Predictability in Complex Environments – Cognitive Bias Codex

April 20, 2021 I wrote a blog post “Futuretelling” on occasion of media informing about the report “Global Trends 2040”, a product of the collective of American intelligence agencies, issued then on occasion of a new Presidential administration (the Biden administration) taking the helm. I’d like to revisit the issue, almost one and a half years later.


“Global Trends 2040” revolves around five core assessments:

Global challenges include climate change, disease, financial crises, and technology disruptions. The report stated that they are likely to manifest more frequently and intensely in almost every region and country. Their impact on states and societies will create stress, or even catastrophic shock. The report assessed the pandemic as “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come.

Fragmentation flows from the predicted transnational or global challenges. Overwhelming threats will lead to a reflex breaking apart, or threatening, globalisation.

Disequilibrium was the third theme of the report. The report focusses on its effects in a widening gap between what societies, communities, and individuals expect from governance and services, and what they can deliver. Doubts in the benefits of democratic governance, the profound inability of systems of international order to provide peace, security, and other important challenges to the sixteen Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations create a perfect storm.

Contestation was the fourth theme. Wealthy societies pump their reserves into handling the crisis, and into the race of getting out on the other side in the best position for competing, on economical and power levels. Conflict, violence, exodus, displacement, migration will have an effect on more developed societies. In a way, this amplifies fragmentation and antagonisation.

Adaption being the final theme, it means that profound changes will ultimately end in a new equilibrium. The question is how such a new system state may look like. Or, how much of our current one is left, and what will be the new reality.

To me, the core statement of “Global Trends 2040” is that we are passing through a phase of profound global system change, or paradigm change.


That was spring 2021. “Global Trends 2040” was written during the Covid-19 pandemic, so it was somewhat easy for the authors to qualify an existing pandemic as “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II“. Then, summer 2021 brought the catastrophic events around the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taleban, and a crushing defeat of the West’s ambitions for Afghanistan over two decades. Spring 2022 saw the beginning of a war of aggression by the Russian Federation against the Ukraine. Motivation and publicly voiced rationale by the Russian President went, from the outset on, far beyond his claims related to the Ukraine, and related to overthrow the Ukrainian government. From the West’s perspective it is an attack against the West, it’s systems and it’s values. The Russian President describes this as a threat against Russia, claiming to act in self-defense. Of course, I have a clear position here joining those who state this is a brazen and aggressive move attempting to overthrow an existing order, and violating fundamental principles enshrined in international treaties. But on various occasions since then I have also acknowledged that it depends on where people live, and which cultural and historical ties they have grown up with, whether they join this assessment, or blame the West. This is a war on multiple levels, including information warfare, a war of systems against each other, a war of economies, a war of dogma how to prevail, and to govern. The physical battlefields are local or regional, information warfare happens in cyberspace, and the conflict is ultimately global.

So I wonder how the events of 2021 and 2022 would have been reflected in the wording of the report issued in spring 2021, if these events would already have been on the books of history by the time of writing. If already the pandemic posed the greatest disruption since WWII, it has only gotten worse since then.

With lightning speed, the World is continuing to change. Nobody would have anticipated, even in early spring 2021, that the situation went so haywire in summer 2021 in Afghanistan. And after that, if someone would have asked “What’s next?”, I doubt many people would have anticipated the developments in the Ukraine bringing us closer to World War III. May be, many years in the future, historians will assess that we already were in WW III. Because, even the forms and shapes of warfare have changed. Some of it started in 2001, when we began to see consequences of asymmetric warfare. And at that time, people would have found it unimaginabe that we would see conventional armies battling each other, on European soil, 21 years later.

What else do we know about battlefields of such larger warfare? I could go on about Asia and the ever increasing tension between China and Taiwan, just recently blowing up again on occasion of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, bringing likelihood of yet another massive conflict into the equation. I could refer to how we all, internationally, after 9/11/2001 made critical assessments related to terrorist attacks against nuclear power plants. Now we are finding ourselves in a situation where Russian military forces conduct their attacks using the biggest nuclear powerplant in mainland Europe as a shield. Of course, following the same logic as outlined above, two sides accuse each other of being responsible for it. From a perspective of the threat being real, and grave, even this mutual accusation, being part of information warfare, adds to how scary the situation has become.

The Doomsday Clock has, once again, moved closer to 12, with the UN Secretary General telling us August 07, 2022, that the risk of nuclear confrontation is back after decades.

I could refer to the many developments in Africa, and since I am not a paid professional analyst with own staffing resources, my list of critical developments in the World would be highly selective, and certainly biased. Of course, it would include a whole chapter on instability in the Western Balkans, where I spend much of my time.

So, what can be said about “What’s next?” now, mid summer 2022?


The almost natural reflex is about looking around and to assess specific situations, specific countries or regions, and to attempt making predictions about how things may remain stable, or not. But more often than not, previous developments have taught us that destabilisation, system change, conflict and war occur almost to the surprise of professional analysts, and intelligence systems. The short term developments may be subject to correct analysis, like intelligence organisations unequivocally warned about Russia being serious about invading the Ukraine, once there was enough evidential data. But that was a short-term prediction, being put out into the public domain only from end of 2021 onwards, also in order to convince those who still, until February 23, 2022, doubted that Russia would follow-through on building up her military power alongside the borders of the Ukraine. Did we have enough data to predict this already, say in April 2021, at the time when “Global Trends 2040” was issued? From what I know through publicly avalable information, I would doubt it. So, this is not about “I told you so”.

The same will be the case related to anything up in the future, any new conflict development, where we then, again, will ask ourselves with hindsight whether we would have been able to predict it. In a highly complex and unstable environment, the fault-lines of where conflict arises next, and which physical or virtual dimension it takes, are difficult to predict medium-term, and impossible to predict long-term.

However, this makes the highly abstract level of “Global Trends 2040”, which I summarised above so profoundly valuable. Because, whilst we cannot be sure about “What’s next?”, we can be reasonably certain about that we have not reached rock-bottom. “Global Trends 2040” predicts a fundamental paradigm change and a war of systems, not a state of “rock bottom” from where things might recover to an old or only slightly changed equilibrium.


One of my favorite Youtube channels is called “Veritasium”. The channel is run by Derek Muller. Veritasium is covering a broad range of subjects, based on scientific evidence. According to its own website, “Veritasium is a channel of science and engineering videos featuring experiments, expert interviews, cool demos, and discussions with the public about everything science.” You will find a vlog as of August 2, 2022 there, called “The 4 things it takes to be an expert“. This piece is amazing:

In attempting to answer the question which experts have real expertise, the vlog includes a long list of references related to scientific evidence for its statements. The four things that make somebody a real expert, in ANY field of expertise, are based on long and ardous training, the vlog talks of a rule of thumb of 10.000 hours. In order to become an expert, one has to go through many repeated attempts with feedback. At one point of the video, Veritasium refers to a sample of 284 people who make their living on offering analysis or commenting on complex issues related to politcal and economic trends. These people were followed and questioned over two decades. The results, in a nutshell, are sobering. Any so-called expert with only education, but without extended feedback loops, was doing terribly. These “experts” were not significantly better in their predictions than non-specialists.

Watch the vlog. But what is the issue here? At least, that we have to be very careful in attempting to make predictions. And secondly, that we need to have a healthy and limited expectation in relation to what pundits will tell us. In my own self-assessment, I would certainly qualify for the 10.000 hour rule in relation to my own field of expertise (peace & security). But it would not make me believe that I would be able to find anything more than short-term answers to the question “What’s next?”.

Something which is called “cognitive bias” adds to the problem. This is what is behind the picture attached to this blog, and you can find the picture in wikipedia’s list of 188 cognitive biases, grouped into categories and rendered by John Manoogian III. In essence, according to the website teachthought, “a cognitive bias is an inherent thinking ‘blind spot’ that reduces thinking accuracy and results inaccurate–and often irrational–conclusions.” The graphical summary is listing 180 (!!) of them.

With having said that on our limitations to predict the future reliably, I will finally come back again to “Global Trends 2040”. What I, in sum, subscribe to, is the general statement about a time of system change which “Global Trends 2040” has, in my view correctly, deducted from available assessed information, which we call intelligence.

After President Nr 45 of the United States of America took power, I would find it comparatively easy to anticipate the scenarios that were possible to happen, and my worst case scenarios were pretty much along the lines of what we witnessed, until including January 06, 2021, and what we see coming up as a continuing threat for democracy in the United States, until today.

But compared with the complexity of fragility which we experience, this prediction was a piece of cake, since it was largely based on a psychological analysis of a person with multiple personality disorders, adding perhaps some deeper understanding about American society because I was embedded there for five years and listened and learned a lot.

Asking the question “What’s next” related to what we experience since then, I only know it will get worse, but I don’t know how, meaning “What’s next”. This is not a Doomsday attitude. Rather, it is a personal statement about the gravity of the situation we are finding ourselves in, these days.

Uvalde – A Practical Proposal: Stop the monetization of social media channels glorifying Small Arms and Light Weapons

Picture taken by the author, 2016

Living in the United States between 2013 and 2018, I have had an inside view into the discussion that never seems to get anywhere: How to end the unending series of mass shootings which especially haunt this country. Like so many others, I am sick and tired. I am mad with the arms lobby, I do not understand how any politician arguing the rights of the Second Amendment being more important than any meaningful gun control law in light of the suffering of relatives, especially parents and caregivers, can even sleep, knowing that their sick and crazy protection of the gun lobby is making them morally complicit, as the next mass shooting will not occur in a decade, or next year, but within weeks.

At the time of this writing, parents, caregivers, husbands, wives, relatives, friends in Uvalde, Texas join a group of uncounted individuals who do not get relief from unspeakable pain, suffering losses that no parent and loved one should ever have to live with. Being a parent myself, my heart is broken and my thoughts are reaching out to those who feel utterly destroyed, hopeless, powerless, left with no meaning in their life any more.

Please watch this BBC video.

Gun violence in the United States takes more victims than traffic does. With brutal ignorance, the argument is repeated, over and over again, by these enablers of the NRA, that gun control does not curb this violence, that only armed security at schools does. There is no grain of evidence for such outrageous claims, against all comparative scientific evaluation of the effect of gun control legislation in jurisdictions all over the world. I am not even bothering with referencing such results here, they are ubiquitous for everyone who is really interested in getting the picture.

I invite you, for example, to watch the statement of Jimmy Kimmel, on occasion of the Uvalde school mass killing. I don’t have to add anything.

Meanwhile, German news report about contacts which the perpetrator had, in the weeks running up to the crime, with a fifteen year old girl in Germany. Including that the perpetrator clearly announced his intentions, and not only over the last minutes, but long before.

Which brought me to the role of Social Media, again. And here is a practical suggestion:

Demonetize any social media channel glorifying Small Arms and Light Weapons.


Since 2019, my work is connected to the efforts of the German Federal Foreign Office to support activities of States and international organizations to set up strategic, long-term, and meaningful gun control. We support this in six jurisdictions in the Western Balkans, we support it in the Carribean, we support it in West Africa, we look for ways how to engage in East Europe, and in Central Asia. The center of gravity of my work revolves around supporting the six jurisdictions of the Western Balkans in their effort to implement a regional strategic roadmap addressing all aspects of gun and ammunition control in a holistic way. Please, if you’re interested, read about the Western Balkans SALW Control Roadmap here. I am connected to similar activities in other regions of the world.

So I believe I know what I am talking about.


Advising on all technical, strategic, and often political aspects of this support work, I need to stay informed about latest developments, types of weapons and ammunition, converted weapons, 3D-printed weapons, and so much more.

That’s how Youtube began to invade my watchlist with weapons channels of the craziest forms.

I won’t even promote them here by mentioning names. They are pervasive, ubiquitous, the makers of these channels live and hail from the United States, Germany, Austria, just to name but a few.

Privately I am watching other things. I am subscribing to a few channels of vanlifers, who struggle to keep up a watching community of a few thousand, sometimes more. But none of them reaches the hundreds of thousands or millions of subscribers and views which weapons’ channels easily get. And I do know, from extensive watching, how absolutely centered these channels are around monetization, how makers tip-toe around some rules which would lead to a de-monetization of a vlog entry.

Here are two suggestions:

  1. Those of us who watch these channels: Unsubscribe, and make yourself heard about the reasons why you are doing this, in the comments’ sections. Subscribing to these channels is allowing the makers of these channels to generate a part of their revenue. Stop watching this stuff.
  2. To social media: It is time to take sides, and not to wait for a sickening and tiring new round of discussions on regulating the Internet. You don’t have to take the channels offline. Just demonetize any channel which can not clearly live up to justified reasons, such as scientific, policy, news&reporting, or else. Don’t hide behind the argument that the line is difficult to draw. The number of channels with people firing weapons under the craziest of all circumstances just for the purpose of glorifying weapons, and attract people watching it, it is outrageous. Take a stand. Don’t put your business model front and center. Act with compassion and support those who are eaten alive by grief, for the rest of their lives.

Justice Being Served

In my writing on the general theme of my blog – Peace & Security, Trauma & Reconciliation – I often attempt to create a conduit from the impact of personal trauma towards the effects which it has on the scale of communities, or societies. You can find some comprehensive thoughts on this in my articles on (1) the impact of trauma on individuals, (2) the trauma of children in conflict and war, and (3) the impact of trauma on communities and societies ravaged by conflict and war.

On occasion of a few other articles I have also mentioned that this is not only academic writing, but that my own processing of personal trauma is entangled with this process. It is a source of personal experience, a source of strong personal motivation, but also a source of profoundly subjective views. Objective viewpoints, entirely separating the observer from the observed, they are impossible, not only in quantum mechanics. From quantum physics we know that in literally no aspect of examining and explaining the world the observer can be separated from the observed. In human sciences we know this, of course, too. The knowledge about this fact is forcing me to always step back and critically examine my own attempts to come up with the best shot at how I try to make sense of this world.

One morning end of January 2022 I woke up after a good nights sleep. I managed to keep my busy thoughts silent during the first minutes, enjoying my morning routine of making the first coffee, feeding my cat, and beginning my day with a little mindfulness exercise. It worked pretty well, I began my day in calmness.

After which I went into my morning routine of reading the news, over my second coffee. This story showed up on my screen: “DR Congo court sentences 51 in trial over 2017 murder of UN experts“, from the French news agency France24. A few minutes later, my balanced approach towards the day, a Sunday morning, was over. I had to sit down and to understand why I was feeling complex emotions, and a strong nausea in my stomach. Over the years I have learned to better understand these signs of a traumatic reaction. In such a situation I try to sit still and to embrace this reaction in a gentle way, instead of mentally running away from it.

There are reasons why I reacted so strongly. I am connected to this story. I was involved in attempts from United Nations Headquarters’ in New York to deal with this horrific murder. I had privileged sight on videos taken by some of the perpetrators, documenting the last minutes and seconds before and when these U.N. experts were killed. I was involved in efforts investigating this situation, and such involvement happened on so many other awful occasions before in my line of work: My more than two decades of international work include a huge amount of personal trauma I have happily piled up. I do know that this leads to a mechanism called re-enactment. I am re-enacting my own previous trauma. My work on this since many years has given me tools with which I can mitigate the effects.

I remember those days in 2017 with all diplomatic efforts on highest levels conveying the message that we, the international community of humanitarians, peacekeepers, diplomats, expected justice being served. I remember my boss of that time, a United Nations Undersecretary General, reporting to us after he returned from a field visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He had left the message with Congolese politicians that “this will not go away easily”, that it requires a sustained effort to bring the perpetrators to justice.

I also remember that I assessed the chances for justice being served under extraordinary circumstances as being slim. I contributed to our efforts assisting investigative authorities, sending own forensic experts working in my Division, helping Congolese investigators and prosecutors. Over time, hopes of seeing this crime being solved and perpetrators being sentenced, it faded. Until I saw this story, end of January 2022, give or take five years after the brutal murder act.

02 May 2022, I am working on a set of texts which I will partially or entirely publish here, depending on whether the statements in these texts have a connection to my general theme of this blog (see above). In this context, I am working on explaining why, in my experience, there is literally no memory of any situation I have been in which does not have links to the emotions I felt at the time of the event. One hypothesis I am following in this context is that these emotions can de-link from the events which caused them. As “emotional memories” with no connection to an event causing them, they “linger around”, come up when triggered, influencing my emotional and cognitive setup. This, I suspect, is especially true in situations when I am exposed to what we call “trauma”.

Which would explain the feeling of grave nausea when I read the article about Congolese authorities sentencing 51 individuals connected to that murder which I, like many other events in my professional career, can not forget.

My next blog article will include thoughts on the inseparability of emotions and perceptions, communication, and memory. It will be pretty methodical, I hope I can make that one an interesting read.

In this view, this draft article which I found unfinished when opening my WordPress editor, it is a teaser on more general observations to come.

But I’m ending here by stating that justice can be served, and like here, it may contribute to my healing. As a matter of fact, it does. I must continue to believe in this, and whilst I have no sight on how professional the investigation and application of the legal process by Congolese authorities has been, or whether there was negligence, faultiness, or willful instrumentalisation of legal due process, I must believe that justice is possible as a concept, and as a part of reality, and that hopefully the real perpetrators have been sentenced.

There are new atrocities happening in 2022. As happened all those years in between, whether in Myanmar, Afghanistan, now the Ukraine, in so many places in the Middle East and Africa, and elsewhere. I must continue to believe in the possibility of individual and collective justice, otherwise there are only new wounds, but no healing, and no scars.

“We Have a Lot of Evidence” – Pressure Growing on Frontex Chief from Pushbacks Investigation – DER SPIEGEL reporting on an OLAF Investigation

The English version of the online edition of the German newspaper DER SPIEGEL today issued a comprehensive article on an investigation of the European Union’s anti-corruption agency OLAF, related to decisions and behavior of four senior managers of the EU’s Border agency FRONTEX. It appears that strong evidence -partly revealed in the article including through disturbing pictures- exists about inaction of FRONTEX, even alleged efforts to cover up illegal push-back activities of national border/coast guards of a Member State of the EU, violating international and EU law, forcing migrants and asylum seekers back into a non EU country, depriving them from their right to claim asylum and to subject themselves to due and legal scrutiny whether it can be granted, or not.

The article is a very good read, in terms of quality, and it is a very disturbing article, within a longer row of similar reporting in international media since long. But now, with the Head of OLAF presenting the findings to lawmakers in Brussels, the findings appear to be complete, and action on the findings need to be considered. This, of course, is a thorough technical process, whilst being profoundly political at the same time.

I do believe this matter needs to be taken forward not only with all due diligence, as thorough and unbiased as possible, and as fast as possible. Most importantly, I believe this process requires utmost transparency and dedication to holding individuals and agencies, whether national or international, publicly accountable.

Why? Not only because this should be good practice in democracies and nations adhering to the rule of law anyway. But also because otherwise we may add to a bad taste: The push-backs are alleged to have happened at the EU’s southern/southeastern border to the mediterranian sea. Persons attempting to reach the EU from there come from many countries and conflict zones, whether in Africa or in Asia, including Afghanistan.

At the same time of this reporting, the EU and her Member States undertake a terrific effort, to be praised and applauded in the highest terms possible, to welcome, host, cater for, and assist refugees from the Ukraine. Public opinion across the board is overwhelmingly supporting these refugees from the Ukraine, who have gone through nightmares, in the middle of Europe.

I have, looking into the many comments on social media, also noticed that sometimes there is an expression of fear that we all too easily forget those uncounted individuals who seek help in so many conflict zones a bit farther away, such as in Afghanistan, or in African countries.

I believe we have a chance here to rise to the opportunity and value the fundamental rights of refugees notwithstanding their origin, avoiding adding fuel to a claimed impression, whether true or not, that we care more about some than about others. Putting the alleged FRONTEX actions under public scrutiny, not sparing any effort to demonstrate this in all openness, will in my view be beneficial to make a public stand demonstrating how high we hold the universality of affected fundamental human rights of refugees, and persons who try to relocate or migrate for other reasons than fear from suppression, harm, and death.

Pushing them back, whether it is about cases like this one, or cases of alleged push-backs including brutalisation of migrants attempting to cross land borders into the EU, this is something we shall have zero-tolerance for.

Anocracies – And Thoughts on International Efforts Related to Conflict Prevention

Anocracy or semi-democracy is, according to Wikipedia, a “form of government that is loosely defined as part democracy and part dictatorship, or as a “regime that mixes democratic with autocratic features.” Another definition classifies anocracy as “a regime that permits some means of participation through opposition group behavior but that has incomplete development of mechanisms to redress grievances.” The term “semi-democratic” is reserved for stable regimes that combine democratic and authoritarian elements. Scholars have also distinguished anocracies from autocracies and democracies in their capability to maintain authority, political dynamics, and policy agendas. Similarly, the regimes have democratic institutions that allow for nominal amounts of competition. Such regimes are particularly susceptible to outbreaks of armed conflict and unexpected or adverse changes in leadership.”


In my blog post “Under The Hood” I wrote that I had pre-ordered “How Civil Wars Start And How To Stop Them”, written by Barbara F. Walter (Crown, 2022, Ebook ISBN 9780593137796). After its publication date it got delivered (in my case as an Apple iBook). I am reading it now, and it is as good as it was assessed in that New York Times book recension. As it was said in that recension, Barbara F. Walter spends much of the first half of the book on a profound history of nearly every civil war haunting mankind in the past many decades before beginning to apply the results of academic research of political scientists on civil wars to the situation of the United States of America.

I am through the first half of the book, and inasmuch as I am now keenly reading her account of the more recent developments in the U.S., I am not intending to write on that subject matter. I have an opinion there, and I share the author’s risk assessment, but this public discourse is already ongoing in the U.S.: Look here and here.

I wanted to reflect on a few general observations that stem from the book’s solid comparative approach of recent situations which led to wide-spread violence, and the solid and vast description of the state of affairs of a number of contemporary nation states. After all, no country is exempted from the danger of plunging into wide-spread violence, just pretending “It can’t happen to us” is nothing less than dangerous denial and wishful thinking of the ostrich burying her head in the sand. In this, Barbara F. Walter’s book establishes itself in the same rational and academic realm as the books “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism” by Anne Applebaum and “Fascism: A Warning” by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.


My line of work has frequently put me into situations where we have wondered how one can measure the risk of a country or constituency descending into violent forms of conflict, including civil war. On several occasions I have been part of the international community’s peacekeeping efforts following the outbreak and the aftermath of civil war. Operationally and strategically I was part of such efforts in Kosovo under the United Nations’ mandate through Security Council Resolution 1244. Strategically I was part of such efforts in situations such as in Sudan, South Sudan, Mali, the Central African Republic, Somalia, and several more.

Then there is peacebuilding: How to make sure that a successful peacekeeping engagement finds its continuation through peacebuilding, and leads to a stable peaceful environment that will not relapse into conflict? That’s one of the elements of my current line of work, or why I was operationally working in Bosnia&Hercegovina, or strategically in headquarters of UN and EU on a large number of similar situations in greater Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Carribean.

Finally, there is conflict prevention: I often sat in meetings with like-minded peacekeepers and peacebuilders where we dealt with conflict prevention. Meaning to extinguish the fire when it was starting small, or even better: To help keeping things stable long before they reach critical mass of instability, and to find ways helping a country, or a constituency, in efforts to resolve disputes peacefully, and to succeed in that. Here I will not give examples. There were a number of cases in which I participated and where we could help in de-confliction of interests, and peaceful resolving of grievances. Those cases did not lead to bad-news-stories, in the general public they went almost entirely unrecognized, and good-news-stories sometimes can not be told in order to keep the good news continuing.

Those stories also don’t sell. Even in the “normal” world of crime, crime prevention does not attract the same interest by readers as the gruesome murder story does. Prevention is the silent humble sister of the guys and gals in military and police fatigues. Repression, threat, coercion, and the use of force, all too often these stories outrun any peaceful piece of news. This is the achilles-heel of prevention, and exponentially more so since the advent of social-media, whose algorithms prefer stories, fake or true, that create viral attention: Stories that create anger will always knock out the stories of crime that never happened. Even cute-cats-stories outrun every story about a conflict which never happened because we all did the right things.


In all those discussions on how to prevent conflict better, we asked ourselves how to asses and to measure the risk of conflict with hard numbered indicators. I remember reading the book “The Responsibility To Protect” by Gareth Evans. Evans, one of the chief architects of a concept called R2P, which tragically failed, at one point mentions the many efforts of academia to come up with a measurable set of indicators. He stated that for many years there was inconclusive academic research on that. In his book he mentioned that only one hard statistical fact could be boiled down: That conflict is much more likely in a country where there was one -more recently- before.

For years, I accepted that. Barbara F. Walter’s book has profoundly changed this view. May be I did personally not notice, or may be it is more of a late-breaking recognition, but according to Walter political science has made tremendous progress and has developed a sophisticated set of predictors, or risk indicators, based on sound bodies of empirical data in at least three very large and internationally recognized data-sets. In order to keep this a relatively easy read, I won’t go into details. The book is very captivating and it is very comprehensible. I truly enjoy the way how hard science is transformed into popular language by Barbara F. Walter. There is no need to undergo a 101 course in political sciences, so instead of summarizing a detailed book, I recommend reading it yourself.


Walter’s book has drawn my attention to three factors that increase the potential for, and are the reasons for, civil wars. Academic research appears to have managed to put these three factors into a rock-hard framework of statistical measurability: (1) Transitions from one system of governance to another system of governance; (2) Factionalisation in societies; (3) The drastic effects of social media.


(1) Transitions from one system of governance to another system of governance

For me, one important contribution of Barbara F. Walter’s book sits with drawing attention to process, rather than a snapshot of a state of affairs in time. Any form of governance can be categorized, and put on a scale. A true representation of all common criteria for a democracy can put a State into a category of “best in class”. Another State can be a full representation of what we call an autocracy. That State would be on the opposite side of that scale. From the viewpoint of a true defender of democratic values, that would bring this State into the zone of “worst in class”. Of course, “the other side of the aisle” would disagree with that judgement, and there we are in a polarized discussion.

But the true focus of Barbara F. Walter is not on the snapshot where a State finds herself on such a scale. It is about the movement from one end to the other, in both directions, and it is about the speed of that process. A State can find herself on the path towards more autocratic forms of government, or on the path from autocratic governance towards democratic governance. Political science has established evidence for that the “middle zone” between one form of governance and another form of governance is the most dangerous and volatile area, and the faster the transitional process from democracy towards autocracy, or from autocracy to democracy, the more risk for wide-spread violence exists on a statistical level.

And this makes perfect sense. Here is my attempt to visualize it:

It means that the “door swings in both directions”: The risk of violence does not only exist in a situation where a country is slipping towards semi-autocratic or fully-autocratic forms of governance. The same risk exists in a situation where interested parties, supported by the international community for example, engage in promoting and establishing regime change towards democracy. Barbara F. Walter makes it clear that the risk for violence is highest when this process into either direction has placed the constituency in question into the middle zone, when transformational change is most unfinished, with the old being ripped down and the new not yet formed and rooted.

Secondly, science tells us that, again, the risk is quantifiably higher if the process of transformation is either too slow or too fast, for which there can be many reasons. From how I look at things from my own experience, it is scientific evidence for what happens when the international community pushes too fast, is compartmentalised in such efforts, displays not enough comprehensive depth in supporting transformational change, nor patience for a long-term coherent support approach based on vision and strategy. Which I often saw when international mandates and policy discussions were held unter terms such as “democratization”, or “state building”.


(2) Factionalisation in societies

The second aspect in Barbara F. Walter’s book is a comprehensive analysis of previous civil wars and the relation between constituencies moving into the “danger zone” of being an anocracy, and the existence of factions in these societies. Also here, the book is very comprehensive in giving a detailed account for a vast array of previous civil wars. In my reading this book, one aspect stood out: Any change of one system through which a state applies governance to citizens towards another set of governance rules inevitably leads to the demise of old elites and the struggle which is happening when new elites try to form, and old elites fight to participate in societal control, for their benefits. This is the second factor which makes the “danger zone” so volatile, and the book provides detailed analytical results to the question when, how, and why this leads to violence. I want to highlight one sentence:

“Remember, it’s not the desperately poor who start civil wars, but those who once had privilege and feel they are losing status they feel is rightfully theirs”.

Likewise I quote her account on a declassified CIA report from 2012: “Most insurgencies, the report notes, “pass through similar stages of development during their life cycle.” In the pre-insurgency phase, a group begins to identify a set of common grievances and build a collective identity around a gripping narrative—the story or myth that helps them rally supporters and justify their actions. They begin to recruit members, some of whom even travel abroad for training. They begin to stockpile arms and supplies.

I note that it is the last sentence which connects my current line of work with the larger picture.

Then Barbara F. Walter goes on to analyze the role of social media in contemporary conflicts:


(3) The drastic effects of social media

Social media acts like the proverbial gasoline poured on a fire. By now, many of us have begun to appreciate this very dark side of a technology which also has contributed so much to bringing us close together in a global world. The author’s account on how social media has been, and continues to be, systematically exploited by those who seek control, including by inciting violence, is nothing short of scathing criticism. Again, the book is unbiased by taking a very comprehensive view on situations of recent violence, and contemporary situations in countries all around the globe, within something which appears to be a rising global pattern of instability, emerging and brooding conflict. She refers to solid data that would allow to conclude that there is a clear connection between the exponential rise of volatile situations and war on one hand, and the the abuse of social media for that purpose on the other hand. It is here where the role of social media and its systematic and professional exploitation by reckless individuals and groups is pervasive. Whereas encouraging factionalism on religious, ethnic, racial, or any grounds has been the key defining modus operandi of individuals manipulating populations into fear and hate of the other, and the acceptance that “Dear Leader” may be the lesser evil, contemporary situations are characterised by a systematic manipulation of many, through some, using social media. The book demonstrates this in Myanmar, in countries in Europe including Eastern and Central Europe, and elsewhere, before even beginning to analyse what happened in the U.S. in recent years.

Our societies struggle with the question of how to apply accountability and regulative frameworks to this new phenomenon. Because, new it is: The effects of how social media can be used for manipulation, inciting hatred, and fueling violence, they may be just ten years old. But they are extremely transformative. And again, we see different approaches in relation to how to control social media in China or Russia, say compared to how open societies handle this challenge. But what we also see: Aspiring autocrats virtuously use social media to gain control. After that, these individuals will undertake everything to control the instrument they have used.

Because, they know better than anyone else how it can be used to their advantage, and against them.


This got long again. I leave it without conclusions, simply because there are so many. This is true for a paradigm change on how we consider engaging in conflict prevention in a world filled with old instruments of international order which require overhaul, or may be outdated if we don’t succeed in transforming them into effective tools. This is also true for how we accept our being affected by what we call “social media”. Personally, I feel this question may belong to the most important ones in our lifetime, in all aspects of our lives.

Kinderwhore – A Book About Unspeakable Truths

This morning I need to work on something very boring in my line of work: The analysis of data that we call “Key Performance Indicators”. These KPI measure the progress being made in controlling Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), within a regional strategy of the six jurisdictions of the Western Balkans to adress all related illicit aspects of such weapons and their ammunition, their intent to reduce the threat coming from such weapons and their stockpiles, their efforts to curb crime, including transnational organized crime, their efforts to protect victims and preventing future victims, their efforts to establish a gender-balanced policy.

But in order to motivate myself to boring number-crunching, I needed to get something else off my chest first:


My commenting on today’s selection of “real world real news” (the opposite of “real world fake news”) begins with a tennis story.

I was baffled about how rapidly the news on the controversy over Novak Djokovic’s Australian visa application caught international media attention. Sorts of with half on an eye I monitored those news, since I was neither interested in tennis news, nor in celebrity news. The kindling of national pride in Serbia was not surprising me at all, and that the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic spoke with Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in a call on Monday and emphasised Djokovic’s need for good training conditions, oh well, good for Novak, I thought. I don’t have to read these news in my news reader, since I don’t get my newsfeed from any social media company, but from a carefully curated own list of sources.

Until I read a piece in the New York Times from January 11, 2022, titled “Novak Djokovic’s Fight to Play Tennis Could Be Just Starting“. Looking at Djokovic’s victory in fighting his quarantine-detention in Australia, I glimpsed something far beyond the complicated legal battle in Australia which this player, who is an outspoken adversary to Covid-19-vaccinations, has won for the moment.

Because this issue may now affect each and every reporting about future tennis tournaments. It may fuel any heated argument, whether it is about the same rules applying for all, whether it is about victimisation on a personal level and then fueling nationalism and pride, or whether it is about the anti-vaxxer-movement using the story for further radicalisation through distorted reporting and commenting within social media – based circles. The powerful lens for such possible manipulation will include the celebrity involved, and the news factor related to tennis as a sport.

There is more to come on this one. By the way, the NYT reports Djokovic as “having earned about $154 million in career prize money and hundreds of millions more off court”. Taking my distance from the celebrity side of media reporting again, I finally refer to the assessment of the NYT “while Djokovic won in court on Monday, he has undoubtedly lost support in some chambers of the court of public opinion, though he has become a martyr for the anti-vaccine movement and among his countrymen.I would say: This has just begun, more is to be revealed, and it may not going to be a good story.


From the celebrity circus and the glamour moving into a stark contrast between rich and poor:

In another piece of today’s news, it is the New York Times again which I quote with a report titled “Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Virus Tests Per Month“. Of course, this move of the Biden administration is good. It forces private insurance companies to pay for up to eight at-home-tests for those in the United States who do enjoy private health insurance. Again, good for them.

But I can’t help also connecting this piece of news on what wealthy nations can do for their, increasingly discontent, citizens with a story about citizens in some of the poorest countries of this world. The United Nations assesses that 97% of all Afghan families might soon be under what would be considered a threshold of being “poor”. The UN assesses that more than half of the Afghan population may face severe hunger soon. There is more to this story in the German “Tagesschau”, but that is going to be part of the third section of this blog entry. For the moment, I just wanted to reflect on an extremely stark contrast between “rich” and whatever that means, and “poor”, whatever that means. Citizens in one country may benefit from provision of eight Covid-tests per month for free, while this report demonstrates that families in Afghanistan may live on a daily budget of 50 (Euro)Cent, if at all. The Afghan population faces a winter with poverty and cold weather, and much of this also has to do with the international community having frozen all forms of previous financial support and assistance to the country, in order to avoid any support to an illegitimitate Taleban-Government.

Sanctions always hit those the hardest which we seek to protect from suppression, injustice, violence, violation of human rights. We know about this conundrum, but that doesn’t mean that we shall just get used to such horror. The fact that previously, according to the report, up to 75 % of the domestic budget of Afghanistan came from international financial support makes it even more difficult to stomach these news. How do we deal with a situation which, for whatever reason, also directly relates to decisions of engagement over two decades leading to extreme corruption and dependency, and which, for whatever reason, led to the chaotic disengagement of the summer of 2021? Those who suffered from corruption, insecurity, and war, for 20 years, they are the same who suffer now. They won’t forget, and generations to come may also not be ready to forgive.


The same Tagesschau-report on Afghanistan informing us about a daily income of 50 (Euro)Cent or less, or about that those families hope to survive the winter on small coal stockpiles which they bought on credit, not knowing how to repay debts, it also reports on a growing number of families selling their daughters in order to gain income.

Selling their daughters. Into marriage. Under-aged daughters. Selling them. 300 Dollar per sale. Increasingly because of poverty and hunger not keeping these daughters “safe” until they reach an age of fifteen years, but also to give them to the future husband directly after the sale. Children. Young children. Selling them because of financial needs to survive the winter. Turning them over to a man in another family, who considers this child to be his future wife. Who considers owning this child.

Forced marriages are part of a number of cultures, we fight them through all our concerted efforts promoting the rights of women, girls, underaged children in general, and minorities. I have often written about it. Beyond a general expression of horror it is extremely challenging to judge the impact of such a decision on the development of an under-aged girl. Everything we judge about it is including a value-system which may be foreign in those societies.

But here is at least one thing I can say for sure: Consider that this report includes that even the societal protection to such a girl by keeping her with the family of origin until she reaches the age of fifteen is being given up. That a child at an age of ten, or well below, faces a transfer to another man as her future husband. And please, all those men who then treat such a future wife with respect and care, as is appropriate in your society, I mean no disrespect, though my stomach revolts.

Yet, there is no doubt on my mind that many of those under-age girls will end up in abuse, including sexual abuse. I just know, because this criminal behavior transcends any cultural border. Sexual abuse, including most severe forms, is universal, rather than limited to some societies.

I may fail to understand in detail the trauma impact on a girl in a society alien to me. I am only certain that the trauma is massive. How massive? How to relate to the plight of the abused if any understanding of her suffering fails? Which leads me to my encouraging any Western reader to consider my book recommendation:


If you look up the term “Kinderwhore“, some of the returned results will refer to a clothing style worn by some sub-cultures.

Then there is a book with that title by Deanna M. Lehman, and it is a biography about a sexually abused girl in the United States. And then there is a book with the same title by Maria Kjos Fonn and Gabriele Haefs (who translated the book into German).

I am reading “Kinderwhore” by Maria Kjos Fonn in the German eBook edition (© CulturBooks Verlag 2019, ISBN 978-3-95988-145-6). The original book was printed in Norway. Here is a short overview page maintained by the Oslo Literary Agency. I tried to look up whether the entire book is available in English language. I could find sample pages, but I don’t know for sure.

There is no doubt on my mind that Charlotte, the fictional character in this book, represents a real person, and her experiences. It is impossible to come up with a story like this without a true case behind. A case of True Crime, I should like to say. You can download an English translation of 36 sample pages from this site.

I quote from that site: “Charlotte’s mother is always at home, yet hardly ever there. Most of the time she is asleep, heavily medicated in order to remain so. When she is not asleep, she brings home new dads for Charlotte. One of them shows her a glimpse of something else, something better. But too soon, he is replaced by yet another dad. When Charlotte is 12 something happens, something she cannot possibly take in or process. She starts making use of her mother’s pills, happy to learn that there are ways of shutting off your feelings. She establishes a divide between her body and mind, allowing her to take on different sexual roles, like the sedated, passive Doll or the proactive Machine.”

This “something” happening to Charlotte, it is the sexual molestation, the continued sexual abuse, the most painful ordeal of continued rape of a child, by her mother’s boyfriend. And the book is about Charlotte’s survival.

I really have no appropriate words for this book, I feel that any comment on the suffering of the main character would be helpless, incomplete, utterly disrespectful. I have though, the deepest respect for the person behind the fictional character of Charlotte to put her experiences into words. Nothing else would be possible for me than to say “I am deeply sorry for what you had to go through”, and even this feels clumsy, as it includes the past tense.

So, in order to focus my thoughts, I should try to conclude by saying: I have friends with similar experiences. Quite some. I do know about the authenticity described in this book from own experience in my circle of friends. That is why I relate to the fate of those Afghan girls sold into marriage and being given to their future husbands at the age of children.

I encourage you to read the book, or the English sample text.

With that, the World may revert to the plight of Novak. Sorry, Novak, I am sure your legal contestation is justified. That’s all okay, I am using your case as an example putting things into proportion, and for a call for compassion. Please, let us not forget the plight of those who really suffer. And put action to where our mouths are.


Back to my Key Performance Indicators now…

On Weapons, Ammunition and Explosives – An Afghanistan Threat Assessment

20 August 2021, Christoph Heusgen, former permanent representative of Germany to the United Nations, and former longtime foreign and security policy advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, found clear words. In an article on the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations headlined “Germany and Afghanistan: Time to ditch bad governments, not good governance“, he draws a comparison of the engagement in Afghanistan with the situation in Mali, West Africa. He begins with stating “After Afghanistan, countries such as Germany should reconsider their presence in Mali, unless the ruling class commits to good governance and democratic principles.”

In the above article he talks about “good governance”, not only about “democratic principles”. He carefully lists both terms connected with an “and”. They stand separate from each other. And he talks about “the ruling class”. I will come back to “good governance”, conditionality, but also moral responsibilities, towards the end.

At the time of this writing the new Emperor is dressing into governmental clothes: The Taleban are in a process of forming and announcing a new government. When the insurgency had reached Kabul’s outer perimeter, the former Afghan government imploded, literally, after the former President fled the country. In an earlier article on Afghanistan developments I wrote that the difference with this implosion of governance is that we were observing it being on the inside, not on the outside. And in my last piece as of September 02, 2021 I wrote about a country being “armed to the teeth”. This because, amongst many other, the implosion has extraordinary consequences for the amount and type of military and police equipment, weapons, ammunition, and explosives.

Roughly, my questions related to future threats are:

  • Is this gear now subject to new governmental control, and to which extent, and how?
  • What will this gear be used for in Afghanistan by those who claim legitimacy for their governing the country, or just do rule it without any process resembling legitimacy?
  • Will the new Emperor (so to speak) undertake a comprehensive effort to secure large stockpiles of weapons and ammunition before even more will disappear into dubious, criminal, and terrorist channels as for sure is the case already right now? And how will this be done, concretely looking at possible new faultlines of terror and organised crime, by creating new generations of people being subjected to cruelties?
  • Which consequences come from the implosion preceeding the victory? Where are soldiers, police officers, commanding officers of any rank, organisational structures? We hear stories of individuals hiding, of entire units fleeing into neighboring countries together with the equipment they were carrying. We don’t know who will partner up with warlords. We don’t know who will end up on the side of terrorist organisations. And by the way, we do hear about the hostility between IS and the Taleban. We do hear about disappointed Taleban joining the ranks of ISIS-K, who are historically hostile to the Taleban, and who are extremely radical in their religious beliefs. What does this mean for weapons being readily available? Which threats come from extremism and terror in the region, for other parts of the world, including, but not only, Europe?

I am not even pretending this list is complete. Neither I would make a comparison in detail about what happened in other country situations where governance imploded, such as in Libya. Except for the numbers of weapons out of control after Libya’s implosion which were ending up fueling the conflict cycles which haunt us in addition to Libya, thereafter. I talk about Mali and what I witnessed there throughout my travels 2013 and the following years. Today, nine years after the initial crisis in Mail, the fire which we try to extinguish is burning in neighbouring countries, and beyond.

What I say is that we have serious reasons for working on a profound threat assessment. In my conversations, I hear all sorts of opinions. Some would be on the cautious side. Others would say “There won’t be much happening”, or they would say “There is not much that will be a threat for Europe, Afghanistan is too far away”, or, “I am not interested”. The last one being something I heard very often when I listened to people on the streets.

If the catastrophic failure of all collective assessments of intelligence, diplomacy and politics led to the circumstances which we witnessed in July and August, with many voices likening it with an embarrassing “defeat of the West”, what more do we need as a wake-up call that we need to wrap our minds around everything which could be a potential threat for humanity, peace, and security? For the citizens in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan’s neighborhood, in countries closer to the European Union, and the EU itself?

There is no time for complacency any longer.

Just a recap: Until recently, we fought a war against the Taleban, considering them insurgents at least, but we would put them close to terrorism, or we would consider them committing acts of terror. We have, until now, all indications for Taleban forces being responsible for atrocities, for countless crimes against humanity. We have not only withdrawn from a war against the Taleban, with international forces fighting against the Taleban. Rather, the Afghan military and the Afghan Police apparatus has been built, trained, staffed, and equipped. With huge amounts of military and police gear.

This has not been an isolated U.S. endeavor. The U.S. was involved on their own, and being part of NATO. NATO, and NATO member States were in this, together with the United States. The European Union was in it, amongst many other topical areas the EU, and EU Member States, provided large financial contributions to what is known as LOTFA, the Law and Order Trust Fund. Throughout two decades, Afghanistan’s military and policing capacities and capabilities were defined through often mainly international decisions, and when the capacities were stood up, they were dependent on everything, including salaries, equipment, and training. We are talking about an entire Army, and an entire Police setup. From everything I know from public sources, there wasn’t much sustainable development at all if the entire security apparatus depends on salaries being paid through international trust funds, capabilities being generated as donations, with huge dependencies on foreign contractors working on maintenance and supply chains, and constant ongoing training.

Even in a “best case” scenario, I have difficulties imagining anything like a smooth transition of what we call a “chain of command” from one government to the next. It feels almost cynical to name it like that. Rather, I anticipate that sheer power of coercion by the Taleban, may be combined with tribal play which we hardly understand, will compete with resistance, dissolution, and the panic of individuals who fear for their life, and that of their families. There are news about the Taleban not living up to what they publicly claim, that they hunt and execute former police and military officials. What does this mean for weapons control, and for the fate of armed people who are desperate, and need a living at the same time?

Within days in August, the Talban took control. A short while later, the last U.S. airplane being part of the international evacuation and rescue effort, now hailed by the U.S. Secretary of State as the biggest air bridge ever, left Kabul 30 August, 23:59 hours. With that, the U.S. declared the war in Afghanistan being over. Already before, we froze all international aid, by far not only the humanitarian side of it. Who is paying salaries for soldiers and police, right now?

International attention, and attention of the general public, often has a short breath. I can already feel that some may say “Alright, we have lost that war, let us move on.” For twenty years, we were with the Afghan people. Like everyone else in Afghanistan, our military and police colleagues grew friends with us. Fought with us, risked their life for their people, and trusting our promise that we would not leave them alone. Afghan police and military were the ones who took unimaginable casualties (the police even more than the military), and won’t forget the civilian casualties from two decades of war, either. After all, the victims were family, or friends.

Thus, further instability may not only depend on how the Taleban act when delivering on what they claim: That they are different now. It also depends on whether we are able to create new trust amongst those who feel they have lost everything. This means that we can not only think about threats from Afghanistan we may have to contain in the closer and larger neighborhood. We have to seek ways how we can establish a dialogue inside Afghanistan as well. Here, conditionality will be critical.

Apart from any moral assessment of this, which has its legitimacy in its own right: From a pure threat assessment perspective we need to think about a situation where former friends may feel that we have handed them over to former enemies. Where does this lead us to? Our own actions decide about whether this points to future enemies, or scenarios of cooperation. I stop there, the humanist in me wants to, of course, think of even more.

It means that, concretely for the topic at hand – large amounts of weapons, ammunition and explosives – we need to look into long term strategies, waiting for opportunities and avenues allowing the support to containment, control, and demolition inside Afghanistan, and immediate strategies allowing to help in establishing conditions for networks addressing SALW control in Afghanistan’s neighborhood.

Weapons – Ammunition – Explosives – On Afghanistan – Numbers first and what we do not know

In my previous blog article I wrote about the core of my current line of work: Advising the German Federal Foreign Office on aspects of assistance related to systematic control of what is known as Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). The categorization “Small Arms and Light Weapons” can be somewhat misleading, because of the attributes “small” and “light”. Like, light weapons being weapons requiring not more than three people carrying them. We don’t talk about toy weapons. We talk about everything including pistols, rifles, submachine guns, machine guns, and sorts of equipment capable of destroying tanks, or gunning aircrafts down, as long as this stuff can be moved around easily.

We talk about some of the most lethal gear which can be used in asymmetric warfare, organized crime, insurgency, violent extremism, and terrorism. If you want to binge, go to Youtube and look up those gun nerds who run channels where they use this type of weaponry on firing ranges for smashing just about everything, because it creates huge numbers of people watching it. Some of those people don’t only smash things, but also explain the weapons and ammunition in a very detailed, very professional way. Veterans of various wars, having found a retirement business model.

Just to set the record straight about the type of stuff I am looking at in the following paragraphs.


Since every assessment in my line of work starts with a threat assessment, I began to wonder about what we know about the amount of SALW which we can expect to be in Afghanistan after the takeover by the Taleban, and also, where this gear is from. I have no intention to go into a comprehensive research, but I would like to use some publicly available figures as an example, and some simple logical conclusions, in order to at least point into the direction of a staggering dimension of weapons we are talking about.

Let me begin, therefore, with a few things which we know, and a few things which we do not know much about, at least publicly.

We do know that the Taleban themselves have lots of weaponry. Perhaps we do not really know, or only have confidential knowledge about the numbers, and the type of weaponry. For making my argument this is less relevant. We do know that they have enough weapons, ammunition, and explosives which allowed them to fight an entire army and a set of police organisations in a warfare where the Afghan military and police were only able to hold their ground, still loosing control over significant swaths of Afghan territory as long as the international military campaign provided superior capacities and capabilities, meaning for example air support, reconnaissance, drone firepower, specialised ground forces, and a whole international supply chain enabling the Afghan defense against this insurgency. Yet, the Taleban had enough military capability to conduct their insurgency, carrying out horrible atrocities along the way. They had and have an own supply chain, and they had and have an own financial and logistical structure for this supply chain. BBC’s report “Afghanistan: How do the Taliban make money?” gives you a sense.

How many weapons do we talk about which never were under Afghan governmental control and not under control of the Taleban, meaning, weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens, criminals, and terrorists such as ISIS-K? For future analysis, also this question will be relevant. From every experience in other zones of conflict and war it is self-evident that weapons circulate for all kinds of self-defense purposes, criminal purposes, and as instruments of terror. The situation of Afghanistan being a core area of the world’s poppy cultivation, opium production and trade, and heroin production and trade adds. There is simply no way to discard the amount of weapons which never were under any form of organisational control, be it the previous government, or the insurgency. In itself, this amounts to significant amounts of weapons which should be under control, because they are a threat.

How many weapons were left behind by hastily leaving international forces? We simply do not know. We do know that the international military had huge amounts, of course, and hopefully took as much of this gear out as possible. There is, however, indication that not everything was taken out. Here is an example for large weapons stockpiles which were simply burned to the ground, in order to make them unusable: Taleban video footage which was gained by the New York Times, indicating how the CIA burned down own facilities in Kabul before leaving. Those weapons in that video footage seem to be destroyed, however, we also know, at least in relation to some type of military gear, that the advancing Taleban took control of it. There is a lot of coverage about Taleban posing in military gear obtained from former military bases of the international coalition.

How many weapons, how much ammunition, how many explosives were in the possession of the Afghan military and security apparatus before the Taleban took over? Here we may, at least, come up with some figures about what the international community donated to the security apparatus. Whether we do have oversight about the Afghan security forces own procurement processes, I don’t know. I’m a pessimist, I doubt we know much. And the knowledge about what type of gear came from international aid, it may be kept as sensitive information, may be also because of some shame we may feel. But here are two links to professional investigative research on this topic, and here they only serve as examples, proper work requires much more: (1)Staggering costs – staggering numbers”, a Forbes magazine attempt to look into military equipment and weapons left behind in Afghanistan because the equipment was donated to Afghan military and security; (2) “Afghanistan: Black Hawks and Humvees – military kit now with the Taliban”, BBC reporting also attempts to identify how much heavy military equipment now is under Taleban control. For starters, they list 43 MD-530 helicopters, 33 C208/AC208 planes, 33 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, 23 A-29 light attack air planes, 32 MI-17 helicopters, and 3 C-130 Hercules military cargo planes known as useable in-country as of 30 June 2021. They go on with staggering numbers of vehicles, including 3012 Humvees, and 31 Mobile Strike Force Vehicles. They also list at least 3598 M4 carbines. Like everyone else, BBC scrambles all qualified guesswork attempting to estimate how much of this equipment is in country, and unter Taleban control. Taken together, it is really not difficult to assume that the amount of Small Arms and Light Weapons which were part of the internationally donated equipment over twenty years will be in the milions.

These questions and examples are enough to make my point. We are talking about a country armed to the teeth.


Importantly, the next question relates to how much control there is over these weapons, and by whom. This leads to an attempted threat assessment, and I put that out in my next article.

Weapons – Ammunition – Explosives – A way how to assist in controlling them

I began my day by reading a guest essay in the New York Times by Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. In “Afghanistan Was a Wake-Up Call. Europe Needs to Step Up.” the Union’s Foreign Policy Chief dives into security issues on a strategic level. Because, the situation in Afghanistan and its wider context is confronting us with a gargantuan collection of challenges which we only begin to understand. Of course, security implications require the same attention as the humanitarian suffering already does.

I want to focus on one specific aspect: Weapons, ammunition, explosives.

On Afghanistan I will do that in my next article, but before doing that I want to spend a few sentences on how we support a comprehensive initiative in the field of weapons, ammunition, and explosives, in the Western Balkans. We do this since several years together with France, increasingly with the European Union, and many others. Good news stories often go unnoticed when facing the onslaught of catastrophic news. So, before looking at something strongly appearing to be a big mess, here a positive story first.

My current work revolves around advising the German Federal Foreign Office on German assistance to systematic efforts of governments and societies controlling all aspects of what is known as Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), their ammunition, and explosives. It is a very holistic approach, and here is a good entry point on global aspects of SALW.

What does our support mean? Here some examples:

  • It means to help partners in improving meeting international and European standards on how to regulate trade and export according to international treaties;
  • It is about how to ensure safe use, storage, and transport of such items both in the military and the civilian realm;
  • It is about prevention of diversion of legally owned weapons, ammunition and explosives into criminal channels;
  • It is about fighting the use of weapons for criminal purposes, about detecting and deterring organised criminals and terrorists trafficking in weapons or using weapons;
  • It is about prevention of crime, about addressing domestic violence, and violence against women, children, and vulnerable groups;
  • It is about strengthening the role of women in policymaking related to how societies and States want to control all legal aspects on SALW, and to fight all illegal aspects.

That’s already a long list, and more often than not the topic only catches the attention of the general public when there is a horrific terror attack, such as the Paris attacks of 2015. Since two weeks, the situation in Afghanistan is drawing increasingly attention to it.

The key principle is assistance to efforts coming from States and societies themselves. In the case of the Western Balkans it concretely means the joint efforts of six jurisdictions (I will refer to Kosovo with reference to UN Security Council Resolution 1244) Albania, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North-Macedonia and Serbia. With assistance, they have developed a systematic regional roadmap. These jurisdictions have given this roadmap to themselves, their legislators adopted it.

It began as an exercise where the Western Balkans appreciated help, and it developed into an endeavor that now brings partners in the Western Balkans and in the European Union ever closer together. Germany invests a lot of political support, expertise, and a significant financial contribution, into a coordinated support of donors and international implementing organisations who work together under a specific umbrella of coordination. Assistance is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme UNDP, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime UNODC, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation NATO.

In a very comprehensive and coordinated way this goes beyond, but critically includes, the work of law enforcement and criminal justice within the six juridictions of the Western Balkans, and their cooperation with Interpol, Europol, Frontex, and others. Moreover, we now see partners acting in a joint interest, less and less as neighbors, more and more as being part of something joint. If you are interested in details, you will find an entry point into this whole universe of comprehensive assistance here, any quick web research will give you tons of more resources. And watch out for more news. There is a high-level conference coming up early September, taking stock half-way through the intitiative. I will post public statements here in my blog once I am authorised to do that.

The way how this roadmap has been developed by the governments in the Western Balkans themselves, and the way how donors and partners assist them in it, has found international recognition, including inside the European Union itself, and the United Nations. Recently, the UN explicitly praised the Western Balkans roadmap inititiative as a role model that could be adapted to other situations. And Germany already supports the interest which has been raised in the Carribean, or in West Africa. Both regions make good progress in developing their own tailormade approach.

Making it clear from where I look at select aspects of what can be seen as challenges within the Afghanistan context is meant to indicate two experiences which I support:

The relevance of weapons, ammunition and explosives in a global threat environment at times goes underrated, until a catastrophe is hitting the news again. The threat is constant, and in my experience it is growing;

There are successful models on assisting countries in conflict; countries emerging from conflict; countries being confronted with conflict in their immediate neighborhood; and countries that are well advanced on their long path into building lasting peace. We have alternatives to the failed models of the past. Initiatives like the one I have described above are important examples for something that can be used in many other topical and geographical areas.

They are relevant because of the key principles of assistance, partnership, and coherence of support efforts which I have touched upon above.