This Week at War, No. 9
What the four-stars are reading -- a weekly column from Small Wars Journal.
Who's in charge of cleaning up after a war?
Who’s in charge of cleaning up after a war?
In last week’s post, I discussed the U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Guide, which is exactly what its title suggests — the U.S. government’s interagency manual for planning and organizing a counterinsurgency effort. Last week, I wondered whether this guide was a cookbook for conquest. The authors, led by counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen, attempted to banish that notion by reminding readers of the guide that counterinsurgency campaigns are costly, painful, and risky.
Knowing full well that counterinsurgency and stability operations are costly, painful, and risky, but also knowing that the United States will almost certainly be unable to avoid more such campaigns in the years ahead, experts in and out of government are turning their attention to the gritty details of executing these campaigns in the field.
One such expert is Janine Davidson. Davidson was a U.S. Air Force officer and pilot, worked at the Pentagon organizing postwar stability operations, is currently an assistant professor at George Mason University, and, according to Foreign Policy‘s Laura Rozen, will soon be deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and planning.
In a recent speech delivered to senior leaders of the U.S. Army’s education system, Davidson discussed the challenges of getting a full team of military and civilian resources from the U.S. government, foreign governments, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) all working together to stabilize post-conflict situations.
Davidson identified some of the major barriers preventing effective responses to post-conflict situations:
1) When will civilian agencies show up in the field with the resources and trained personnel to match their military counterparts?
2) When various agencies (U.S. military units, State Department diplomats, the Agency for International Development, etc.) arrive at the site of a post-conflict situation, which agency should be in charge?
3) Do these various agencies, even within the U.S. government, have a common set of terminology when discussing stability operations? Can diplomats, aid workers, and soldiers understand each other’s concepts and terms?
4) Conducting interagency training exercises prior to a deployment to a conflict zone could resolve many interagency problems before arrival. Such training exercises are second nature to military organizations. But are civilian agencies and NGOs also ready to participate in such training?
5) Can military and nonmilitary agencies communicate with each other? Do their radios work together? What about communication encryption procedures or other procedures relating to operational security?
In a response to these and other open issues, last year Davidson and some of her colleagues created the Consortium for Complex Operations, an interagency research and training program designed to improve the entire government’s effectiveness in stability operations.
Davidson thinks that much work remains in order to field truly expeditionary civilians. She also thinks that it is the responsibility of U.S. military agencies to help their civilian counterparts prepare for expeditionary field work and to support these civilians better after they arrive in the field. For U.S. military organizations exhausted after years of tedious operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, this might be the best exit strategy available.
Are weak states a bigger problem than strong states?
On March 2, John Nagl (the president of the Center for a New American Security and a key developer of the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency doctrine) wrote at Small Wars Journal that, while the central problem of international relations in the 20th century was states that were too strong (Germany, Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union), the primary problems of international relations in the 21st century are states that are too weak (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico). Nagl then referred to a recent piece at the New York Times written by Thomas Friedman that professed nostalgia for a supposedly simpler time a few decades ago when diplomats spoke for governments which almost always had complete mastery of their affairs and territories.
Is it true that weak states are now the primary problems of international relations, implying that there would be fewer problems if there were more strong states?
Anonymous commenter Schmedlap, who said he was a veteran U.S. Army infantry officer with three tours of duty in Iraq, wondered whether Nagl could be more specific:
I recognize that Nagl’s contention does not state that ALL weak countries are problematic or that ALL strong countries are stabilizing forces, or even that SOME strong countries are stabilizing forces. So, I am not suggesting that the contention is wrong. But, given that many weak countries are not major problems and several strong countries are not stabilizing forces, I suspect that there must be more to the contention. [emphasis in original]
Perhaps what Nagl is saying is that for the foreseeable future, the most frequent problems in international relations will occur due to the existence of weak states. However, most frequent is not the same thing as most severe.
In his crystal ball, Colin Gray, a professor of international politics and strategic studies at the University of Reading in Britain sees the 21st century resembling the 20th, with more wars between large powers, the bloody consequence of clashing interests. According to Gray, terrorism is a minor menace. As for counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, Gray writes, When we find what we believe is the answer, someone changes the question…. the process of COIN disengagement is under way.
Government officials charged with preparing for the future have choices to make. Should they allocate most of their resources preparing for problems that are most likely and most frequent but perhaps only irritating? Or should they prepare most for problems that are rare but severe enough to be crippling to their respective countries?
Is attempting to predict the future even a good use of one’s time? In his essay, Gray notes, Britain’s Chief of the Imperial General Staff in 1914 said that he had not marked 4 August of that year in advance as being a date of special significance. Surprise happens. If that’s true, what is a strategist to do?
This Week at War, No. 8 (Feb. 28, 2009)
This Week at War, No. 7 (Feb. 20, 2009)
This Week at War, No. 6 (Feb. 13, 2009)
This Week at War, No. 5 (Feb. 6, 2009)
This Week at War, No. 4 (Jan. 30, 2009)
This Week at War, No. 3 (Jan. 23, 2009)
This Week at War, No. 2 (Jan. 16, 2009)
This Week at War, No. 1 (Jan. 9, 2009)
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