The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance better known as NATO, was organized in 1949 by 10 European countries, the U.S. and Canada, as a united front against the Soviet Union. The USSR is gone but the bloc, now with 30 members, remains, and maintains a warning, known as Article 5 in its charter, which is a beauty of diplomacy and resolve, to wit, in part:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and… will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking…such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
That sort of language should be in wedding vows. Never mind that stuff about richer or poorer. You attack one of us, you just attacked both members of the wedding party and all their relatives, and everyone involved is now sided against you. NATO’s Article 5 has only been put to the test once, after 9/11, and that’s why an international coalition led by the United States was in Afghanistan. Since 2001.
Since 2001? A newborn at the time is now looking at college graduation and student loans coming due. Gregg Williams led the Buffalo Bills, and quarterback Rob Johnson, to a 3-13 record that year. It was the debut of the iTunes media player by Apple Inc. It was a long time ago.
With hypersonic weapons – missiles capable of flying at five or more times the speed of sound to hit a target anywhere on earth – just around the corner, geopolitical position may not be as big a deal as in the past, but countries have invaded Afghanistan since before Alexander the Great. Afghanistan is simply there, nestled between Europe and Asia, Russia and India, the Middle East and China. Full of minerals, too, although like most important minerals, they’re hard to acquire from the earth.
The NATO coalition was there to end terrorism and find mastermind Osama bin Laden, and countries not named the United States rotated troops in and out of the conflict. The U.S. was there from the start, and actually remains there today.
It’s a tough country to invade. The British tried it three times in the 19th century and the first, from 1839 to 1842, is known historically as the “Disaster in Afghanistan,” so you can tell how it worked out. The Soviet Union tried it three times in the 20th century, notably the 10-year Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989, and it was the arrival, by the thousands, of Soviet soldiers in makeshift caskets in their hometowns that helped upend the Soviet Union.
The latest war ended this week and yes, it looked a lot like the fall of Saigon in 1975, no matter what the U.S. Secretary of State told you. I agree, though, with what the President told you: the United States spent 20 years training Afghanistan’s armed forces while teaching its citizens about freedom and its various governments about democracy, and the government and military failed.
The government, known for its corruption, neglected to supply its army with things like pay and ammunition, and the country’s leadership fled to nearby Tajikistan when the collapse was imminent. The citizens have gotten accustomed to democracy and opportunity – note the global concern over the probable end to Afghan women’s rights as the Taliban take over – and I suspect that democracy will prove to be a hard habit to shake.
Countries in Eastern Europe, after World War I, suddenly stopped being backwaters of empires and turned into democracies. A generation later came another war, and entry into the Soviet sphere of influence. These were places where democracies never took root. Despite its many problems, Afghanistan, under NATO occupation, became a cauldron of potential, with women liberated from 7th century attitudes and suddenly allowed to learn and work; the young plugged into the Internet, a flourishing of entrepreneurship.
Expect a brain drain. Anyone with the opportunity to leave will do so, and Canada, which sustained significantly casualties during the 20-year war, has already committed itself to welcoming 20,000 Afghan refugees. If the Taliban runs the country the way the world expects it to, it will find few allies, locally or globally. International trade will be hampered. The Afghan people are accustomed to deprivation, but wait until they run out of food.
It has been reported that the Taliban have attempted to gloss up their public relations posture since they last ran the country in the 1990s, but few believe their motives are any different this time. The 21st century is a remarkable test bed; let’s see if it can sustain a legal system devised by religious leaders, not rulers, starting in the year 632.
I’d bet my iPhone against it.
Contact Ed Adamczyk at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.