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In Retreat? Western Security Policy after Afghanistan

The withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 was far more than the disastrous end of a mission. Rather, the events raise fundamental questions about how the West perceives its foreign policy and the future strategic direction of security and defence policy. That also applies to the debate about pros and cons of deploying troops abroad and of international interventions.

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In Retreat? Western Security Policy after Afghanistan

  • Editorial

    “Debacle”, “tragedy”, “political caesura”, “end of an era” – these are just some of the reactions by high-ranking politicians to the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghani­stan in the summer of 2021. These words illustrate the sense of outrage at how the 20-year engagement in the Hindu Kush came to an end, while also pointing to the profound consequences for Western foreign policy as a whole. In this sense, Afghanistan is far more than “just” a mission with a disastrous ending. Rather, the events raise fundamental questions about how the West perceives its foreign policy and the future strategic direction of security and defence policy. That also applies to the debate about pros and cons of deploying troops abroad and of international interventions. The answers to these questions will have to be accompanied by concrete actions and changes.

    by Gerhard Wahlers

  • “I Miss Political Leadership”

    Afghanistan and the Security Challenges of the Future

    In an interview with International Reports, political scientist Carlo Masala speaks about lessons learnt from Afghanistan, China’s desire for hegemony, and a new understanding of defence – while also explaining why German politics should be less guided by popular sentiment.

    by Sören Soika, Fabian Wagener

  • From the Hindu Kush Back to the North European Plain

    German Security and Defence Policy after Afghanistan

    Following the disastrous final chapter of Germany’s engagement at the Hindu Kush in the summer of 2021, German security policy should finally focus on what has long been recognised as the primary threat to Germany’s interests and, moreover, what is expected and demanded by its allies. Only the Federal Republic can bear the burden of conventional defence in Central Eastern and Northern Europe and act as the backbone of NATO’s (non-nuclear) deterrent against Russia. To this end, the Bundeswehr must – within a few years – restore its lost capability for comprehensive national and collective defence.

    by Nils Wörmer, Philipp Dienstbier

  • “It Is a Geopolitical Urgency that the Sahel Be Made a Paradise”

    Lessons from Afghanistan for German Policy-making in the Sahel

    Will Mali become the new Afghanistan? If it were up to Iyad Ag Ghaly, the leader of the al-Qaeda group in the Sahel, that is precisely what we could expect. Even before Kabul had fallen completely to the Taliban, he congratulated his Afghani brothers-in-arms with the words “We are winning. Our hour has come.” But even in political Berlin, many wonder what the West’s hasty withdrawal from Kabul means for its involvement in the Sahel. The context of this question: Now the Afghanistan mission has ended, the mission to Mali is by far the largest for the German Bundes­wehr. But to what extent can we even compare the two missions? And, despite their pronounced differences, are there lessons from Afghanistan that can be applied to Mali and the Sahel – for the Bundeswehr mission and for the direction of German (development) policy-making? A central difference between Afghanistan and the Sahel is clear to see: Western failure in the Sahel would have a far more direct impact on Germany and Europe than its failure in Afghanistan.

    by Stefan Friedrich

  • Intervention without a Goal

    The Case of Libya and Its Consequences

    Almost overnight, the onset of the “Arab Spring” jolted the ­­MENA region out of a collective deep sleep. In Libya, the dream of freedom turned into a nightmare that shocked both the country, and its neighbours in Europe, the Sahel, and North Africa. After two civil wars, a proxy war, but also some encouraging recent developments, it is time to ask: What went wrong in the past ten years? What went right? And which lessons can be learned?

    by Lukas Kupfernagel, Thomas Volk

  • Intervention Is Not Always the Solution (but Neither Is Non-Intervention)

    Example from Iraq and Syria

    Is restraint priority number one? Much discussion currently revolves around the focus of future Western foreign policy and of military interventions. Simple black-and-white answers are of no help. Iraq and Syria are prime examples.

    by Simon Engelkes, David Labude

  • War Foretold

    On the Genesis and Development of Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh

    Anyone dealing with post-Soviet conflicts between former Soviet republics as a “neutral” foreigner can be sure that in the best case, he or she will only be accepted by one side at a time. It is virtually impossible to be perceived as a “neutral” within an argument. This complicates the goal of organising political dialogue about the problem. Concerning Nagorno-Karabakh, familiarity with the genesis of the conflict’s historical and international legal developments is indispensable and relevant regarding policy options for international actors.

    by Thomas Schrapel

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International Reports (IR) is the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung's periodical on international politics. It offers political analyses by our experts in Berlin and from more than 100 offices across all regions of the world. Contributions by named authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editorial team.

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Dr. Gerhard Wahlers



Benjamin Gaul

Benjamin Gaul

Head of the Department International Reports and Communication +49 30 26996 3584

Dr. Sören Soika


Editor-in-Chief International Reports (Ai) +49 30 26996 3388