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.