The Outlook is Grim for the People of Afghanistan


On what authority do I state this? I have one specific source and one general source.

The specific source is a day-long seminar held December 1 at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI) on the campus of The Royal Institute of Technology entitled Afghanistan After 2014, which I attended.

The general source is the recent and current news of the world which has focused, again, more sharply on Afghanistan because of The announcement by President Obama that the US and NATO military forces will exit Afghanistan by the end of 2014; and, the convening of the Second Bonn Conference on Afghanistan held on 5 December 2011, ten years after the First Bonn Conference. In addition, there have been violent episodes within and without Afghanistan (in Pakistan near its border with Afghanistan), even as I compose this article, that bode ill for a strong and peaceful Afghanistan while the foreign troops leave over the next two years.

I have a small authority having worked for thirty days in 2005 as a volunteer consultant in Afghanistan, in the provinces of Kunduz and Wardak. You can see images and some narrative from this visit here.

I will offer links to current news and other sources of information after I present this summary of the seminar.

Seminar Summary, Four Sessions
(Note: remarks attributed to the participants are transcriptions from my hand-written notes; any errors of fact and interpretation are mine).

Twelve experts and scholars provided a comprehensive look at the history, current issues and possible outcomes for Afghanistan and the region around it. I will identify the participants during the course of this article. The sponsoring agencies for the seminar were:

FOI (Swedish Defence Research Agency)
SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute)
UI (Swedish Institute of International Affairs)

First Session: Reconciliation and Peace—a Possibility?

Masood Aziz, former Afghan Diplomat in Washington, D.C. began the formal presentations.

Ten years have passed since the first Bonn Conference in 2001. The news is generally bad in evaluating these years in Afghanistan. There has been some progress, but the outlook is bleak. Mr. Aziz is pessimistic because the Afghan government is weak, corruption is rampant, and the international community is losing interest.

There is a state of crisis, currently. The Afghan government may collapse after NATO/ISAF troops leave by the end of 2014. The Current USA conversation with the Taliban is going nowhere. NATO lacks a credible plan for transition for after 2014.

With a weak central government, and its possible collapse, the strongest remaining institution will be the Afghan army. (Here Mr. Aziz was not explicit, but it was clear that the prospect of a military dictatorship, or of the military playing a dominant role such as in Pakistan, was on his mind).

Counter-insurgency has been the main purpose of NATO and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force of NATO), not nation-building.

What to do?


  • Redouble efforts to support and establish the legitimacy of the national government in the eyes of the Afghan people. If this confidence cannot be engendered, then collapse of the government is inevitable, with attendant violence between ethnicities and factions.
  • Need to buttress the rule of law, versus the rule of men.
  • Afghan security forces need to be at the service of the state.

From Wall Street Journal (


Development of Afghanistan’s mineral resources may be the game changer, e.g., the Chinese-run copper mine and the Indian-run iron ore mine. However, the danger of the “resource curse” may be a down-side. A major portion of the state income from the development of natural resources should be directed as cash transfers to the people, as is done in other resource-rich countries such as Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Bolivia and Mongolia.

Mr. Aziz ended his prepared remarks thus:

The last ten years of NATO operations in Afghanistan have focused on strategic issues, mostly security. Since 2001 there has been a massive inflow of unconditional money from governments and NGOs causing the state to be dependent on these gifts. This is state-building from the outside, not from the inside and from the ground up via the people. Much of this money and other resources have flowed to former warlords.

Cash grants to the people from the income of natural resource development will force the government to rely on the people through the taxation of their income. This will also give new life and purpose to the National Solidarity Program and strengthen the governments and capabilities of the 34 provinces. Local communities will be empowered to take care of their own security and infrastructure projects. Not all security and infrastructure development need be performed by the national government.

Eva Johansson is head of the Afghanistan Section at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Here are some of her points.

Children are the most often forgotten in the issues addressed. Additionally, SIDA is interested in helping women to participate in the formation of the country. Sweden, through SIDA, has increased its support of these issues to become the second largest donor. The emphasis on security and counter-insurgency has put the issues of women and children in lower priority, despite efforts of SIDA and UNICEF. SIDA continues to be concerned about the condition of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

In the Bazaar, Kunduz, June 2005

Peter Brune, Secretary General of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA/SAK). The Swedish Committee has 6300 people in 12 of the 34 provinces. SCA/SAK have been on the ground in Afghanistan since 1982, providing education and other developmental services to people in the villages (not in the capital, Kabul).

In responding to Mr. Aziz’s comments Mr. Brune said it was a “tough call” to say we’ve failed. Mr. Brune introduced the discussion point that ten years is not enough time. This point was taken up and further developed by other speakers who followed.

Mr. Brune made these other points:

  • There needs to be a link between development and education.
  • It’s important not to be “diplomatic” in assessing and addressing the problems. We need to examine and learn from failures.
  • The state hasn’t failed yet. Girls are going to school; the army is being built, etc.
  • Others should do more of what the Swedish Committee is doing. [Link to a Power Point Presentation showing some of what the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan is doing]
  • SCA/SAK has zero tolerance for weapons in schools. It’s important to separate the military from education and other efforts at the grass roots.
  • We (NATO/ISAF, the Afghan government) are scrambling to build an army. Meanwhile the Afghan and Pakistan armies are facing each other on their common border.
  • There will be consequences in building a strong army in a weak state (thus buttressing Mr. Aziz’s argument).
  • What are the other institutions we can look to? The constitution, the executive and the parliament, none of which existed before the current government was established. [Note: he didn’t mention the judiciary, which is generally seen as corrupt and ineffective at the state level, although not necessarily at the local level).
  • Important people and entities are not talking with each other. For example, the Supreme Commander of NATO forces and SIDA have never met.
  • Real security is to strengthen the state.

Second Session: Reconciliation and Peace—a Possibility?

Robert Lamb is Director and Senior Fellow at Program on Crisis, Conflict and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington D.C.

There have been talks about peace talks, but no peace talks. After the Taliban fell many soldiers and commanders went home without veterans’ benefits. Foes of the Taliban included the Northern Alliance, led primarily by warlords, some of whom are still in place.

In the 2001 Bonn Conference the Taliban were excluded and, since they had no part in the deliberations they have no stake in peace. Therefore, they went to Pakistan and became “insurgents”. The talks about peace talks continue, to date. Pakistan now demands to be part of the conversation.

Bad things began happening in 2010. An imposter apparently representing the Taliban conned the government of Afghanistan out of a lot of money, and created extreme embarrassment for all connected parties. In September of this year the chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was been killed by a suicide attacker. He was meeting members of the Taliban at the time in an effort to negotiate toward peace talks.

It’s not clear what we can do to prevent civil war in Afghanistan. Former warlords, some of whom are now regional governors, are hoarding money and weapons.

We need to prevent the collapse of the Afghan state. (Non-military) development is important, “big time”, but will do no good if the government collapses. We need to keep the potential combatants (in a civil war) co-opted in the Afghan Government. This means tolerating “some very bad guys”.


Helene Lackenbauer is an FOI analyst and former political aide to the Swedish Force Commander in Afghanistan.

There are very few possibilities leading toward peace. Who are the actors and what do we provide them? What are our prices for peace? Are we prepared to sell out women’s rights? What do we intend for the Taliban?

Mr. Brune responded: Afghanistan is at war. There are police, weapons, explosives and insurgents. The Taliban is not defined in any way. There can’t be a universal strategy; we have to address each group’s needs and grievances. Peace can be based on justice; all their rights have to be recognized and supported (implying the need for a strong and professional, not corrupt, national judiciary).

Robert Lamb “lifts the gloom”

  • Eleven years ago Afghanistan was a medieval theocracy. How long does it take to for such a state to become a representative democracy?
  • There is a civil service, although it is constantly raided for employees to the better paid NGOs and other private organizations.
  • Free speech exists, even if it may be dangerous.
  • There are radios and telephones.
  • Most areas are less violent than Northern Mexico.
  • Ten years is nothing in the history of nation building. Transitioning from Warlord rule to the rule of law doesn’t happen quickly or easily. Afghanistan is still in the warlord phase and will be for a long time.
  • Seventy-five percent of Afghans think the government is doing a good job, although the jirgas have more effect at the local level. If the state isn’t there, they figure things out (at the local level).

[Here I am not sure whether Robert Lamb continues, or whether Peter Brune and perhaps others are responding]

    • The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan has one-half million girls in school.
    • Students have TV and radios.
    • Rural areas are more negative on the future and are concerned about the return of the warlords.
    • Afghanistan is ethnically divided and is waiting for the next war. If the Taliban returns, they will bring Taliban rules. (Taliban are fundamentalist Sunni Muslims mostly from the Pashtun tribe).

(Note: Languages are Dari (official) 50%, Pashto (official) 35%, Turkic languages 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%;  Ethnic groups are Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%. Religions are Sunni Muslim 80%, Shia Muslim 19%, other 1%.

  • (Upon the likely collapse of the national government) a new Northern Alliance will emerge to oppose the Taliban.
  • The concerns of the people are: civil war, political collapse, financial crisis, jobs disappearing. The current president Hamid Karzai will not be running to succeed himself in the next election—who will rule? If the election collapses, who will emerge, and how?
  • Governors are more powerful than the national government in the eyes of the people. When the Soviets left there was chaos. Will there be the same again? After the Soviets left it was worse than with the Soviets.
  • People in Kabul are more positive. Children are always more positive (Note: the median age is 18 years: source).

Ann Wilkens, former Swedish ambassador to Pakistan and former Chairman of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, emphasized the point that there is not a unified Taliban group in Afghanistan. There are splinter groups, some interested in insurgency, some in drug traffic and some with other aims, for instance relating to religious practice.

Masood Aziz augmented this observation by noting there is a spectrum of different groups and there is a problem in assessing the association of any of them with Al Qaeda, which is of non-afghan origin led by non-Afghans. In addition, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the past and present leader of the Afghan Taliban, has been hiding out in Pakistan, even when he was head of state during the time when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

Middle East expert at UI Magnus Norell raised the question of the current objective of the Taliban. He suggested they want influence in the current processes addressing the future of Afghanistan. Ann Wilkens asserted that the institution of Sharia law is their objective. Norell said that these were not mutually exclusive.

Masood Aziz said this is not a valid question because there is no unified Taliban. He further noted that strict Sharia law alienated Afghans during their Taliban rule. Afghans felt an alien force took over their state. Mullah Omar, who has no stated or known religious education or lineage, alienated Afghan tribal leaders during his rule.

Kabul, June 2005

Third Session: Counter-insurgency


  • “All the bad stuff” is located in Pakistan: the Quetta Shura Taliban and the Haqqani Network, for instance.
  • The tribal and other leaders in Afghanistan have a common enemy in the various Taliban entities, but have no common strategy.
  • The stated US objective is to disrupt and destroy Al Qaeda. Is it working, or should the US change its objective? President Obama has shifted the focus to counter-insurgency.

Stefan Olsson of the FOI stated the problem with counter-insurgency is that it will take ten years to wipe out the insurgents. There is too little time for this (by the end of 2014) and it won’t work.

Harsh Pantof King’s College, London, said the current tension between the US and Pakistan over insurgents in Pakistan will come to a head as a result of a vicious cycle.

Masood Aziz said that the US military has ever-changing nomenclature for what it is they are doing. “Stability” is now in vogue. Previously it was “Clear/Hold/Build/Transfer”. Before that it was “Fight/Talk/Build”.

Military officers are talking to village elders about democracy; they aren’t experts in this. The US military is trying to embed itself in the culture and change it from the inside. It won’t work.

Stefan Olsson said “counter-insurgency is not nation-building”.

We have to realize our limitations in using only the military to bring “stability”.

Question posed to the panel: Will Afghan security forces be able to fill the vacuum left by the NATO/ISAF departure?

One response: The Afghan people would like the troops to leave, but “not too quickly”.

Stefan Olsson: The Swedish government doesn’t know what the end state should be, or when.  The USA seems to want to fight the insurgents to the negotiating table.

In the Afghan security forces the Army officers are from the former Northern Alliance; that is, they are not of the Pashtun tribe as is the majority of the government officers. The Army may not feel itself subservient to a weak national government.

Other responses:

In that the USA/NATO have announced a time certain by which their troops will leave, the Taliban is in a position to wait to intensify their incursions.

The USA needs to stay after 2014, in some fashion, to deal with other countries such as Iran and Pakistan.

Neither the USA nor NATO has a strategy for filling the vacuum created by their departure.

Question from the audience: Can and will India be a force for good in Afghanistan?

Masood Aziz: Pakistan seems to want the opposite of what everybody else wants in Afghanistan. India, which is right next door, is the world’s largest democracy. In contrast, the military dominates Pakistan, but is not all-powerful because of the influence of organized groups such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which wants to oust the US-backed Pakistani government.

In response to another question regarding the possible role of the EU, Mr. Masood said that the EU has the talent and moral foundation to help build infrastructure for Afghanistan. As an example of “moral force” he recited a story of how a US Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s left an indelible impression on a now elderly man in a remote village.

Chief Engineer, local construction engineer, and driver — employees of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, 2005

Fourth and Final Session: Geopolitics and the Regional Dynamics

Context: There has been a change in the global balance of power from West to East, in operational terms. The center of world politics has been Europe, but now is moving toward Asia/China.

Harsh Pantof King’s College, London opened the session.

American priorities are changing: Afghanistan is not as important as before, as China emerges as a priority.

Global priorities are going to be influenced/centered in Asia/Pacific.

Pakistan now realizes that it is not the most important ally the USA has in its region. The USA sees India as its most important ally vis-à-vis China, and Islamabad (Pakistan’s capital) is worried. Pakistan has to hedge its bets; it needs a friendly Kabul (Capital of Afghanistan) so as not to be flanked by enemies—India to the east and Afghanistan to the west.

Pakistan’s self-identity seems to have been that it is not India. The Pakistan military has never won a war, but the Pakistan army points the people of Pakistan to India for its raison d’être as an army. Pakistan has tried to marginalize India in insisting they not be included in Afghan talks. Washington finally realized that Pakistan was playing a double game.

India realized this marginalization and now has decided to invest in Afghanistan (refer to the previously mentioned iron ore mine in Hajigak). Additionally, India has been reaching toward Russia and Iran, both of which flank Afghanistan. India likes a western presence in Afghanistan, but Russia and Iran don’t—but India balances this somehow.

China is feeling encircled by the USA. They are reluctant to talk with the USA about Afghanistan and Pakistan. They don’t want to compromise their relationship with Pakistan.

Current events reveal a conflict between the USA and Pakistan, a symptom of the underlying problem of Pakistan’s feeling of isolation and loss of importance to the USA.

Neil J. Melvin, Director of the Armed Conflict and Conflict Management Programme at SIPRI, responded:

The USA is drawing closer to its Asia/pacific allies and courting new ones such as Burma. Therefore, Afghanistan will remain important to the USA in this context, but where does Afghanistan fit? We don’t know yet.

Russia is courting Afghanistan by encouraging it toward the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. (The six-nation SCO comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan attend its meetings as observers. Source).

Harsh Pant added that Pakistan’s uncertainty about the USA’s intentions makes it difficult for them to know how to act.

Former Swedish Ambassador to Pakistan Ann Wilkens stated that the sequencing of events is unfortunate for Pakistan. There are conflicting messages to and from all players in the region. What does the USA want? She noted that the Pakistan army was built by the USA.

Magnus Norell:  A report of the US Marines recommended forgetting nation building and to leave just a small counter-terrorism force in Afghanistan. It should be treated by the USA as a “marginal country”. We’re reading too much importance into it. You can’t solve Afghanistan unless you deal successfully with Pakistan. Let’s not look at Afghanistan as a regional issue. Keep it local.

From the moderator: From the perspective of Iran and Pakistan (which have long borders with Afghanistan) why is everyone waiting to see what the USA is going to do?  The USA doesn’t have the leverage for a regional solution.

Neil J. Melvin: it is a dilemma. Russia, Iran and others want the USA out, but no-one else has the strength to do anything constructive on a regional basis. Iran has around three million Afghan refugees and doesn’t like the Taliban. There needs to be trust building between nations in the region. China is interested in stability and doesn’t want attacks from terrorists, so it keeps a low profile. One of China’s important interests in stability is due to the question of whether to build an additional gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China through Afghanistan.

From the moderator: the world economy affects Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan and things are looking austere for these countries. How does this factor into the regional issues?

Answer from panel: if the world and local economy were better, it still wouldn’t solve Afghanistan’s problem which is one of governance.

Last question form the moderator: What should we do? What should we focus on?

Reponses from the panel:

  • The West should continue to support Afghanistan economically.
  • Donor nations need more humility in their approach to Afghanistan.
  • Get out and stay out, militarily.
  • Spend aid on education, etc.
  • Don’t pull out (the military) gradually.

The moderators were:

Nathalie Besèr is Advisor to the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI)

John Rydqvist is Head of the Asia Security Studies Program at FOI.


Links to information sources:

NATO in Afghanistan
Terrorism and Insurgency
Al‐Qaeda and Afghanistan in Strategic Context: Counterinsurgency versus Counterterrorism
The Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) and the Haqqani network pose the greatest threat to stability in Afghanistan
Quetta Shura Taliban
Haqqani Network
Mullah Mohammed Omar
Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP)
The pragmatic fanaticism of al Qaeda: an anatomy of extremism in Middle Eastern politics.
NATO/ISAF history and facts about its troops

Links to recent and current news affecting Afghanistan and the region

Afghan National Army prepares for life after NATO
‘West must see Afghan job through’, military chief says
Pakistani Taliban splintering into factions
Afghan Peace Effort Hits Wall
Attacks Point to New Afghan Conflict: Bombings of Shiite Worshippers in Two Cities Kill More Than 60 and Introduce Sectarian Strife Absent for a Decade
Kabul Promises Change, Gets Vow of Lasting Aid
A Counterinsurgency Success in Kandahar
Afghan opium production to expand after troops exit
Hornets’ nest: Why Pakistan may be America’s most dangerous ally
Pakistan Was Consulted Before Fatal Hit, U.S. Says; Deadly Border Strike Came After Forces Were Told Area Was Clear of Pakistani Troops, Officials Say
There Are No Moderate Taliban; the people of Afghanistan understand that accommodating the Taliban will result in fear and chaos.
India Wins Bid for ‘Jewel’ of Afghan Ore Deposits


Nuclear Arms in Europe: Who are the Adversaries?

This question arises from a comment made by Daryl G. Press, PhD at a seminar on “Nuclear Weapons and European Security—a good match?” in Stockholm, on 26 January this year.

Additionally, the seminar’s title raises the question of the potential enemy against which Europe remains armed, through NATO and therefore through the USA, with nuclear weapons. The Cold War is over. The quick answer is that the potential adversaries are found in East Asia and the Persian Gulf.

The full sentence uttered by Dr. Press that gives rise to this article’s title is, from my notes: “We need to be publicly frank about who really are the adversaries, otherwise our communications will lead toward hypocrisy.”

The sponsors of the seminar were the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI). The participants and their credentials are listed at the bottom.

Doomsday Clock

To frame the question more fully, here are essential facts gleaned from the seminar and the Internet:

  1. What kind of nuclear arms are there and what are their purposes?
  2. Which are the nations that have nuclear arms, and how many?
  3. What are factors affecting the continued development and maintenance of nuclear arms?

Strategic: weapons with the greatest range of delivery, with the ability to threaten the adversary’s command and control structure, even though they are based many thousands of miles away in friendly territory. Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are the primary delivery platforms for strategic nuclear weapons. The main purpose of strategic weapons is in the deterrence role, under the theory of mutually assured destruction.

Tactical, or “non-strategic”: battlefield weapons, used by a theater commander to offset a numerically superior force. They will be targeted based on rapidly changing local circumstances, not pre-targeted like a strategic weapon. However, even the smallest nuclear weapon is considered a “threshold decision” and is under the control of the highest national authorities, not local commanders. (Source)

Active non-deployed: spare and “responsive” warheads, i.e., those warheads that could be returned to the field quickly to increase the number of deployed warheads. All active warheads are filled with limited life components (e.g., tritium) and are maintained through regular surveillance schedules.

Inactive: warheads still intact but with their tritium removed; thus, it would take longer to return them to service upon a decision to do so.

Nations with Nuclear Arms and their Numbers

deployed warheads 2010

Note: “Deployed” include strategic and tactical warheads. “Other warheads” are active and inactive non-deployed warheads.

Although not discussed in the seminar, the seemingly clear distinction between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons is no longer clear:

It is estimated that there are about 2,500 weapons designated as ‘tactical’, of which Russia possesses over 2,000. The United States has fewer than 500, and deploys around 200 of these on the territory of five European countries in accordance with agreements between the United States and its NATO allies. To describe these as ‘tactical’ or ‘theatre’ nuclear weapons (TNW) is misleading outside the context of the Cold War, when over 10,000 were deployed. Though China, France, Israel, India and Pakistan also have short to intermediate range weapons in their arsenals, it is unlikely that these would be classified as ‘tactical’ and considered distinct from these countries’ longer range (strategic) nuclear arsenals. Nowadays it is understood that any crossing of the threshold to use nuclear weapons would have strategic consequences.
(Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy).

Nonetheless, at least two of the four panelists made this distinction due, I believe, to the fact that governments and the communication media still use the terms. There seems to be a lag time between the development of current realities and the ability of the diplomatic and other organizational machinery, and the media, to keep pace. Also, publicly discussing the reduction of the number of strategic warheads provides good political theater for politicians in Russia and the USA.

Using the questionable distinction, it seems that strategic weapons, holdovers in Russia and the USA from the Cold War, are less of a threat than the smaller (but extremely destructive in their potential), tactical weapons. To quote further from the Acronym Institute:

Tactical nuclear weapons are portable, vulnerable and readily usable. They are potentially destabilizing and create additional risks and insecurities, including possible acquisition and use by terrorists. The risk of terrorist acquisition should not be over-stated, and the bombs are protected by a variety of timers, switches, mechanical and electronic locks and procedural safeguards against any attempt to bring about an unauthorised nuclear explosion, but the possibility of detonating at least a radiological ‘dirty’ bomb cannot be discounted.

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev after signing the new START treaty

The latest START treaty deals only with strategic weapons, those held solely by Russia and the USA:

Under terms of the treaty, the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers will be reduced by half. The treaty limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, which is down nearly two-thirds from the original START treaty, as well as 30% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty… It will also limit the number of deployed and non-deployed inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to 800. Also, it will limit the number of deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to 700. The treaty allows for satellite and remote monitoring, as well as 18 on-site inspections per year to verify limits…The treaty places no limits on tactical systems… (Source). [Emphasis added by Pavellas].

NATO’s “tactical” nuclear bombs in Europe are all owned by the United States and are stored under the control of the US Air Force. So, a discussion about Europe’s security necessarily involves discussion of NATO and the USA, which it did during this seminar.

Although the tone of my article, so far, may be seen as toward the negative, the full discussion by the panel’s participants provided many nuggets which I duly offer here:

  • The new START Treaty is a positive development in that it will cause a reduction in nuclear warheads, will restore the idea of nuclear accountability and provides a legal framework for reduction.
  • For nations, it is quietly recognized that tactical nuclear weapons have no military value, but are used primarily for political purposes, e.g., in “signaling” other nations about capabilities and intentions. (This does not address the dangers of nuclear arms in the possession of non-nation entities, such as terrorist organizations).
  • The domino theory of nuclear arms proliferation (i.e., if country A gets them it will induce country B to get them) is contestable by the facts. For instance, North Korea has them, but South Korea doesn’t and says it won’t. But, of course, the USA has promised to defend South Korea.
  • Existing nuclear warheads need to be maintained to be operational, and this is a costly enterprise. The implication is that older warheads will not be maintained fully over time and that there will be a decline in their numbers and capability, everywhere. However, new warheads can be produced by those countries with the means in the “tactical” realm without violating treaties and other public promises.
  • Other perceived threats to humans seem more immediate and needful for attention that the funding of nuclear weapon development, such as: climate change, pandemics and secure national borders.
  • There is increasing transparency (i.e., visibility) of those activities that threaten national and world stability. This transparency aids the work of civil, i.e., non-governmental, advocacy organizations such as IKFF, university research departments and private think tanks, some of  which were represented at this seminar (see below). Timely and publicly available oversight by such organizations can lead to more timely responses to threats to peace and freedom. (I refer the reader to my article Civil Society Must Succeed Where Governments Have Failed)

Seminar Speakers

Pavel Podvig: affiliate and former research associate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

Daryl G. Press: Associate Professor of Government, Dartmouth University.

Fredrik Westerlund: Security policy analyst, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI).

Petra Tötterman Andorff: Secretary General, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Sweden (IKFF).

Suggested Resources

Nuclear arms control and non-proliferation: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Strategic Outlook 2010Swedish Defence Research Agency (PDF)

Center for International Security and Cooperation: Publications on Nuclear Proliferation Issues

The Nuclear Dimension of US Primacy (PDF): by Daryl G. Press

Internet Links provided by: The Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy

Dismantle the War Economy Committee: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

The Fallacy of Nuclear Primacy, by Bruce G. Blair and Chen Yali

The Future of Nuclear Weapons in NATO, by Ian Anthony and Johnny Janssen

Looking at China’s Foreign and Security Policies


Many international organizations have located their headquarters in Stockholm. One of these is SIPRI, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Last Friday SIPRI sponsored a half-day presentation by scholars from China, Finland and the USA entitled China and Global Security: an expert seminar on current and future directions in Chinese foreign and security policy. The chairman of the seminar was Ambassador Börje Ljunggren of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Coordinator of the Stockholm China Forum and former ambassador to China.

The expert panelists were:

  • Professor Jin Canrong, Associate Dean, School of International Relations, Renmin University of China, Beijing.
  • Professor Robert S. Ross, Professor of Political Science at Boston College, Associate, John King Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University, and Senior Advisor, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Professor Jia Qingguo. Associate Dean, School of International Relations, Beijing University.
  • Linda Jakobson, Senior Researcher, Programme on China and Global Security, SIPRISeveral things motivated me to attend this public seminar: I have been acquainted with SIPRI through its former director having addressed my (English speaking) Rotary Club in Stockholm; in that I don’t communicate well in Swedish, I take opportunities to attend interesting forums offered in English; and, I thought the seminar might offer something I could include in this journal, which it has. It was held in the modern and airy Stockholm World Trade Center.

    What follows is an overview and summary from written notes. A few statements and facts stood out for me:

  • According to Professor Jin Canrong, China’s way is to “exert power in a humble way.” For readers who may harrumph at this notion, it was instructive for me to hear from these experts that China is not monolithic in all things, the big exception being that its national politics reside within a single party. The phrase was interesting to me in that it resembles words attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius. This view, as stated, is not shared by others on the panel (I was told this privately).
  • With respect to industrial development, China stands approximately where the USA stood in the 1920s.
  • The total workforce of China is greater than the total population of Europe. [I was not sure I heard correctly, so I looked at data on the Internet to verify this. I find that China has 965 million people in the age group 15-64 years. The population of the 27 EU countries is 492 million. There are 18 other countries in Europe, including Russia which stands in Asia as well. I think a rough calculation on the back of an envelope would verify that the claim under review is probably close enough for government work. If you want to know my sources, contact me].
  • There is a rise in nationalistic feeling in China, a pride, which in extreme expressions could work against China’s official desire for harmonious relationships with other countries. A quick reference was also made to the dominant Han portion of the populationneeding to recognize the value and merit of the scores of minority populations in China.
  • China has long had a policy, often iterated at the United Nations, of non-interference in the affairs of another country. [I thought this sounded very like the “prime directive” of the fictional Star Trek television series and movies]. With regard especially to China’s extensive investments and interests in Africa, however, it was felt by some that this policy may have to be modified in special circumstances.

    There seemed to be general agreement among the presenters that there will always be a tension within and without China, given its great size, between the need for peaceful relations with other countries and the need for China to feel secure within its borders. The more China pursues security through investment in military preparedness, however, the more nervous other countries will be, thus working against peaceful relations. Security needs are in the realms of borders including coasts, airspace and better technology.

    A theme that floated through the discussion, especially the extensive Q&A sessions, is that USA and China have mutual interests in cooperating, but China cannot allow itself to feel or be seen as being unduly influenced by the USA.

    The Taiwan issue seems to have been addressed by the USA in recent years to China’s satisfaction, if not to Taiwan’s, thus decreasing tensions between the USA and China over this long-standing point of conflict.

    USA President Obama was given good marks for a new and potentially more constructive posture toward China, but it was recognized that it’s too early to see if this posture will result in tangible progress from China’s point of view and the point of view of scholars who look for win/win outcomes for both countries.

    Much was said about past, current and potentially future relations with China’s nearest neighbors, especially North Korea, South Korea and Japan. In that the issues are delicate and complicated I will not try to characterize them here, but refer you the SIPRI’s China and Global Security Programme website for developments and references.

    Special note was made of the recent first collaborative effort between elements of China’s navy and other navies in pursuing pirates off the eastern coast of Africa. This was a very big and popular news item in China for several days.

    Toward the end of the seminar one questioner wondered about the lack of reference to China’s largest neighbor, Russia. Jia Qingguo thought the two countries had resolved, to mutual satisfaction, a variety of ancient and recent disagreements and tensions very well. Ms. Jakobson said we need to be realistic in any assessment of Russia, and that she considered the relationship between China and Russia a “marriage of convenience.” I made the inference that Russia would change the relationship when it felt in its interests to do so.

    Last in this summary review of the seminar I offer the insight that despite China being a Communist country and, therefore, presumed to have a ‘socialist’ economy, a rapidly diminishing proportion of the workforce works in the public sector [*see footnote]. It is a capitalist country, according one of the Chinese scholars present. It has a large and growing middle class. Currently, 49 million Chinese travel abroad as compared with 18 million Japanese. These facts buttress the assertion by one of the speakers that a new state/society relationship is developing in which society is gaining in strength with respect to the state.

    *According to a study by Li Chengshui, chief of the State Statistics Bureau (SSB) in 1981-84, that was made public on October 12, [in 2006] the public sector employed only 32% of China’s industrial and service workers, and accounted for 37% of the country’s GDP. This represents a huge change from just over a decade ago. In 1995 the public sector accounted for 78% of GDP. According to Li, between 1995 and 2005 the number of private enterprises rose from 660,000 to 4.3 million, the number of workers they employed increased from 8.2 million to 47.1 million. Their capital base rose during this period 26-fold, from 226.2 billion yuan (US$30 billion) to 6133.1 billion yuan ($829.5 billion). In a speech delivered at the Beijing University on May 19 [2007], Li pointed out that the “private sector economy signifies the formation of a new capitalist class”.


About Afghanistan

In the summer of 2005 I spent 30 days in four provinces of Afghanistan as an unpaid consultant to a non-profit organization, The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan.

Concurrent with my private report to The Committee, I wrote a personal journal and, of course, took pictures that can be seen here, along with some accompanying narrative.

Over the Hindu Kush, from Kabul to Kunduz. Please click on the image.

What brings me again to the subject again, 2½ years later, is a lecture I attended given by SIRAP, the Stockholm International Researchers Association (SIRAP). The speaker was Tim Foxley, currently a Guest Researcher at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). He is on a 15 month sabbatical from his previous work as an Afghan political/military analyst in the UK government. In 2006 he spent April to August as an analyst in the international military headquarters in Kabul. He chose Sweden for his career break as he had a pregnant Swedish partner (and the couple now has a beautiful child). At SIPRI he recently researched and wrote a paper entitled: “The Taliban’s propaganda activities: how well is the Afghan insurgency communicating and what is it saying?” [Click here for Tim’s blog on Afghanistan]. Tim’s address to SIRAP was entitled “Afghanistan: Past, Present and Future?”

Tim Foxley in Afghanistan

Tim’s talk to SIRAP gave us a historical review of the politics and warfare that have beset this region for millennia due, in no small part, to its location as a crossroads between countries, armies and empires at all points of Afghanistan’s compass. In addition, the geography has great influence on the people, given the “Hindu Kush” (Hindu killer) mountains extend from China well into the heart of the country, essentially dividing it into two major regions, north and southeast; and a third region to the west and south where the mountains peter out into what is mostly desert.

The most salient question in the present and for the future of Afghanistan is the attempted resurgence of the Taleban. According to Tim and other sources, the attempts of the Taleban are not well coordinated, but they are persistent and the response from the central government is likewise, apparently, uncoordinated and unfocused, especially in the realm of propaganda and information (take your pick). Afghans, with centuries of conflict between and among external and internal entities, have learned to side with the strongest (or those who seem to be gaining the ascendancy in a conflict) so they can go about with their daily struggle for survival and dealing with personal and family matters.

Water vendor, Kunduz, June 2005

Tim discussed other matters concerning the role of the central government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the various ethnic and religious groups. The concluding paragraphs of my journal of July, 2005, still seem apt:

A final observation: Kabul seems to be a city-state that lies within Afghanistan, the country. There is great energy and ambition and many dreams of progress in Kabul, but the rest of the country abides in its rural pace, not greatly affected, in the short term, by the pace of the capital city … How to bring the advantages of western ways to a country that has its own useful and traditional ways without harming the fabric of society? What a great challenge!

In one or two generations we will see a healthy, educated and economically vibrant Afghanistan, Inshallah.

A a complete copy of my personal journal can be downloaded from here: Afghan Journal-R.Pavellas-2005

Afghanistan References: