Protracted Conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya: American Perspectives on Russian Experience
Keywords:war in Afghanistan; war in Chechnya; peace settlement; USSR; Russia; USA; post-conflict state-building; US strategy; low-intensity conflict
Since the early 1980s, American scholarly and analytical literature has discussed the effectiveness of Soviet, and subsequently Russian, management of low-intensity conflicts. Though both the Soviet and Russian experience has been examined from many perspectives, including the military, economic, social and political, the American academic community does not tend to deem such an approach relevant and useful in terms of understanding US foreign policy. This disjoint is even harder to understand given the fact that the American military faced the same problems in Afghanistan and Iraq as the Soviet army experienced in Afghanistan (1979–1989), and Russian forces experienced during the First Chechen War (1994–1996). The greatest perplexity for American authors was the ability of Soviet and Russian leaders to recreate a power hierarchy on the ground while relying on their former adversaries – the Afghan Mujahideen and Chechen separatists. According to American intellectual discourse, reliance on a former enemy cannot be considered, by definition, during post-conflict state-building. Since the condition of the Russian conflict settlement model was pragmatism that is opposite to normative approach of the American policies in conflicts, this experience was not in demand in American foreign policy practice. The number of works by American scholars that include the comparison between the Soviet/Russian and the US campaigns is significantly smaller than the number of papers focusing on Soviet and Russian conduct, let alone their experience of nation-building. The aim of this study is to analyse American academic discourse about the Soviet/Russian experience of conducting low intensity conflicts. In the first part, the authors analyse the key mistakes of the Russian leadership during the campaigns, according to the estimates given by American researchers; the second part examines Russian strategy and its conflict settlement drawing comparison with the American experience. The authors conclude that US adaptation on the basis of Russian experiences in Afghanistan and Chechnya has proved impossible due to normative imperatives dominating American academic papers and policies. These imperatives bind the conflict resolution with the level of sophistication of a given country’s institutions. Perhaps, the vice versa claim could have grounds, yet it exceeds the limits of this study.