Lack of strategy

As sociologist Max Weber once put it, a monopoly of force is at the core of the state. Only the government may employ violent means, and it can do so with legitimacy only when authorised by the law. The less violence occurs, on the other hand, the more legitimate the state is. Societies that govern themselves peacefully carry out conflicts with words – in the media, in elected assemblies, at court. This is what makes countries like Finland or Costa Rica model cases of peaceful democracy.

Numerous crises across the globe, however, prove that neither a state’s monopoly of force nor its law-based exercise can be taken for granted. That became evident again in recent reports from Kenya, Chad and Timor-Leste. Again and again, development and emergency agencies are involved, and often soldiers from other nations are too. These events are of global relevance, not merely regional affairs.

The collapse of a state is a tragedy for every victim of brutality, as well as for anyone who is “merely” exposed to the danger. It does not matter, where that country is. For the western donor community, however, Afghanistan has become the most important case. Here, they must show that it is possible to establish an operational democracy and a prospering economy after decades of civil war and warlord rule. After the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the Islamist Taliban were driven out of power, and international troops were stationed in Afghanistan.

Just over six years later, the results are depressing, though not entirely negative. Large sections of Afghanistan are war zones. The border zone to Pakistan is especially dangerous; indeed, the neighbouring state itself seems to be losing stability. Despite the UN mandate and NATO troops, the international community lacks a convincing joint strategy. Their actions sometimes resemble the deeply fissured landscape they are trying to liberate and protect.

There can be no doubt that the initial “light-footprint” policy has failed. One cannot go after suspected terrorists with full-fledged military force unless one can protect civilians – or at least takes account of them. Nor does it help much to complain about the criminal drug trade, so long as that very trade remains the economy’s most important and most vibrant sector. Those who do not take account of people’s everyday lives have no chance of winning their hearts and minds.

As Paddy Ashdown argues, relative to the size of the population, 25 times more international troops were sent to Kosovo and Bosnia than are deployed in Afghanistan today, and aid-levels were even 50 times higher. Ashdown calls for a joint strategy with the following priorities: human security, better national governance and the rule of law in Afghanistan. Up to now, he says he only sees disparate donor tactics. He knows the issue. From 2002 to 2006, he was the High Representative of the UN and the EU in Bosnia, and the Afghan government only recently rejected him as UN special envoy.

In German public, the Afghanistan debate predominantly focuses on whether military campaigns or development programmes are more promising. But the simplistic slogan of “development aid instead of troops” – it has been used by leftist populist Oskar Lafontaine, for instance – is misleading. Both are urgently needed – on top of a realistic, coherent strategy.

And let’s not forget that Afghanistan is not the only crisis country that deserves attention.

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