The United States has historically had an uneasy relationship to international institutions and even alliances. George Washington famously declared in his 1796 farewell address that "it is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world."
Unfortunately, though, the seemingly unending military campaign in Afghanistan requires that the United States adopt a complex approach of global engagement based on multilateral efforts.
After World War I, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was a vigorous proponent of the notion of a permanent collective-security organ, the League of Nations. But the U.S. Congress failed to ratify the league's founding covenant and, as a result, the United States never joined and the League of Nations was badly crippled.
After World War II, with communism and the Soviet Union perceived as existential threats to Western capitalism and democracy, Washington and Western Europe actively built up a complex international system based on collective security, capitalism, democracy, and human rights. This drive led to the creation of the United Nations, NATO, the International Monetary Fund, and others.
With the end of the Cold War, the United States emerged as the world's only superpower and seemed to enjoy both economic supremacy and an invulnerability to military threats. This changed suddenly with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Citing Article 5 of the NATO treaty, the United States and its NATO allies launched a campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Now, however, after nine years, that campaign seems closer to defeat than to victory.
Afghanistan -- along with the ascendance of new power centers such as China, India, and Brazil -- is the biggest test for NATO. National security in today's world is increasingly interdependent with international security, meaning that unilateralism or even limited alliances like NATO might not always be effective in the face of a plethora of transnational threats. The answer could be a vastly expanded multilateralism and the revitalization of international institutions, which would promote the principles of democracy and collective security globally.
In Afghanistan, this new approach would mean working with partners when possible and with others when necessary. A Taliban comeback would be particularly unwelcome for the moderate Muslim societies and secular governments of Central Asia -- Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. These states are worried about a premature withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan, and some have already offered their visions on how to address the many problems in their war-torn neighbor. Washington and NATO should be listening to these ideas seriously.
Uzbekistan, for instance, has proposed a "6+3" initiative that would harness the efforts of Russia, the United States, NATO, and countries neighboring Afghanistan. Turkmenistan has proposed electricity and transportation infrastructure projects that have the potential to generate "peace dividends" for Afghans, Central Asians, and the entire international community.
Kazakhstan has offered both regional and global solutions in the framework of its current chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It insists that the planned OSCE summit in Astana later this year -- the first such gathering for the organization since 1999 and a clear testament of the country's enhanced regional status -- offers an opportunity to expand global multilateralism and to revitalize the OSCE's international security role. A successful summit will do much to promote a culture of cooperation within the OSCE itself and among Central Asian countries.
The OSCE heads-of-state summit therefore offers a great opportunity for the United States and NATO to pursue multilateralism, to expand cooperation with Kazakhstan and others in Central Asia, and to capitalize on the OSCE's experience and vision to bring an end to the conflict in Afghanistan. This summit provides a timely venue to address a wide range of issues, including conflict prevention and postconflict rehabilitation, expanded OSCE involvement in the international security efforts in Afghanistan, measures to counter transnational threats ranging from drugs trafficking to terrorism, and the proposed "Maastricht Plus" document as a guide for economic development after the global financial crisis.
Just as after the two world wars, the United States stands at crossroads following 9/11, the global financial crisis, and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. The U.S. leadership must manage America's relative global decline in earnest and in concert. Pursuing multilateralism in light of interdependent security and myriad transnational threats is a must. As the driver of globalization, the United States simply cannot afford to retreat into isolationism. Nor can it engage some actors and ignore others.
Roman Muzalevsky writes on international affairs and security issues in Central Asia and the Caucasus for the Jamestown Foundation. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL