Reflecting on NATOs Defeat in Afghanistan

The defeat of NATO in Afghanistan is one of the defining moments in history. It symbolizes the end of the post-Cold War era and of Western illusions that, after the collapse of the Communist world, it could dominate the world by forming it in its Western image.

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Michael von der Schulenburg (Michael Sergius Graf von der Schulenburg) was born in Munich in 1948, moving with his parents to East Germany four years later. He grew up near East Berlin, where he completed his schooling and obligatory military service. In 1969, he and his twin brother crossed the Baltic Sea to escape East Germany, hiding on an East German freighter carrying military equipment destined for Vietnam.

Between 1970 and 1975 Schulenburg studied at the Freie Universität (FU) in West Berlin, also attending the London School of Economics (LSE) for one year as an economics major specialising in philosophy. He wrote his master thesis about John Rawls’ Theory of Justice. He then complemented his studies at the German Institute for Development (DIE) in Berlin and the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) in Paris.

In 1978, he joined the United Nations as a junior officer at UNDP in New York. From 1980 to 1987, he worked for the UNDP in Haiti and Pakistan. Between 1987 and 1989, as the Iran-Iraq War reached its final phase, he was assigned to Iran as the Deputy Resident Representative. From 1989 to 1991, he became the chief of missions in Kabul for Operation Salaam, a special UN programme under USG Prince Saddrudin Aga Khan aimed at stabilising Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Soviet occupation forces. In 1991/92, during the first Gulf War (liberation of Kuwait), he was the UN Senior Emergency Coordinator to Syria and, later, became the Special Envoy to Iran.

From 1992 to 1999, he served as the UN Resident Coordinator to Iran, followed by one year as the Director of Operations and Analysis at the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna. He resigned from UNODC over disagreements with the executive director regarding the handling of financial resources. From 2001 to 2005, he joined the OSCE in Vienna as the Director for Management and Finance, where he conducted major management reforms.

From May 2005 to December 2007, Schulenburg served as the Principle Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for Political Affairs to Iraq; from June 2008 to April 2012, he was assigned as the Executive Representative of the Secretary General (ERSG) to Sierra Leone. Both assignments were at the Assistant Secretary General level.

Although mostly in political affairs, Schulenburg worked in all branches of UN/OSCE activities, from development and humanitarian assistance to management reforms. The common thread of his career is war and peace. All of his assignments have been in countries that experienced war, were submerged in intra-state armed conflicts, or were threatened by the effects of armed conflicts in their neighbourhoods.