Judy Asks: Will the Afghanistan debacle change your country’s foreign and security policy?

Opinion piece (Carnegie Europe)
16 September 2021

The UK entered the war in Afghanistan confident that it knew how to defeat insurgencies. After more than four hundred and fifty British deaths, it has left, chastened and with less appetite for involvement in distant conflicts. The rapid departure of U.S. forces, and the subsequent collapse of the Afghan government and fall of Kabul to the Taliban, should force a deeper policy reappraisal.

There are several lessons to learn:

Firstly, know who you are fighting against and who you are fighting with. The Taliban could not have won without popular support; government forces would not have lost with less corrupt, brutal, and unpopular leadership.

Secondly, don’t believe your own propaganda. France was pessimistic about the resilience of the Afghan government and started to withdraw its nationals and vulnerable Afghans early; the UK professed confidence in the government and left it too late to get everyone out.

Finally, don’t become too reliant on one ally, however powerful. When the House of Commons debated Afghanistan on August 18, 2021, even Conservative MPs argued that the UK should be less dependent on the United States. Yet Britain can’t afford to go it alone in defense and security; so it needs to work with a wider range of democratic partners, including those in Europe.

Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform.

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