Working towards peace and sustainability

Afghanistan & U.S. Role in the World

For decades, Afghanistan has been a war zone. From the site of a Cold War proxy conflict, to a land beset by civil war, to a nation wracked by 20 years of ongoing conflict following the 2001 U.S. invasion, occupation and the installation of a client government, Afghanistan has suffered tremendously throughout. And U.S. actions have consistently led to tragic outcomes.

Sadly, the same can be said for U.S. involvement in the affairs of many other nations including quite a few in Latin America, in Southeast Asia and in Africa, as well as some in other parts of the world.

Some of our government’s actions have involved invading and overthrowing governments. Some have involved covert operations that range in scale from coup plots to engaging in costly, protracted covert wars. Others have entailed backing often reactionary factions in civil conflicts, and arming, training and providing logistics for armed groups that terrorize their fellow citizens. In recent years the U.S. has moved in the direction of using small contingents of elite, special ops forces. The Pentagon and the CIA have also turned to remote-control war-making from afar, using armed drones to assassinate suspected enemies, even though the majority of those killed turn out to be innocent civilians.

These wars and interventions are most egregious, as they are costly in life and limb, but much of what our government does militarily is to maintain a system of global hegemony, sometimes referred to by the military itself as “Full Spectrum Dominance.” This includes many hundreds of bases worldwide, dominant positions on the seas, in the air as well as in space and in the cyber realm, with vast arsenals of costly armaments, both so-called “conventional” arms as well as “weapons of mass destruction.” As is often pointed out, we American taxpayers are spending more on our Military-Industrial Complex than the next ten or eleven top-spending nations, combined.

The U.S. often portrays its actions as altruistic, claiming that we are making war to promote democracy, or women’s rights, or to remove governments that harm their own citizens. The reality is that so-called “American Exceptionalism” is bogus and U.S. wars are fought to establish and maintain hegemony, exercise geopolitical dominance, control resources, markets and labor, as well as to keep using and buying more weapons, keeping the arms merchants profitable and happy.

While the 20 year war in Afghanistan has ended tragically, as many informed commentators, as well as President Biden, have pointed out there was really no way this could have ended well. Our intention here is not to rehash the war, which Peaceworks opposed from the start and advocated ending throughout, but rather to look forward and consider the positive role our nation could play in the world moving forward.

What’s Possible Instead?

Is it possible to have a foreign policy that is based upon pursuing peace and justice? It’s hard to know, as we’ve never actually tried. But after 80 years of continuously being on a wartime footing, might it not be time to investigate the possibilities?

As the nation with the largest arsenal, the most advanced weaponry, the strongest system of alliances and the greatest global military reach, the United States is uniquely positioned to initiate a paradigm shift in international relations. While some may attempt to exploit the Afghan debacle by calling for increased militarization and a ramping up of the so-called “War on Terror,” we see the need for a to-the-root rethinking of our nation’s role in the world.

Peaceworks would welcome our government challenging all others around to world to begin a process of mutual, verifiable, incremental and universal disarmament. While this would need to be negotiated with all the leading military powers, which takes time, it could begin with unilateral steps to demonstrate sincerity in the pursuit of these objectives.

President Biden could announce that, at least while negotiations proceed, the U.S. would halt the procurement of military hardware and put a freeze on the so-called “modernization” program for nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

Biden could challenge all other nations to join us in addressing very real threats to our collective security starting with climate change, which is arguably the defining issue of the Twenty-first Century. Our failure to deal with the climate crisis would, as the Pentagon has repeatedly asserted, be a threat multiplier, exacerbating existing tensions in many already conflicted locales including, most notably the Middle East.

In addition to pressing the rest of the world to effectively address climate change, our government must acknowledge the problems presented by long-festering conflicts, such as in Israel-Palestine, proxy wars in Yemen and Syria, or between nations, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan. Under United Nations auspices, commissions can be set up to mediate these conflicts and press for just settlements. A carrot and stick approach that rewards those who are willing to compromise would incentivize non-violent conflict resolution.

With wise vision and a view to what sort of world we might leave for our progeny, we could commence down a path that leads, initially to dramatic reduction in the size of national militaries and the size of military budgets. An interim goal would be sizing each country’s military to provide for defense, but not for offensive capabilities. In other words, all nations would be able to defend their borders, but not invade or attack others.

To encourage sustainable development in the Global South a United Nations force could be established with an eye to halting military aggression. Any lesser developed nation willing to disarm and move to a force capable of ensuring civil order, could be put under a protective umbrella with this UN force readily available to respond to any military aggression these countries might face. The money saved could then be directed into essential investments in education, healthcare, renewable energy, etc. This is a route to real security.

Will our vision be realized anytime soon? The honest answer is that it is highly unlikely. That said, until we can envision it, we can’t really work to create it. And, if the paradigm shift we’re seeking is one that’s promoted, we have a much better chance of moving in this direction. Let’s take seriously what President Eisenhower once said:

“One day the people of the world will want peace so much that the governments will have to get out of their way and give it to them.”