From Saigon to Kabul: What U.S.’ Afghan Fiasco Means for NATO Unity and Europe’s Defense

Written by | Friday, August 27th, 2021

“Comparisons have been made between Saigon and Kabul,” G. H. Pedaliu writes in a blog on London School of Economics website. “They make for good copy, but they are false and misleading,” the visiting fellow at LSE IDEAS argues. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was American credibility that was at stake. Now, it is the trustworthiness, reliability and relevance of the western model of governance. The damage from the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, once more, will be longer lasting and more disruptive and destructive than the fall of Saigon.Valuable lessons from the past have not been learned. The US, EU and NATO invested much ‘blood and treasure’ to turn Afghanistan around but not it seems that wishful thinking has prevailed. Therefore, as Pedaliu argues, the rapid collapse of the Afghan government is bound to trigger a major geostrategic realignment. The legacy of the West will be that of botched interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. China will be the main beneficiary and there will be some gains for Russia too.
There is now a widespread perception around the world that the US and its allies are in retreat and that the West is increasingly divided. European members in the international coalition in Afghanistan saw their presence as a sustainable bulwark against the risks of terrorism and migration from the war-torn Central Asian country. Hence, first President Donald’s deal with the Taliban and later President Joe Biden’s withdrawal announcement surprised many among America’s European allies, presenting them with an uncomfortable fait accompli. When U.S. forces began military action against Afghanistan two decades ago, invoking NATO’s Article 5,European and other NATO troops joined them. But fast forward 20 years and Trump-and-Biden-led America gave its NATO allies little option but to pull out, delivering a triple blow to the alliance and entire transatlantic partnership: It has exposed the extent of Europe’s and NATO’s reliance on the United States, raised doubts about future U.S. willingness to provide support to its allies, and also delivered worrying lessons about the new U.S. leader.
When Ben Wallace, Britain’s defence secretary, tried to rally NATO allies to maintain a continued European military presence in Afghanistan to stabilize the country, they quickly realized this was impossible without U.S. backing and notably its military infrastructure and intelligence. As a result, the Baltic states and Ukraine may now question how the US would respond in the event of a Russian attack. They certainly were not very impressed by the recent call for “strategic autonomy” by French President Emmanuel Macron’s — to build an independent European defence capability — because it has come too little. Although some EU leaders are belatedly echoing Macron’s calls, their reluctance to commit funds and submit to collective decision-making seems likely, once again, to hold back real action.

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