RFE/RL is launching a new blog, Gandhara, on Afghanistan/Pakistan issues and one new post goes to show that vaguelysketched “security threats” emanating from impoverished backwaters can infect the thinking of great powers everywhere:
Russia is understandably still spooked about any significant involvement in Afghanistan. But, given the pressing security threat Afghanistan poses Russia, it’s indicative that there hasn’t been far more cooperation. Islamist groups are burgeoning north of Afghanistan’s border in former Soviet Central Asia — most recently Tajikistan — where thousands of troops are battling an insurgency that’s staging ambushes and bomb blasts, and, the authorities say, establishing links with the Taliban.
I find it’s often helpful in these cases to consult a map:
Afghanistan is further from Russia than Iraq is from Romania. Indeed, Russia is considerably closer to Iraq than to Afghanistan. And that’s “as the crow flies” which involves passing through the Caspian Sea. By land, the route from Afghanistan to Russia is extremely large and involves passing through at least two other countries.
Now that’s not to say that Russian leaders don’t have a subjective perception of a threat from Afghanistan. After all American leaders seem to have a subjective perception of a threat from Afghanistan, and Russian leaders definitely do have a subjective attachment to attempting to dominate former Soviet Republicans, some of which are legitimately near Afghanistan. But as best I can tell, from the Anglo-Russian contests of the 19th century to the Soviet invasion to the current USA COIN era this is all a repeated exercise in people squandering resources. The “graveyard of empires” schtick is, it seems to me, trite and misleading. The real reason all these powerful nations end up leaving Afghanistan is that it continues to be very remote and lacking in valuable resources. So remote that “threats” emanating from there are extremely difficult to describe in concrete terms once you allow that threat-suppression should not be more costly than the threat itself.