Battles of Decline

Experts see the defeat in Afghanistan as "another stage in the West's decline." Now the West wants to shelve "nation building" to focus on great power conflicts.

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - The West emerges weakened from its 20 years of war in Afghanistan and the Middle East and is now concentrating its efforts on the major power struggle with Russia, but especially with China. This has become evident in several statements made on the occasion of this week's completion of the final withdrawal of western troops from the Hindu Kush. Thus, US President Joe Biden declared that, in the future, Washington would refrain from nation-building and instead brace itself for "new challenges" posed by Moscow and Beijing. Germany has already been pivoting toward great power confrontation in its armament and military policy. It is particularly arming itself for wars against armed forces of powerful states and is focusing its maneuvers on scenarios of war against Russia. It is also increasing its military activities in the Asian and Pacific regions. The major defeat at the Hindu Kush, accompanied by massive squandering of resources, is "another stage in the West's decline," according to experts.

More Terror than in 2001

The West has lost the war in Afghanistan, not only in terms of its objective of establishing a pro-western government with adequate state structures ("nation Building"). The Taliban, with whose ouster the war began in October 2001, are also now back in power in Kabul. To conceal its total defeat, driving jihadi terror from Afghanistan had, for some time, been declared the war's "true objective." But contrary to public claims, this too has failed. This has not only been substantiated by ISIS-K (Islamic State Khorasan Province) attacks, accompanying the military evacuation over the past few days, but also in assessments by experts. Even though "the organizations of the terrorist scene," such as Al Qaeda, may be "somewhat weaker today," the "scene, as a whole, has become stronger," according to Guido Steinberg, a terrorism expert at Berlin's German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). Today, "there are more Islamist terrorists in more places around the world" and they have committed "more attacks with more casualties than in 2001."[1] The situation "particularly in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan" is "worse than in 2001."

Trillions Wasted

In addition, the West, particularly its leading power, the United States, has been expending immense resources during the 20 years of the war, resources that elsewhere were lacking. The figures vary. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden mentioned the sum of more than $2 trillion spent in the Afghan war alone - an average of over $300 million per day.[2] The renowned Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) estimates the cost of the war in Afghanistan at about $2.3 trillion, and a total of $6 trillion together with all the other wars of the past two decades, particularly the war in Iraq.[3] The German government estimates the direct costs of the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan at €12.2 billion and the government's total expenditures for the military and for humanitarian aid at €18 billion.[4] This does not include any subsequent costs. As SWP expert Guido Steinberg notes, the "relative decline of the USA" in relationship to China that could be observed over the past few years, is also due to the "wars and their immense costs." The period since 2001 has been "another stage in the West's decline."[5]

Great Power Conflict rather than "Nation Building"

US President Biden has drawn the consequences and effectuated the August 31 withdrawal on time, to be able to focus all forces on the fierce struggle for global power, particularly against China. "The world is changing," noted Biden regarding the withdrawal from the Hindu Kush. One is "dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia," and is additionally "engaged in a serious competition with China." "We have to shore up America’s competitiveness to meet these new challenges."[6] There’s nothing "China or Russia would rather have more," than the "United States to be bogged down another decade in Afghanistan." Therefore, in the future - unlike in Afghanistan - missions must be set with "clear, achievable goals," "an era of major military operations to remake other countries" must be closed. Instead of "nation building," one must stay clearly focused "on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America." The struggle for global hegemony against China is considered primary.

"Rethinking Foreign Policy"

Influential key commentators in Germany have made similar pronouncements over the past few days. For example, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one reads "in the aftermath of Afghanistan" Germany needs, "above all, to rethink its foreign policy."[7] "The lesson," that was learned at the Hindu Kush is: "One cannot force foreign peoples to accept their good fortune." Therefore, one must "learn to adapt our moral and political demands to our abilities and to the reality." The wars of the past two decades in the Muslim world have only "led to instability, migration toward Europe and China and Russia's territorial gains," which "cannot be justified." In the future, it will be more important to "protect one's own interests," in the spirit of "classical foreign policy." The West will only "become involved in conflicts" when these are seen as "a direct threat to its own security," according to the well-connected political scientist and advisor Herfried Münkler.[8] Already in May, Münkler had characterized the West's defeat in Afghanistan as a "historical turning point."[9]

Against Russia and China

Not unlike the United States, Germany too is using this "turning point" to focus more on the great power struggles with Russia and China. This is obvious from the shifts in armaments and military policies over the past few years. For example, Germany's major armament programs are no longer focused on counter-piracy and counter-insurgency warfare, but rather on great power confrontations - multi-role combat ships and submarines, high-tech fighter planes,[10] space warfare capabilities.[11] Maneuvers, simulating warfare against Russia, have been greatly enhanced, now extending from the Arctic[12] all the way to the Black Sea; a prominent example being the Defender Europe major exercises, which practiced the redeployment of US troops, with the help of its European allies, to Southeast Europe to confront Russia.[13] At the same time, the Bundeswehr, in ongoing preparations for a possible armed conflict with China, has broadened its military cooperation with several countries in Asia and the Pacific region - with Australia, Japan; South Korea, India, in particular - and, for the first time in many years, had dispatched, in early August, a German warship, the frigate Bayern, to the Pacific and the South China Sea.[14] In Germany, as well, the end of the war in Afghanistan has also freed potential for great power confrontations.


[1] Sven Hansen: "Etappe im Abstieg des Westens". 31.08.2021.

[2] Remarks by President Biden on the End of the War in Afghanistan. 31.08.2021.

[3] Charles A. Kupchan: Exiting Afghanistan Will Improve America's Global Standing in the Long Run. 31.08.2021.

[4] Sandra Petersmann: Afghanistan-Abzug: Deutschland zieht Bilanz. 29.06.2021.

[5] Sven Hansen: "Etappe im Abstieg des Westens". 31.08.2021.

[6] Remarks by President Biden on the End of the War in Afghanistan. 31.08.2021.

[7] Nikolas Busse: Afghanistan ist nicht zu retten. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 18.08.2021.

[8] Torsten Riecke: Herfried Münkler zum Afghanistan-Desaster: "Es gibt ein spezifisch deutsches Scheitern". 21.08.2021.

[9] Herfried Münkler: Der Abschied aus Afghanistan ist eine historische Zäsur. 04.05.2021.

[10] See also Aufrüsten für die Großmachtkonfrontation.

[11] See also Krieg der Satelliten.

[12] See also The Militarization of the Arctic.

[13] See also Kein Lockdown für Militärs (II).

[14] See also Illegally Occupied Islands and Declared Enemy.