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Speech by HE Andrew Page, British Ambassador, Ljubljana, 31 March 2010

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, and thank you for inviting me.

I have chosen Afghanistan as my subject today partly because it is topical here in Slovenia, following Slovenia’s courageous decision to expand its presence there later this year, and partly for the cogent reason that, in the UK, terrorism is our number one national security threat, and the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan are where the greatest dangers lie. 75% of the most serious terrorist plots investigated in the UK trace their links to Pakistan.

In Slovenia, according to the recently adopted Resolution on National Security Strategy, terrorism is a lesser threat than in the UK. Yet Slovenian troops are in Afghanistan, and will increase in number from 70 to 90 in the autumn, when your country will take on the lead of its own Operational Military Liaison Team, or OMLT. Although still a young state, Slovenia has embraced its international responsibilities, and is making a valuable contribution towards collective security within NATO. The British Government salutes this far-sighted decision.

In Britain and Slovenia alike, many MPs, journalists and members of the public have doubts about the wisdom of our presence in such a far-away land. The arguments they advance stimulate the public debate. I welcome that: it is an important part of a vibrant democracy. Out-of-country military engagement is a big issue: it is right that it should be of concern to every citizen. TV news coverage of Afghanistan, in the UK and across Europe, tends to focus relentlessly on casualty figures. Bad news sells more newspapers than good. When progress is made in one area of Afghanistan, journalists move on to the next potential trouble spot. So I am grateful to Professor Bebler and Doctor Kunic for this chance to leaven the bad news stories with evidence about progress in Afghanistan, and give a British perspective on why we went into Afghanistan and how long we might need to stay.

I will start by setting out the context of the debate in 2010 surrounding the military operation; I will then address some of the more common criticisms levelled against our presence; I will go on to share some ideas, put forward recently by my Foreign Secretary David Miliband, on what a political internal settlement in Afghanistan might look like, and the importance of the neighbours, including not only Pakistan but the Central Asian states, which tend to get over-looked; and I shall conclude with some thoughts on how Slovenia might fit into all this.

The context in 2010

After Afghanistan was used as the launch-pad for the September 11th attacks in 2001, the UN mission, and later the NATO mission, enjoyed widespread international support. So did the UK’s part in these missions. But the support is not so widespread any more. Why?

Over the last few years, at least until recently, Afghanistan has become less secure, as a result of a rise in Taliban and insurgent activity, mostly in Eastern and Southern Afghanistan. With the benefit of hindsight, policy-makers underestimated the extent of the challenge at the start.

Some NATO allies have reacted by increasing their troop levels. Germany has incrementally stepped up its troops from 1,200 (2001) to almost 4,600 (2010). In December, US President Obama announced a troop “surge” of an extra 30,000 US soldiers. Roughly a third of these forces are in place, with a further 18,000 expected by early summer. Obama’s speech to his troops during his visit to Afghanistan on Sunday reminded us of the surge’s raison d’etre. The UK has increased its contingent by 1,200 troops since March 2009, to 9,500 troops.

Currently, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) consists of 85,800 soldiers from 44 countries, with the US, UK and Germany providing most troops. 28 of these ISAF countries are NATO countries, 16 are non-NATO countries providing a further 3,000 troops.

In the meantime, debate about the mission, and the best strategy, rages on. The debate is often particularly fierce inside NATO, which has been in command of ISAF since 2003.

People are asking: “Why is it in our national interest to have our soldiers fighting in such a remote country? What legal justification is there for this? How can we succeed in a country where democratic stabilisation seems impossible? Why don’t we just withdraw?”

I would like to address each of these questions in turn; in doing so I should acknowledge a debt to Dr Patrick Keller of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, for his paper on this issue. There are four charges I would like to repudiate:

Charge 1: “NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is not in our national interest”

Charge 2: “NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is violating international law.”

Charge 3: “Democratisation in Afghanistan is not a realistic goal”

Charge 4: “NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is open-ended and not achieving anything”

1. Why it is in the interest of the UK, and other countries, to be in Afghanistan

In the 1990s, Afghanistan’s radical Islamist regime, the Taliban, gave support to al-Qaeda’s leadership. It was a symbiotic relationship: in return, Bin Laden supported the Taliban with money and fighters. Until 2001 Afghanistan was an incubator for international terrorism.

Al-Qaeda used Afghanistan as a planning cell for the September 11th attacks on the US, the gravest terrorist attacks ever seen. But the US was not their only target: Islamist terrorists have directed their hatred against the Western way of life as a whole, as bombings in London, Madrid, and Istanbul have shown.

So those of us who are in Afghanistan alongside the US are not part of some “American war” that bears no relation to our own security. Nor is the danger of terrorism some fabrication by fear-mongering people in Brussels obsessed with security. It is a genuine threat, emanating from the links between globalisation and failing or failed states. For globalisation is not only about economic inter-connectedness, or the IT revolution. It has implications for security too: permeability of borders and worldwide inter-connection also work in favour of enemies of the liberal order. Islamist terrorists fight against globalisation, and the liberal order sustaining it; but they also use it to their advantage. So we can no longer ignore what is happening in a country like Afghanistan, however far away. Western countries have a big stake in the success of globalisation: our trade-based economies depend on it.

Our values system is also at stake. The concepts of democracy and personal freedom are not a manifestation of Western cultural imperialism.  Opinion polls throughout the world show a desire for democratic governance. We should not assume that this thirst for liberty is less in other parts of the world, including Afghanistan – or less deserving of our support. Of course, we should not exaggerate our ability to change the world.  But nor should we under-estimate our ability to influence it, by reducing conflict and encouraging freedom of expression and security beyond our continent.

So our mission in Afghanistan serves our own national interests in at least three ways: (i) it is the most important mission worldwide in the fight against international terrorism, (ii) it helps to defend globalisation for the benefit of all liberal states, and (iii) a successful mission will strengthen NATO, to the benefit of all who place faith in NATO for collective security.

2. Why the war in Afghanistan is legitimate

Detractors of the mission in Afghanistan sometimes use the claim of an “illegal war” to veil their politically motivated opposition. Their claim has no validity whatsoever. ISAF was initiated directly by the UN Security Council: UNSCR1386 of December 2001 authorised ISAF to secure the area of Kabul so that the Afghan Government and UN could do their jobs efficiently and unharmed. This UN Resolution empowered ISAF “to take all necessary measures to fulfil its mandate.” The regional limitation of the mandate was later extended to NATO. NATO countries acted, and continue to act, on the basis of this UN Resolution.

Thus, the UN Security Council legitimises US engagement in Afghanistan as self-defence. It also legitimises the engagement of NATO allies, as an expression of collective self-defence. The individual commitments of NATO countries are rooted in alliance solidarity: NATO is in Afghanistan because after September 11th NATO members invoked Article V of the Treaty, stating that an armed attack against one is an attack against all. They did so because they understood that the Islamist attacks against the US were also, in a sense, directed against them too – all NATO countries were affected economically, politically and philosophically.

3. Why democratisation is possible, and necessary for success, even in Afghanistan

NATO allies – especially the US, but the UK too – often stand accused, by critics of the war, of pursuing a naive goal of trying to turn a backward country like Afghanistan into a fully fledged democracy (“Westminster-style”). Such critics argue that centuries of tribal culture make democratic principles impossible to enforce; and that democratic development, if it can take root at all, cannot be sped up by outside intervention. Better, they claim, for the West to settle for an Afghan government that subdues terrorism (even if it doesn’t liberalise), than to risk the lives of our soldiers and waste the money of our taxpayers.

Such advice ignores the history of Afghanistan. Founded in 1747, Afghanistan’s history has been, in large part, dictated by its geography: at the cross-roads of South West Asia, astride mountain ranges that separate the sub-continent from Central Asia. Britain fought three wars there between 1840 and 1920. Each time we defended our equities in British India. Each time we suffered military reverses as we sought to establish order. Yet each time the imperial strategists secured a more sustainable objective: a self-governing, self-policing Afghanistan, where tribes balanced each other, and the Afghan state posed no threat to British India.  

More recently, Afghanistan has also experienced a number of good rulers: King Zahir Shah, led the country for 40 years, from 1933 to 1973, a period of remarkable economic progress, and introduced a written, democratic constitution, which even guaranteed women’s suffrage. It was only later, in 1978, that the dark phase of Afghanistan began with a Marxist coup, the Soviet invasion from 1979 to 1989 and the tyranny of the Taliban from 1994 to 2001.

Britain’s experience in the 19th century, like the Soviet Union’s in the 20th, showed that the best way, perhaps the only way, to stabilise Afghanistan in the long term is to empower the Afghans themselves to secure and govern their own villages and valleys.

To realise this, the Afghans need full political and military support, and generous subsidy, from outside. But the Afghan people will neither need nor welcome our troops on their soil any longer than is necessary to guarantee security and help them to regulate their own affairs.

Critics often miss an important difference between NATO’s mission in Afghanistan today and these historical examples: NATO is not a colonial conqueror; it is a liberator that seeks to enable Afghans to lead a life of self-determination.

Today, Afghans view NATO as exactly that – a liberator, not a conqueror. Polling by the BBC and others shows that in the North of the country, 72% of Afghans have a positive view of NATO. And the one thing that unites Afghans from all parts of the country is that only 6% would like to be ruled by the Taliban again.

So democracy is not alien to Afghanistan. It is part of its tribal tradition. A federal democracy with governors determined in local elections would build on its political tradition.

Afghanistan will not become a “Westminster democracy” any time soon. And nor should it. But no NATO country defines the mission’s goal as such. Our goal is not democratisation, but to create a functioning state that can defend itself against its enemies and gives its people – in accordance with their traditions – a stake and a say in matters of state. Democratic reform and stability in Afghanistan are indivisibly linked. It is impossible to create security and stability first and then, as if as an afterthought, start establishing democratic structures. Both need to happen simultaneously.

I will come on to David Miliband’s ideas on strengthening democratic structures shortly. But first, the final charge: that NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is open-ended and has not achieving anything.

4. What the mission in Afghanistan has achieved – and how and when we should exit

After eight years, the balance sheet is sobering, given the security challenges. Have we really made measurable progress towards an attainable goal? Or are we following a strategy that will chain us to a costly mission of indeterminable length?

NATO has pronounced a clear goal: Afghanistan must be enabled to defend itself against threats from inside and out – especially against infiltration again by international terrorism.

In achieving this goal, NATO follows a comprehensive approach: the interplay of security and development creates, in close co-operation with the Afghan partners themselves, the foundation for a stable, peaceful and prospering Afghanistan.

The security part of that strategy is the responsibility of NATO soldiers. They protect the Afghan people from those extremists who terrorise the country and seek to re-establish their radical Islamist regime. Civilian support and development of Afghan state structures cannot work if they don’t happen in a secure environment. So military force remains indispensable.

The Afghan insurgency is a broad but shallow coalition, which has shifting relationships, geographical bases and tactics. The Taliban trade on the uncertainties of the people and weaknesses of the state. Although widely despised, they still have organised cadres which enjoy some support, and are able to mount operations in Kabul and elsewhere. Having fled Afghanistan, al-Qaeda’s senior leadership are hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Many of its leaders have been killed or arrested. Yet al-Qaeda still retains the global capacity to plan and carry out deadly attacks.

Afghan forces are increasingly assuming responsibility for security. But they are not yet large and capable enough to secure their nation without Western support. In 2003, the Afghan National Army numbered 2,000.  Today it is 100,000 strong. It will grow a third by December and more in years to come. The Afghan Police now number 96,000. The London Conference in January set targets to increase the Afghan National Army to 171,000 and the Afghan Police to 134,000 by the end of 2011.

Plans are now being developed for the transfer of lead security responsibility to the Afghans – district by district and province by province – as key conditions are met, starting this year. And as the Afghan National Army gets stronger, international forces will withdraw from a combat role – although their support in training and mentoring their Afghan counterparts will need to continue for a number of years.

That brings us to the second component of the comprehensive approach: development. This is not the primary responsibility of the soldiers, although they create essential preconditions for sustained development aid.

The successes of development since 2001 are indisputable, and too seldom mentioned:

  • The Afghan and international strategy over the last eight years has been focused on building up key pillars of the state and delivering better lives for the Afghan people. There is a real record of achievement here, continuing today.

  • The return of five million refugees is perhaps the greatest sign of the growing Afghan confidence in their own safety and security. It is also an important indicator of our own progress in protecting the population.

  • The national economy has been growing, on average, by double digits each year; per capita income has more than doubled. Over $1.5 billion of direct investment has arrived. But the country still comes second to bottom in the UN’s Human Development Report.

  • In education, in 2001, one million Afghan children attended school, all of them boys. This year we expect to see seven million Afghan children in school – a third of them girls, who were banished from education under the Taliban.

  • More than 50,000 people are studying at the 19 universities in the country; more than 10,000 are learning about engineering and mechanics at professional schools.

  • In health, eight out of ten Afghans now have access to healthcare; and more than three million people have gained access to drinking water in the country-side alone.

  • More than 13,000 kilometres of roads have been built, or re-built; and four million people have gained access to electricity.

  • At the local level, 30,000 village councils have been elected by their peers. They have implemented 40,000 development projects, and are now forming district councils.  

Yet, many challenges remain, areas where it is much harder to talk of progress, where we are rightly stepping up our efforts and where the Afghan Government needs to do more.  

Justice and law and order are a critical battleground. The biggest problem is now quality, not quantity, in the Afghan Police, as the force suffers from drugs, illiteracy, patronage and corruption. The Afghan Government is, rightly, launching a robust programme of reform. But they also need, with our help, to build up the informal judicial structures for criminal and civil dispute resolution.

  • Civil administration: a big uphill struggle. In large parts of the country, the governors do not have an office; some receive only six dollars a month in expenses. To make things worse, poppy cultivation and drug-related crime continue to undermine the stability of state structures. Over the next two years, the international community has promised to help train 12,000 civil servants at the regional and local level.

  • Corruption. 95% of Afghans see corruption as a problem in their local area. President Karzai has promised to take steps to end the culture of impunity.  Donors are encouraging action by promising to channel more aid via the Afghan Government as tests are met.

The need for a political internal and external settlement

The argument advanced by David Miliband in a speech in the US last month is that now is the time for the Afghans to pursue a political settlement with as much vigour and energy as we are pursuing the military and civilian effort.

The political settlement, he argued, needs to be external as well as internal, involving all of Afghanistan’s neighbours, as well as those parts of the insurgency willing to sever ties with al-Qaeda, give up their armed struggle, and live within the Afghan constitutional framework. While violence of the most indiscriminate kind started this Afghan war, it will be politics that will bring it to an end, building on a concerted, sustained military and civilian effort.

Central to the success of any internal political settlement will be giving legitimate tribal, ethnic and other groups a voice in the political process, empowering the provincial and district governors and assemblies of elders, giving the legislature a real stake in the success of the enterprise, and making a more concerted effort to prevent corruption.

Equally important will be an external political settlement. No country’s politics can exist in a vacuum, least of all Afghanistan’s. For too long it has been a victim of outside interference.

In 1898, Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, called Afghanistan, “a piece on a chess-board upon which is being played out a game for domination of the world”.  The “Great Game” and the Cold War are history now.  But even today, Afghanistan is a theatre in which competing regional interests are being pursued.  Its tribal groups roam freely across its borders. Those who oppose the Afghan Government draw on external funding, support and shelter.

So there needs to be a big effort to reach out not just to disaffected Afghans, but also to the country’s neighbours and near neighbours, from Iran in the West to Pakistan in the East, the Central Asian Republics in the North, and the other regional powers of India, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Turkey.

Pakistan is essential here. It holds many of the keys to security and dialogue.  It clearly has to be a partner in finding solutions in Afghanistan.

The UK has particular reason to pay close attention to Pakistan. It is not only terrorist threats that trouble us. It is a country of about 170 million people and growing fast. Its security and economy have been damaged by decades of insecurity in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the source of 90% of the heroin in the UK; half of this, we estimate, is smuggled via Pakistan. And Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state. Its proper control of its weapons and nuclear material, and the prevention of proliferation to others, is vital to the security interests of all of us. Furthermore, Pakistan is perpetually worried about India’s relationship with Afghanistan.

There has, however, been a significant positive change in Pakistan in the last 18 months under President Zardari’s civilian Government.  The reality and threat of domestic terrorism has brought new purpose to Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership.  Although Pakistan fears the build-up of an Afghan National Army on its door-step, it is now realistic to talk of pressure on the insurgents being applied on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Moreover, there have been improvements in its relations with the US, which have been difficult for a generation. The US Government’s determination to pursue a new security, economic and political relationship presents important new opportunities for Pakistan.

If we are to recreate the regional consensus that existed after the September 11th attacks, there must be enough transparency to build confidence that every country’s legitimate interests will be respected, but that none will be privileged. Every country needs to accept that, just as there will be no settlement in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s involvement, so there will be no settlement unless China, India, Russia and Turkey are involved in the search for solutions.

China is Afghanistan’s largest foreign investor. India has pledged $1.2bn for reconstruction in Afghanistan – the same amount as the UK’s Department for International Development has spent. Flagship Indian projects have included the construction of dams, roads, power projects and the new Parliament building in Kabul. And Russia continues to support ISAF, sharing an interest in defeating the drug-traffickers (40,000 Russians die from drug abuse every year), as well as preventing a return of the Taliban and the risks of increased Islamist terrorism on its southern flank. These risks will appear all the more vivid in Russian minds after the horrendous suicide attacks in the Moscow Metro over the weekend.

And then there is Iran. There has been progress on counter-narcotics co-operation with Iran, too. But Iran has an unfortunate track record in trying to destabilise its neighbours. It will be important for Iran one day to acknowledge that the best way to promote the interests of Afghans who share its Shia faith will be to work to promote peace, not undermine it.

Central to the success of any political external settlement is that it must be regionally owned.

Turkey launched a welcome new drive with their Istanbul meeting in January. The London Conference later that month gave wider international approval. The Afghan Government now needs to take the lead on regional engagement, in partnership with the UN.  Only the region can decide how the multitude of existing regional bodies can best provide the basis for the sustained engagement that is needed.

Economics should be the great lubricant for better regional relations. Afghanistan can benefit all its neighbours if it becomes the land bridge of Central Asia, South Asia and the Gulf. Afghanistan has the potential to flourish in agriculture, too, if the programme of wheat seed distribution succeeds in turning farmers from poppy cultivation to legal production.

What about Central Asia, that oft-neglected region? My visits in 2004-08 to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will remain for ever etched in my memory. They are wonderful countries – albeit with significant governance challenges, in some cases. And they have huge natural resources.

The Silk Road through Central Asia was a crucial passage for trade for many centuries – for good reason.  There are common interests not just in trade and transport, but in managing and sharing water and electricity and harnessing economic growth for the benefit of the region.

The Central Asian states still tend to look at Afghanistan primarily through a lens of security: they genuinely wish to see ISAF succeed, mindful of the implications for their own stability, especially in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, of a return of the Taliban. Their potential to assist in post-conflict reconstruction is limited, at least in the short term. But in the longer term, large-scale energy export projects from Central Asia through to Pakistan might change this.

Arguably, Central Asia’s greatest contribution to stability in Afghanistan would come through the creation of a regional market among themselves, in which barriers to trade among the five states would be removed. Such a market, if it ever emerged, would offer a major pole of attraction for the economy of Northern Afghanistan, as part of its efforts to promote regional trade and eradicate poppy cultivation. But intra-regional rivalries among Central Asian states would need to be overcome first for this to become a reality.

To conclude, on the need for an external settlement, the geo-political challenges – including tensions between India and Pakistan, and the position of Iran – may seem daunting. Given their scale, it can feel as though Afghanistan may be fated to remain for ever the victim of a zero-sum scramble for power amongst hostile neighbours. The logic of this position is that Afghanistan will never achieve peace until the region’s most intractable problems are solved.

But there is an alternative, more promising way of looking it at. This is the one I prefer, and it is that Afghanistan holds so many possible dangers for the region, that it has the potential to become the place where more co-operative regional relations might one day be forged. This will require Afghanistan’s neighbours, and the key regional powers to coalesce around the following shared interests:

  • agreement that no country in the region will again allow Afghanistan to be dominated, or used as a strategic asset, by a neighbouring state;

  • consensus that the status quo in Afghanistan is damaging to all: crime, drugs, terrorists and refugees spill across its borders, when Afghanistan’s mineral wealth and agricultural potential ought instead to be feeding the region, to the benefit of all. All countries of the region have a strong interest in seeing the situation in Afghanistan change for the better.

Conclusion: how does Slovenia fit into this?

I said at the start that the British Government warmly welcomed Slovenia’s decision not only to stay on in Afghanistan, but to increase its troop numbers. I would like to finish with some personal reflections on Slovenia’s participation in Afghanistan.

Scepticism in many NATO countries in Europe, including Slovenia, towards the Afghanistan mission is understandable. Most NATO countries, like yours, have not been hit by a foreign terrorist attack on the scale of 11th September or the London bombings – mercifully. In your country, the reasons for being in Afghanistan – despite the best efforts of politicians, diplomats and others to explain them – remain more abstract than in mine. In Europe, few citizens feel threatened by international terrorism; and the idea of NATO alliance solidarity rests on a strategic logic that is less easily accessible to the public than to security experts.

In many ways, of course, this is a good thing. It is good that most countries have not had to endure a terrorist attack, and that most of our citizens do not have to strategise about NATO. This is a sign of the effectiveness of NATO’s security guarantee. But this warm feeling of security we have in our homes is the result of a responsible security policy, which in a democracy requires at least the acquiescence – if not the enthusiastic support – of its citizens.

In Europe in particular, the temptation of early withdrawal, and in some cases of isolationism, is growing. Many citizens take their secure way of life for granted. Many across Europe argue that their governments should withdraw from Afghanistan because this is a US war, and those who support the US risk becoming targets of international terrorism because of it. But for reasons I have argued, this is not simply a US war; and the politics of 2010, and the consequences of globalisation for economics and security, do not allow for such isolationism.

I spoke a moment ago about “that warm feeling of security we have in our homes”. As a foreigner in Slovenia, who read up on some Balkan history before coming here, I often remind myself that this warm feeling of security in your country is still relatively recent. Memories of insecurity are still fresh in the minds of so many Slovene people, after the traumatic events that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia, which claimed over 200,000 lives (mainly civilians), left half a million wounded and turned two million people into refugees. Slovenia’s war may only have lasted for 10 days before it gained its independence, but I am all too conscious that the Balkans war affected Slovenia too, in the form of 70,000 refugees, and loss of markets and property, with almost every family touched one way or another.

I mention this not because I want to re-open wounds that are healing well over time. I do so because I think it may be salutary occasionally to provide a gentle reminder, that loss of life and tragedy is not something that happens only to other countries – in your country’s case it came with war, in mine with terrorism, and both in their different ways are equally ghastly. Membership of NATO gives us a comforting sense of reassurance that if something terrible happened again in our country, there would be other countries that would help protect us.

This brings me to the risks of premature withdrawal. I fear for the consequences, if the pacifists in Europe who advocate immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan win the debate, and cause more NATO governments to go the way of the Dutch. If there were a domino effect, the results of a precipitate NATO withdrawal could be potentially horrific: the Taliban would brutally force themselves back into power; the advances that have been made in economic progress, political liberalisation and respect for human rights would be shattered; Islamist terrorism would regain a base for its operations, emboldening terrorists worldwide; and the whole region could be severely destabilised, including nuclear-armed Pakistan.

But I want to end on a more upbeat note. The next two years could be pivotal from the point of view of transferring lead security responsibility to the Afghans. The London Conference set ambitious targets for increasing the size of the Afghan Army and Police. Now we need to meet them. The more effectively we can do so, the more confidently we can progressively withdraw our military forces, while allowing the good work on the civilian and development fronts to continue, in security, for years to come. This makes it all the more important that NATO, which is at the heart of the ISAF operation, should have the tools to finish the job.

And when we reach this goal of transferring lead security responsibility, then those NATO allies, like Slovenia, that stay the course, will be able to hold their heads high, and claim with justification a proud record of achievement, in having contributed to the success of the biggest security challenge the world faces, while helping to reinforce the credibility of NATO as a collective security organisation. Even if your troop numbers remain commensurate with the capacities of your country, staying the course in Afghanistan would be the single most important thing Slovenia could do to enhance its reputation at a mature state, committed to its international responsibilities, with the experience and political will to contribute to future peace-enforcement or peace-keeping operations, whether under a UN or NATO umbrella – and this in turn would give your country an international weight disproportionate to its size.


Key points of a speech by HE Andrew Page, British Ambassador, 31 March 2010

  • In the UK, terrorism is the number one national security threat, and the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan are where the greatest dangers lie.

  • The UK Government salutes the decision of Slovenia to lead an OMLT in Afghanistan. Although a young state, Slovenia has embraced its international responsibilities.

  • After the September 11th attacks, the UN mission and NATO mission enjoyed widespread support, but this has eroded since as a result of a rise in Taliban and insurgent activity. NATO allies have reacted by increasing their troop levels, esp. US, UK and Germany.

  • Some answers to questions people all across Europe are asking: “Why is it in our interest to have our soldiers fighting in such a remote country? What legal justification is there? How can we succeed in a country where democratic stabilisation seems impossible? Why don’t we just withdraw?

  • Our mission in Afghanistan serves our interests in three ways: (i) it is the most important mission worldwide in the fight against terrorism, (ii) it helps to defend globalisation for the benefit of all liberal states, and (iii) a successful mission will strengthen NATO.

  • NATO’s clear goal is for Afghanistan to be enabled to defend itself against threats from inside and out, especially against terrorism. NATO’s comprehensive approach is achieving results, both on the security side (training Afghan Army and Police) and in development.

  • The need for a political and external settlement – ideas put forward by David Miliband. Economics should be the lubricant for better regional relations. Thoughts on the roles of Pakistan, China, India, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Central Asia. Afghanistan has the potential to become the place where more co-operative regional relations might be forged

  • Slovenia’s reasons for being in Afghanistan are different from the UK’s, which are based on terrorism. With memories of insecurity still fresh after the Balkans war, Slovenes know that loss of life and tragedy is not something that happens only to other countries.

  • 2010-11 will see transfer of lead security responsibility to the Afghans. When the goal is met, NATO allies like Slovenia that stay the course will be able to hold their heads high.

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