No strategy can solve this mess


There is no exit now from Afghanistan, or from other issues.

In the article “Trump’s Afghanistan strategy: Escalation is more likely than a decrease in war violence and terrorism“, I evaluated the ‘new’ US Afghanistan strategy by checking if – and to what degree – the new strategy meets the basic requirements to be (potentially) effective: The new strategy failed this simple test convincingly.

In this article, I explain the impact of the current condition of the international order on strategy and the ability to solve issues.

As I explained, the strategy lacks a clearly defined end state, and their is no consistency between grand and military strategies, to name just some evident shortcomings.

This new strategy will – and cannot – deliver; apart from the fact that it is not specified what it is supposed to deliver, in the first place. This strategy means more half hearted ‘muddling through’, for years to come. This is – and should not come – as a surprise to the US military and NATO.

It seems that the US has come to the conclusion that significant results in Afghanistan are not within reach, but that an exit – without causing even more damage – also is not desirable. The US is stuck in a web of interests, threats and commitments.

In 2001, ‘Afghanistan’ began with a limited (unsuccessful) operation to capture Bin Laden, that then evolved into a large scale protracted war, involving not only the US, but also NATO.

Sixteen years later there still is no end in sight.

Despite all the military power that is deployed by the most powerful state and the most powerful military alliance, the billions of dollars and euro’s that are invested, the Afghan tribes are still resilient, and the Taliban now controls almost fifty percent of Afghanistan’s territory.

While this ‘drama’ unfolded, America’s and NATO’s reputations were (are) damaged, and terrorist organizations found new inspiration and training grounds.

Obviously, fighting tribes – societies – with traditional ‘armies’ (designed and equipped to fight other armies) does and cannot work. The endless changes in military and political objectives – the desired end state in Afghanistan – was also not helpful. There was continuous mission creep: back and forth. The Taliban stayed its course, the US did not.

In the meantime, starting in 2001, the conflict also has evolved into a regional conflict, and one way or the other, are all Great Powers in the System – the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, Germany and Iran – directly or indirectly involved in ‘Afghanistan’. Their involvement links Afghanistan to other (increasingly) global issues.

This state of affairs – increasing linkage, and the inability to solve the issue ‘Afghanistan’ – is typical for the current state of development of the international order.

As I explained on this blog, since 2011 – data analysis shows – is the current international order (the UN) in its high-connectivity regime, when typically (as was the case during the four preceding war cycles, during the period 1495-1945), tensions cannot be released and issues between state not be resolved, as a consequence of the linkage of issues.

Instead of being released, tensions and unresolved issues accumulate in the System, until the System becomes (as a matter of time) critical, and produces a systemic response to release the accumulated tensions.

The current condition of the international order – the linkage of issues and tensions – explains the inability of the US to solve ‘Afghanistan’ or exit from Afghanistan. Both come at an unacceptable price, is the ‘calculation’.

The new – highly inconsistent – Afghanistan strategy exposes this reality. No strategy can solve this mess.