The Desert of the Tartars

Nowruz in Central Asia ©️ PP

               The last American soldier left Afghanistan on August 30. This departure cannot mean a surrender of the country and the region. As in the Tartar Steppe of Dino Buzzati, visible or more insidious threats exist that will have to be curbed. There will also be immense opportunities to be seized, especially in the economic field, in the coming years.

Maintaining a minimum presence overtime in or around Afghanistan, depending on security conditions 

  • While the time has come to retreat, keeping the Embassy in the long term will not imply the recognition of the new regime. In application of traditional doctrine, France recognizes states and not governments.
  • It will be a matter of affirming a long-term presence in a country where we have a long-established presence (see the role of French archaeology; the influence of the French High School in Kabul) and trying to dispel the feeling of abandonment. Our mission will have a role of observing and witnessing current developments; it will contribute to the decision-making process of the French political authorities. The Embassy will be the relay of humanitarian, educational and social programmes.
  • The issue should be discussed with our European partners – and also with China, Russia and the United States – in order to organize, where appropriate, a pooling of EU Member States’ efforts.
  • Afghanistan is today in the “eye of the storm” (see tensions between India and Pakistan, nuclear states; the Iranian dossier; China’s rise to power and the economic project of the “New Silk Roads”).
  • This presence will not mean a new interventionism or a return to the doctrine of the “right to humanitarian intervention”. Without the ambition of regime change, it will be a matter of concretely expressing solidarity in the name of humanity and civilization. 
  • The Afghan crisis can provide an opportunity to experiment with a demanding policy in a world that has become globalized but where the risks have also increased. Building on its tradition, France will have to take this “rocky road”.
  • During the Cold War, it was about “tying up” the Soviet bear; now it will be necessary to hermetically seal an “Aladdin’s lamp” from which nauseating miasmas escape.

Rethinking international system and alliances

  • The United Nations, the only institution with a global dimension that today brings together more than 200 states, remains at the heart of the world’s political organization. It’s “the worst of all systems, but we haven’t invented a better one”. Moreover, the UN is who we are and what we do with it. For a medium-size power like France, the status of permanent member of the Security Council and the influence of our country in the other deliberating bodies as well as in support for various specialized programs and institutions of the system (e.g. UNDP, WHO, FAO, WFP, UNESCO, UNIDO, IAEA) leverage our influence.
  • It will therefore be necessary to continue to support the World Organization, its Programmes and its Secretariat. France’s interest is that the Secretary-General, whose power is largely based on the confidence of the Five Permanent Members, is an indisputable and strong personality. The reform of the UN must above all aim at increasing the effectiveness of existing mechanisms.
  • NATO failed in an area for which it has not been designed. France, which is a North Atlantic country, must remain a loyal partner of the United States within the Alliance, but we must reconsider our presence within the integrated military organization and possibly withdraw from it once again. The fall of Kabul has shown that operational cooperation between Alliance members was non-existent. Being outside the military organization will eventually give more elbowroom to our diplomacy and, paradoxically, more flexibility to a collective security that will be strengthened.

Europe, between East and West

  • Such a development will revive the debate on European defence, a condition for the political construction of Europe. The collective organization of European security will not be possible in the foreseeable future. But our security could be based on a already strong Franco-British cooperation in this area. It will have to be strengthened, broadened and opened up to the States of the continent that wish to join it, particularly in terms of industrial cooperation.
  • In the spirit of seeking coherence and efficiency, an informal political structure, of a format reduced to a few States and to the Presidency of the European Council and of the Union – a sort of Governance Council and not a real Executive Board of the Powers – could be put in place to give more coherence and effectiveness to European policies.

The Old and the New East

  • The recent history of relations with Russia is one of missed opportunities, while our interests in that country, especially economic ones, correspond to a long tradition of closeness and friendship and are considerable. Moreover, Russia must not be pushed towards a drift to the East that would be contrary to our interests when it should eventually be part of a European geostrategic ensemble.
  • We must not be afraid of China, a hyper-rational power. This fear will be all the less justified since Europe will be European and will develop its economic relations with Beijing on the basis of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment concluded a few months ago and whose ratification has been frozen by the European Parliament. In Central and South Asia, the New Silk Road Project is likely to have stabilizing effects and France will also have to take advantage of it. This perspective is one of the reasons for not turning away entirely from the key region of Afghanistan.

Avoiding the perverse effects of international sanctions

  • The use of sanctions has become a Pavlovian response of international policy. Sanctions are often a substitute for non-existent or poorly designed foreign policies. In Europe, they are sometimes seen as a simple step – for lack of anything better – in the construction of a still very embryonic foreign and security policy. While long-term sanctions often have counter-effects and do not reach their target, they often punish us ourselves. They cannot be called into question entirely as part of the mechanisms enshrined in the UN Charter under another name, but they can only be used with the utmost discernment.

Realpolitik and diplomacy of values

  • The realism needed in foreign policy must not be achieved at the expense of values. France must remain faithful to its traditions in this area. This is what makes it great and can still give it a powerful voice on the international scene.

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