EU Strategy for Afghanistan

Brussels faces a task to develop a new strategy for Afghanistan. A Fragmented or Complex?

“EU Strategy for Afghanistan,” Anna Gussarova

In the short term perspective, Brussels faces a task to develop a new strategy for Afghanistan and necessary agreements with Kabul. According to European mass media, the negotiation on the ten-year Agreement on Cooperation for Partnership and Development of the EU with the IRA is in the final stage. A discussion of the issue at the European Parliament is expected only by the end of this year. This autumn the NATO Summit in Budapest is to be held. It is expected that these activities will determine the participation of the European Union and its commitments to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

At this stage, the EU policy in the IRA is defined by the Strategy Paper for Afghanistan for 2007-2013. Often, however, helping the country is determined by the policies of the EU Member States contrary to the common foreign and security policy. The lack of European solidarity on keeping the troops in Afghanistan after 2014 reflects the remaining disagreements not only in the common foreign policy of the EU, but also in the framework of NATO and cooperation with the United States. Keeping or withdrawal of the troops of some European countries from Afghanistan can become a subject of external political bargaining with Washington.

EU Strategy for Afghanistan

While evaluating the effectiveness of the EU policy towards the IRA we must take into account that the strategy of the international coalition in Afghanistan is mainly formed by Washington. If at the beginning of the military operation in the IRA most European countries have supported and assisted the United States and NATO, at present, only Germany, Italy and the UK are willing to take on additional costs for the continued presence in Afghanistan, while the others, including France, Denmark, Spain, are withdrawing their troops. A smaller number of European countries stay in solidarity with the American strategy in the IRA.

Taking into account this fact, the implementation of the EU Strategy for the IRA can be summarized as follows:

– safety. Safety issues largely remain the prerogative of the United States. However, at this stage, 21.6 thousand contingent from 26 the EU Member States present in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission. The European Union continues to implement the common coalition strategy, focusing on the education and training of the Afghan police and reforms in the security sector through the EU Police Mission (EUPOL).

As of August 1 of the current year, a number of the Afghan National Army has twice exceeded the coalition forces. [1] However, the combat capability of the military forces of the IRA continues to be low. About 70% of police officers are illiterate, 20% of them are drug users, over 30% disappear within a year and about a thousand die each year in the service. [2]

In parallel with the European mission, police training in Afghanistan is being held by American private instructors, whose activities remain unclear for the power structures of the EU and the US. European Parliament pays special attention to this circumstance, but the question of the settlement of this conflict is still not resolved. Uncoordinated actions of allies continue to lead to the growth of corruption in the country at all levels, which negative impact on the measures has taken in the field of security. Obviously, the lack of technical agreements and arrangements between the EU and NATO missions negates efforts to create effective army and police in the IRA;

– drug trafficking. Currently, 90% of Europe’s heroin are of Afghan origin, that is why the EU is taking active measures confronting illegal drug trafficking. It should be noted that from 2001 to 2009 the United States and its coalition allies have contributed more than $2 billion on anti-drug measures in the IRA, however, experience has shown that the area under opium poppy cultivation and heroin production in Afghanistan has increased a hundredfold.

Considering the ineffectiveness of the measures taken, as well as the discordances with the United States regarding the methods of confronting the narcotics industry, Brussels is intensifying its cooperation with Russia. The interaction is conducted within the framework of the UNODC “Rainbow” strategy, as well as the Russian plan “Rainbow-2”, which involve the eradication of poppy crops in the IRA through the creation of new businesses and working places.

However, the EU investments in agriculture of Afghanistan, aimed to transition to a viable alternative farms, remain insolvent due to the permanently continued increase in poppy cultivation acreage. Since 2002, Europeans have attempted cultivation of crops alternative to poppy. Currently, in the EU policy in the field of confronting the drug industry in the IRA we may observe a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, it is obvious that the cultivation of crops (rice, wheat) has not been supported by Afghan farmers, because the income from growing them is in 38 times lower than the cultivation of poppy.

On the other hand, the program Food Zone, implemented by Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK in 2009, has launched a saffron cultivation in Afghanistan in Herat province, and later in 20 more provinces of the country. It is well known that the price of a kilogram of saffron is 8-10 times higher than the cost of a kilogram of raw opium. It is significant that in the past year in 23 provinces saffron was grown on 650 hectares of land, and in the current year Afghanistan exported more than 4 tons of spices to Europe and the U.S. for 5-6 thousand dollars per kg. In June of this year Afghan saffron won the first place in the competition of the International Taste and Quality Institute in Brussels. However, the trend in the development of saffron tends to be extremely unstable.

The EU multi-million programs for cultivation of the crops alternative to a poppy have failed due to the following factors:

– corruption at all levels of government;

– the lack of agricultural infrastructure;

– poverty and the desire to make big profits from a small area;

– unwillingness of narco-dealers to reduce the scale of super profit from the sale of opiates;

– the lack of mechanisms to create markets for Afghan agricultural products, in particular for the saffron. The EU strategy in this area does not consider the current state of the international market of labor division, in which India and Iran control the world market of saffron.

At this stage, Brussels is considering the possibility of forwarding 10% of its annual aid to the IRA during five years to reduction of the drug production, and also promotes activation of the economic cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan under the Agreement on Trade and Transit on growing pomegranates;

– socio-economic development. According to the resolution of the European Parliament [3], the fight against corruption, the damage from which makes up about a quarter of the country’s GDP, should be the cornerstone of the country’s reconstruction. The distribution of European aid through multilateral trust funds with the high efficiency became one of these measures, which allowed significantly reduce the financial losses. In addition, under the auspices of the Council of Europe and the European Commission, a creation of a joint group has been planned for the appraisal of the impact of the measures taken. However, the lack of transparency and coordination mechanisms between the countries and international donors in the process of providing a financial assistance to Afghanistan substantially reduces the effectiveness of the efforts. A long period of time, the financial assistance has been provided to Afghanistan via international organizations, development banks, NGOs, and international contractors, but not through the national budget, and in accordance with the request of the government.

Apart from the provision of humanitarian assistance in the field of food security, health and education, in the long term perspective, an involvement of European Businesses in the mining development in the IRA, which reserves are estimated at $3 trillion, can be an integral part of the reconstruction of the country. German and British companies are already actively working in this direction, and they should enter Afghan market by the beginning of 2014. However, the lack of infrastructure, high levels of corruption, security problems and low investment climate associated with them, seriously hamper the implementation of the tasks on the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Instead of in conclusion

The EU’s role in Afghanistan post-2014 will be determined by commitments which Brussels will take over in Afghan reconstruction. At this stage there are uncertainties that will influence the degree of participation of the EU in Afghanistan post-2014, among which the following to be highlighted:

– the global financial crisis and its consequences, which led to a drop in revenues, an increase in unemployment, poverty and massive budget cuts in the social sphere of the EU, as well as forecasts for the deepening of the crisis;

– Syrian issue and its prospects, which may more closely involve the European countries in the resolution of the situation in the Middle East;

– presidential elections in Afghanistan, the results of which will influence the level of interest of the EU in stabilizing the situation in the IRA after 2014 and regional affairs.


Considering the uncertainties indicated above, the prospects of the EU strategy for Afghanistan are advisable to be reduced to the two scenarios:

A) The fragmented. This option assumes the EU contribution to the new NATO mission to train the ANA, as it is expected that the U.S. forces are to mainly focus on counter-terrorism measures. At the same time, the EU policy in Afghanistan will focus mainly on working with the civil sector. It is worth noting that the EU has noted an increase in social unrest associated with costly military operations abroad along with the slow pace of economic recovery after the global financial crisis. In addition, there are predictions of a new round of global crisis. It is obvious that the priority in financial assistance of Brussels will be obtained by intraregional issues rather than operations abroad. The EU will seek the measures to optimize its approach to assisting Afghanistan, in particular through the creation of a group to assess the measures taken in the IRA.

In the frameworks of this logic, the strategy of the EU in the IRA will focus on strengthening the anti-corruption component, because without effective measures in this direction the international efforts and provision of humanitarian aid to the country will be in jeopardy. In Afghanistan, the traditional European methods in the fight against corruption within the legal framework do not work. Brussels does not concentrate on the fight against corruption in the IRA, but on the European financial resources intended to assist the Afghan government and people reaching their destinations. The European Union produces a new mechanism for solving the problem, assuming a point support of the Afghan population. It has been shown by the Resolution of the European Parliament, which stresses that the fight against corruption should be the core of the peace process in the IRA.

Another element of this approach may be assistance in the conduction of the presidential elections in Afghanistan on April 5, 2014. The nature of the EU policy in the IRA will largely depend on changes of the political situation in the country. The level of the EU interference will also depend on the solidarity within the transatlantic partnership;

B) Complex. An increasing of financial assistance, an objection for untimely withdrawal in order to provide security before the Afghan presidential elections, as well as an enhancing of the regional cooperation are the central elements of this approach. It is expected that the military contingent in the 8-12 thousand people will remain in the IRA after 2014 [4], however, it is not possible to verify the information, since, according to performance of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, all moments, including issues with the U.S. military bases will be discussed in December this year

The EU contribution to the security will be prolongation of an existing or creation of a new police mission to combat the problems of lack of staff, resources and coordination. It is known that the EU has extended the police mission in Afghanistan until December 31, 2014 with an additional budget of €108 million [5], however the future of the mandate after 2014 remains uncertain.

Brussels’ diplomatic efforts aimed at supporting government agencies, legitimate parties and NGOs will become an addition to this strategy, as well as the formation of civil society, democratization and human rights, that in the future will significantly reduce the level of widespread corruption in the country.

Obviously, Afghanistan will long be in need of the world community’s support. In this regard, the main component of the EU strategy will be active involving in the mechanism of multilateral economic rehabilitation of the IRA under the “Heart of Asia” project. This is evidenced by the speech of the Head of the EU Delegation to Kazakhstan A. Bouchez, the EU Special Representative for Central Asia Pierre Flor and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.

Meanwhile, the most likely variant of the new EU strategy for Afghanistan will be a combination of components from the two scenarios mentioned above. While shifting the foreign policy priorities of official Washington from Central and South Asia into the Asia-Pacific region, Brussels is able to strengthen its geopolitical influence in the region.

At this stage, the prospects for the EU strategy in the IRA remain uncertain, however, as well as the European vision of the role of Central Asia in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan. It is obvious that cooperation on this issue will continue in the framework of regular high-level dialogue the EU – Central Asia on security issues, the Istanbul process, international conferences on Afghanistan and bilateral cooperation. Activating or passivisation of European Union policy in the region will depend on overcoming the differences at national and supranational levels of the EU, as well as within NATO.

The slow pace of economic growth after the crisis, the decline in military spending and a lack of unity of positions on the issue of a common EU foreign policy strategy could potentially lead to a significant reduction in the EU role in the IRA. Brussels will be forced to concentrate on the development of common approaches, aimed to increase efficiency of cooperation on the key issues. In the autumn of this year the Council of Europe will held a hearing regarding the vision of the role of the EU in the Afghan reconstruction, the result of which would be development of a new strategy for the IRA. However, there is a possibility that the final adoption of the new document is not held before the presidential elections in Afghanistan.



2. European Parliament resolution “About a New Strategy for Afghanistan” //

3. European Parliament resolution on the negotiations on an EU-Afghanistan cooperation agreement on partnership and development (2013/2665(RSP)) //

4. Brattberg E. Europe, Afghanistan and the Transatlantic Relationship after 2014. SIPRI, May 2013 //


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