As global connectivity increases every passing day, international relations becomes more and more complex. Countries have the ability to affect each other from thousands of miles away. China’s purchases of mining rights in South Africa could affect NATO’s combat abilities, Russian mercenaries are supporting Maduro in Venezuela against regional and US interests. This global connectivity has been especially observed in the recent Afghanistan peace talks, with a wide variety of nations taking interest in the war-torn nation. But the reasons for this interest varies widely country to country. The nation of Afghanistan features in a vast range of international issues and trends, making its future all the more complicated.
First, Russia. The Russians have their own significant history with invasions of Afghanistan, with some claims that the Afghanistan war helped ultimately bring down the Soviet Union. However, recent developments in the Russian official position towards the Afghanistan invasion may shed some light on Putin’s evolving foreign and domestic policy choices. After the failed invasion, the Congress of People’s Deputies in the USSR passed a resolution that condemned the decision to invade Afghanistan, labeling it a costly mistake. However, the Russian Duma is set to approve a resolution that reversing the previous condemnation, instead claiming the invasion was justified by international law and was in accordance of the interests of the USSR.
This resolution is just the most recent example of Putin and his regime attempting to whitewash the history of the Soviet Union. While previously criticisms of the Soviet state, especially Joseph Stalin and his brutal practices, were common, the Kremlin in recent years has taken a much more positive stance towards the Soviet Union’s history. In addition, Putin’s popularity, while still high, has taken a few significant dips lately. Most notably was after the unpopular proposal to raise the retirement age above life expectancy. Putin may fear that domestic opposition will draw parallels between the Afghanistan invasion and the military intervention into Syria. The current Russian economy is struggling and issues such as wage stagnation and employment make funding expensive military excursions unpopular, especially if the people see comparisons to the failure in Afghanistan. To preemptively combat such criticisms, the Kremlin has taken the choice of recasting the Afghanistan war in its nation’s history.
Second, China. With the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative making waves from Japan to the United Kingdom, Afghanistan plays a massive role in China’s plans. While nearly all of China’s previous involvement in Afghanistan has been economically focused, recent developments possibly allude to an expansion of China’s presence in the conflict-torn region. China has recently been constructing a secret facility in Tajikistan, a country flooded with Chinese investment. This small outpost, consisting of a few dozen buildings and lookout towers, is just a few miles away from Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor. Significantly, Tajikistan was used by the United States as a gateway into Afghanistan in the early stages of the 2001 invasion. This facility is one of the few examples of China’s increasing spread of ‘hard power’ around the world. While the Belt and Road Initiative has faced some criticisms (allegations that Chinese-constructed ports could house military as well as commercial vehicles), there has not been a significant military component to the investment strategy. China currently only has one official military base outside its borders in Djibouti, but rumors abound of a possible military outpost in Pakistan to oversee its significant investments. China also denies any plans to put military personnel in Afghanistan, but private meetings with Russian researchers tells a different story. The Russians were asked questions that seemed to be the Chinese attempting to gauge where Russia’s red lines were regarding Chinese expansion into Afghanistan and Central Asia. As the United States begins the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, it seems the Chinese are preparing to move in.
Finally, Europe. President Trump and Europe have had a contentious relationship since he took office, with the President often criticizing the European allies in NATO for not contributing enough to the alliance. Trade relations between the US and the EU have also been fractious, as Trump has consistently threated to impose tariffs on a variety of goods and products. However, the cracks in the relationship were dramatically exposed at the annual Munich Security Conference, which Donald Trump did not attend. President Trump’s recent sudden announcements of withdrawal plans from Syria and Afghanistan not only surprised and annoyed the US military, it also caused many European nations to question the strength of America’s commitment to their partnership. If the United States fails to communicate and work together with its NATO allies in Afghanistan, it does not bode well for the future of the alliance.