Bled – The need to draw lucid lessons from Afghanistan was emphasised at a Bled Strategic Forum panel on European defence on Thursday, but the panellists said these lessons should draw not just on the last few weeks in Afghanistan, they should be informed by the broader geopolitical situation.
Mircea Geoana, deputy secretary general of NATO, said the organisation was “very committed to have a honest, humble, lucid and transparent lessons-learnt process”, noting that Afghanistan was merely a “turbo-charger” in an already very complex world.
He said that Afghanistan was a backdrop of the adaptation of NATO, the EU and the political west in general, a process that has to recognise the world was in the midst of great-power competition.
“This is a very complex conversation,” he said, adding that “we have such a complexity of challenges and drivers of insecurity as never before”.
French Defence Minister Florence Parly noted that Afghanistan was not a wake-up call, it was merely a milestone in the process of Europe getting more autonomous regarding defence and security.
She noted that the US had long been clear that Europe should share the burden and take care of its own security. “Afghanistan should put stronger pressure on Europeans and speed the process of getting a more effective European defence.”
In a similar vein, Portuguese Defence Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho said it was necessary to look not just at the recent weeks but the whole twenty years of the Afghanistan mission.
He said when European countries first joined the mission, they did so out of solidarity. “But does it make sense to stay there for 20 years? … Strategic relevance changed and we were not paying attention.”
Slovenian Defence Minister Matej Tonin said there were three main lessons to learn from Afghanistan: that peacekeeping missions require long-term presence and 20 years is a short period, that Europe’s capabilities were not up to standard, and that the EU needs an effective mechanism for deployment.
These were also issues discussed at today’s informal meeting of EU defence ministers in Brdo pri Kranju.
Tonin also countered the notion expressed by an audience member that Europe was entering an isolationist mode, noting that the discussions showed the opposite was true.
The current debates are about how to help nations that share European values, how to be even more active in the Sahel, what to do with Ukraine. “I see many signs that we are driving in a totally opposite direction” from isolationism, he said.
Touching on the ministerial, Minister Cravinhos said Afghanistan had served as a “convergence call” in the sense that there was very strong convergence of opinions by the EU ministers.
“There is nothing better than this cold shower to help focus our minds,” he said, adding that the next moths of discussions will crystallise the notion of European defence.
Asked whether a new Yalta was needed in the current global circumstances, the ministers said today’s situation was much more complicated.
Minister Tonin said at the time the three leaders were willing to talk, but in current situation he had the feeling that Russia and China did not speak a common language with the EU.
Minister Parly noted that it took two for dialogue, while Minister Cravinho said the complexity of the circumstances did not allow for that.