NATO allies are already preparing for a future without America’s “forever wars”. The United States’ then-president Donald Trump and current president Joe Biden plan to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Still, the rapid and strategic collapse of the democratically elected Afghan government and the swiftness of the power-hungry Taliban takeover turned that departure into chaos.
The United States looked blundering at every step and dragged its allies down with it in the process.
Slowly but surely, all had to come to terms with the reality that after 20 years of bloodshed, all the lives lost, and billions of dollars spent, little was to nothing left to show for it.
Allies say the US communicated but did not consult on Afghanistan
Biden, as president, recommitted to the US withdrawal, though in April, he extended the final deadline, first to September 11, and later inching it back to Tuesday, August 31.
In April, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Brussels with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who said NATO would also begin its drawdown.
“We went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together, and we are united in leaving together,”.
“The immediate feeling around this whole situation is that perhaps there should have been more consultation and more joint planning about how to manage the exit strategy,” said David O’Sullivan.
He served as the European Union ambassador to the United States from 2014 to 2019.
Even though many NATO governments had already essentially scaled back their commitments in Afghanistan, they too inherited the mayhem and perception of failure in the US’s military withdrawal.
And with that came the realization that they were limited in influencing the narrative or the outcome.
As the world witnesses the dreadful scenes from Kabul where the scale of the humanitarian crisis remains unimaginable, ‘power of America’s example is ironically yet inevitably raising some questions on Washington’s credibility and competence, not to speak of the simmering doubt and discontent among its close allies and partners over its reliability.
When Biden spoke of the “power of our example”, he referred to American influence in ensuring the state of relative peace that had existed since the Second World War when the United States pulled its weight as the chief security guarantor of the future world order.
That image of a competent and reliable hegemon ready to defend the ranking it had installed through a network of allies, partners, and institutions now lie in disarray.
The Afghan pullout appears to confirm the notion that the US is an unreliable ally as it always thinks in an ‘America first’ way.
Ultimately, the developments have made it vulnerable to rhetorical attacks from adversaries like China, who have wasted no time driving home the advantage.
Allies’ frustration with the United States revives old insecurities
At a G7 meeting last week, European leaders pushed the United States to extend the August 31 deadline for troop departure.
The available days to evacuate nationals and Afghan allies were dwindling, made worse by an unstable security situation that, after the meeting, became even more volatile.
The dependency on the United States fuels insecurity about what happens if the country’s domestic interests diverge more profoundly from Europe’s.
Since the Obama administration, the United States has made clear it is losing its appetite for forever wars. Still, the Trump administration’s “America First” policies — and sometimes open hostility to the EU and NATO — accelerated fears that Europe wouldn’t be able to rely on the US.
India doesn’t rely on US security guarantees, and its strategic closeness with Washington has been necessitated and fueled by China’s growing expansionism in the region.
This has found expression in framing a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that is not an Asian NATO.
Therefore, US competence and reliability questions are likely to remain crucial for the foreseeable future regarding the India-US equation and should continue as China continues with its belligerent ways along the India-China border.
The spillover effect from Afghanistan may very well affect the pace of the strategic alignment, which may further depend on the ever-changing US-Pakistan dynamics post-Taliban’s ascension.
India has many strategic interests in Afghanistan’s future, and as its ally, India has the edge over Pakistan.
Over the years, India has built its relationship with Afghanistan by investing in infrastructure, education, irrigation development, and power generation projects.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan will bring challenges for the Indian Subcontinent as the US military kept a check on the rigorously extremist forces and created a conducive environment for India to work with the Afghan country.
The withdrawal can lead to a spike in international and regional terrorism, the re-emergence of the Taliban’s influence on Pakistan and the political instability it will create in the region.