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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.