Ask a Senior Analyst — Tim Foxley

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, Tim Foxley. Questions and Mr. Foxley’s answers are transcribed below.

Tim Foxley

Tim Foxley is an independent political and military analyst. He worked for the British government for over twenty-five years with experience in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Russia and Eastern Europe. He has analyzed various inter- and intra-national conflict themes, including terrorism, arms control, insurgencies, information operations, propaganda and conflict and security building measures. He also worked as a guest researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), studying Afghanistan and related political, social and economic themes.

Harry Sa: Do you see any regional players getting more involved in the rebuilding process and maintaining stability in Afghanistan? What kinds of roles would they play?

Answer: It is a good question that I have been grappling with for some time. I produced a paper in 2010 entitled “Afghanistan’s Neighbours: Great Game, Regional Approach or Limited Liability Opportunism?” on this topic.

In the limited space I have available here, perhaps I could race through a few updated “headlines” for the key neighbours.

A recurring theme has been the unexploited but massive economic potential in and around Afghanistan. “New Silk Road” studies regularly point at trillions of dollars of minerals, gem, natural resources, transport and trade opportunities. Every time this gets publicity, it seems to come to nothing as a result of security and corruption issues.

Pakistan has a confused and conflicted relationship with Afghanistan. The assertion by many analysts is that Pakistan is engaged in a “double game.” Pakistan seeks a passive “client” state that has polices favourable to it. To preserve all options, Pakistan is covertly retaining links with, and providing support to, the Taliban. There has been some small-scale economic and political reach-out, but the border between the two countries is fluid, allowing insurgents of all sorts to come and go and smuggling to bypass regular trade, tax and economic process. Until the two countries sort out their security issues, their relationship will be fraught. Development and stability opportunities will underachieve for the next few years.

Iran remains concerned about instability in Afghanistan leading to more refugees coming to Iran. Its engagement with Afghanistan has been a mix of constructive — certainly investment and reconstruction, including a railway, in western Afghanistan — and unhelpful. NATO has complained quite bluntly about weapons and IED technology coming in from Iran and ending up in the hands of insurgents, although this might slacken now NATO has more or less gone.

China has managed to stay out of the conflict (although it is worried about the risk that insurgencies might spill across), but snaps up investment opportunities where it can, desiring the trade and natural resources that Afghanistan (and Central Asia) offer. China has invested heavily: the Afghan government received around $3 billion for the Aynak copper mine. This month, China seemed to be trying to broker talks between the Taliban, Pakistan and Afghanistan, suggesting new interest in the security side.

Crudely summarising the others: the Central Asian States will have limited impact. India will continue to invest heavily and provoke Pakistan as it does so.

Matt R. Batten-Carew: One of the main obstacles for NATO in Afghanistan was the continued subordination of military forces to national political leaders despite the alliance’s unified command structure (e.g. caveats about use of force, where they can deploy). What, if anything, has been learned from NATO’s time in Afghanistan that may help us avoid the pitfalls of these sometimes contradictory chains-of-command in the future?

Answer: As you rightly observe, it was a very significant problem for the international operations across Afghanistan. When I worked inside the Ministry of Defence over 2001-2006, in my part of the department we tried to avoid the term “lessons learned,” preferring, instead, to talk of “lessons identified.” I feel that the nature of NATO is such that it will always have a significant element of these command-and-control problems in a large-scale or complex combat environment such as Afghanistan. The members of NATO are quite diverse, more so than in the 1980s, with different historic, cultural and military experiences. Some, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, have quite extensive combat experience (albeit in specific types of operation). Others, perhaps more recent NATO members, have a less extensive range of military assets, financial resources or competences.

I am currently working on a study of “hybrid warfare,” in the context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea by Russia. The options for initiating and maintaining conflicts are now incredibly diverse. For example, the use of cyber-attacks, propaganda, special forces, intelligence groups, local militias, etc. An “obvious” war, in which the conflict is formally declared, protagonists are clearly defined and goals and objectives delimited (the Second World War, in effect), looks less likely than ever before.

As conflicts become more complex — and deniable — I suspect national governments are more likely to wish to exert a tighter control over the nature of the deployment of their national forces and whether they get involved in the first place. This will likely be exacerbated by a couple of factors: the decreasing “tolerance” for casualties within the populations of NATO countries and advances in information technology that give a much more immediate picture to national audiences and government decision-makers alike

My sense, therefore, is that if there is any lesson learned at all from the Afghanistan experience, it is that national caveats and other forms of direct national control that bypass official NATO command structures are almost inevitable. NATO force commanders may have to get used to the idea that a certain amount of tactful negotiation will be necessary. The price of having an extra national flag flying in the “coalition of the willing” will be the acceptance that not all members are the same.

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