan, where they highlighted the success of the new government as well as the defeat of the Taliban and the task of “nation building” as core elements of the transformation process. They obviously failed to see that under the Bonn Agreement of 5 December 2001, the wrong representatives of a new society were given a leg up in Kabul. Today, however, it is eminently clear that this midwifery on the Rhine far from the Hindu Kush heaved a thoroughly corrupt political elite into the new democratic institutions of parliament, government and the judiciary. This was no unfortunate accident but was instead built into the very design of the Bonn exercise and served the purposes of those who sought to see their interests secured in the new Afghanistan. In their article, moreover, Asmus and Pollack also came down on the side of military intervention for the transformation of a country and – one year before the invasion of Iraq – recommended the operation “Enduring Freedom” as a model worthy of imitation for eliminating Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Whether they are still convinced today that their concept of “nation building” can be realized in this way is unknown. There are, however, enough studies that confirm the failure of this concept in principle, since in most cases it is based on wholesale ignorance of the cultural, historical and political background of these societies and advocates the imposition of foreign institutions that originated and evolved under completely different conditions.

Defining the economic system

There are a number of indications that the serious corruption – meanwhile deplored by all sides – in the government, parliament and judiciary in Kabul is the specifically Afghan form of assimilation of these foreign institutions and their personnel. While these institutions may indeed meet the formal criterion of democracy, they cannot obscure the fact that they have the presence of foreign troops to thank for their very existence and survival. Afghanistan is a protectorate of NATO under the clear leadership of the United States, just as the latter has already set up Iraq as its protectorate. There are no qualms about this concept within the US administration, as Stephen Krasner from the US State Department has frankly confirmed: The principle of non-intervention in internal affairs, he wrote in 2005 in the journal Internationale Politik, no longer functioned. Powerful states could not ignore the phenomenon of precarious states, for the former’s economic and security interests were jeopardized by the latter. For this reason, he concluded, the best solution was the establishment of a de facto trusteeship or a protectorate.

And broad support for a protectorate solution can be found in NATO as well, as Carlo Masala from the NATO Defense College confirmed in 2007: “Protectorates are in. From Bosnia via Kosovo, to Afghanistan all the way to Iraq, the pattern of Western intervention policy is always the same. After successful military intervention, the ‘conquered’ regions are transformed into protectorates, and the Western states attempt to introduce liberal political systems, rule of law and free market economy to these areas.”

This is fully in line with Ronald D. Amus and Kenneth Pollack’s “New Transatlantic Project”(Policy Review No. 115 October/November 2002 October 2002), which likewise speaks of “elements of democratization, free market economics [and the] rule of law.” These elements are not limited in the new protectorate to the institutions of separation of powers, however, but instead completely restructure especially those areas of society which are of key interest to the new overlords: the areas of production, investment, trade and education. This is particularly evident in the case of the first protectorate of the EU, Kosovo, where Brussels has essentially laid claim to the final decision on the economic system. In the case of Afghanistan, the full extent of foreign dominance becomes apparent when in publications of the German Office for Foreign Trade (“[Afghanistan –] Wirtschaftsentwicklung 2006”, 27 November 2006) one reads statements such as the following on the success in liberalization of the economic order: “One success is the Afghan Investment Support Agency – AISA. Created with the assistance of the Federal Government, this agency relieves investors of all formalities, handles their registration and assigns them a taxpayer’s reference number, all within the space of just one week. (...) A market economy orientation for business and industry as well as protection for investors have been enshrined in the new Afghan constitution. Afghanistan can be termed one of the most open economies in the world, but in any case the most open economy in the region. Trade restrictions and subsidies are virtually non-existent, and the Afghan government is very receptive to investment in the country.”

Those who are at a loss when confronted with the label of neoliberalism should study the economic systems of these new colonies and the methods with which they are imposed by the new overlords and the latter’s autochthonous vassals. In Afghanistan, the new system has led to a situation in which 90 percent of all manufactured goods come from abroad. Domestic industry is no longer existent for all practical purposes, since its development vis-à-vis foreign competition can neither be supported nor protected. The only industry registering tremendous growth is the drug industry, the profits from which, however, benefit only a negligible percentage of the Afghan population and bypass the state to line the pockets of the drug mafia. Tax revenue is consequently extremely low, so that 70 percent of the state budget must be funded by foreign donors. The latter, in turn, would of course like to have a say in what is done with these funds.

Legitimation of US hegemony

At the beginning of my remarks I spoke of an era of disorder, dissolution and chaos that is the only certainty left in the uncertain prognosis for a future world order. Afghanistan is just one example of this; the response of the USA and its allies, however, is the model for the attempts to stabilize this chaos.

In an article entitled “The Reluctant Imperialist: Terrorism, Failed States, and the Case for American Empire” published in the spring of 2002 in the mouthpiece of the US State Department, the journal Foreign Affairs, the Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby concluded: “from Sudan and Afghanistan to Sierra Leone and Somalia. When such power vacuums threatened great powers in the past, they had a ready solution: imperialism. (…) The logic of neoimperialism is too compelling for the Bush administration to resist. The chaos in the world is too threatening to ignore, and existing methods for dealing with that chaos have been tried and found wanting.”

This is the logic of a global power that Zbigniew Brzezinski, foreign policy adviser to Presidential candidate Barack Obama, set out in 1997 in his book “The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives.” In the chapter “Hegemony of a New Type”, he states that “the scope and pervasiveness of American global power today are unique. Not only does the United States control all of the world’s oceans and seas, but it has developed an assertive military capability for amphibious shore control that enables it to project its power inland in politically significant ways. Its military legions are firmly perched on the western and eastern extremities of Eurasia, and they also control the Persian Gulf. [860 military bases worldwide, treaties with 93 states on military bases – N.P.] American vassals and tributaries, some yearning to be embraced by even more formal ties to Washington, dot the entire Eurasian continent, as the map (…) shows.”

Brzezinski can draw on a wealth of US literature to document the unequivocal legitimation of this hegemony and the justification for the claim to global primacy. One of the more prominent voices is that of the US State Department adviser Samuel P. Huntington, who as early as 1993, two years after the famous announcement of a new world order by the elder Bush, came up with the official formulation of the US mission that has remained in effect through the administration of the younger Bush: “A world without US primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs. The sustained international primacy of the United States is central to the welfare and security of Americans and to the future of freedom, democracy, open economies, and international order in the world.”

The methods of establishing and maintaining this primacy are not discussed in this context: After the wars against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the permanent threats of war against Iran, however, there is no doubt whatsoever as to either the seriousness of the claim or the determination to also enforce it with armed force. The fact that occupying powers time and again meet with stubborn resistance when doing so, however, is due to a very simple insight formulated more than 200 years ago, one that the great powers must have repeatedly encountered over the course of their costly colonial wars: “The most extravagant idea that can take root in the head of a politician is to believe that it is enough for one people to invade a foreign people to make it adopt its laws and constitution. No one likes armed missionaries; and the first advice given by nature and prudence is to repel them as enemies. (...) To want to give liberty to others before conquering it ourselves is to assure our own enslavement and that of the whole world.” With these words uttered in January 1792, the French revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre mocked the Girondins’ notion that they could export liberty with armed force.