by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
IT’S NOT TOO SOON to start thinking about what approach the U.S. should take with two troubled parts of the world, Ukraine and Afghanistan, when we get a new President next January. A look at history and what was done regarding Belgium and Austria could provide the framework to guide our next Secretary of State.
Dealing with Afghanistan will be extremely difficult. A meaningful commitment of additional U.S. ground forces may be necessary for a period of time to prevent extremist forces from taking over the country.
But we shouldn’t overlook trying to achieve a more lasting solution: removing the country from the cockpit of power politics. India, China, Pakistan and Iran are among the countries bordering this benighted land.
Each backs factions in Afghanistan to promote its interests against its enemies. The goal should be to create a truly neutral Afghan state, in which interested powers agree to stay out and not compete for dominance. The model for this is Belgium, one of what are known in western Europe as Low Countries, countries whose lands are flat and an irresistible invasion route to would-be conquerors. Britain was particularly concerned about this real estate because it provided ideal shores from which to invade the Sceptred Isle.
In 1830 Catholic Belgium broke away from Protestant Holland. To make sure France (and then Germany) didn’t try to dominate this new state, British diplomats engineered a multination treaty guaranteeing Belgium’s neutrality and keeping it out of big-power competition. Everyone agreed: Hands off! The agreement stood for nearly three-quarters of a century. …
… The model for Ukraine is Austria. After World War II the victorious Allied powers–the U.S., the Soviet Union, Britain and France–divided Austria and its capital, Vienna, into four occupied zones, much like what had been done in Germany. But with the onset of the Cold War, Moscow didn’t want Austria to become an American ally, and the U.S. didn’t want Austria to become a Soviet satellite, as had happened to countries in eastern and central Europe. In 1955, for several reasons, Washington and Moscow came to an agreement: Austria would be removed from U.S.-Soviet competition. Diplomatically, it would be absolutely neutral.