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Have the Taliban Changed their Tune on Women’s Rights?

Crossposted at opencanada.org’s Dispatch blog

I find that the subject of women’s rights in Afghanistan is a difficult one to engage with. To some, the shocking standard to which women were treated under the Taliban represents a key reason for our presence there. To others, the goal of gender equality is a PR front for the actual reasons we intervened. To still others, modest improvements are a positive bi-product of a complex mission.

While on my trip in Afghanistan, we had five briefings that focused on women and gender issues. Each left me with a different feeling, from disgust to frustration to awe. There is no doubt that the lives of many have been improved by our presence. And as I felt in Northern Iraq several years ago, it is tremendously difficult to argue with the logic of someone who has been liberated. But the fact that one group in one region has been freed, should not blind us to the consequences of this liberation for others. With this in mind, these were my five encounters.

First, one evening we had a formal dinner at the Serena hotel, one of the few international hotels in Kabul. Our group was seated along one side of a long table, and a delegation of various Afghan think tankers and university professors were on the other. Seated across from me were an Afghan woman and a young male Afghan, who worked for NATO HQ. For the first half hour or so, the woman was very quiet. Her English was not very good, and the men around her, particularly one who was a cousin of Karzai, were dominating. But when we figured out a way for the young Afghan man beside her to translate, she opened up, and her story was incredible. She was 20 when Taliban fell. Until then, she had spent her teenage years being taught in secret schools for girls. One of her teachers had been killed by the Taliban. In 2001, she went to law school, got the best marks in the school and now is a law professor at Kabul University. I’m sure there are many women with similar stories, and I feel somewhat hesitant recalling it, as if I’ve been had by NATO TOLA planners, but she really was nothing short of remarkable. Watching and listening to her and the young guy both helping to translate and telling his own story, which was impressive in its own right, I saw pretty clearly that there is a new generation waiting in the wings in Afghanistan. They are frustrated, impatient and when they get a chance, it’s hard to see how they will not do better than the current crowd in charge. I only wish we could empower them sooner.

Second, when we were in Mazar e Sharif, we had a meeting with the Gender Engagement Team. Led by a young female Swedish soldier, the team was made up of three Afghan women in their twenties. It’s hard to overstate how courageous these women were. They are essentially conducting psi-ops for RC-N, coming in and out of the base on a daily basis and reporting on what people think about ISAF. What is particularly amazing is that their friends and family now know that they work for ISAF. As insurgent violence picks up in the north, they are at significant risk. At one point during our two hours with them, they got very angry with the German and American commanders in the room over the night raids. I will post on this issue separately, but the strength with which they rebuked the ISAF line that night raids are essential because they reduce civilian casualties was remarkable. Even if the raids do reduce casualties, the team argued, they also are a humiliating experience. Men descend on their villages at night, breaking down doors, and see them, particularly the women, at their most vulnerable. The disconnect between the cold rationalism of the ISAF argument and the aggressive push back from those actually affected was bracing.

Third, in Herat, we met with two Provincial Councilors, both of whom were female. The meeting was clearly intended to demonstrate the progress being made in local governance, in particular the mandated 50% female quota. What we got was both tragically and wonderfully different. With the Italian PRT contingent watching on, and the more jingoistic members of our party somewhat disgruntled, the two women clearly and articulately disagreed with virtual every assessment we had heard of Herat to date. For two hours they made it abundantly clear that, while considered the most secure and developed region of the country by ISAF, the west has a very long way to go. They spoke of villages that support the insurgents in order to get NATO aid (if considered safe, they are ignored), of the problems with narcotics trafficking, particularly the widows created by arrested or killed husbands who took up trafficking to make a living, of the rising violence levels, of how even elected women remain shut out, and of the power of the mullahs. They were confident and impressive. I was left hoping but doubting that the rest of the councilors compared.

Fourth, immediately following the meeting with the councilors, we were escorted to the Italian PRT’s signature project in Herat, a women’s center. When we pulled up to the modern three story building, we were greeted by a shocking display of Italian military force (I know there is a joke here). There were three armored trucks each with a high caliber gunner on top, a couple of dozen fully kitted out soldiers, and our escorts, another half dozen men. They had closed part of the street, the heavy guns were pointed at the neighbouring buildings, and there were soldiers guarding the door of the center. We were rushed into the building to find 20 or so visibly stunned Afghan women. For the next hour, we were paraded around what can only be called a model of tokenism. The women were selling textiles and saffron in a series of brand new shops. It was entirely unclear who might shop there, other than PRT guests, as there are few tourists in Herat, and surely locals don’t need a gift mall to buy Afghan textiles. In fairness, the center does function as a community center of sorts for women, with a gym, and classrooms. But there was no mistaking the reason we were there, and it made me sick.

Finally, on our last day in Kabul, we had a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation with a senior UNAMA official. When asked about the status of women in the country, he got visibly frustrated. The idea that women lead significantly better lives in most of the country, he said, needs to be dismissed. Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative Islamic state. It has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. And in wide swaths of the country, women are treated in a brutally oppressive fashion. The Taliban, he argued, were particularly appalling, because they codified this treatment, but it is still occurring on a widespread scale.

Coming back to the future, and to the Taliban, the same UN official made an interesting point, which I hadn’t heard before. The Taliban, he stated, have recently softened their position on women. More politically savvy than when they were in power, many Taliban leaders now recognize the political importance the international community places on the rights of women, and wanting to be part of the political process, their views are evolving. This is a fascinating quirk in what is too often portrayed in a simplistic narrative – the Taliban are bad because of their treatment of women. Now this softening of doctrine may not be true, but if we are welcoming them back into positions of power, as our reconciliation policy would suggest, then let’s hope the Taliban find it politically expedient to treat women in a less brutal fashion. In many ways, these small victories may become big markers of the mission’s lasting impacts.

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More on the Integrity of the Comprehensive Approach

Crossposted at opencanada.org’s Dispatch blog

I just had a conversation regarding my last post with a NATO Public Diplomacy official. In short, my argument was that in RC-N the ANP appear incapable of holding villages so that the building can take place, and that there are vastly more resources focused on the military component on the mission.

The response I received was that NATO itself is neither nation-building nor implementing all aspects of the comprehensive approach. What is really meant by the comprehensive approach, I was told, is that NATO is a participant in the comprehensive approach with other organizations who are doing the governance and development components. As an example of this, the point was rightly made that NATO countries have refused to task the alliance with a rule of law mandate, as member states feel that this would go beyond their military focus.

This, however, is simply not how we have been briefed over the past week, nor how the mission is explained to domestic publics, at least in Canada. Some of the PRTs are clearly part of the NATO mandate, while others are member country run, and at virtually every briefing we have received, we have been told of the importance and details of governance and development projects. Indeed, the briefings we have received from Senior Civilian Representatives (SCRs) at all levels, have focused exclusively on non military NATO tasks. Here is where I agree, though. I don’t think NATO should be doing all of these tasks, but as states participating in this conflict we have not properly equipped and funded the orgs that should be– i.e., the IOs, NGOs and local groups who should be doing way, way more.

Perhaps the military should be doing the initial targeted tactical assistance during the hold phase of COIN, but this absolutely must transition to a civilian project almost immediately. This civilian operation would need security, but this should likely be done by Afghan and/or private security. If civilian orgs as currently constituted aren’t willing to take this risk, then I think we may need not rethink either the rules governing government civilian orgs, or whether we should be attempting these tasks at all.

I suppose I don’t blame NATO, they have come a long way since McChrystal dragged them into a COIN strategy. And in the absence of other major actors able or willing to do the development, they are stepping up to some degree. Instead I blame NATO member states who have failed to adequately fund the orgs that they should know full well should be doing the governance and development. For example, we met a WFP official who said they are $220 million short to fulfill basic food needs this year. This is in a country in which the US alone is spending a $100 billion a year.

Until we are honest about these parts of the project – parts wee claim are required for success – then we are not being serious about the comprehensive approach.

There is of course another very simple potential explanation for this, one being pushed by one of my trip mates – viz, the comprehensive approach is not actually required to meet our objectives, because our objectives are are actually far more modest than we are politically willing to admit.

It is quite likely that we are hoping to at best leave an Afghan state structure that is capable of staying roughly together, in which case, we need to secure as many villages as possible in the two and a half years remaining, hope that Karzai’s governors can hold their provinces together and leave some special forces, trainers and operational support here for a decade after. Our mission is then not one of nation building, but of basic nation stabilization. Needless to say, I am increasingly skeptical. But I’m meeting with both Petraeus and Gass in the next couple days, so maybe they will make it all make sense.

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Notes from Mazar e Sherif: Tactical Challenges, Strategic Quagmire

Crossposted at opencanada.org’s Dispatch blog

I am writing this on my phone from a c160 flying from mazar e sharif to herat where we have spent the past 48hrs. This morning, we awoke to the news that last night insurgents struck an international hotel in Kabul.  This felt a world away, and frankly, neither surprises me, nor tells us very much about the state of the war.  The briefings we have received in our first Regional Command (RC) visit, however, point to some real challenges. Challenges that frankly make me question the integrity of the transition, which as I mentioned in my previous post, is the singular focus of ISAF at the moment.

The main base in northern Afghanistan, RC-N, is run by the Germans, and is meticulous. The bunks are clean, the roads and paths nicely paved, there is a beer garden and night club. What we heard though, is of a war effort disjointed from the strategic narrative being pushed by Kabul. Two specific tactical challenges point to potential fundamental flaws in the transition plan.

The strategy, as outlined by HQ, sounds reasonable and feasible. Over the next three years build the Afghan army and police so that they can take over the security role vacated by ISAF forces. This is supposed to happen in a series of tranches, whereby control of governance and security are transferred.  In RC-N here is how that is to work in reality: the Afghan National Army (ANA) supported by ISAF, takes a village, forcing out the insurgents.  The Afghan National Police (ANP) then holds the village, while a comprehensive approach is applied to the village, mainly focusing on governance reforms. As we draw down, we will have ideally left secure communities, policed and governed by Afghans, with some operational support and long term development assistance continuing. Take, hold, build.

Here are two problems as recounted by a German Colonel and his team who run the mentoring program for RC-North.  First, the ANP is incapable of holding villages once ISAF and the ANA have departed. The police force, intended to grow to 170,000 by transition, gets approximately 4 weeks of training.  They are largely illiterate, and they are principally trained to act as checkpoint guards. They are incapable of patrolling and securing villages so immediately after forces leave, the insurgents simply return. The village is then taken again.  Each time this happens, more civilians are killed, and the population stops informing on the whereabouts of IEDs, increasing ISAF casualties. In the past year, there has not been a single village held by the ANP.  This is worth repeating.  In the words of the Colonel, speaking abouf RC-N, the insurgents always come back, there have been no successful hold phases in the past year.

The second challenge is related to the governance component of the comprehensive approach. Simply put, we don’t have close to enough resources to implement the governmace reforms required. As the same ISAF Colonel put it to us,  the comprehensive approach is a headline. At a macro level, the resource imbalance is astounding. The military resources present here represent a remarkable logistical feat. Civilians, however, are almost nowhere to be seen. At a tactical level, what this means is that we don’t have the resources to mentor administrators, lawyers and judges in the communities we are trying to hold. This leads to few of the reforms that we have promised Afghans and which we have determined are required for strategic success. They see the same corruptions and abuses of power that they have lived with for so long. In short, implementing the comprehensive approach will require both additional military resources to hold the villages ourselves, but also more importantly, a massive civilian increase that we are simply unequiped to provide.

Ultimately, we are able to take villages, which is not surprising given the scale and sophistication of our force deployment. But we are unable to either hold or build. Simply put, there is a structural imbalance in our comprehensive approach strategy.

What this means in the North (and a big caveat that these observations are only based on what we have been briefed on in this part of the country, though a part that is supposed to be amoungst the most secure), is the following. A comprehensive approach is required to nationbuild, ie to achieve the overarching objectives of the transition of providing governance reforms and basic development. If we are not willing or able to provide the correct kind and magnitude of deployment, we are likely going to leave a country with wide areas back in the control of the only groups able to provide security, governance and jobs – the various warlords, and criminal groups that make up the insurgency. We can likely keep the Taliban out of power in Kabul, and al-Qaeda out of most of Afghanstan, and we will have done a lot of good throughout the country, but nationbuilding by force is tough business, and I remain unconvinced that we have proven able to accomplish it.

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First Impressions from ISAF HQ in Kabul

Crossposted at opencanada.org’s Dispatch blog

I am in Afghanistan as part of a NATO TOLA tour. On Friday the six participants met in Brussels for a day of briefings at the NATO HQ, and then flew to Kabul together.  For 8 days, we are to be treated to incredible access to civilian, military and Afghan leaders.  There is no doubt we are receiving a very particular perspective on country, conflict and mission; but we are getting it in a large number of blunt, open, briefings.  In addition to time in and around Kabul, we will be doing trips to Mazar e Sharif (RC-North), and then to Herat in the west (RC-West).  I have a large number of more specific comments to make, but as an intro post, let me just make a few initial observations, based on 48hrs of briefings in Kabul.

The ISAF security infrastructure is suffocating. This is i’m sure obvious to anyone who has spent anytime here, and I certainly expected it, but nonetheless, the security within the green zone, which houses various headquarters, country bases, embassies and ministries, it a fortress like I have never seen (the only thing that come close for me is the US base in Erbil). The labyrinth of 20-30 foot blast walls, the immense rows of barbwire, the absurd amount of checkpoints, and the elaborate chambers for exiting and entering by foot, are truly incredible. Being inside it, and under the ‘protection’ of it, makes the thought of existing in the other Kabul seem impossible, even though you know that this is what many friends and colleagues do.  It feels like a catch-22, though – you are safest with either full military protection, or none.

The singular focus is on “transition”. So far, there has been only one theme of our briefings (by senior military, civilian and Afghan officials) – namely, transition. Whereas a year ago, I’m certain one would have heard about more generalized counterinsurgency strategy and tactics, now everything is about what will be in place by 2014.  The overwhelming focus of this is on training, or the NTM-A.   The training command, which only began in earnest in November 2009, has an objective of training and educating between 300,000 and 350,000 soldiers and police officers by October of this year.  While many of the early problems have been worked out (such as pay inequity, some of the corruption, 85% illiteracy), and while the program is now properly resourced ($11 billion a yr), it is still a monumental task.   What’s perhaps most concerning, though, is that the US force draw down is meant to be replaced by these new recruits.  For example, the reduction of 30,000 US forces over the next 18 months, will be replaced by 50-70,000 new ANA troops.  While there is something to be said for the argument that an Afghan soldier is in some ways more effective than a western one, the lack of training, organization, leadership, and equipment, combined with the remaining corruption, make one question this premise.   Interestingly, this is what the Canadian mission will shift to this week, and I will be visiting two places where our trainers will be based (RC-N and RC-W) this week.

The layers of bureaucracy are astounding. Several years ago I did some work on the whole of government approach that Canada was using in Afghanistan.  One of the things I took away from this research was that despite good the planning and coordination  between the military, diplomatic and development components of our mission, the overall complexity of the task and institutional responses built threatened to marginalize these efforts. And this was only in the Canadian context. The overwhelming sense I am getting through these briefings is that the layers of bureaucracy that are being created and used to tackle the incredibly challenging tasks we have given NATO are so vast and complex, that they ultimately may become unmanageable, and are almost certainly unsustainable post-transition. They feel all but certain to collapse in on themselves. Take just as one example the NTM-A. They are building a dozen military and policy schools, teaching all recruits to read and write, building an air force, training a special ops team, constituting anti-corruption programs, training officers and military leaders, and on and on.  All are positive, but they are all based on a western military and institutional model, and there is no doubt that this is am immense system being build for a country that does not have a recent institutional history. These same phenomena can be seen across the ISAF, OED, EUPOL, and UN missions.

Obama’s speech has had a real impact: It is easy to forget when one is watching politics in North America, that major policy changes are announced in what are often simply viewed as political speeches.  We arrived here a couple of days after Obama’s Afghanistan speech, in which he announced the beginnings of the draw down of the surge. The ubiquitous reaction we are getting is that while this was largely expected (Obama said when he announced the surge that he would begin drawdown in July 2011), it still has a real impact.  Much of these forces will likely be taken from non front line combat troops, but it will have a real impact. As an interesting side note, it took the US military a year just to physically fly in the 33,000 troop surge. So draw down will ultimately take a fair amount of time.

One final, perhaps minor point before I have to get some sleep:

There seems to be lots of talk at HQ that the new leadership trio of Crocker-Allan-Gass is a positive combination for the transition. It’s no secret that Patraeus and Ikenberry didn’t get along.  It was also no secret that Patraeus was the primary American voice in Afghanistan. This has served to reinforce the strength of the military as the primary voice and public face of the mission for the past two years.  While resources will of course continue to be overwhelmingly military, and there is little evidence of a shift to a real civilian surge, there is considerable talk that the balance of power will switch to the diplomats for the remaining 3 years of the mission. Crocker is a big presence and has the star power of Patraeus. And Simon Gass has a lot of experience in Afghanistan. They also get along well. It sounds like it is likely that the US embassy and NATO civilian civilian rep are about to take a lead role. Allen, less of a personality than McCrystal or Patraeus, will likely take less of a public role, as the focus shifts to polical transition and away from full scale counterinsurgency and towards training, reintegration and reconciliation.  Again, this does not necessary mean the local governance challenges are going to get the attention they require, but it is likely that this diplomatic leadership will move aggressively on high level reconciliation and pressure on Kabul.

Ok, those are a few very quick rough notes on the first 24hrs.  Will have much more to relay in the coming days.

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The Munk Debates, Henry Kissinger and Polite Company

Crossposted at opencanada.org’s Disptach blog

For the past few years I have worked on the Munk Debates. Officially, I am the Research Director. Unofficially, I help out however I can and get to be a part of a unique and fun event.

The debate last week was on China and featured Henry Kissinger and Fareed Zakaria versus Nial Ferguson and David Li debating the resolution: be it resolved, the 21st century will belong to China.

While the debate was wonderful (one of the best yet, elevated by Ferguson’s Oxbridge cleverness, Zakaria’s polished showmanship, Li’s calm confidence and Kissinger’s very presence), from the moment I learned of the pairing several months ago, I have been uneasy about Kissinger’s participation. Leaving aside the irony that Christopher Hitchens (whose 2001 book The Trial of Henry Kissinger argues that Kissinger should be prosecuted for war crimes) participated in the previous Munk debate, I have substantial misgivings about the man and the role he plays in society. I am not absolutist about this – I recognize that he is a mainstay in elite foreign policy and media circles – but I didn’t feel entirely right about his participation.

This apprehension stems from substantial work I have done on the US bombing in Cambodia. A number of years ago, when I was in Cambodia doing research for my thesis, I was given a database by a computer technician at a de-mining NGO. On the CD, was a GIS database of all US drop points in Cambodia during the Indochinese war.  More info on this story can be found in thisWalrus piece that emerged from the research, but the short version is that I have spent a number of years studying the data and its implications with the world’s principle Cambodia historian, a Professor at Yale named Ben Kiernan.

And this is where Kissinger comes back in. One of the things we did was compare every written statement Kissinger has made on the bombing, as well as the White House transcripts that have recently been declassified, with the new bombing data. The result is that we can point to a very wide range of lies told by both Kissinger and Nixon. Based on this work, I believe that the secret bombing of Cambodia was both against US law and constitutes a war crime. I do not say this in the slightest bit lightly. I will likely be testifying in front of the Cambodian Tribunal this year to this effect (bizarrely, I am being called by the defense, which is another blog post all together).

Given all of this, here is the point I would like to make. I understand that leaders often have to do things in the interest of the state that are illegal and/or immoral. I understand that war opens, stretches and contorts the bounds of both. But if one feels that these exceptions are necessarily made, in the direst of circumstances, then I think that in order to signal the gravity of such an action, they should be held to some sort of account. To do so is not necessarily to condemn the act absolutely (though it may be), but to show the seriousness with which such acts should be treated. Perhaps this is a legal accounting, or, perhaps it is as simple as being socially ostracized. What I find off-putting about Kissinger is that not only has he remained wholly unrepentant about Cambodia and a host of other questionable actions taken in the name of national security, but that he has been coddled and ingratiated by the US elite and has profited mightily from his role as a statesman.

An analogous situation is that of a torturer. Let’s grant those who support torture the questionable premise that a person may choose to torture believing that to torture is the best possible action given the circumstances.  Even exceptional decisions should be held to account, and any person who tortures should be made to defend the urgency of his or her actions in both the courts of law and public opinion. This point for me is critical in ensuring that very rare acts do not become normalized by their acceptance. So too should be the case for illegal acts done in the name of the state.

So in my mind, even if what Kissinger has done can be defended by some grand theory of realpolitik, as matters of state security, in my view he should still be forced to account for them  (for instance, the hundreds of thousands of Cambodian civilians slaughtered by carpet bombs). At the very least, perhaps Kissinger shouldn’t be embraced by polite company.

When I met him backstage last week, I was surprised by my reaction.  I have in the past sent him my work with Ben on Cambodia and have tried unsuccessfully to get an interview. When I saw him, though, the overwhelming sense I got was that this man is, thankfully, of another age. He speaks a language that feels distant, ancient and out of touch. His quips have seen too many cocktail parties.  His reflections on China emerge from past realities and encounters.  This was made even more poignant by the fact that I’d spent the day with David Li, the very embodiment of the 21st century China – confident, brilliant, and quietly dismissive of the very Western world that the Kissingers of 20th century America built. Ironically, by reaching out to Mao, and shepherding China into the modern world, Kissinger may have helped build the very bridge that has made his world obsolete.

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Four Ways to Reinvigorate the Canadian Foreign Policy Debate

Crossposted at opencanada.org’s Dispatch blog

Last fall, I participated in a workshop hosted by L’Idée Fédérale, a think tank in Montreal headed by one of our Roundtable bloggers, André Pratte.  The topic was modest – “A Bold New Vision for Canada” – and we were all tasked with presenting on an aspect of our changing federation, in my case foreign policy.  As we launch opencanada.org, which is seeking to reinvigorate the Canadian foreign policy debate, I thought I would open with a few comments from that session. Below are a few personal reflections on possible components of a 21st century foreign policy. I would very much value your thoughts, as this is part of a much wider conversation – one we hope to foster on this site.

1. We must base our foreign policy in the tools and tactics of a networked world.

It is one thing to say, as the CIC Open Canada report as well as The Liberal Party of Canada’s recent foreign policy report, titled “A Global Network Strategy”, did, that the world is now interconnected.  It is quite another to map these networks and develop policies that take advantage of benefits and mitigate threats. The world is not simply multipolar, it is multiscalar.  States are still important, but they are subject to the actions of individuals and groups as never before. Although there are countless examples of networked international policy actors, groups and phenomena, such as al-Qaeda, microfinance organizations, do-it-yourself development theory, social entrepreneurial mergers of NGOs and for-profits, and so on, none more uniquely embodies the new global reality than the case of Wikileaks.

The recent Wikileaks release of thousands of diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies follows the publication of hundreds of thousands of documents containing operational information about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These massive data leaks, while lauded by many, underline the tension between a government’s justifiable need for secrecy and the public’s demand for more open and transparent governance. There are both benefits and costs to this new phenomenon that together accentuate the complexity of the new foreign policy environment.

2. We must reform, dismantle or replace the institutions through which we conduct foreign policy

Most of the institutions through which we as a country engage with the world form a part of the modern social democratic state.  This institutional structure was developed in response to deep ideological divides between mercantilist capitalists and communists that existed at the turn of the last century.  It originated in the early 19th and early 20th centuries in response to a series of cascading global challenges. Like today, the pace of change was so rapid in 1912 that Americans, as Woodrow Wilson put it, were “coming to feel they had no control over the course of their affairs.” Consequently, as a movement composed of diverse interests a centrist progressive agenda sought to reconcile industrial capitalism with individual rights and democracy, diminish the religious and moralist tradition by integrating science and professional management into public policy and a professional bureaucracy, and confront international threats such as imperialism, fascism and expansionist communism with democracy and international stability.   From the late 19th century through the 1960s, three generations of leaders successfully built the national institutions and principles that define much of western world: liberal internationalism through the Bretton-Woods institutions and the League of Nations/United Nations, middle-class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, and the advancement of individual rights through the suffragist and civil rights movements.

These New Deal institutions are characterized by their hierarchical structure. At the heart of virtually all of them lies a centralized administration allocating resources. While command-and-control bureaucracies were a productive development in industrial economies, this organizational model is profoundly ill-suited for the globalized knowledge economy. New information technologies lower the costs of democratically affiliating, mobilizing and organizing people and co-creating and distributing ideas. More importantly, diversity and freedom — not control — drive innovation in a networked world.

There are both domestic and international examples of these out of date institutions.  Domestically, the role of DFAIT has in many ways been made redundant as other departments have taken on increasingly prominent international roles.  As domestic issues are become increasingly international, so too must the departments responsible.  As an example of DFAIT’s diminishing role, during the Afghan war, Canada implemented what they called a Whole-of-Government approach, which merged our development, diplomatic and military capacities into one central strategic command.  Incredibly, instead using DFAIT as the central coordinating body, which is after all its role, the integrated mission was run from an ad hoc PCO department.  A second example is the struggle of CIDA to evolve its development models.  Since CIDA is laden by bureaucracy, there are growing calls to disband or radically reform CIDA, including one from from the Open Canada report.  NGOs, donor countries, development contractors and individual employees are all increasingly frustrated with the CIDA development model.

The same challenge mires our international institutions.  The UN, World Bank and IMF were all built for a different word; one where nation states in general, and a select groups of states in particular, had a near universal monopoly on power.  This is clearly no longer the case.  The result is that small fixes, such as reforming the Security Council, will prove insufficient. We need to rethink what global governance looks like in a networked world.

3. We must meaningfully engage and incentivize the new foreign policy actors

If you were interested in international affairs in the 1970’s, your clear career choice was to join the foreign service. As a result, in what many see as the golden age of Canadian foreign policy, a small groups of diplomats guided our engagement in the world.  There were literally a handful of people responsible for our entire foreign policy.  It goes without saying that this is no longer the case.  If an engaged Gen Y’er wants to work on global issues, chances are he or she is not going to join the government.  In fact, the chances are pretty good that he or she is not going to even engage with the questions of Canadian foreign policy proper.

Instead, this group, my peers, start NGO’s, write books, work for multinationals, create social enterprises.  They are innovating.  They look at the government and see an institutional structure which does not appeal.  They see a bargain whereby they have to put in two decades of work to be in a position of authority and independence. What’s more, while some select few can have an impact within government, one can often make a far more significant impact from the outside.

And there may be a deeper shift in play.  This new generation of Canadians shaped by the internet and globalization have replaced a traditional desire for certainty (from their politicians, newspapers and teachers), for the probability of truth.  They understand that there are multiple perspectives that need to be balanced and understood. This is the basic fact of living in a network with access to an abundance of information. Have been presented with an online world centred around choice and freedom, made possible by decentralised authority, these people are increasingly interested in remaking the real world along those lines. In short, they are willing to trade the security of centralization and hierarchical institutions for something new.

4.  We desperately need innovation of ideas

The most significant thing lacking in the Canadian foreign policy discussion is innovation.  As the CIC’s report, Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked Age states, “ideas are the new industry.”  But our debate feels out of date, the language is tired, and we simply do not have the institutions needed to spur innovation.

First, the language of the discussion is both tired and out of date.  You would be hard pressed to pick up a Canadian foreign policy book or essay without seeing such clichés as: Go for Gold, World Class, Energy Superpower, Getting Back in the Game, Size of the fight in the dog, or any number of tedious sports metaphors. More importantly, the theoretical frameworks used to describe the context of foreign policy, such as strategic studies, security studies, the values versus interests debate, national security, and power relations, simply seem ill-suited for the contemporary world.  The policy discourse would benefit from a broader array of theoretical constructs.

Second, at the moment we do not as a country have the capacity for an innovative foreign policy discussion. Where is the creative thinking on foreign policy happening?   What is the framework in which a new generation are viewing foreign policy? I see very few researchers or institutions pushing the boundaries of the Canadian foreign policy debate.  Think tanks struggle for resources, and academics are dis-incentivised from working on Canadian topics, as all of the big disciplinary journals are international.

Finally, and related to the first two points, we need to cease being afraid of bringing ideology into the foreign affairs conversation. As discussed above, there is a widespread belief in the ideal, centrist, moderate foreign policy.  I believe that this is mythology, and that using ideological lenses to develop and critique ideas and policies would be one way of advancing what is a stagnant discourse.  Take the Liberal Party of Canada as an example.  We need to rethink what a liberal internationalist foreign policy looks like in a post 9/11 world.  Some of the greatest thinkers of the left in both the US and UK have recently been bitterly divided between interventionists and isolationists.  With Michael Ignatieff as its leader, the Liberal Party was perhaps uniquely positioned internationally to rethink this ideological world view.  And yet they remained stuck in glorifying past accomplishments developed in and for a world that no longer exists. Similarly, I would be fascinated to hear a clear articulation of a morality-driven Conservative foreign policy platform.  The way in which the Harper government has navigated the Chinese rights versus market debate has been telling – and indicative of an emerging Canadian conservative ideological worldview- but all we have really heard are piecemeal, disjointed and often contradictory policy ideas. We sense that there is not an overarching ideological lens. These are the types of ideological arguments and tensions that should be present in a vibrant policy debate.

So there are four thoughts to get the conversation going.  We are going to do our part here to foster these and other debates.  Here’s hoping you will join us.

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Welcome to opencanada.org

For the past eight months I have had the thrill of working with the CIC to answer the following question: what if the CIC wanted to build the online hub for international affairs discussion in Canada?  The challenge was to merge an organizational website, with a media platform.  http://opencanada.org, is our first iteration of the answer.

We have approached this in several ways.  In our section called The Think Tank we engage with, analyze and promote research and journalism produced both around the world and in Canada.  We will not replicate the primary content creation role of other think tanks and publications.  Our Rapid Response feature provides real-time reactions to world events directly from the BlackBerrys of eminent Canadians. I’m very excited about the initial group, which we will continue to expand.  Our group blogs bring top academic and international discussions into an approachable and inviting format.  The Roundtable, our first group blog, tackles the field of international relations and features four leaders: Roland Paris, Jennifer Welsh, André Pratte and John Hancock.

The editors of opencanada.org will post from Dispatch.  Here you can find commentary on international affairs from myself and deputy-editor Anouk Dey, as well as postings by the CIC President Jennifer Jeffs.  On Twitter our @cicdispatch handle will curate and engage with the growing and dynamic community of international affairs scholars and policy-makers.

Site-wide we will run a full media production suite.  Our CIC Events Calendar and Global Events Calendar will alert you to organized events, from international elections to the activities of organisations and universities, both national and abroad.  On our homepage we run a Twitter feed that selects topical tweeters each week.  We plan to host virtual and live events and, wherever possible, to use technology to facilitate online engagement.  Through this variety of features we will promote other think tanks, academics, and journalists while encouraging a lively discussion of international affairs.  To be the hub of a conversation, we need to be completely open.  This platform is yours as much as it is ours.

While the site is a work in progress, it is a labour of love, and we have a host of exciting expansions and projects to roll out over the coming months.  We can’t wait to build the 21st century platform for international affairs in Canada – a platform that has been for too long absent.  Welcome to opencanada.org, Canada’s online hub for international affairs!

I will be cross-posting my pieces in Dispatch to this blog.

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Liberals and a new political centre

Below is an oped for the Toronto Star written with David Eaves.  We wrote a longer exploration of the state of progressive politics for the LRC a couple of years ago, which sounds many of the same themes, and can be found here.

If the Liberals want to be the progressive center – they are going to have to create it.

Canadians may have once valued the Liberal Party, but they reject what it has become. The reason is simple. The centre is dead. Worse still, Liberals let it die.  While once the pragmatic core of Canadian politics, today it is a wasteland devoid of an imaginative, progressive vision, occupied by a largely obsolete electoral strategy.

Don’t believe us? Consider the issues the Liberal Party managed over the 20th century.  The creation of universal health care, and the social safety net. The management of the Canada-US relationship by balancing opportunities for Canadian businesses with our desire to preserve our identity. Engaging Quebec and seeking to affirm its place within the country. Cultivating multiculturalism while simultaneously securing individuals rights in a charter. Fostering peacekeeping to ensure local conflicts did not escalate into nuclear confrontation.

These are significant accomplishments which defined three generations of Canadians. They are also no longer relevant.

Today Canadians, especially young Canadians, are confident about themselves and their identity — there is no longer a “Lament for a Nation.”  The sovereignty movement, while not dead, struggles. Individual rights continue to erode discrimination and the hierarchical relationships that impeded free expression and liberty. While some progressives continue to bang these drums no one should be surprised that they no longer resonate.

In other cases, the solutions offered in the 20th century are simply no longer relevant. Canadians know – as healthcare threatens to eat up 50% of provincial budgets and service levels remain mixed – that their healthcare system is broken. Young Canadians don’t pretend to believe a pension system will exist for them. Anyone can see that peacekeeping cannot solve today’s international conflicts. On all of these issues the traditional offering of progressives rings hallow.

But there is an opportunity for progressives. An opportunity to build a new centre. A centre that moves beyond the debate between conservatives of the Right, and the conservatives of the Left.

On the right is a conservative party that, at its core, doesn’t believe in the federal government. It’s a vision for Canada grounded in the 1860’s, of a minimalist government that does little beyond crime and defense. Its appeal is the offer to dismantle the parts of the system that are broken, but in so doing, it will leave the many who are protected and enabled by the government behind.

On the left is a party who’s vision is to return Canada to the 1960’s. It’s a world of a strong national government, of an even bigger healthcare system, social safety net, and welfare state. Its appeal is a defense of the status quo at all costs, which in the long run will be many.  The conservatism of the left means protecting at all costs that which is unsustainable.  It is the unreformed arc of old ideas.

If there is going to be a new center between these conservative poles, then liberals will need to stop lying to themselves, and to Canadians. They will need to acknowledge, loudly and publicly, that they have failed to reform the institutions of the 20th century and that as a consequence, healthcare is broken, and the welfare state as presently constructed is financially insatiable.  A progressive future lies in taking these challenges head on rather that passively avoiding them.

Moreover, a modern progressive view on government needs to meet the consumer expectations being created by Google, Apple, or Westjet. Fast, effective, personalized, friendly. In short, progressives need a vision that not only safeguards citizens against the extremes of a globalizing market, but that also meets the rising expectations Canadians have of services in the 21st century, all this in a manner that will be sustainable given 21st century budgets and demographics.

No party has figured out how to accomplish this, on the Left of Right. And trolling through 20th or 19th century ideologies probably isn’t going to get us there.

Most importantly, the future for progressives rests in figuring out the political axes of the 21st century around which new solutions can be mined and new coalitions can be built.

We suspect that these will include open versus closed systems, evidence-based policy versus ideology, meritocratic governance versus patronage, open and fair markets versus isolationism, sustainability vs. disposability, and emergent networks versus hierarchies. It is these political distinctions, not the old left versus right, that increasingly resonate among those we speak to.

The challenge is enormous but progressives have done it before. In the 19th century the rise of industrial capitalism led to a series of tense societal changes included the emergence of an urban working class, increasing inequality and the terrifying possibility of total war.

A centrist party turned out to be the place where three generations of pragmatically driven progressives were able to lead  nearly a century of Canadian politics.  Doing this again will require starting from scratch, but that is the task at hand.

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Why Canada should seize the R2P moment

The Oped below is in this morning’s Toronto Star.  It was written with my new colleague Anouk Dey, with whom I am in the process of building something pretty exciting with the Canada International Council.  Many more details to follow in the coming weeks.

R2P: More than a Slogan

For many commentators, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is becoming the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) of Libya: the suspect acronym behind a misbegotten military effort. Before placing the blame on what was once a symbol of Canada’s international leadership, it is important to remember what R2P is and what it is not.

Emerging from a Canadian-funded commission in 2001 into how the international community should react in the face of crimes against humanity and genocide, the concept is meant to put a degree of conditionality on the notion of sovereignty. The sovereign rights of states, R2P argues, are conditional on the protection of civilians against large-scale slaughter. If this protection is not provided, the international community can legitimately breech sovereignty in order to protect the civilians in harm.

What R2P is not, is a blank cheque to invade. It is a threshold that can be used to guide Security Council endorsement for humanitarian interventions. It is a principle that was adopted by the UN General Assembly, not an idea unleashed from the ivory tower. It did not apply to either Iraq or Afghanistan. It would have applied to Rwanda. It applies in Libya, and likely in the Ivory Coast.

There are three reasons why Canada should actively promote R2P.

First, it is our best hope of realizing the proclamations of “never again” that followed the Rwandan genocide. This massive failure on the part of the international community demonstrated that something is grossly wrong with a system of absolute sovereignty that protects the right of a state to murder its citizens. R2P is far from perfect, but it does begin to address the two major flaws of the status quo, that sovereignty is a powerful trump card against action, and that it is very difficult to pass humanitarian intervention authorization through the Security Council.

Second, R2P deals with a core dilemma of humanitarian intervention, that protective interventions are preventative rather than punitive. In the past, we have deliberated and delayed intervention until it was too late. The challenge is that to stop atrocities, we have to act on the perception of intent (Gadhafi’s articulated goal to “cleanse Libya house by house”) rather than evidence of action (him having done so). R2P therefore seeks to engage policy-makers in the short window of time when atrocities are imminent and inevitable, but have not yet occurred.

Finally, the intention of an intervention can shape its outcomes. Whether an intervention is justified according to R2P or allegations of WMD matters. Take Iraq — the U.S. invasion would likely have employed different tactics if the primary intention had been civilian protection rather than the removal of WMD. Libya is not Iraq in part because our motives are different.

For these three reasons, R2P is good for the world as a whole. But supporting R2P and, by extension, the military action in Libya, is also in Canada’s self-interest.

For one, by taking part in the mission in Libya — endorsed by both the Security Council and the Arab League — Canada is rightfully engaging as a key multilateral partner. This is a crucial step in Canada’s effort to redeem its strategic international position after its failure to secure a seat on the Security Council this fall.

More important, in the deployment of an R2P-based mission such as Libya, Canada has a rare opportunity to shape global action. Through the beginning of this decade, Canada’s role in clarifying and championing R2P represented a significant foreign policy success. Without extensive lobbying by the Canadian delegation, it is unlikely that the UN would have taken the substantial step forward in approving R2P in 2005.

In spite of this accomplishment, 18 months ago the Harper government banned the use by government departments of the term R2P (along with human security, gender equality and child soldiers). With that, Canada lost a primary vehicle through which to assert its international leadership.

Ironically, just as we have abandoned its use, the world has embraced a concept that is, at its heart, Canadian. And yet, as Canadian troops engage in an operation explicitly justified according to R2P, Defence Minister Peter MacKay suggests that R2P has “lost its lustre” and his government has not used the term to describe Canada’s involvement in the Libyan mission.

With a Canadian in charge of the NATO mission, Canada is receiving deserved international attention.

Despite this, Canada is missing a rare opportunity to push an important concept that would not exist without our hard work.

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Don’t Blame R2P: A Rebuttal to Margaret Wente

Sometimes I appreciate Margaret Wente’s contrarianism, sometimes it really blinds her.  Her piece last weekend on R2P and Libya was wildly off the mark, replacing critique with a somewhat bizarre stretch to lay ideological blame.  Below is a response I wrote with Anouk Dey for the CIC blog.

In last Saturday’s Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente provocatively opposed NATO’s  engagement in Libya. Just as Iraq was the neocons’ war, western intervention in Libya, she suggested, stems malignly from the machinations of the liberal intelligentsia.

The hub of her argument rests on the fact that members of the Security Council alluded to the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect in the lead up to the UN resolution authorizing a no-fly zone. The implication is that the liberal internationalists who support this doctrine did so to promote their ideas, rather than to protect those facing imminent slaughter.

Before going through her case, which warrants response, it’s worth remembering what R2P is and is not. Emerging from a Canadian funded commission in 2001 into how the international community should react in the face of crimes against humanity and genocide, the concept is meant to put a degree of conditionality on the notion of sovereignty. The sovereign rights of states, R2P argues, are conditional on the protection of civilians against large-scale slaughter. If this protection is not provided, the international community can legitimately breech sovereignty in order to protect the civilians in harm.

What R2P is not, is a blank check to invade. It is a threshold that can be used to guide Security Council endorsement for humanitarian interventions. It is a principle that was ratified by the UN General Assembly, not an idea unleashed from the ivory tower. It did not apply to either Iraq or Afghanistan. It would have applied to Rwanda. It applies in Libya, and likely in the Ivory Coast.

With this in mind, it is worth looking closely at the case made by Wente.

First, Wente argues that R2P is “rooted in Western guilt over the failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda.” R2P is certainly linked to failure to save a million Rwandese from slaughter. Whether you want to call this guilt, or shame, or disgust, what is important is that we recognized that something is grossly wrong with a system of absolute sovereignty that protects the right of a state to murder its citizens. Yes R2P is born from a brutal lesson in history – but that is a good thing.

Second, R2P proponents are not just ill-intentioned, “they’re also ignorant. They know less about the tribal politics of Libya than they do about the dark side of the moon. To them, all Arab nations look alike.” Never mind the fact that some of the most prominent proponents of R2P actually know a great deal about tribal conflict, but a wide range of experts in the Middle East and North Africa have also supported the no-fly zone. And it is not just regional experts who support the no-fly zone; so too do those who draw their knowledge from the field. Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire described the international community’s failure to invoke R2P earlier as “a colossal missed opportunity.”

Third, on the implementation of R2P, Wente chastises intellectual zealots who “have been so amazingly eager for us to rush into battle.” But here is the thing about preventing imminent slaughter, it has to be done in a timely fashion. Protective interventions must happen before mass atrocities occur, but in the past, we have waited until it was too late. This means that to stop atrocities, we have to act on the perception of intent – Quaddafi’s articulated goal to “cleanse Libya house by house” – rather than evidence of action. This is the very core dilemma of humanitarian interventions which the concept of R2P seeks to address. A challenge yes, but the alternative that Wente recommends is far less palatable.

Fourth, advocates of R2P are not only ignorant, sinister and quixotic. They are also French. The French counterpart to Susan Rice (US Ambassador to the UN), Wente remarks, “is the glamourous philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy.” Leaving aside the fact that he has no official role in the government of France, and she is an ambassador, Rice is a far cry from a pontificating leftist savant. She is the daughter of a former governor of the Federal Reserve and, at Oxford, worked under Ngaire Woods, a pro international financial institution free market thinker, who works closely with the IMF and the World Bank. Not particularly Lévy-esque.

Fifth, according to Wente, liberal internationalists who support R2P are also hypocrites. “Many of the liberal intellectuals who vigorously opposed the Iraq war,” Wente reveals, “have just as vigorously been advocating intervention in Libya.” Indeed, but this is no revelation. It is because they believe the latter meets the criteria of a humanitarian intervention, while the former did not. They also likely supported previous humanitarian interventions in Congo, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, East Timor and Kurdistan.

Sixth, R2Pers we learn, are really just imperialists. “We have entered a new age – the age of humanitarian imperialism. Humanitarian imperialists are besotted with the fantasies of the West’s inherent goodness… To them, the facts on the ground don’t matter much. What really matters is their good intentions.” Actually, it is precisely the facts on the grounds (that Quaddafi is murdering his citizens) that prompted action from the international community. This is why R2P was applied to this specific case. Moreover, many have argued that the intentions behind an intervention, actually shape the outcome. Take Iraq – the US invasion would likely have employed different tactics if the primary intention has been civilian protection, rather than the removal of WMD.

Finally, Wente tells us that Canada is only in Libya “because our allies are.” This may be one reason, but isn’t this part of a long tradition of Canada supporting multilateralism? Let’s not forget this mission has the endorsement of the Security Council and the Arab League and that a Canadian, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, is currently the commander of NATO’s Libya operations. We would have likely played a more forward role in the lead up to the resolution if the Harper government had not banned the use of the term R2P (along with human security, gender equality and child soldiers) 18 months ago, but surely a Canadian currently in charge of the NATO mission counts for some sort of leadership?

There are two things that are certain about Canada’s involvement in Libya. The first and most important is that in the face of Quaddafi’s aggression, the mission was worth supporting, but undoubtedly brings with it a host of challenges. Identifying and addressing these challenges is important. The second is that on the issue of R2P, Canada has a rare window of opportunity to shape global action. Ultimately, Canada should be proud of the role it has played in developing and promoting the doctrine, a product of historical experience and learned debate. Unfortunately, analysis such as Wente’s gets us no closer to either.