Patrick Travers and I have an oped, here, and below, in the Star today on the recent NATO summit in Bucharest.
2011 is a date, not a goal
Reinforcements are welcome but do not address Manley’s sweeping critique
Apr 05, 2008
Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters in Bucharest that the French troop commitment to Afghanistan represents a “significant and historic re-engagement.” The truth is somewhat less dramatic, particularly when measured against the Manley panel’s comprehensive and wide-ranging recommendations.
Certainly, the injection of additional resources is good news. It frees American forces to offer more assistance and provides a badly needed show of unity within NATO. But these relatively minor additional resources must be seen in context.
Although allied support will shore up flagging Canadian capacity, the overall mission remains under-resourced. The contributions pledged in Bucharest do not meet the 10,000 troops demanded by ISAF commander Gen. Daniel McNeill before the summit. Even counting the Afghan National Army, there are still fewer forces available than the minimum levels experts identify as necessary for successful peacebuilding operations.
More importantly, the government’s success in Bucharest was largely due to a careful reframing of the Manley report. While the panel did emphasize the need for additional troops and helicopter support, it also went much further.
The critiques were sweeping: too many civilian casualties, incoherent counter-narcotics policies, widespread corruption in Afghan institutions, insufficient diplomatic effort, failure to communicate the mission to Canadians, poor interdepartmental co-ordination, and a lack of civilian participation and oversight. Our strategy, as well as our capacity, is flawed.
The report emphasized this point explicitly when it identified “harmful shortcomings in the NATO/ISAF counter-insurgency campaign” caused by “inadequate co-ordination between military and civilian programs for security, stabilization, reconstruction and development.” The conclusion that “these and other deficiencies reflect serious failures of strategic direction” could hardly be clearer.
Luckily, the panel provided a blueprint. Its recommendations were rooted in the principles of “3D” or “whole-of-government” peacebuilding. Three successive governments have claimed that they are implementing this new approach to rebuilding failed states, but reality has yet to match the rhetoric. In particular, four challenges still need to be addressed.
First, co-ordinated and comprehensive policy-making demands exceptional clarity. Diplomats, humanitarians and defence experts may view the same issues in strikingly different terms. If we are asking them to work together, as we are, we must provide them with clear goals. For Canada in Afghanistan, this has been lacking from the start and the decision to extend the current mission does little to solve the problem.
Second, much of the Canadian debate about our role in Afghanistan has omitted the international context. We are a modest contributor in a 35-member coalition. Success or failure in Afghanistan depends crucially on the actions of our allies. In this sense, it is hard to see the benefit of an arbitrary extension to 2011. If the international effort to stabilize Afghanistan lasts longer, as it almost certainly will, then we need to be clear about what both Canada and ISAF expects to accomplish in next three years. Our commitment has to be viewed in the context of the larger strategy.
Third, peacebuilding demands balance. According to the Manley panel, “for best effect, all three components of the strategy – military, diplomatic and development – need to reinforce each other.”
Not only has this not happened, but the degree of integration has also been difficult to determine from outside observation. The government has consistently failed to provide the verifiable information, clear benchmarks, and concrete timelines to necessary to judge Canada’s mission accurately.
Fourth, strategy begins in Ottawa. Harper has taken steps to improve co-ordination between the departments contributing to the mission, but old habits remain. The Manley report underscored that new and more creative solutions are needed for this bureaucratic deadlock.
Other countries, such as the U.K., may provide an example. They have explored alternate means of encouraging departments to work together when managing complex peacebuilding missions. This may be a rare instance of bureaucratic turf battles mattering deeply both for Canadians and for the success of the mission.
Neither the political compromise that extended our involvement in Afghanistan nor recent developments in Bucharest address these challenges. If we are to avoid finding ourselves in the same position in 2011, a more comprehensive re-engagement is needed.
The Manley panel should have sparked a full and informed public discussion of these issues. Instead, the opportunity was largely lost in political manoeuvring. It is past time we had that debate. Otherwise, we are condemning Canada’s mission to reliving its past.
Patrick Travers is a doctoral student at the University of Oxford. Taylor Owen is a Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford and an Action Canada Fellow.