This article is the English version of: Louis Gautier, « Fin de partie : retour sur l’interventionnisme militaire occidental, 1991-2021 », published in Politique étrangère, Vol. 87, Issue 4, 2021.
On August 31, 2021, after twenty years of war against the Taliban, American troops withdrew from Afghanistan. This brought an end to the longest conflict ever waged by the United States (US), and marked the final phase of disengagement of the US’s military resources, which had been deployed on a massive scale in the Middle East since 2001. It indicated an operational change in the fight against terrorism, now no longer an open declared war, but once again a covert war. Most commentators drew a line under the event as an end to the sequence that began on September 11, 2001. But on a more fundamental level, the withdrawal from Afghanistan signaled an end to the policy of military interventionism pursued by the West since 1991.
Over the last three decades, the Western world (the US and its allies—Europe on the one hand, and Canada, Australia, and New Zealand on the other) has been engaged in over a hundred military operations, most often as support to the US. These operations of greatly varying intensity—some authorized by a mandate from the United Nations (UN) and others not, some led by a single state or by ad hoc coalitions, or by permanent organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the European Union (EU)—can be grouped into two cycles. The first cycle, between 1991 and 2001, primarily consisted of military projections instigated in the name of peacekeeping and peacemaking missions. The second cycle, from 2001 to 2021, consisted of engagements predominantly related to the war on terror or aimed at protecting security interests (particularly in relation to counter-proliferation)…
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