Canada's obligation to Afghanistan

by Hugh Segal

The Kingston Whig
August 24, 2017

One of the challenges facing modern policing is what to do about high-crime neighbourhoods. The honest and law-abiding folks in the neighbourhood deserve the protection of regular police presence. Continued crime in the area, even casualties for the police themselves in the performance of their duties are no rationale to withdraw.

The United States has had 28,000 troops in the Korean peninsula on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone — and for good reason. Their presence has allowed a democratic South Korea to grow, flourish and build a productive and modern democracy, one of the main economic powers in the world.

Afghanistan is a difficult neighbourhood. Terrorist groups, often armed (irony of ironies, by the Russians, in the case of the Taliban), seek the destabilization and end of the democratic government, however imperfect in Kabul. Some warlords continue their operations with impunity. Since the main combat period ended, economic growth, children in school, health service access, even cellphone use, has grown admirably.

Bordering countries like Pakistan have often managed internal pressures by looking the other way when Pakistani territory is used by terrorist groups for deployments into Afghanistan. Iran’s record is in no way seriously better. In fact, their sponsorship of an Iranian Taliban is public record. Withdrawal, or maintenance of a diminished presence status quo is simply license for the forces of darkness. Russian President Vladimir Putin will use any geographic target to weaken stability and hurt the liberal-democratic western approach to global economic and social development. While China’s perspective is more about the Asian-Pacific region, and is more about staying dominant in that region than destabilizing others, it cannot be counted upon in this fight. Non-democracies are always comfortable when the democratic world view is under siege anywhere in the world.

A multinational renewed and energized presence in Afghanistan is both called for and necessary. Canada, India, Japan, South Korea, NATO-Europe should all engage and plan to deploy.

Whatever else is on this fall’s parliamentary schedule, a fulsome debate in Parliament and a firm government proposal for that debate is necessary.

Key foreign policy principles are at stake here.

Prime ministers from Louis St. Laurent through to Justin Trudeau have spoken eloquently about Canada’s global obligations. Mr. Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have spoken about Canada being back in the world, and the mix of soft and hard power required to do our part.

The recommitted U.S. stance on Afghanistan is important. Canada has the experience and capacity to do its share with both combat and diplomatic forces.

As we all learned on 9/11, looking away does not make a growing threat disappear.

Hugh Segal is Master of Massey College,a Distinguished Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and the Queen’s School of Policy Studies, He is a former chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Image credits: Rahmat Gul/The Associated Press

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  • commented 2017-08-27 20:43:31 -0400
    Canada has no obligation to Afghanistan. We’ve spent far too much already to support a corrupt government from rebels who pose no threat to us. Not only don’t we have an obligation to waste more dollars in Afghanistan but as a matter of course we should spend scarce resources on things which will make us stronger not weaker. Another Quixotic mission to Afghanistan would simply pile up national debt, wear out more military gear and have us on the hook for decades of extra veterans cost.

    If 15 years of tens of billions in aid, upwards of a million NATO troops having cycled through the region and at least $ 1 trillion spent why would Segal expect a different outcome this time? Have the Afghans become less fractious? More trainable? More patriotic? What’s changed? Donald Trump’s declaration that victory is the aim? Stirring stuff but what else was he to say? “We’re losing and we need to achieve a stalemate with goat herds”?

    Of course my opinion won’t find much favour in Ottawa. There’s a lot to be said for the chance to get a command or senior staff job in Afghanistan and a lot of junior soldiers are tired about hearing “how it was in the Stan”. The people who’ll make money off the war or get invitations to conferences in Rome or Paris will of course be all for it but it should be remembered that from the Canadian point of view military adventures are about personal and institutional ambitions not security or strategy. Cui bono?
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