Sunday, July 25, 2010

Post-American World/Najibullah Strategy

For those who are interested, over at World Politics Review, two items that may be of interest.

The first is their special issue on the question of a post-American world, with contributions also from Tom Barnett and Parag Khanna ...

The second is my column this week, on whether the U.S. is indeed moving towards its own version of the Najibullah strategy as the Obama administration considers its end-game in Afghanistan.

Comments welcome!

Najibullah's government, according to Wayne Wright, was the best government that Afghanistan had ever had.

It failed because many wanted it to fail.

Would Russia, China, India, Iran support America's Najibullah?
Total wishful thinking.

Najibullah was a skilled and determined politician in his own right, and he still ended up dead.

Karzai hasn't the slightest chance of pulling it off for even a fraction as long.
The real issue in Afghanistan is not the future of a central government but the ground-level opposition that will almost certainly arise to a Taliban reconquest. If the present Karzai government cannot make up for lost time and we begin to draw down our forces, the peoples who constituted the former Northern Alliance will regroup to oppose a Taliban advance.

Outside arms and satellite intelligence supplied by us could strengthen this opposition if the non-Pashtun groups can unite and make effective use of such aid. The result could be to improve the bargaining position of the non-Pashtun majority and avert a civil war, or make it harder for the Taliban to invade non-Pashtun areas if war continues, at a much lower cost to the United States than the present strategy of occupying the country with US forces or backing a dysfunctional central government.

Of course, the peoples of the north may not be able to unite and resist with outside support. America may also be exhausted with Afghanistan and in no frame of mind to remain involved, even at a distance, and if Russia and the republics in central Asia are disinclined to cooperate, we may have no choice but to disengage altogether. But I don't believe the Najibullah analogy, which I would otherwise agree is likely to be our exit strategy, to be the only alternative.

Regarding the larger question of America and the world, all three of you (Khanna, Barnett, and Gvosdev) may be right. From what I can see, the question I suppose is the timeframe: Khanna being right in the long run, Barnett in the short run, and you as a sort of Hegelian synthesis.

The relevant question is whether and for how long a world of large national powers must continue to float in a sea of minor sovereignties. Most of the urgent problems in the world, such as nuclear proliferation, result from small states looking to protect themselves unilaterally and large states either wanting to convert the world while they still have some power to do so, or wanting to preserve multipolarity as a way to resist this.

The alternative is to reduce the gap between large and small states, but not by trying to manage it with changes to existing small states that still leave them small, or by containment. Instead, we could encourage the merger of small states into regions. South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia have taken steps to form regional unions, the first two hoping someday to emulate Europe.

This kind of regional integration left to itself could take decades to advance but maybe we and the Europeans could encourage it to move more quickly. The Middle East and South Asia will still remain disunited and problematical, but these areas would also be much more isolated in this respect as the rest of the world comes together in ways that peacefully reduce great power domination.

Given the inertia of the world system, the gap between large and small states is likely to continue. But as long as it does, we will run the risk of some shock that prompts one or more of the great powers to try in a panic to close the gap by force.
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