In the hours leading up to 1 September 2021, the last US soldier departed from Kabul airport. The emblematic photo was seen all around the world and marked the end of a nearly 20-year-long conflict between international NATO troops and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Since the withdrawal of troops, the Taliban have regained control of most of the country. The Afghanistan mission has finally and definitively failed.
How can failures of international peacekeeping operations such as this one be prevented in future? What lessons should Germany learn from the failed engagement in the Hindu Kush, and how can they be applied to current operations abroad, such as those in Mali? What approaches are available for a promising engagement on behalf of the peace process in crisis regions?
These were the central questions addressed during a joint event of the IFSH Berlin office and the Leibniz Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) on 6 September. Experts on state-building projects and international peacekeeping operations, including IFSH director Professor Dr Ursula Schröder, Professor Dr Sabine Kurtenbach (GIGA), Dr habil. Cornelius Friesendorf (IFSH) and Dr. Tim Glawion (GIGA) first presented, from a research perspective, what future prospects Germany’s engagement in international peacekeeping missions in particular could have, and what kind of chances state-building projects have in general.
In a discussion moderated by Jessica Noll (IFSH) this group of scholars then met with around 50 representatives from politics, academia and the police force to talk about these questions. Because briefing took place under the so-called Chatham House Rules, the selected statements reference neither the speaker’s identity nor their affiliated institution.
• “Reports and analyses of the challenges of the Afghanistan operation had long been available. In future, academic expertise must have a greater impact on political decision-taking.”
• “Expectation management is important. Peacekeeping missions are high-risk projects that are more likely to fail than to succeed. These risks must be clearly communicated in advance.”
• “Promise less. Germany should reconsider projects such as human rights training for security forces or address the limits of these projects more candidly. Research shows that training does not change behaviour when the institutional environment remains the same.”
• “Young people, not only the ‘tribal elders’, should be involved in peace-building processes. State-building is a long-term process that extends over generations.”
• “We must question our own institutional structures. There should be a balance between flexibility in the peacekeeping mission and an obligation of honesty towards the German taxpayers.”
• “Local agents of reform must be protected!"
• “Before a large peace-building project gets up and running, we should know what the people on the ground need.”