Monday, June 25, 2007

# Posted 8:12 PM by Taylor Owen  

3D IN AFGHANISTAN: I have a couple of articles out on the concept of 3D peacebuilding currently being used in Afghanistan. Both are co-authored with a friend, Patrick Travers. The idea that defense, development and diplomatic initiatives must coordinate in fundamentally new ways is seen by many as the future of peacebuilding. This, however, brings with it a host of challenges that are not easily reconciled.

The focus of these pieces is on the Canadian mission, but the argument is applicable to other nations participating in Afghanistan, and increasingly, elsewhere. I was recently at a NATO conference where the very themes were discussed by US Army participants. Though different countries use different terminology, all are struggling with the same questions: How to achieve multiple objectives (counter-terrorism, reconstruction, development, humanitarian assistance, etc.) when tactics are often counterproductive? How to change strategic cultures used to full independence, to collaborate with other actors in a conflict zone? How to peacebuild when military tactics are driving people to the enemy, and a situation is deemed too insecure for development workers? How to collaborate with nations who have varying tactics, objectives and operating procedures?

The first article is in the Walrus Magazine and available here. The second, more academic piece is published as a CIR Working Paper, here. As the latter is a work in progress, I would be very appreciative of thoughts.

The lead of the Walrus piece is below.
A hundred and twenty years before Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, a British prime minister identified the issue at the heart of current attempts to defeat the Taliban and reconstruct the country. In the midst of the “Great Game” between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia over influence in Central Asia, William Gladstone urged his fellow citizens to “remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan, among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of Almighty God, as can be your own.”

Preserving the sanctity of life, however, is difficult when the enemy strikes unexpectedly, blends into the local populace, and enjoys growing support. Last October, for example, some twenty Afghan civilians were killed during two separate NATO attacks. First, a 2 a.m. helicopter strike on Taliban fighters destroyed several huts in the village of Ashogoh. The same day, a rocket accidentally struck a house during a firefight between NATO troops and the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai has summed up Afghanistan’s vulnerable position, stating, “We can’t prevent the terrorists from coming from Pakistan, and we can’t prevent the coalition from bombing the terrorists, and our child­ren are dying because of this.”

Karzai’s comment encapsulates the challenge Canada now faces in Afghanistan. We must win local support for reconstruction efforts while also making war. These two tasks are not easily reconciled. As Afghan legislator Shu­kria Barakzai has warned, killing civilians will undermine NATO’s mission in Afghanistan (to say nothing of harsh treatment of detainees).

Although this poses a dilemma, it’s no reason to leave – a point on which a near consensus has emerged. While the Liberal Party supports moving for­ces out of Kandahar province (where the heaviest fighting is) in 2009, all national parties save the New Democrats agree that the humanitarian costs of withdrawing completely from the country outweigh the many challenges of staying. Indeed, successive Canadian govern­ments have ultimately justified the mission in similar terms. Unlike Gladstone, we are trying to help the Afghans build a viable and independent state. With the official debate over Canada’s presence resolved for the time being, the question remains: how do we go about building peace while we’re still at war?

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(5) opinions -- Add your opinion

In the UK the attempt to interweave different lines of operation and different agencies in COIN is called the 'Comprehensive Approach.'

Although personally I think the critical problem lies over the border. Historically, insurgencies that maintain external support and sanctuary generally succeed. Even if we coordinate everything beautifully, this problem exists.
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It seems to me that you think of the problem as "lack of coordination", and if only the different agencies communicate more, things will be better. Sure, up to a point, but I think that if more coordination is a goal then that point will be reached too soon for the coordination to be effective. My feeling as a programmer and as a former academic, participant in many meetings, is that communication is in itself a heavy cost; as Brooks' Mythical Man-Month (published just when I was starting in compsci grad school) revealed [phrasing by wikipedia]:

"When N people have to communicate among themselves (without a hierarchy), as N increases, their output M decreases and can even become negative (i.e. the total work remaining at the end of a day is greater than the total work that had been remaining at the beginning of that day, such as when many bugs are created)."

All I guess I'm saying is, I don't think communication in itself is a positive; it's a cost we bear in the hopes of minimizing other specific costs within a specific plan (such as civilians getting mad at us and supporting the enemy.) So I'm uncomfortable with my current perception of your article. I would want the communication (and the article) to be built around an explicit set of goals and subgoals, rather than around an abstract-sounding observation that everybody's "struggling with the same questions...when tactics are often counterproductive". Sure, I agree that development and even diplomacy have to be mingled with defense, and given large shares of the budget, but I would expect that almost every way of mingling them will be even worse than not mingling them at all.

So? How would I "peacebuild"? Well, that would be an even longer comment, and I've probably made it before. (It would resemble Barnett's SysAdmin, but it would be geekier.) :-)
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