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OP-ED: An inevitable outcome of unipolarity?

  • Published at 06:32 pm October 3rd, 2021
Taliban - Rally - Afghanistan - AFP

The current crisis in Afghanistan was always a matter of when, not if

It is difficult to determine the starting point of the current crisis in Afghanistan. In most cases, however, the talks date back to 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to support the communist government in the fight against the anti-communist Muslim Mujahideen. 

The United States supported the Muslim Mujahideen per the untold rules of the Cold War. The CIA worked to strengthen them through financial aid and weapons. Later, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, the Afghan Communist government was also uprooted from power. 

The collapse of the Soviet Union ended the era of the bipolar system and led to the emergence of the United States as the singular power -- a unipolarity. On the other hand, after the fall of the Afghan government, the US-backed Mujahideen groups became embroiled in a civil war with each other. The Taliban, one of the Mujahideen groups, seized power at one stage of the war. In 1996, they established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

After 9/11, the world landscape changed dramatically. The United States became more active as the unipole. They first invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to fight Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Although initially intended to be a war on terror, they quickly turned their attention to the Afghan government and uprooted the Taliban, blaming them as the supporters of militancy. 

Then the US government took their nation-building project and focused on the reconstruction of Afghan political structure in light of Western liberal democracy. Initiatives such as various development projects, women’s right to education, and employment were the main advertisements of this campaign in the United States.

However, many scholars of international politics have never considered these initiatives of the United States to be sustainable. Nuno P Monteiro, who was an associate professor of Political Science at Yale University in the United States, published a research paper in 2011 entitled Unrest Assured: Why Unipolarity is Not Peaceful. There he showed how the United States, the unipole, is keeping the global conflict alive through three strategies. He marked these three strategies as offensive dominance, defensive dominance, and disengagement. 

As an example of defensive dominance, Monteiro cited how the United States launched a military offensive against Iraq when Iraq tried to occupy Kuwait in 1990. In this case, the United States did not want Iraq to occupy Kuwait and establish its own control in the Gulf region. Iraq, on the other hand, could not predict that the United States would go directly to military action against them. 

One thing to note here is that the unipolar system is not an empire. Unipolarity is an interstate system. As a result, although the United States had absolute dominance, their direct rule was not established everywhere. This gives birth to uncertainty and anarchy. 

So, it is true that any other country can take any decision like its own, but if that decision is against the interests of the United States or is a threat to their security, then the United States may launch a military operation against them. However, it is difficult to predict exactly when something is against the interests of the United States. In 1990, Saddam Hussein made the same mistake. He might not have thought the United States would care about the Gulf issue. But his prediction was proven wrong. 

On the other hand, as an example of offensive dominance, Monteiro brought the example of the United States War on terror in the Middle East after 9/11 which resulted in the miserable situation in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Monteiro’s hypothesis regarding “disengagement,” the third strategy, went like this: If the US disengages or avoids interfering in other regions’ affairs, it may decrease tensions between the US and other states, but it also creates ground for conflicts among and within the states of that region. 

In other words, disengagement is isolating oneself from the political, military, etc issues of a region. However, he did not set an example of a disengagement strategy because from 1989 to 2011 (the year when Monteiro’s article was published) the United States did not isolate itself from any region but tried to expand its dominance in new territories. 

Gradually, however, the situation began to change. With the withdrawal of troops from Iraq beginning in 2019, the disengagement strategy has become even more apparent. Similarly, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan was announced in 2020, which was completed on August 30, 2021. 

This action of disengagement ultimately caused the recent crisis in Afghanistan, making the land more fertile for conflict. As a result of the re-emergence of the Taliban, on the one hand, a new wave of extremism may emerge in South Asia and the Middle East, and on the other hand, various internal affairs in Afghanistan that are part of Western reform may also see a major change. 

Already its shadow is beginning to fall on Afghan education, business, and sports. Besides, there is a possibility of a protracted civil war. Through this incident, Monteiro’s hypothesis came true. If he were alive, he might use the Afghan crisis as an example when writing a new article (Monteiro died on May 5, 2021).

After the end of the Cold War, many speculated that the US-led Western liberal democracy might lead the way to world peace. In that case, the unipolar system should be peaceful. However, while it has so far avoided another world war, it has never been peaceful. Rather, the unipolar system has led one country after another, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, to unrest and civil war. 

The dream of world peace is still far beyond and the unipolar system is certainly not the alternative to establishing it. 

Md Zarif Rahman is a research enthusiast and an active social worker. He is the current President of Right to Peace (R2P), a research-based voluntary organization and senior executive of Kolpojontro Foundation and Project Manager of its project named Probinchaya.

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