In Kabul, Washington, Brussels, London, Paris, and Amsterdam, the debate over NATO’s role in Afghanistan is building. President Obama is not only considering the possibility of General McChrystal’s recommended troop surge and tactical shift towards far greater civilian protection, but more importantly, he is reconsidering the broader strategic objectives of the mission. Is the goal to protect America from a resurgent al-Qaeda, to build an Afghan state that can hold the Taliban at bay, or to reconfigure both Afghanistan and Pakistan? The answer will drive his decision in the coming weeks. As the president deliberates, the U.S. media and public are increasingly engaged.
In Canada, while there is a similar conversation occurring behind the closed doors of government – our mandarins must decide what we will do after the 2011 deadline set by parliament in March 2008 – there has been an astonishing silence in the public domain. What should Canada be doing in Afghanistan post-2011?
The government of Canada has skirted this issue in public with various opaque statements by the prime minister, the minister of Defence and other members of the Conservative cabinet. They have confirmed our withdrawal but have given hardly any indication as to what this will look like, whether a military presence will remain to carry out the development and training tasks they assert will continue or whether the U.S. will fill the void. Meanwhile Lt. General Andrew Leslie, the head of the Canadian army, has stated that they “currently do not have any plans, or even any line diagrams on a blank sheet of paper for post-2011.”
Motivated by the belief that decisions need to be taken long before 2011, that we can’t just up and pull out – that there are substantial strategic, ethical, and financial considerations – last week we convened a roundtable at the University of British Columbia in order to discuss these critical issues. We started with our own “blank sheet” and to fill it in, several seasoned Canadian experts who have lived and breathed Afghanistan over the last eight years, including Gordon Smith, Chris Alexander, and Graeme Smith. We posed a series of guiding questions that we hoped would incite debate. They were as follows:
- Public support for the Afghan mission stands at 37 per cent in Canada and roughly half of Canadians are in support of a civilian mission post-2011. How are domestic politics likely to influence the shape of Canada's involvement? And what influence should they have?
- The Canadian government has committed itself to a set of tasks for the benefit of the Afghan people. At the same time, the fighting has killed 131 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat. The war has cost between $11-12 billion. What responsibilities and obligations have we incurred? To the Afghan people? To NATO and the UN? To Canadians?
- The Government has been unclear as to whether a contingent of Canadian forces will remain to protect delivery of assistance, or whether the ensuing void post-withdrawal will be covered by our U.S. and NATO allies. Moreover, does the withdrawal of a “mere” 2800 Canadians, compared with the U.S. 80,000, really mean a “gap”? What would assistance look like without military support? Can we “do” development without the military? What are the implications of a withdrawal for NATO and U.S. relations?
- What are the options for our involvement? What are the costs and benefits of different options? What are the standards of evaluation? What is desirable? What is doable? How do we avoid what Gen. Hillier recently called “pie in the sky” ideas about Afghanistan? How do we avoid such ideas and ensure success in whatever it is that we commit ourselves to post-2011.
It is a tall order, we know, but we hope that this web forum, based on last week’s roundtable meeting, will be, at the very least, the start of a much needed discussion on these important issues.
See the article online and join the debate:
Canada in Afghanistan, The Mark News
The site includes:
- The Global Context: Canada's approach in Afghanistan should be determined above all by the international strategy.
Christopher Alexander, Former Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan.
- Fuelling the Fire: Sending more troops will only feed the Afghan insurgency, bringing the country closer to civil war.
Graham Fuller, Former Vice Chairman, CIA National Intelligence Council; CIA Station Chief, Kabul.
- Withdraw the Troops: The military mission has failed, and adding more soldiers won't help. It's time to consider other options.
Graeme Smith, Emmy-winning foreign correspondent, The Globe and Mail.
- Defining the Mission: There will be no victory in Afghanistan until Canada is clear on what it wants to accomplish there.
Michael Petrou, Foreign correspondent, Maclean's.
- Lessons Learned: To move forward, we need to reflect on what more than eight years of fighting in Afghanistan has taught us.
Robert Muggah, Co-Founder and Research Director of the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.
- Teaching Peace: When we teach Afghan children to read, we are teaching them to reject the extremism of the Taliban.
Lauryn Oates, Professional human rights advocate, with particular focus on women's rights in Afghanistan.
- A Dose of Realism: For real progress in Afghanistan, we will need to be pragmatic in our goals.
Mark Sedra, Senior Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation.
- A Holistic Approach: Canada can make a difference if its aid strategy focuses on what is practical and tangible.
Mirwais Nahzat, Sauvé Scholar examining Canada's development policy towards Afghanistan.
- A Complacent Country: Given the many Canadian lives lost, the lack of debate at home over the future of the mission is unacceptable.
Gordon Smith, Director, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria.
- No Reason for Optimism: Until Canada's actions benefit the Afghan people directly, public support for the mission will remain elusive.
Janice Gross Stein, Director of the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.
This event is part of a Liu Institute project on Peacebuilding in Afghanistan, being led by Taylor Owen and Emily Paddon, and funded by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Trudeau Foundation, and the Liu Institute for Global Issues.
Taylor Owen is a Doctoral Candidate and Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford, lecturer at the Trudeau Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto, and Fellow at the Center for Global Governance at the LSE. He was a Post-Graduate Fellow in the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University, an Action Canada Fellow, and has received a MA from the University of British Columbia.
He is the Associate Editor of Security Dialogue, has worked at the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) and the International Development Research Centre, and writes widely on: the concept and operationalization of human security, the causes and consequences of conflict and EU, Canadian, and U.S. foreign policy.
Published writing can be found at taylorowen.com.
Emily Paddon is a Doctoral Candidate and Trudeau scholar at the University of Oxford, a 2007/2008 Action Canada and Sauve Fellow, and a recipient of the DND’s Security and Defence PhD Scholarship.
She is the former Managing Director of The St Antony's International Review, Oxford's graduate journal of international affairs, and a former Associate at the Watson Institute at Brown University where she completed her BA in the history of art and architecture, and international relations.
She has written on issues of global governance, military and humanitarian intervention, climate change, and the ethics of international affairs. Her current research is based in Eastern DRC.
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