Afghanistan: we should not be too optimistic

A few days ago I read again Joseph Kessel’s novel “Les cavaliers” (“The Riders “). I really enjoy the story of Ouroz, the rider, and Jehol, the horse, which tells us of an initiatory travel through Afghanistan. The story takes place between the 30’s and 1966.

Once I had finished reading it, I went back to some speeches and statements over this country. On Washington post web site, one can find an article titled “U.S cites big gains against Al Qaeda” (dated 30th May 2008). This article focuses on Al Qaeda as the main threat against the USA. As well, the lost of Al Qaeda officials in different strikes is described as a source of progress. The most surprising sentence is the following one: “Those are the kinds of things that delay and disrupt al-Qaeda's planning”.

Of course, al-Qaeda is a threat. Of course this protean organization is a threat. However, one should not apply the western way of thinking to those people. The main danger we are confronted with in Afghanistan is neither Al-Qaeda, nor the Talibans. Of course, they are a permanent threat against our forces and our soldiers who put their lives at stake over there. But they are not the main danger.

The main danger lies within our brains. It consists in applying to the war in Afghanistan and the people living there the same cultural scheme than ours. Indeed our first victory will not be on the field, but in our brains, when we will be able to say that those people are not organized like we are, do not think like we do and do not react like we do to a defeat or the death of a leader. For instance, I found in the archive of Time, dated 8th January 2002 the words “pocket of resistance”. This expression has been used in all western wars, when speaking of the invasion of a country. Did we change our mindsets since that era? I do not really think so: the interview I quote first was made in 2008 and it reflects a large part of the public opinion whose culture on such complicated topics is mainly made by the mass media, which like and need to simplify.

Therefore, I will now quote Joseph Kessel:
“Elle est longue, longue et large, large, la terre des Afghans, reprit Zéré. Et chaque vallée est une contrée à part…”
“The soil of the Afghans is long, long and large, large, said Zere. And every valley is a region apart”.

“Les Pachtous…dit Ouroz. Il n’avait jamais rencontré leurs caravanes qui, dans les migrations, passaient bien au-dessus des steppes. Leur nom et renom lui étaient cependant, comme à tout Afghan, plus que familiers. Les Pachtous des passes de l’Est, des châteaux forts en nid d’aigle… Pachtous et guerriers indomptables. Ils forgeaient dans leurs ateliers secrets sabres, lances, fusils. Ils avaient conquis les plaines jusqu’à l’Amou Daria, réduit les Hazaras en esclavage, soumis les païens du Kafiristan à la vraie foi. Même les soldats des rois anglais, invincibles ailleurs, ils les avaient chassés de leurs vallées et montagnes, après un siècle de combats. Pachtous, race des maîtres…clans faiseurs de rois…”

“The pashtus…said Ouroz. He had never met their caravans, which were passing far away from the steppes in ther migrations. However, their name and fame were more than familiar to him, like t any Afghan. The Pashtus of the Eastern passes, of those eyrie castles… Pashtus and unconquerable warriors. They were forging swords, lances and rifles in their clandestine workshops. They had conquered the plains until the Amou Daria river, reduced the Hazaras to slavery, subdued the pagans of Kafiristan to the true faith. Even the soldiers of the English kings, invincible anywhere else, they had chased them from their valleys and mountains after one hundred years of fightings. Pashtus of masters’ blood…clans of king makers…”

We could interpret those words, published for the very first time in 1967, as:
-There will be no global solution in Afghanistan without a local solution in every valley.
-Nothing will be possible without a broad support of the Pashtus, although the Talibans come mainly from their ethnicity.
 And as a conclusion:
-Every attempt to simplify the extent of the Afghan issue can let think that the issue is not so complicated. But it will be complicated in any case, moreover if we apply our Western European mindsets to this country.


Germany and thie idea of a European Army

Guido Westerwelle’s statement on European Army

On 6th February 2010, Mr Gido Westerwelle, the German Minister of foreign affairs, stated that « the long term goal is the establishment of a European army under full parliamentary control » (source: euobserver.com). Indeed this statement made a lot of fuzz.

However this is not exactly a surprise. German top political parties have already expressed the same views in the past. For instance, SPD (the social-democrat party) published on 5th May 2008, a position paper named « towards a European Army ». This German party wrote at that time: « in the long term we want a European Army whose deployment must be legitimated parliamentarily ». Already during the campaign for the parliamentary elections of 2009, Mr Westerwelle’s political programm stated clearly: « Langfristiges Ziel bleibt für die FDP der Aufbau europäischer Streitkräfte unter gemeinsamem Oberbefehl und voller parlamentarischer Kontrolle », which means exactly « the long term objective of FDP remains the set up of european armed forces under common command and full parliamentary control ». On their side, Mrs Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU, wrote in their program for the European elections that « Wir setzen uns weiterhin für gemeinsame europäische Streitkräfte als Fernziel ein », that is « moreover, we commit ourselves for common European armed forces as a long term objective ».

For the time being, this project goes against the German constitution. All right. Nevertheless, everybody knows in Europe that when Germans have an idea, they stick to it, as it is the result of long, and sometimes very boring debates and discussions, which aim at creating a consensus, giving a guideline that everybody in the party will accept.

For this reason, I would strongly recommend our Nations not to neglect those statements. Expressed by the three parties, which usually rule Europe’s most powerful country, these words, extremely clear, express a real goal to reach within the next twenty years. Obviously this common statement is the result of a sound analysis of the situation:
-Germany is the largest contributor to European Union.
-Germany is fed up of paying without playing the role it deserves.
-Germany wants its role on the international scene to be at the level of its economic power.
-However it can and want no more operate on its own on the different crisis.

Currently, two pillars Germany can rely on to exert its influence are: Europe and NATO. The only alliance which offers a global approach able to respond to the German ambition, and in which this country can really play a leading role is the EU.

As for the role of the parliament refers, I would add that it is a prerequisite to make the idea of European Army acceptable to the German population, as it is the guarantee that their country will not be committed in adventurous conflicts like the former colonial powers that are France or the UK, as this is how Germans still perceive us, at least in the public opinion.


De Gaulle and Europe

In a book titled « Charles de Gaulle, Traits d’esprit », I could find one of his famous statements on Europe: « Dante, Goethe, Chateaubriand appartiennent à toute l’Europe dans la mesure même où ils étaient respectivement et éminemment italien, allemand et français. Ils n’auraient pas beaucoup servi l’Europe s’ils avaient été des apatrides et s’ils avaient pensé, écrit en quelque esperanto ou volapük intégré ». In order the non-French speaking people can understand, De Gaulle just means that Europe is made of people belonging to nations, and without this essential diversity, Europe would never have had people like Dante, Goethe or Chateaubriand.

As regards Defence, we are exactly in the same situation, and it will still last a long time before it changes. The essence of European peoples is still the nations, and at the moment the soldiers are requested to fight and die, legitimacy of such an order can come only from those who are elected, I mean their governments, which is not the case of the European commission. May be, legitimacy could come from the European Parliament. However, the lack of interest of Europeans for the election of the member of the European Parliament (at least in France) does not give to them a sufficient legitimacy for the time being. The low profile adopted by our governments during the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty regarding the possible implications of the articles on European Defence is the illustration that they do not feel at ease with this topic.

Indeed, European peoples’ diversity is so high that you cannot merge in one single pot those cultures, at least for the next decades. Our peoples still live in their native areas, with their genuine culture built up along the centuries, although, I must confess, we have more or less a common heritage, based on Christian religion, roman culture. And even this last point is not totally true. For instance, Finland never knew the Roman rule. As since centuries armies have been conceived to defend and protect the nation, one can easily understand that it will not change from one day to the other.

A real and strong European Defence is not for tomorrow. And that is good: our governments are not ready, because the peoples are not. However, I do believe that, progressively, slowly, the idea will grow. Along the different posts, I will try to understand and express how the process could look like.


Welcome on board

Welcome everybody and frankly, nobody, at least for the time being.
My purpose is to write short items on European Defence. By the way, you should not think that I am an European Defence freak.
Really not. I love Nato and Oberammergau.
However I am living everyday on the European continent (my poor english language is the absolute proof), and Europe is our common past, our common future.
We should not forget that British kings were once kings of France (or at least tried to be) and that Sir W. Churchill proposed in 1940 to merge both nations in one.
I sincerely hope that one day I will have the opportunity to create some interesting exchanges on this topic.