Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Interagency Capability Portfolios?

If we were to have a truly whole of government approach to national security, that would include a systematic way of addressing requirements from a whole of government perspective, to enable rational whole of government resource allocation decisions. The DOD has had a capability portfolio "pilot program" for several years attempting to look at the analogous capability gaps and redundancies between the services. So far as I can tell this has had zero impact on actual budgets (p. 78), but at least they're looking in the right direction.

For the interagency you probably won't ever get mutually exclusive and exhaustive capability sets, but maybe capability portfolios just for important complex challenges that require extensive interagency collaboration and integration. E.g., irregular warfare, stability operations, consequence management, etc.

Who would manage these portfolios? NSC or an NSC/OMB hybrid. Would Congress require greater transparency of whatever animal was responsible for this kind of budget rationalization? Probably - but that's not the worst outcome in the world.


Monday, December 29, 2008

COIN, IW, and Development - technical fixes to wicked problems?

Benjamin Friedman makes an important point about mistaking lessons-learned from Iraq and Afghanistan for a science of stabilization and development. We still haven't fully grasped the inherently political component in these operations, at least not in Afghanistan.

Thought experiment: If Israel were to occupy Gaza for another 10 years following all the rules in FM 3-24, would the Palestinians become reconciled to a loss of political identity, or even the loss of Jerusalem?

This isn't to say that lessons can't be learned, but rather that reality can be intractable. In any COIN or stability operation, and many development challenges, there is an irreducible political core that can't be addressed merely by force or dollars. There are windows of opportunity for negotiation, and sometimes they close.

Careful conflict assessment is necessary to determine whether an intervention can possibly be undertaken successfully. And of course you might end up wrong.

I'm reminded of a psychological study from the early 80's. A variety of people were asked to play something similar to Atari's Pong (remember the sliding bars and the bouncing ball?). Afterward they were asked to what degree they could control the direction the ball would bounce off the bar. Type "A" personalities thought 70%, most people thought around 50% [I get why that's funny, really]. Only the clinically depressed were able to accurately able to gauge their degree of control - zero.


Who's in Charge? DOD and State arguments still disrupting counterterrorism programs

This fiasco with the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (an interagency counterterrorism program in the Sahel) reminds me strongly of the fights between State and DOD over providing security for PRTs in Iraq(took over a year).

From a GAO report earlier this year:

Second, disagreements about whether State should have authority over DOD personnel temporarily assigned to conduct TSCTP activities in partner countries have led to DOD’s suspending some activities, for example, in Niger.
"Unity of effort" is a fig leaf over the failure to force unity of command on recalcitrant bureaucracies. If we can't do this either in Iraq or the Sahel, who thinks our interagency process is working?

Also see PNSR's just published magisterial national security reform report, Forging a New Shield.

[note: R3 has a similar posting, clear sign we hang out too much]


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We burned the village in order to save it - Diplomacy or military intervention for Darfur?

Chris Blattman's Blog: Links I liked

Chris Blattman posted a link to this great article by Mamdani on the issue of military interventions targeted at preventing genocide. Mamdani's book on 1994 Rwanda is one of my favorite. Bottom line is that military interventions typically inflame the violence they're intended to halt.

Why relevant? Samantha Power is off to the NSC.

Mamdani's a challenging writer, make yourself read the whole thing. Here's a teaser:

What the humanitarian intervention lobby fails to see is that the US did intervene in Rwanda, through a proxy. That proxy was the RPF, backed up by entire units from the Uganda Army. The green light was given to the RPF, whose commanding officer, Paul Kagame, had recently returned from training in the US, just as it was lately given to the Ethiopian army in Somalia. Instead of using its resources and influence to bring about a political solution to the civil war, and then strengthen it, the US signalled to one of the parties that it could pursue victory with impunity. This unilateralism was part of what led to the disaster, and that is the real lesson of Rwanda. Applied to Darfur and Sudan, it is sobering. It means recognising that Darfur is not yet another Rwanda. Nurturing hopes of an external military intervention among those in the insurgency who aspire to victory and reinforcing the fears of those in the counter-insurgency who see it as a prelude to defeat are precisely the ways to ensure that it becomes a Rwanda. Strengthening those on both sides who stand for a political settlement to the civil war is the only realistic approach. Solidarity, not intervention, is what will bring peace to Darfur.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Direct Budget Support and Building Parnership Capacity

For those of us who care about national security, it isn't enough to recognize that the US has underfunded our foreign assistance programs, we have to reassess the modalities. The DoD has a Building Partnership Capacity program to strengthen partner country militaries. It's difficult to take seriously State's "Governing Justly and Democratically" goal when almost all of our aid is delivered through entities paralleling the host nation's systems, without democratic accountability. We're undermining host nation capacity by stealing human capital from their bureaucracies instead of investing in them, and failing to establish an expectation in civil society that their government should be held accountable for what services reach them.

A helpful thought experiment is to think about developing host country procurement and service delivery capabilities the way we look at the development of host country military capacity in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military and civil service are both bureaucracies. Developing capabilities requires materiel and human capital investments. Typically both institutions are weak (obviously since the military has means of violence they may become political dominant players more readily than the civil service). Either way you approach it in a crawl, walk, run methodology.

Direct Budget Support is an intriguing alternative to the construction of parallel systems. DBS clearly needs MCA-like criteria for implementation. Even the UK's DFID who talk up DBS always point to Tanzania because that’s their best example. They only do DBS in about a dozen countries and there are some countries where they’re only dipping their toes in the water. In Cambodia they just went from 0% DBS to 15% DBS on an experimental basis. Some countries are ready, some are not.

Initially gov doesn’t have capacity to either deliver or procure services because of a lack of resources and a lack of bureaucratic culture (the push of services from gov to society), as well as a lack of civil society capacity to oversee government service delivery and make demands (the pull for services from society on gov). Initially to develop human capital in civil society it absolutely makes sense to build parallel systems (in Iraq the Iraq Security Forces were useless at delivering security to the people of Iraq for a long time, and only now are getting to the point where there’s a reasonable expectation that they’ll successfully take over in the foreseeable future).

But the next step is building up the gov capacity to procure those services for their citizens. Not delivery yet, because service delivery requires larger infrastructure. We’re talking financial management capacity, beginning to build oversight mechanisms to ensure NGOs are actually executing projects. At this same point civil society begins to develop a reasonable expectation for their government to ensure the provision of services to their communities. If you chug along with strictly parallel systems civil society is actually undermined in a critical way vis a vis government- they never develop a the mechanisms for accountability in government because government is not responsible for anything. This is a critical point about developing civil society that the argument about DBS vs. civil society-centric aid misses. This is the beginning of a truly democratic political culture with responsive governance- elections are epiphenomenal to this. (Think about rentier states. The same logic drives the Accra EITI for aid.)

States getting to the point of service delivery only really happens after all this other work happens. Partial DBS is a component of that crawl, walk, run process. Parallel systems of service delivery and procurement make about as much sense in development as the US invading every country that Al Qaeda has a presence in- it just doesn’t. There’s a better way to skin the cat.

Regarding the security component- good walls make good neighbors, strong states make good walls. That’s the logic of DoD’s Building Partnership Capacity model. I have to believe there’s hope that we can convince Congress to stop stove-piping the two efforts conceptually. This coming from a guy who believe they largely should be stove-piped institutionally- i.e., a department-level USAID.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Aid dependence and calling the kettle black

Chris Blattman's Blog: How would you reduce aid dependence?

Over the last several years I've sat through countless meetings in which NGOs and others from the development community have told me how wasteful it is for the U.S. military to be engaged in development projects. There's a great deal of truth in this. Lack of sustainability is one of the more common critiques.

Chris Blattman points out that the NGO community is itself still struggling with establishing effective ways of making projects locally sustainable. How do you escape the cycle of aid dependency? The NGO presence in Lofa County, Liberia is a case study for the scale of challenges involved.

Another common critique of US military involvement in development is cost relative to having an NGO execute the same project. While it's true the gross cost is tremendously expensive, the marginal cost of having personnel with technical skills (medics and Seabees) and the massive logistic capacity native to an amphibious ship like the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) delivering humanitarian or development assistance is less than it appears on its face. Otherwise these assets would be involved with conducting "presence patrols" or training for an amphibious landing against a peer competitor. The immediate benefit of either of these latter missions is difficult to evaluate.

The military has learned a lot over the last several years about how and how not to engage a community in the developing world. These lessons haven't been entirely taken on board, but there is movement.

Despite this post I'm not a proponent of the US military playing a significant roll in development assistance, though I think their roll in disaster relief operations should be uncontroversial. My problem is that the arguments often leveled at the military seem to assume that the DoD is not a learning organization. These traditional critiques leave the military folks on the receiving end with the impression that you simply haven't paid attention to the improvements that they've made, or the improvements that can be made.

There's a more fundamental strategic argument to be made here regarding the division of labor, and where collaboration is appropriate and where it is not, that I'll get into in my next posting. DoD is still plenty capable of generating examples of how not to do business, and drawing all the wrong lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan for their broader engagement with the world.


Monday, November 24, 2008

DfID, getting out the good word

Was at an aid effectiveness conference in the UK last week. One of the interesting differences between the US and UK system pointed out to me by an official from the UK's Department for International Development (DfID) was that the UK doesn't have the same kind of prohibition on agencies targeting domestic audiences to promote themselves (Smith-Mundt). One of the more interesting instances is DfID's cooperation with the Rough Guide guide-book series to produce the Rough Guide to a Better World. Worth a look, and really worth passing on in support of the propaganda campaign.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blattman, double blind reverse blood diamonds and military/aid imperialism

Blattman's involved with a very interesting randomized experiment in Liberia on DDR methods. Also check out his posting on Easterly's attack on Collier's Bottom Billion.

Also check out the panel Blattman spoke on yesterday. Great experiments on deliberative democracy/campaigning in the developing world (Benin) and the use of mass media for post-conflict reconciliation (impact on norms in Rwanda).

Easterly's framing both aid and military interventions as imperialistic I think helps clarify why even if the US were to leave Afghanistan tomorrow, clarifying that NGOs are not there in support of the US, many NGOs would still find them self at risk of becoming Taliban targets (e.g. gender equality projects, government capacity building). Yes I know many were there for decades before the US invaded- but at that time the Taliban was not competing with a central government, they were the government.

But I also think Blattman makes the realist's point:

"As someone off to just such a intervention this afternoon--Liberia, here I come--I'm worried that Bill's advice will be taken too literally and simplistically by those who would advocate a divorce of the humanitarian and the military. For Liberians to rebuild a nation without security and order is an impossibility, and they are only slowly able to provide that monopoly on violence themselves."
Cant against imperialism is a useful cautionary, but looking at the concrete challenges fragile states and the people living in them face demands more than that.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Can you hear me now?

Jenny Aker has an interesting paper about the affect of cell phones on local development. Worth thinking about how the same networks that facilitate market transparency and long-term development also facilitate insurgent networks also facilitate counterinsurgency networks. What does this mean when you're in a place like Afghanistan where communication networks are more capital intensive than Chad because of terrain?


Jared Diamond on why societies collapse

Jared Diamond gave this TED talk back in 2003, but it was only just publicly posted in October this year. He gives a brief overview of his thesis from Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed.

Though the discussion is facilitated by a wide variety of examples, clearly Diamond is concerned about the sustainability of our current global society. Sustainability is also an important issue for those of us engaged in development activities, or have concerns about the regional and global impacts of fragile states' collapse.

I summarize the talk below, but it's worth listening to the entire thing.

Principally Diamond speaks about the Norse in Greenland, the Easter Islanders, and most interestingly the state of Montana (at risk). He touches on many other collapsed societies though.

His framework for analyzing why societies collapse:

1. What is the human impact on the environment and the resources that society depends on (endogenous environmental change)?
2. How does climate change affect the environment and resources that society depends on (~exogenous environmental change)?
3. How does the society's relations' with neighboring friendly and unfriendly societies impact their sustainability?
4. How does the society's political-economic-cultural characteristics impact its ability to recognize and respond to environmental challenges?

What characteristics make a society and problem set make it more or less apt to recognize and respond to the threat of collapse? A variety of collective action problems.

1. Conflict between the short-term interest of elites and the long-term interests of society as a whole.
2. Conflict between traditional sources of strength and the innovations necessary for survival.


1. Rapid collapses may occur immediately after a society reaches its peak of wealth.
2. Our society will have either succeeded or failed in addressing our own challenges within about forty years from now.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Biddle and Friedman on Hezbollah's 2006 Campaign

Steven Biddle of CFR and Jeffrey Friedman of Harvard's Kennedy School put out this great study of Hezbollah's 2006 campaign through the Army's SSI. As noted in the report, a lot of folks have been looking at that campaign for lessons learned about the future of conflict. Non-state actors performing successfully in conflicts in an increasingly conventional (read maneuver and combined arms) manner.

The issue of the future of conflict is relevant to this sight in so far as here we presuppose that many of the threats to U.S. security (terrorism, pandemics, etc.) in the 21st century will emerge out of fragile and failed states, driving the argument for irregular warfare capabilities, and building partner state governance capacity through a variety of foreign assistance programs.

I'm not certain I'm sold by their argument that we should expect this to be a trend. The conventional elements of Hezbollah's tactics and operational art were driven by a logic in many ways unique to the fact their enemy's civilian population was within striking distance of their short and intermediate range rockets. Obviously Hezbollah also has an extraordinary number of characteristics in common with a state, and access to a patron's resources few other groups enjoy. Not at all clear than any other nonstate actors in places the US might contemplate invading would be driven by a similar strategic logic. Here's a good counter to my argument from the Taliban. Exception that proves the rule?

Another interesting research question might be gained by looking at it from the other direction- what state actors might pursue similar tactical and operational techniques in the face of a U.S. intervention?

Thought experiment:
Aside from the much discussed swarming tactics to choke of the flow of oil in the Persian Gulf, if the U.S. were to actually invade would Iran's military pursue fully conventional combined arms set of Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs)? Or would they draw lessons from Hezbollah, striking at Israel to create incentives for a ceasefire (implausible w/ US). Perhaps with conventional rockets in order to avoid completely alienating international opinion. Separately they might conduct what Biddle calls the "modern" style of war, as exemplified by Hezbollah's 2006 campaign, intermediate between insurgency and combined arms, as a delaying tactic to maintain political control long enough for international and domestic political pressure to build up to force the US to accept a ceasefire. Again, the US hasn't historically accepted negotiated peace readily, so it's tough to imagine Iran reading the situation in such a way that these "intermediate" TTPs would be very attractive, but it's worth thinking about. I suppose if I were Iran I would have some difficulty imagining an attractive way of dealing with a US invasion.

This is of course in no way advocating an invasion of Iran. On this point I'm a libtard favoring negotiations with Iran "without preconditions" for all the reasons Obama and Kissinger have discussed.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Awesome Tapes from Africa

No, really. Will make you wax nostalgic. Thursdayborn has some great stuff here.


US Army War College conference on interagency reform

Just stumbled across this, haven't had time to process it yet, but looks interesting. From April 2008, video and slides.


Barnett's Hard Sell

I'm not endorsing this (I'm not in the solution business just now) but it's very much worth a listen. Tom Barnett sells his vision of what the future of the U.S. national security system looks like at the 2005 TED conference. His vision has large implication for USAID types. Plenty of rice bowls get broken, which is of course what makes it interesting. He's an engaging speaker to boot.


Secretary Gates and Secretary Rice, testimony before the House Armed Services Committe on Interagency Reform and Building Partnership Capacity

The House Armed Services Committee held this hearing back in April 2008, but if you missed it, it's worth a look. This is the first time the Secretaries of Defense and State testified together before the House. Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifies as well.

This is fantastic introduction to some of the elements of contention between DOD, State, and USAID. If you don't know what 1206 or 1207 funds are and are concerned about the militarization of US foreign assistance, this is a good way to find out.

Can't help but love Chairman Skelton. He's one of the fathers of modern Professional Military Education and was one of the driving forces behind the original Goldwater-Nichols legislation that forced the military services to operate more jointly (arguably not a completed fight). Also he was one of the voices in the wild warning the Bush Administration about the strategic risk it was haphazardly taking on with the invasion of Iraq, before it was cool.

You can find Gates and Rice's prepared testimony here, a link to all House Armed Services Committee hearings.


Friday, October 31, 2008

GAO on Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership

The TSCTP has generally been under reported. This GAO report is not a bad place to get spun up on what the U.S. is doing in the Sahel, and what we could be doing better. From July of this year.


Frontline on Afghanistan

Great coverage. If you want to get spun up on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, watch this.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mission statement

This blog will address:

1. U.S. national security institutions and strategy

2. Development and U.S. foreign assistance

3. The politics affecting how we engage in the above.

I hope to draw readers into this as a collaborative and contentious project, leading to real world change in practice and policy. Our ability to explore the overlap of these spheres will be our comparative advantage.

But the proof is in the pudding.

(If the above flops feel free to post the names of your favorite happy hour bars in the D.C. area, along with address and hours.)