Year LXIII, 2021, Single Issue, Pre-print

 

 

The Tragedy of Afghanistan. 

The Conference on the Future of Europe:
Europe’s Vital Chance
to Change
and to Be Able to Assume its
Responsibilities

 

 

The terrible stories and images coming out of Afghanistan in recent weeks are a blot on our conscience as citizens of the Western world, and it would be wrong to imagine that, after all our outpourings of horror, outrage and compassion, we can simply file them away and forget about them. We must be in no doubt that unless we can own this tragedy and organise effective solidarity, we will pay the price with our dignity.

Politically, the withdrawal from Afghanistan descended into such a debacle that it is hard to see how it can ever be recovered from. The effects and implications of the Taliban’s astonishing retaking of Afghanistan — after Trump sold them the country, Biden failed even to question the decision, and the Europeans merely looked on — are countless, and are now being discussed extensively by the world’s media. In this regard, in addition to the impact on the credibility mainly of the United States, which has been left in tatters, we must list the triumphant return of Islamic radicalism and even the possibility that terrorism might take hold again in places it had supposedly been driven out of; then there is the loss of influence, particularly of the Americans, across the Middle East and Asia, and the tremendous benefits that China, Russia and even Turkey stand to reap. It is, in short, a total disaster, in the face of which it appears ridiculous, offensive even, to be engaging in heated debates over the appropriateness, or otherwise, of entering into dialogue with the Taliban, who meanwhile are engaged in killing, beating, hunting down and capturing anyone who represents an alternative to their medieval worldview. Obviously, the bitter reality of the failures and defeats will drive efforts to understand how best to move in this new scenario; but perhaps we should also be considering and evaluating what outlooks and objectives we now want to adopt and set ourselves, rather than, panicked by our impotence, merely seeking to distance ourselves as much as we can, in the short term, from the consequences of our mistakes.

As Fukuyama points out, the United States’ dramatic internal division is reflected in its foreign policy, which has no real direction. The real work of processing this disaster is something that falls to the United States, not to us Europeans. What we Europeans must do, on the other hand, is work out where we have failed and what we must do, as of now in order to ensure that, equipped to assume responsibilities commensurate with our possibilities, we need witness no more of these atrocities.

Right now, it is unquestionably right that we undertake to cushion the blow of this disaster, by doing our utmost to build an international alliance that is geared at containing the spread of violence, and ready to do everything possible to protect Afghan women and help them retain at least a fraction of their hard-won autonomy, as well as save the lives of those Afghan citizens who, having believed in democracy and freedom, now risk death or repression. At the same time, however, it is essential that we immediately embark on charting a course designed to change the situation that is keeping the EU in the state of shameful weakness that currently allows it to be nothing other than an impotent spectator of unfolding tragedies and horrors.

Last Saturday, Sergio Mattarella, President of Italy, addressing the annual Meeting for Friendship Amongst Peoples in Rimini, delivered a timely and powerful warning: “There is an I, a you and a we also for Europe and for its responsibilities, against all narrow-mindedness, against mortifying dullness mixed with hypocrisy – which are also manifested in these days – which are the result of anti-historical entrenchments and, in reality, self-harming (…). Hence the need to strengthen community sovereignty, which alone can integrate and make national sovereignties non-illusory. Community sovereignty is an act of responsibility towards citizens and in the face of a global world that needs the civilisation of Europe and its role of cooperation and peace. (…) The ongoing reflection on the future of Europe allows this. The current Conference must be an opportunity for a broad historical vision and not for dull ordinary management of the contingent”.

It is only through building community sovereignty that we can become capable of acting as Europeans, and stop leaving the fate of the world — and our own — in the hands of others. There are precise and urgent steps that the EU must take to this end: it must assign the European Commission new competences and real powers, to be exercised under the control of the European Parliament and the Council, and consequently it must modify its own decision-making mechanisms (abolishing the right of veto) and the procedures for electing European bodies, so that they acquire greater democratic legitimacy. Among the effective powers needing to be created at European level, fiscal power must be the priority, because Europe has to have a means, totally independent of the states, of sourcing own resources on which to rely for implementing its own policies; then there is the power to intervene directly, at macro level at least, in its own fields of competence. As for the question of competences, the European Commission, in addition to its macro-economic role, must immediately be assigned responsibility for migration policy. The Afghan tragedy has presented us with the need to grant asylum — and it is to be hoped that this need will only be temporary — to an educated middle class, as well as the need, albeit not immediate, to manage, in a coherent and civilised way, flows of desperate people fleeing one of the worst regimes imaginable. To hark back to the events of 2015, and even think of implementing stratagems adopted then, which were born of division, and today would also stem from lazy inertia, would be to set out on the road to our own moral ruin. This time, Europe has both the opportunity and the conditions necessary to take a political leap forwards, and it is our responsibility, and ours alone, to ensure that it does so. Impracticable workarounds like Armin Laschet’s proposal — in a recent interview he called for the creation, with Poland and the Baltic states, of an intergovernmental vanguard group in the field of foreign and security policy — are entirely off the mark. Yes, a vanguard group certainly has to emerge in Europe, and in the field of foreign and security policy it will initially be intergovernmental in nature, but the point is that it has to be the product of a political project shared by those countries that want to build a federal union and to set the rules for their close coordination in foreign policy in this framework, pending the transfer of this competence, too, to the European institutions.

The tragedy of Afghanistan demands that we, as Europeans, make the political leap that will allow us to shoulder our responsibilities, primarily our moral responsibilities. If we fail, we will the first to find ourselves with no real future. 

Pavia, 23 August 2021

The Federalist

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