« Order Out of Chaos: The Future of Afghanistan »

The Taliban regime’s policies have led to the starvation of the Afghan people; we are trying to feed them. They have been destroying Afghanistan; we want to rebuild it.

Speech by British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London, Monday 22 October 2001. Source: FCO, London.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are still too close to the events of 11 September to begin to form a proper historical view of them. But already it is clear that the terrorist atrocities in the United States marked a transition in world affairs.

Few events in global history can have galvanised the international system to action so completely in so short a time.

The fall of the Berlin Wall may have been one such event. And if the main challenge before the collapse of the Soviet empire and throughout the 20th century consisted of states with too much power, the problem of the 21st century may be states with too little power.

After the murder of thousands of people in the heart of Manhattan, no one can doubt that the primary threat to our security is now posed by groups acting formally outside states, or from places where no state functions.

It used to be possible to ignore distant and misgoverned parts of the world. That is no longer so. In the world without borders, chaos is now our neighbour whether it is in Africa, in Asia or in Afghanistan.

This morning I want to suggest four principles which should guide the international community’s approach to rebuilding Afghanistan as soon as the immediate crisis is at an end:

  • First, that the future should, above all, be placed in the hands of the people of Afghanistan themselves;
  • Second, that we need a global coalition to help rebuild Afghanistan;
  • Third, that the United Nations should take the lead in the political process; and
  • Fourth, that we have to devote the resources and the political will needed to finish the job.

Nation States and Global Order

Terrorists are strongest where states are weakest. Usama Bin Laden and the Al Qaida network find safe havens in places not just Afghanistan where conflict, poverty, ethnic and racial tensions, exploitation, corruption, poor governance, malign interference from outside or just plain neglect have brought about the collapse of responsible government and civil society.

But the global order, as conceived in the wake of the Second World War, was not designed to deal with failed states. The United Nations is made up of states. International law has traditionally focussed on relations between states.

Now for many parts of the world certainly for most of Europe, but also other regions this system has worked remarkably well. Many of us have enjoyed the longest period of sustained peace in our history over the last half-century.

Sir Michael Howard, the distinguished military historian, provides in his essay The Invention of Peace a convincing account of the rise of the nation state as the key building block of the global order.

As Sir Michael points out, ‘The state not only makes war possible: it also makes peace possible’. In the first half of the 20th century, aggression by states was the chief cause of wars. In the second half, we have built up a framework for managing state sovereignty in Europe, through NATO and through the EU, which has made this sort of aggression relatively rare.

Sometimes, states do still go to war with states. But in the 1990s, out of roughly 120 wars, only 10 were purely interstate wars. More often nowadays, conflicts arise where no functioning state exists.

If there is one common denominator which links Cambodia in the 70s to Mozambique and Angola in the 80s to Yugoslavia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone in the 90s to Afghanistan today, it is this: that when we allow governments to fail, warlords, criminals, drugs barons or terrorists will fill the vacuum.

There was nothing inevitable about the failure of these states. I would not want to imply that Nicolo Machiavelli was part of our contemporary pantheon. But he was right when he said, ‘The chief foundations of all states… are good laws and good armies’. Provided both are present, a state may flourish. It is true that, as a form of government, the nation state developed historically in Europe and a few other regions only. But there are now functioning, indeed thriving, nation states in regions and countries where this is not the historical form of polity.

According to Max Weber, the state is ‘a human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory’. When states fail, it is often because the monopoly on force is disputed, and because legitimacy has broken down.

Civil wars are rarely if ever just internal affairs. The Cold War superpowers and their proxies, and the imperial powers before them, were often more concerned with securing power than legitimacy over the territories they disputed.

But whatever the historical reasons, where the basis of the state, its laws or its armies, are fatally weakened, chaos is the result.

In the contemporary world, there is one addition to make to Machiavelli’s prescription. No state can succeed without active support from and co-operation with other states. And indeed the global system of states cannot function properly where parts of the system have broken down.

Failed states make life miserable or much worse for those unfortunate enough to live there. But in a globalised world, this misery is exported to every corner of the world. 90% of the heroin on British streets originates in Afghanistan.

Chaos not only brings drugs to our streets, but also human trafficking to our ports and borders. And on 11 September it brought mass murder to the very heart and symbol of the success of the Western world.

Building on the past

The challenge posed by failed states is not new. For years we have been devising strategies for dealing with them, with some success. So it is important to underline my belief that what I propose today can be done, by reminding ourselves of what has been done in the recent past.

Criticisms can be made of what has been achieved in Sierra Leone, Bosnia, East Timor, Cambodia and Mozambique. But what is undeniable is that the international community has given those countries a chance to turn their back on conflict.

  • The people of Sierra Leone are rebuilding their shattered economy and society.
  • No one has been killed in conflict in Bosnia since 1995.
  • East Timor will shortly become independent.
  • Cambodia has a civil society where previously it had the Khmer Rouge.
  • Against the odds, Mozambique is taking its place as a respected and progressive nation.

We have created mandates for peacekeeping, strategies for development assistance and responses to avert humanitarian catastrophes, and when we can, we act.

We have always had a moral responsibility to deal with human catastrophes. Now we know that it is also a profound national interest not to let them happen.

An active and engaged global foreign policy is not just a salve to liberal consciences. It is a survival mechanism for our societies.

In his speech last month to the Labour Party Conference, our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, outlined a vision of what we might achieve now that we have all been shocked out of our complacency. He said: ‘This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us’.

Afghanistan and Al Qa’ida

It is in this context that we have to view the activities of the international coalitions against terrorism military, humanitarian and political. Efforts on each of these fronts reinforces efforts on each of the others just as, in post-war Europe, the United States’ strategy included humanitarian aid, economic reconstruction and, above all, security through NATO.

The current military action in Afghanistan is not in itself the long-term answer to the threat of terrorism. But it is an essential first step.

Usama Bin Laden and Al Qaida pose a clear and present danger to our way of life, and we have to defend ourselves against it. I wish there were another way.

But there is not: we face a stark choice, between appeasing these terrorists and confronting them.

It should be obvious to all that there can be no appeasing of people whose values are so alien that they regard the taking of innocent life on a massive scale not as an unfortunate side-effect, but as one objective of their actions.

Long before the terrorists hijacked the airliners which flew into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, they hijacked Afghanistan. And the people of Afghanistan have been the biggest victims of the nexus formed by Al Qaida and the Taliban regime in the denial of their human rights, the complete absence of any strategy for economic development, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian Support

We have made clear that the humanitarian coalition is just as important as the military one. And like other donors, Britain is pouring resources into the humanitarian effort. But the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan did not begin on 11 September. Millions were displaced from their homes long before that by years of war, by misgovernment and by oppression.

For years the international community has been trying to deal with the vast scale of the crisis. Some parts of the Taliban regime have obstructed this. For example, they are trying now to tax food convoys which get into the country.

The Taliban regime’s policies have led to the starvation of the Afghan people; we are trying to feed them. They have been destroying Afghanistan; we want to rebuild it.

There are those who say that we should halt the bombing to allow more food convoys in. I understand the concerns that lie behind these calls. But a pause in the bombing would only prolong the suffering of the Afghan people. The only things that can help the Afghan people are an end to the civil war, an end to this kind of regime and the start of reconstruction.

If we are to feed and shelter them, and later to help them to build a nation for themselves, we first have to get rid of the main obstacle to their self-fulfilment.

Removing the Taliban regime is not an aim of the military action. But, to quote from the campaign objectives, ‘Assuming that Mullah Omar will not comply with the US ultimatum, we require sufficient change in the leadership to ensure that Afghanistan’s links with international terrorism are broken’.

Our message to the people of Afghanistan is this: ‘In the past, we have let you down. But we will not turn our backs on you again. We will work with you, to build a better future for you and your children’.

We believe we share an objective with the Afghan people: a stable, durable, representative government, committed to eradicating terrorism, enjoying mature relations with its neighbours, and with which we can work on the humanitarian crisis, drugs, human rights and longer-term development.

Achieving peace and dealing with terrorism are two sides of the same coin. Only if we can help the Afghan people create something like a normal nation again will we be able to safeguard the security of our own nation.

We cannot achieve this overnight. Once there was a reasonably successful state in Afghanistan for forty years prior to 1973. But the country has not known peace since then. For the last five years it has not even existed as a functioning state. It has few serviceable institutions left. We know we are in for a long-term, expensive commitment.

And equally, we know that we might need to move very quickly. The military campaign is likely to go on for some time, as we have made clear from the very beginning.

We have to be prepared to accept that fact. We must not let impatience become our enemy. The 24 hour news media industry is a fact of life, a fundamental climate change in the environment in which we have to operate, and it has brought many obvious benefits for our citizens. But satisfying the demands of the 24 hour news media for instant results cannot become a war aim.

When the end of the current regime comes, it could come gradually, area by area, or very suddenly.

Principles for the Future of Afghanistan

We therefore have to have a robust plan, and we are working with the United Nations, international partners in the coalition, and with representatives of the Afghan people, to formulate it. Today I want to suggest four principles on which I believe all partners can agree.

My first principle is that the future must be placed in the hands of the Afghan people. If we have learned anything from the last 150 years of Afghan history, it is surely that solutions imposed on the country from outside will not work.

Yes, the international community should provide every possible assistance to help the Afghan people create the conditions for an indigenous government.

Yes, any government there must respect the internationally agreed norms of behaviour towards other states and towards its own citizens which every other state is expected to observe.

And yes, the future Afghan government must be broad-based and representative of the great diversity of the country’s ethnic groupings. The domination of Mullah Omar and his faction cannot simply be replaced by another narrow faction, because no regime will be sustainable unless it commands broad consent among those whom it governs, and moves from being a regime to become a government.

But the form of that government, and the process which leads to its establishment, should, within this essential framework, be up to the Afghan people themselves. The international community has to engage with the widest possible range of community leaders within Afghanistan. We have to facilitate, to create the environment for a political reconstruction, but it is the Afghans themselves who must decide.

Despite the fractiousness of the last three decades, the sense of being Afghan remains remarkably strong, as those who know the country so strikingly testify. It is for the Afghan people to decide whether a Loya Jirga, the traditional form of constituent assembly, is the best way forward, or rather some other localised form of decision-making. And it is for them to decide whether the King, who has said he is willing to return, is the best person to act as a figurehead.

My second principle is that we need an international coalition for Afghanistan’s future.

The main condition for Afghanistan’s stability is that any new government should have not only the assent of its own people but the support of its neighbours and the global community, and an understanding that they are not going to compete with each other in Afghanistan.

Competition among the powers has always been Afghanistan’s curse. Britain has no right to point the finger of blame for this at anyone. In the 19th century, we intrigued and fought over influence in Afghanistan, and called it the ‘Great Game’. The intervention of different powers in Afghanistan, including Russia and the West during the Cold War, did no good to either side and was a tragedy for the Afghan people. Sometimes Afghan leaders have intrigued with outsiders. The victims of this game were always the Afghan people.

What they need now is a consensus among their neighbours and the world about the way forward. Britain has helped to build this consensus. In July, at the UN’s request, we hosted a conference at Weston Park to bring together 20 countries with an interest in a stable Afghanistan.

And we have now appointed a senior Foreign Office official, Robert Cooper, who is well-known to many of you as an author and thinker on post-modern states, to develop our thinking and to work with the UN and other international partners on a consensus.

These efforts are bearing fruit. Now, for the first time in three decades, there is broad agreement among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and among Afghanistan’s neighbours that a broad-based, self-sustaining government is the right solution. We shall all be working to reduce tensions and mutual suspicions between Afghanistan’s neighbours.

Afghanistan should come to know the outside world as a benign, not threatening, influence.

My third principle is that the United Nations should play the leading role in any transition. As I have said, there are no state institutions worth speaking of in Kabul: no executive, no judiciary, no legislature, no civil service. Any interim government arriving there would have to bring much of its own administration with it.

There is only one body which can properly facilitate this the United Nations. I was delighted when the Nobel Committee decided to award this year’s Peace Prize to Kofi Annan and the UN. In Afghanistan, they will have yet another chance to show the world how much they are needed.

Very few organisations have stood by the Afghan people throughout the impossible conditions of the last few years. The Red Cross is one. The UN is another. Through its humanitarian aid and other programmes in Afghanistan, the UN has more experience of the country than any other body. It has been running many services throughout the country. It also has behind it the relevant experience of helping to rebuild a shattered nation in Cambodia, East Timor and Kosovo.

I especially welcome the appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi, the distinguished Algerian diplomat and statesman, no stranger to this audience, who will not only oversee the life-saving efforts of the humanitarian coalition, but also the later political process as Afghanistan moves towards a fully representative, multi-ethnic broad-based government.

Ambassador Brahimi will provide a central focus at the UN, and as the global community devises a unified policy, we should take our lead from him.

This will involve identifying tasks and allocating them to particular organisations and countries.

Only the UN has the global reach, the instruments and the expertise to provide effective relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan. It will need to do this in an active partnership with committed states, with those which share borders with Afghanistan or are very close to it, like India, with the Permanent Members of the Security Council, and with others who have a close regional interest. The EU will, I am sure, have an important role too.

My fourth principle is that we must be prepared to devote the resources and the political will needed to complete the task.

The early phase of a transition will be crucial. We should identify a number of projects which can have an immediate impact to alleviate suffering within the first 100 days to give credibility and legitimacy to an interim regime.

As well as humanitarian aid, these might include reconstruction of housing and some first repair work on water and irrigation. We will need teams of people ready to go in and make these work straight away.

But we should also be prepared for the long haul. The international community has to meet Afghanistan’s needs, as identified by Ambassador Brahimi. He may need planning facilities to help him. Civilian policing assistance has, again and again, proved essential in post-conflict situations.

And troops, whether in UN blue helmets or as a multinational force, could be required to protect civilians and to provide a security environment in which the UN could work. Nor do we rule out non-Taliban Afghan forces perhaps playing a role in this.

Afghanistan’s development needs will be huge. The cost of rebuilding Bosnia was $5 billion. Afghanistan has four times Bosnia’s population. Reconstructing Afghanistan could take five to ten years to complete.

But we have to be ready to bear the cost, because if we do not, the price we pay will be far greater. We will pay it in more terrorist atrocities, more lives lost and more economies disrupted.

Only a real, sustained commitment stands any chance of providing the people of Afghanistan with a country free from domination by terrorists and criminals.

If it is needed, we should be prepared to contribute to an International Fund for Afghanistan, perhaps administered by the UN. But this should not be to the detriment of our development efforts elsewhere, nor of the UN’s vital efforts in other parts of the world.

What this crisis has proved, more than ever, is that we need the UN and all countries should be ready to devote the resources the UN needs to carry out the broad range of its duties throughout the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have a duty to the people of Afghanistan, just as we have a duty to our own citizens at home.

Today, it is clear that these duties coincide. Bringing order out of chaos is one of the great tasks of foreign policy for the 21st century.

Domino Theory

During the Cold War, there were those in the West who drew inspiration from the so-called domino theory: that if Communism were not stopped from taking over Korea, or Vietnam, or Nicaragua, or Angola, it would infect neighbouring countries until we found ourselves encircled.

Historians will argue for decades to come about whether the domino theory really applied to Communism.

But I have no doubt that the domino theory does apply to the chaos of failed states. The collapse of the Democratic Republic of the Congo into conflict in the 1990s sucked in countries throughout the Great Lakes region of Africa. One of the biggest obstacles to peace in Sierra Leone was continuing violence in neighbouring Liberia.

The reason we remain committed to stability in the former Yugoslavia is that any slide back into ethnic conflict there could suck in the whole region, which already includes our NATO allies and will soon include EU partners.

The chaos which Afghanistan has suffered is a threat to the stability of its neighbours in Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia. The drugs trade and the refugee crisis have already seriously undermined them. And we now know all too graphically the chaos and fear it brought out of a clear blue sky one autumn morning in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

The Cold War pitted two ideologies against one another in a battle for supremacy. The war against terrorism is different. It is a war in which all legitimate governments and all sovereign states are on the same side.

One day, not far in the future, we should be able to welcome the people of Afghanistan back into the family of sovereign nation states, as a fully fledged member of the international community. We want to see a sovereign, independent Afghanistan which sustains its own statehood, in which no one interferes and which functions as a part of the legitimate global economy, generating wealth and welfare for all of its people.

Rebuilding Afghanistan will be the next vital step towards a victory in which we all can share victory over terrorism, victory over poverty and victory over chaos.

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