Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 23:55 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 23:55 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan a sideshow for powers


Hugh White

1 March 2010 07:27

Michael's post about the importance of great power politics in Afghanistan for wider stability is compelling, and I pay him the sincerest of compliments for his lovely phrase, 'the fog of proxy war'.

But I'm still not persuaded that Afghanistan is important to the management of major-power strategic competition. His argument works perfectly for the premise on which it is based:

Great power competition in the twenty-first century will be different because of the depth and extent of the dependence of national economies on the global economy.

But my view of the matter is based on the fear that this may prove to be wrong. Michael's premise embodies a prediction that the global economy will keep working much as it does today, which in turn assumes that strategic competition between major powers over coming decades will be kept within limits which ensure that it does not disturb the free, open international order that evolved in the late 20th century.

I think there is a serious risk that it will become much more intense than that; intense enough to disrupt the current global order and reverse the globalisation of the last few decades. That would be much worse for everyone, including Australia, than the genteel strategic competition Michael envisages. 

Managing Afghanistan would be a priority in Michael's benign world, but it is a sideshow in addressing the deeper risks I am talking about. The main source of those larger risks is the inability of the current order to accommodate China's growing power, and the reluctance of others, especially the US, to make the changes needed to fix that. 

One might ask whether we can't manage both risks. I fear that at present we are not managing either.

Photo by Flickr user ajburgess, used under a Creative Commons license.