What lesson for the EU after 20 years in Afghanistan?

Employment and Social Affairs

Estimated time of reading: ~ 5 minutes

Twenty years have passed since 9/11 dramatically changed daily lives of many people in the world: the failure of the “Western” model, highlighted in those days by the tumultuous end of NATO mission in Afghanistan, raises new challenges in the new global order and, for the EU, poses the fundamental question over its role as a security player.

Terrorism still threatens the democratic values of our societies and the rights and freedoms of European citizens: for this reason fighting terrorism keep on being a top priority for the EU and its Member States, as well as for its international partners. This is the key point why we that 20 years NATO mission in Afghanistan has been a failure, due to the return of Taliban ruling in the country, but that many efforts were not in vain. Democratization attempts in Afghanistan failed, but those efforts gave many people in that country the opportunity to study and to grow up in freedom despite terrorism threats. Western countries thus have now the moral duty to help afghan citizens who contributed to those effort and whose lives is now under threat: evacuation operations are the best example in this sense.

At the end of the day, at least to some extent, it will be necessary trying to have some form of dialogue with Taliban ruling, considering that other global power like China will act in this direction and it is not wise to leave a complete vacuum in Afghanistan and in the region.   On the other hand, the collapse of Afghanistan’s government, the Taliban’s takeover of the country, and the rush to evacuate European citizens and Afghan employees have highlighted the European Union’s need for its own rapid-reaction military force.

“Europe and the United States were united as never before in Afghanistan: It was the first time that Nato’s Article 5, committing all members to defend one another, was invoked. And for many years, Europeans provided a strong military commitment and an important economic aid program, amounting to a total of 17,2 billion euros”, said EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Joseph Borrell. But in the end, the timing and nature of the withdrawal were set in Washington. “We Europeans found ourselves – not only for the evacuations out of the Kabul airport but also more broadly – depending on American decisions”, the EU’s top diplomat said.

Thus, to better address any future crises at Europe’s doorstep, EU member nations have relaunched the idea of setting up a 5.000-member (that could be boosted even to 6.000) stand-by-force capable of quickly intervening.  “Witnessing events unfold in Afghanistan was profoundly painful for all the families of fallen servicemen and servicewomen. To make sure that their service will never be in vain, we have to reflect on how this mission could end so abruptly. The bloc is currently working on an EU-NATO Joint Declaration on Afghanistan to be presented before the end of the year”, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on 15th September during her annual State of the European Union address. “But this is only one part of the equation,” she continued.

“Europe can – and clearly should – be able and willing to do more on its own. She described it as “vital” for the member states to improve intelligence cooperation as well as interoperability in order to understand threats in its own neighbourhood and enable better joint decision-making. “It is time for Europe to step up to the next level”, Von der Leyen said while announcing that a summit on European Defence will be convened by the French Presidency in the first half of 2022.  Anyway, EU leaders should be aware that, how Union’s own history explains, a common defence policy will be impossible without going hand in hand with a strong common foreign policy among Member States.

Written by: Valerio Palombaro

Submitted on: 17.09.2021

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