The MAGAI™ Construct and the Northern Distribution Network

A Report of the CSIS Project on the Northern Distribution Network in Afghanistan

The United States is pouring massive resources and risking precious lives of its soldiers in its efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, a part of the world most Americans could not identify on a map before 9/11. President Barack Obama has already increased the U.S. force presence considerably and is deliberating further increases in what may be the most portentous decision of his presidency. But his administration, as well as its predecessor, undercuts the rationale for engagement in this remote barren land by emphasizing only the prevention of future and perhaps catastrophic terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland. As this paper argues, there is a deeper and broader strategic argument for U.S. engagement, shaped by longstanding global forces illuminated in a novel manner by the MAGAI™ Construct.
The MAGAI™ Construct presents a unique way to capture the transcontinental, indeed global, dimensions of instability in Afghanistan and the surrounding region. The MAGAI combines two post–Cold War strategic realities:

  1. A Modern Activity Gap (MAG) precariously positioned in Central Asia that acts as a barricade to the flow of deepening economic interdependencies that circumnavigate the northern hemisphere; and
  2. The Arch of Instability (AI), a zone of unstable conditions from the Middle East to South Asia first identified by Zbigniew Brzezinski nearly 30 years ago. This post–Cold War instability has gained a firm foothold in the MAG where its risks are magnified by Islamic extremists seeking to overthrow weak regional governments as well as foment terrorist acts around the globe.

The MAG exists in stark contrast to the rapidly evolving economic conditions to its east and west. Rooted in the MAG, unstable conditions meet an inexorable demand to connect Europe with Asia across a new land bridge, the modern Silk Road (MSR). Along the MSR, transcontinental tensions among the world’s largest economies, competition for access to resources and routes, and a radical Muslim agenda merge.

In this environment, CENTCOM’s Northern Distribution Network pursues options for Afghanistan resupply by involving a wider group of linked partners along the MSR. To meet the demand signals from increased force levels engaged in higher levels of sustained combat, supporting transport infrastructure and processes need to be improved, security needs to be maintained, and sensitive political conditions must be considered. Addressing the immense challenges and the opportunities across the MAG is an imperative, and tools that help the experts to visualize, quantify, and analyze the MAGAI™ Construct are badly needed.

Stephen Benson