Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2011

A Review of the 2001 Bonn Conference and Application to the Road Ahead in Afghanistan

Mark Fields, Ramsha Ahmed

November 2011

Institute for National Strategic Studies


This Strategic Perspectives looks back to the 2001 Conference and examines the course that has been charted over the past ten years. The process that led to the Bonn Agreement (Bonn 2001, or Bonn I) reflects the best of U.S. and United Nations statesmanship and was the result of the effective application of military and diplomatic power. Just last week, Afghan President Karzai adjoined a loya jirga to discuss the Afghan negotiating position regarding a U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership. When President Karzai attended the NATO Summit in Lisbon in November, 2010, he asked German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel to host a follow-up conference ten years after the 2001 Bonn Conference - The 2011 Bonn Conference commences on December 5, 2011, as a direct result of that request. More than 1,000 delegates from 90 states are expected, and will focus on three main areas: (a) The transfer of responsibility for security to the Afghan Government by 2014; (b) Further international commitment to Afghanistan after the handover; and (c) the political process, i.e. national reconciliation and the integration of former Taliban fighters. A fundamental challenge lies ahead: "How can U.S. national interests in Afghanistan be achieved with fewer resources?" Fields and Ahmed offer an analysis of the process that produced the Bonn Agreement in 2001. It offers step-by-step recommendations for U.S. policymakers on how to shape specific conditions in Afghanistan, beginning with Bonn 2011 (Bonn II), for the post-2014 period. The recommendations include: The United States must demonstrate long-term commitment to Afghanistan in the form of a formal strategic partnership announced at Bonn. Without U.S. commitment through the end of this decade, Afghanistan will likely fall back into the civil war it experienced in the early 1990s. As fighting spreads, India and Pakistan will back their Afghan proxies and the conflict will intensify. This situation would not only create opportunities for safe haven for extremists, but also invite a confrontation between adversarial and nuclear-armed states. The growing strength of Pakistan’s own insurgency and the existential threat it could pose in the future intensifies this risk. The potential for such an outcome runs counter to U.S. and coalition interests. Bonn 2001 began a journey toward Afghanistan’s stability and representative government that has demanded great sacrifice by Afghans, Americans, and other members of the coalition. That journey has come far from its humble beginning and requires American leadership and energy to remain on course.