The article examines the findings of the Commission of Inquiry established by the Norwegian government in 2014 to evaluate all aspects of Norway’s civilian and military contribution to the international operation in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014.
Concerned with the wider implications of the Commission’s findings, it focuses on two issues in particular: (1) Norway’s relations with the US, a close and long-standing strategic ally whose resources, capabilities and dominance of decision-making dwarfed that of all other coalition partners in Afghanistan; and (2) Norway’s record in the province of Faryab, where, from 2005 to 2012, a Norwegian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team was charged with bringing security, good governance and development to the province. How Norway prioritised and managed relations with the US highlights and helps to problematise the challenges – political, practical and moral – facing small and medium-sized powers operating in a coalition alongside the US. Norwegian efforts in Faryab are revealing of the dilemmas and contradictions that plagued and, ultimately, fatally undermined the international intervention as a whole. As such, Norway’s experience provides a microcosm through which the inherent limitations of the attempt to transfer the structures of modern statehood and Western democracy to Afghanistan can be better understood.
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