The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban will have severe implications for international politics that have long been affected by the US decision to no longer act as a global policing force. Most countries will be facing some real if yet unquantified risks in a post-US world.
History has a habit of repeating itself. The almost apocalyptic images coming from Afghanistan and beamed on TV will remind many of similar US military and geopolitical defeats like the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979, the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the Cuban revolution of 1959.
The main consequence of this latest US defeat in international politics is that the Western democracies are perceived by terrorists as being fragile. Indeed, NATO without the US leadership is no longer a formidable military force.
The most immediate concern is a humanitarian crisis erupting in Afghanistan and possibly neighbouring countries, including China, Iran, Pakistan and India. The brutality that characterised the Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001 will likely be directed mainly against women and the new rulers’ defeated enemies.
Some political analysts argue that this time it might be different. The Taliban regime now wants to show that it can run a country by striking trade deals with neighbouring countries. But many Afghanis who were getting used to democratic values will seek to find a new future for themselves by migrating legally or, more likely, illegally to neighbouring countries.
The EU, with its multitude of migration challenges, including the recent one originating from Belarus, might not want to offer a haven to Afghanis knocking on its door for asylum.
The Afghani crisis will cruelly expose the EU’s internal problems, military impotence and inability to assert itself as a credible global force in the post-US world.
The best-case scenario that could evolve from this crisis is that the Taliban regime will not let Afghanistan become a base for international jihadists, including al-Qaeda, when the US and NATO are seen as incapable or unwilling to enforce international order.
In the meantime, the international community must devise a plan to offer safe haven to those Afghan nationals who do not want to live under the Taliban’s oppressive rule, particularly women and girls. Every country must play its part, including Malta, and this is the least that can be done after the cruel events of the last few days.
US President Joe Biden, for mainly domestic reasons, decided to resort to the politics of life and death when he decided to follow up on his predecessor’s agreement with the Taliban to pull out of Afghanistan now.
He argues that, over the past 20 years, enough lives of US soldiers were lost and his country was no longer willing to sacrifice more lives when the Afghani government was incapable of defending its own people from the Taliban. The flip side of this argument is that it is acceptable to let thousands of Afghani civilians risk their lives due to living under a totalitarian regime that does not respect human rights.
The main challenge for the EU in the coming decades is to resolve its internal structural weaknesses and act as a balancing force between the US that is increasingly abdicating from its superpower role and growing Russian and Chinese ambitions to be even more forceful in global geopolitics.
Understandably, trade and economic issues are at the top of most global political leaders’ agendas. The growing unease of millions of workers in the US and the EU about their future must not be ignored.
However, in a post-US world, economic prosperity cannot be delivered if international security is unchecked because of insufficient military vigilance.