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Books Worth Reading
  • Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    by Robert C. Orr
  • Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    by Ashraf Ghani, Clare Lockhart
  • The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    by Rupert Smith
  • Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    by John Robb
  • Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    by Paul Collier
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    by Francis Fukuyama
  • When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    Princeton University Press
  • Building States to Build Peace
    Building States to Build Peace
    Lynne Rienner Publishers
  • Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    United Nations University Press
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Saturday
Nov172012

The District Stability Framework

For those of you who don't know about the District Stability Framework, it's a conflict assessment tool used to diagnose the sources of instability in a given area and then develop context-appropriate programming to address them.  It is mainly used in Afghanistan but has also been fielded in Sudan and the Philippines.

Here's a link to a 6-page "Quick Reference Guide" put out by the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute.  The DSF is a great tool and something I wish was available in 2003-2004 when I was with the military in Baghdad.

At any rate, my master's project at Duke is on the District Stability Framework, specifically how it is being used in the field and ways it can be improved.  I've designed a short 10-15 minute survey that those who have experience with the DSF can take.  If you have used it, please click on the link and take the survey.  If you haven't please send it to someone you think might have used it and pass it on.   The results will hopefully prove useful to USAID and ISAF as well as those at the tactical level engaging in stabilization.

Here's the link:  https://duke.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_e9CwkZcwv3sqQol

THANKS!

Friday
Jul132012

Humanitarian Aid vs. Development

Humanitarian aid and development are two distinct but related fields.  They are connected because the places where international humanitarian assistance is required are often places where development is too.

 

Bottom line is that humanitarian aid is providing emergency, live-saving assistance, to people in need, and other activities meant to alleviate suffering.  There are three types of humanitarian emergencies aid workers respond to:  man-made disasters, natural disasters, and complex emergencies, which are a combination of both man-made and natural disasters (i.e. a conflict induced famine).  These emergencies can be rapid onset (an earthquake) or slow onset (a famine we know is going to happen because of a drought the previous growing season).  The difference is rapid onset occurs in minutes, hours or days following an event, whereas slow onset emergencies develop over a period of months and years, and can be planned for, though they usually aren't.  Some of these emergencies are highly publicized (such as Haiti or Bosnia) and receive lots of assistance while others are hidden or forgotten, such as the decades long war in the Congo which no one seems to care about (in part because journalists don’t go there since it’s difficult to get to and you can’t stay in a nice hotels or take a quick R&R to the U.S. or Europe).  As previously mentioned in another post, this media attention is important because one single New York Times article can equal 1,500 lives saved since the press influences the level of political action.

 

Development is simply improving the quality of life for populations, and doing so in a matter that is sustainable over the long-term.  There isn’t much that is lifesaving, though development does extend the amount of time people live by improving health, which is usually a function of decreased poverty levels and increases in education.  Traditionally, development interventions have been about stimulating economic growth, with increases in GDP per capita being correlated with higher education levels and life expectancy, which are assumed to be proxies for people being able to live long, creative and productive lives, which is the ultimate goal of development.  If you look at the UN’s Human Development Index, which ranks countries by their level of development, you’ll see that they focus on GNI per capita, (up until 2011 it was GDP per capita), life expectancy at birth, and the mean and expected amount of schooling a population receives (the previous indicator was a combination of adult literacy levels and school enrollment rates).

 

Nowadays a lot of emphasis has been given to the health and education sectors, with the belief among some practitioners being that improving these two areas leads to increased GDP per capita and an improved quality of life.  Others, such as myself, place more importance on having the right economic policies (a stable macroeconomy and a business enabling environment), internal security and the rule of law, and honest and effective governing institutions. 

 

Bridging the gap between humanitarian aid and development is an undefined field that can be described as “transition assistance.”  It’s essentially about helping to build the capacity of state institutions to respond to their own humanitarian emergencies without substantial international involvement.  This is because the actor with primary responsibility to responding to emergencies is the nation in which it occurs.  Yet often the systems of these governments are overwhelmed (and the less developed you are, the quicker that happens).  When these systems break or are stretched to their limit, then the international community has a responsibility to get involved in order to alleviate suffering.  The idea behind transition assistance is that if you can get states to handle the emergencies on their territories internally, then you can move on to other emergencies and help build the capacity of those states, thereby placing less stress on the aid system, and start working on long-term development issues, which is next to impossible if you’re focused on actions to save lives.  


Saturday
Jul072012

International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance @ Fordham

The last month was very educational.  With 40 others I spent around 200 hours learning about the many issues surrounding humanitarian assistance, from its history and the principles behind it, to dealing with refugees and internally displaced persons, to camp management, disaster response, food security, health issues, gender considerations, logistics, ethics, and a variety of other related topics.  We also delved into a series of case studies on the world’s major humanitarian emergencies, both past and present, which were described to us by those who actually participated and played key roles in the relief efforts. 

 

Some of our instructors were superstars in the field humanitarian aid.  Our lead instructor was one of the most senior UN representatives in Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict and later set up Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp.  The number two guy was in charge of UNHCR ops in Pakistan during the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s and negotiated with “warlords” with whom the U.S. still deals with today.  These were men who built and managed camps with tens of thousands of people and coordinated huge logistics operations to bring in supplies in incredibly difficult and resource-constrained operating environments immersed in conflict.  Others were senior officials within the UN, or large international NGOs.  Unlike myself, many of the students had substantial experience in places like Somalia, Sudan, the Congo, Haiti, Chechnya, and Afghanistan, with many stories to share.  It was one of the most interesting and beneficial months I’ve ever spent in academia, in part because I didn’t just learn new things about a subject, but because I learned a lot about myself as well.

 

The first week we spent a lot of time being lectured on group dynamics and took a psychological test on what type of personalities we had and how these various types play out in a group setting.  This was followed up with actual group work that reinforced what we learned, and was quite amazing for me at least, as the experience showed how accurate the test was in terms of interactions among differing personality types.  It helped me realize some issues I need to be cognizant of when working in teams or leading them.  Previously, I had always thought that people who talk issues to death were somehow arrogant and disrespectful of other people’s time, as opposed to just being hardwired in a manner where they feel best solving problems through long, drawn out discussions.  That is something that tends to tire and frustrate me, especially when dealing with minor issues.  For them it is energizing and the best way to get the job done.  I would rather be accomplishing tasks and not waiting until the last minute when a time crunch occurs to be solidifying plans.  Yet I'll likely always be working as part of a team so understanding how to get along better with, and be able to be more productive in such a group, was a good learning experience. 

 

We also did a mental health class where a psychologist led us through sort of a group session where we explored the mindsets of the people who work humanitarian aid and how to respond to stress and trauma in the field.  Some of my colleagues had some pretty intense experiences, and it was useful for everyone in better understanding why it is we work in war zone or dire relief situations and how to cope with the challenges one will invariably face.

 

The final big learning experience was a session on our futures, where we were asked to complete an individual exercise laying out everything we wanted in our personal and professional lives five years from now, and then do it again in five year increments until we were 60.  We then had to highlight those things we most wanted in one color and then in another those things we might have to give up to get what we wanted most.  After that we had to make a list of decisions that we needed to make to get what we most wanted and when we had to make them.  This was a useful planning exercise and caused many of us to take a hard look at who we were and what we wanted and whether or not we were willing to make the tradeoffs necessary to get there.

 

I have a series of posts on humanitarian that I’ve prepared and will let loose every couple of days for the next week or two.  I will say the experience gave me a new respect for “humanitarian” aid workers, considering the type of jobs they try to do in the environments they do them in.  At the same time, I’ve become more skeptical of those who call themselves “humanitarians,” both in terms of their competency levels and motives.  There were some who on the surface exhibited a cult-like behavior surrounding their principles and were arrogant towards military involvement in the “humanitarian space,” yet were quick to chuck those principles out the window when it suited them.  And while some were obviously highly competent individuals, others weren’t.  On the whole, I left with a better understanding of the field and a greater appreciation for those working in it, in addition to making some new friends who I’m sure I’ll be meeting again in the future.

 

But for now, I have to say, as I’ve said before, if you’re interested in this type of work, this course is something you MUST take.  The program also has numerous other related courses in areas like humanitarian logistics, disaster management, and other topics.  Perhaps best of all you can take these courses during vacation times, and once you’ve done enough of them, can earn a Master’s in Humanitarian Assistance from Fordham University.  Had I known about this years ago before started my graduate degree, I probably never would have left working and would have just done this program instead.  


Wednesday
Jun272012

Humanitarian Aid Training

Right now I’m in New York City, a couple blocks from the Southwest corner of Central Park.  I arrived here earlier in June to complete a month-long course on humanitarian aid with the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation

 

In the past I’ve posted a lot about training resources for people who want to work in humanitarian emergencies, international development and/or war zones, because there is not a whole lot of opportunities out there.  This is one of the few I’ve found that is available without having to go for a graduate degree or learn on the job.  It’s an intense, 200-hour course, that gives you eight graduate credits and a certification known as an International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance.  While I have a lot of experience and training in conflict stabilization and the way the U.S. government conducts foreign assistance, I don’t have any in responding to humanitarian emergencies, so this will be a useful addition to my tool kit. 


Here’s a copy of the syllabus.


I’ll write a review when I’m done and let readers know more about the content.  I may also do some posts on the issues surrounding humanitarian aid.


For me, the fact that it involves credits I can transfer makes taking the course of great value in strict financial terms, since it means I can graduate a semester early.  Tuition also covers a room in a three person apartment at an awesome location in Manhattan, and all weekday meals, so that’s an added bonus.  The training I’ve had so far has been excellent, though most of the group work has been a waste of time.  Based on my experience so far (graduation is Friday), I would take this course again and recommend it to anyone who wants to work in humanitarian aid, international development, or conflict stabilization.


Monday
Jun112012

Afghanistan Country Study & Stakeholder Groups

Here’s the paper I promised on Afghanistan.  It’s a sort of “diagnostic” on the country that provides a snapshot of its current social and economic status and the major underlying issues (security & legitimacy) affecting Afghan governance. 


Afghanistan Case Study

 

This next paper is really short and looks simply at four stakeholders of the Afghan conflict, in general terms.  Obviously there are more and their interests are a lot more complex, but for this assignment I was limited in terms of the number of stakeholders I could cover and the number of pages, so it is what it is.  I have one more Afghanistan paper that I did for class which I might publish, but half of it deals with a different topic, so I may just chop it in have, do a little revision, and use the Afghan part as a blog post.


Afghanistan Stakeholder Groups

 

Monday
Jun042012

U.S. Policy in Afghanistan Since 2001

On Friday I covered some of the past month’s big news on Afghanistan.  Today, I’m posting a briefing I gave and a paper I wrote on U.S. policy in Afghanistan since 9/11.  Next week I’ll post another paper I wrote that serves as a sort of country study.


I spent five years in Iraq and not once did I read a book on Afghanistan or learn much about it.  Iraq was so complex a case, and a personal one, that I figured I should focus my limited time doing my best to become an expert on that situation, especially since I wanted (and still want) to write a book about America’s experience there.     


It has only been the last year that I began to reorient my readings toward Afghanistan in preparation for heading there sometime after I graduate in December.  To this end, while staying current on what’s happening in Iraq, I began to make a point of writing all my grad school papers on what’s happening in Afghanistan (minus those I couldn’t tie into the place).


The paper and PowerPoint presentation below represent one of those efforts.   These products were prepared for my National Security Policy class at Duke.  If you’re looking for a quick review of the last ten years of U.S. policy and some considerations impacting future policy, then you might want to look at them.  The brief simply summarizes the paper.

 

U.S. Policy in Afghanistan Since 2001

 

 
Friday
Jun012012

On Afghanistan: May 2012 Review

Today begins a new month in Afghanistan.  Quite a bit happened in May. 


  • This past Friday it was announced that by the end of September U.S. troop strength in country will drop by about 23,000 from the 88,000 there now.  This represents the end of the Afghan “surge” that began in 2010. 

 

 

  • France’s new President Hollande said all of France’s troops will be gone by the end of this year. This is the first major troop contributing to country to announce it is leaving and when.

 

  • President Obama visited Kabul on the one year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and signed a Security agreement with Afghanistan (text here), which the Afghan parliament later approved

 

So what does the future look like?


We could probably expect many of the other countries to announce and begin making their exits sometime soon.  As it stands now the mission of the International Security Forces for Afghanistan, the U.S.-led NATO alliance operating in the country, isn’t supposed to end until December 31, 2014. 


The questions then become:


  • How many troop contributing countries will stay until December 31, 2014?

 

  • What do their timelines look like?

 

  • Will they remove their civilian personnel too?

 

  • What effect their exits will have on the situation on the ground?

 

  • Will any stay beyond 2014?

 

The above is all unknown and will have to be managed for their impact on security and government capacity-building efforts currently underway.


What we do know, based upon the recent security agreement, is that the U.S. has agreed to play a role in Afghanistan beyond 2014.  The agreement will cover 2014-2024, and while light on specifics, calls for continued U.S. engagement and financial support, though without any explicit troop commitment.


Whether or not U.S. troops will remain will be a key question.  The U.S. tried negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq but was unable to do so, resulting in the U.S. military leaving last year, minus a small group embedded in the Embassy.   The U.S. will try and negotiate a SOFA with Afghanistan, but how many troops, and whether or not the Afghan government will agree to our requirements for keeping them there, (like retaining authority to try war crimes violators in U.S. military courts as opposed to the Afghan judicial system), will remain unknown until a SOFA is announced or it is publically stated that negotiations have been given up on.


For what it’s worth, I think a SOFA will be agreed to in the next two years.  Afghanistan is a lot different than Iraq.  For one, it doesn’t have the infrastructure, state institutions, or military capabilities that Iraq has, and would be worse off with a military pullout, perhaps even inviting state collapse.  Second, its populace and political leaders seem to be a lot more favorable towards a continued U.S. presence.  As this poll from the Brooking Institution’s Afghan Index makes clear, most Afghans, despite the security issues, see themselves as better off than when under the Taliban, believe the country is generally headed in the right direction, and even more importantly, view the Taliban as an alternative that is far worse than the current government (see pages 28-33). 


The fact of the matter is that Afghans have a lot to lose if the U.S. leaves the country for good, and they know this.

 

Tuesday
May292012

Is Counterinsurgency Doctrine "Dividing" West Point?

Yesterday the New York Times published the sort of poorly written news article that is all too common in journalism today in that it invents “news” out of thin air. 

 

It starts by suggesting that America’s premier military institution, West Point, is somehow engaged in an “existential” debate.  The term, of course, pertains to how an individual or organization conceives of its own existence, so we are led to believe the school (and by extension the Army) is somehow questioning its raison d'être.

 

But in reality, the piece is simply about two professors with supposedly different views as to the efficacy of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine.  To support this argument Elisabeth Bumiller, the writer, marshals all of THREE professors, (one of whom doesn’t even talk about COIN), and claims they represent a “divided” faculty at West Point.  While it is possible the professors there are separating into opposing ideological camps and getting ready to have an intellectual throw down over the topic of counterinsurgency, the case certainly isn’t made when all you can do quote a couple people from the staff, neither of whom talks about the institution or professors being “divided.” 

 

(BTW, West Point isn’t questioning its existence or purpose, which is and probably always will be, to educate and train military officers to fight and win our nation’s wars.) 

 

Perhaps worse than the existential bit, however, is that the article really doesn’t address the disagreements surrounding counterinsurgency, and the two professors taken to represent opposite camps don’t really seem to be that much in disagreement with each other.  Here’s the part from the article covering the supposed professorial divide:

 

Colonel Gentile’s argument is that the United States pursued a narrow policy goal in Afghanistan — defeating Al Qaeda there and keeping it from using the country as a base — with what he called “a maximalist operational” approach. “Strategy should employ resources of a state to achieve policy aims with the least amount of blood and treasure spent,” he said.


Counterinsurgency could ultimately work in Afghanistan, he said, if the United States were willing to stay there for generations. “I’m talking 70, 80, 90 years,” he said.


Colonel Gentile, who has photographs in his office of five young soldiers in his battalion killed in the 2006 bloodshed in Baghdad, acknowledged that it was difficult to question the wars in the face of the losses.


“But war ultimately is a political act, and I take comfort and pride that we as a military organization, myself as a commander of those soldiers who died, the others who were wounded and I think the American Army writ large, that we did our duty,” he said. “And there is honor in itself of doing your duty. I mean you could probably push back on me and say you’re still saying the war’s not worth it. But I’m a soldier, and I go where I’m told to go, and I do my duty as best I can.”

 

Here we have Gentile, a well-known critic of those with the COIN fetish, stating that war is a political act.  And that COIN could work, though only over a long time period.  Just that most of what we’ve done in Iraq and Afghanistan doesn’t seem to have been successful or worth the price in lives and money, and the time frame required for it to be so doesn’t fit with what we’re willing to sacrifice.


Now here is his antagonist:

 

Colonel Meese’s opposing argument is that warfare cannot be divorced from its political, economic and psychological dimensions — the view advanced in the bible of counterinsurgents, the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual that was revised under General Petraeus in 2006. Hailed as a new way of warfare (although drawing on counterinsurgencies fought by the United States in Vietnam in the 1960s and the Philippines from 1899 to 1902, among others), the manual promoted the protection of civilian populations, reconstruction and development aid.


“Warfare in a dangerous environment is ultimately a human endeavor, and engaging with the population is something that has to be done in order to try to influence their trajectory,” Colonel Meese said.

 

Reading this, it doesn’t seem like Gentile and Meese are very far apart on the notion that war is a political act.  I'm not sure there is a military officer who even thinks that it isn't.  And it’s hard to believe that Gentile, a published author and professor at West Point who gets quoted regularly as an expert on military affairs, doesn’t think that war also includes economic and psychological factors.  Nor does it seem he would disagree that war occurs in a dangerous context or that you have to engage with the population and influence them.  And I doubt that Meese would disagree with Gentile’s comment that “[s]trategy should employ resources of a state to achieve policy aims with the least amount of blood and treasure spent.”

 

The bottom line is there is not a whole lot of disagreement between the two, certainly nothing "existential."  Meaning there doesn’t appear to be a “divided” faculty at West Point.

 

This whole article misses the boat about what the disagreements of COIN are about, which essentially deal with whether or not it is an appropriate doctrine for accomplishing America’s national security objectives.  In other words, has it been effective in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is it a model to use in future operations?  Gentile thinks not, and we know this from his previous writings.  Meese, we should assume (though don’t know for sure because the article doesn’t make it clear), probably does.  Yet this topic isn’t really covered at all in the article, save Meese’s dubious claim that it was the doctrine that was responsible for the decline in violence in Iraq, an argument Douglas Ollivant  critiques pretty well here.

 

It’s too bad the article isn’t better written.  A good piece in the New York Times that goes in-depth into what counterinsurgency is, what critics say, and whether or not it has been effective in Iraq and Afghanistan, would have brought more value to readers.  Even better would have been some inside knowledge on the rewrite of the COIN manual that is currently taking place.  Unfortunately, this one is so broad and convoluted it reads like a pastiche of others stories the author was writing and decided to cobble together for a Memorial Day special.

 

There’s really only one thing newsworthy in it, namely,  that Gentile has a book coming out. Gentile is the COINdinistas gadfly, and opposing views like his are always useful for avoiding groupthink when big issues are at stake.  It’s called: Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace With Counterinsurgency.   Based on his previous work I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy it.  


Thursday
May242012

Issues with Presenting and Understanding Data

Aid Thoughts has an interesting post from yesterday on Hans Rosling and the presentation of data. 

 

Rosling is a Swedish statistician who has done some great work on data visualization as it relates to traditional development issues (poverty, health care, education).  He's also a sword swallower (starting at 18:30 in this video).  But he's most famous for a couple of Ted talks, like the one below, where he shows changes in poverty levels and human development since the early 1800s.

 

 

The above video, btw, is the 7th most watched TED talk of all time.  

 

What Aid Watch comments on, however, is another, more recent talk he gave in Doha (see below), where the razzle dazzle of the visuals seems to obscure the message.  This is important, of course, because the message is what matters most for decision making. Focusing on what the data looks like, as opposed to what the data means, is a great way to get yourself in trouble.  I have bad memories of when I was in Iraq with the Army and spent way too many hours putting together PowerPoint slides that would be looked at for 30 seconds, when that time would have been better spent trying to understand what the underlying causes behind the trends were, not to mention whether or not the data was reliable and the metric we were using was even valid as an indicator of success.  

 

 


What also bothers Aid Watch are the "broad" conclusions Rosling draws from the data and his discounting of the role religion plays in country fertility rates.  Rosling addresses the religion/fertility rate issue for two reasons, first, because most people believe there is a limit to how large a population the earth can handle is (hello, Malthus), and second, because some folks believe religion plays a decisive role in high fertility rates.  Rosling seeks to destroy this latter argument and argues that we've reached "Peak Child," where as with "peak" anything, the trend either levels off or starts to decrease.

 

Rosling makes the case that fertility is more dependent upon variables such as child mortality rates, the need for child labor participation, women's education levels, and the accessibility of "family planning" services.  Yet, the question not being looked at, according to AW, is whether or not religion plays a determinant factor with these variables.  It's a good point.  If it does, it then follows that religion plays a significant role in fertility rates.  This is important  to know because understanding causality impacts your decision making for where and how to allocate limited resources.   Another development blog, A View From The Cave, also tackles the issue.  

 

I bring this up because lately I've been doing a lot of research on data analysis in conflict stabilization and development situations and sorting out causality is an incredibly difficult task.  If Rosling is right, then if you want to lower birth rates, you target the variables he mentions.  But if he's wrong, you need to do something like trying to influence religious leaders who can sway the population.  It makes sense, after all, to address the root cause of a problem as opposed to something in the middle.  There is only so much time and money that practitioners have  to address problems and sussing out true causality is particularly important when lives are at stake.

 

In Iraq and Afghanistan it seems that we haven't done a good job connecting our goals with our metrics for measuring progress, or making sure our data was both reliable and valid as indicators of success. Since the blog is back up, this is an issue I hope to cover a lot more in the future (in'shallah).

 

Sunday
May202012

Back Again

Over a year ago I uploaded my last post.  

 

I kinda gave up on the blog because I started a new line of research and thinking not related to conflict stabilization or development issues and wanted to explore it in depth with the goal of producing something publishable.   It essentially dealt the concept of victimhood, brought on in large part by my experience of living an extended period in the U.S. for the first time in almost a decade. I noticed a lot of whining and complaining by Americans, many of whom seemed to be spoiled and have an unwarranted sense of entitlement.  These people seemed to not understand how good they have it here, and blamed others (corporations, the government, "rich people," etc.) for problems of their own making.  They didn't want to take responsibility for the consequences of their own freely chosen life choices, and preferred to play the victim in order to get someone else to pay or be responsible in their stead.  

 

After my experience of living in Iraq and traveling through the Middle East, I found it all to be quite disturbing, and upon returing to Baghdad in early 2011, I rediscovered how much I enjoyed being around people who focused more on helping others and accomplishing things than complaining about what they did or didn't have.  And it was good to be working with people really in need and who would greatly appreciate having the problems Americans complain about.

 

The other reason was I needed to finish a big paper that basically took until the Fall to complete. I'm publishing it here.  It's about the evolution of United Nations Peace Support Operations since 2001.  It comes in at about 80 pages and 20,000 words.  If you want to know the major ideas behind the way UN peacekeeping missions do business and the key documents associated with them, then it's worth a read.

 

The Reform of UN Peace Operations

 

I wrote this paper to finish the final requirement for a Certificate of Training in UN Peace Support Operations.  It's a certification you can get from the Peace Operations Training Institute.  If you want to work in a UN peacekeeping mission, or learn about them, the program is worth checking out.  I found the experience to be very valuable.  A friend of mine who I turned on to the program later got a job with the UN and she told me the interviewer seemed to be impressed that she had done the program.  You can take a free course here on Principles and Guidelines for UN Peacekeeping Operations.  Or you can just download the doctrine and study it on your own.

 

I have a few more papers I'll publish in the next few weeks on the topic of Afghanistan, and which I wrote for some of my graduate classes.  


Wednesday
Feb162011

Notes on USAID

For the last month I’ve been preparing a class on Iraqi politics for military units rotating into Iraq to finish out Operation New Dawn, which transitioned from Operation Iraqi Freedom last October, and which is scheduled to end once the Security Agreement between Iraq and the United States expires on December 31st of this year.

 

Classes ended yesterday and I’m happy to say mine went off rather well, which is a relief since it is my primary deliverable on this contract, and it had been a long time since I spoke in front of a group of about a hundred people. With that complete, it’s time to update the blog.

 

Last month, at the Center for Global Development, (the CNAS of the development community), USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah delivered a major speech entitled: “The Modern Development Enterprise.” The speech, available here, goes into detail about the steps USAID has been taking and will continue to take in order to transform into “the world’s premier aid agency.”

 

Shah began by describing the Obama Administration’s approach to development as one that is “focused on sustainable economic growth, committed to mutual accountability, [and] selective in scope and concentrating foremost on results.” He then went on to discuss in depth how USAID has been executing that approach and highlighted the need for continuing to do so because “development is as critical to our economic prospects and national security as diplomacy and defense.”

 

He mentioned that one way USAID has been attempting to change the way it does business is by focusing more on strengthening the internal government systems of a developing country to provide public services for its citizenry, as opposed to USAID just providing various forms of aid to populations. Says Shah: “Instead of merely providing food aid in times of emergency, we are helping countries develop their own agricultural sectors so they can feed themselves.” And when it comes to health care, “instead of scattered approaches that fight individual diseases one at a time, we are pursuing an integrated approach that will generate efficiencies and strengthen health systems.”

 

Additional institutional improvements enacted recently include an attempt at procurement reform, the creation of a policy planning and learning bureau, and the reestablishment of USAID’s budget office.

 

Shah went on to announce USAID’s new evaluation policy, the big takeaway from the speech, which hopefully leads to more learning, accountability, and better results in the way U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent. The new policy emerged, Shah notes:

 

“[Because] the results [implementing partners] claim often have little grounding in fact . . . [there often exists] a relationship between implementing partners and evaluators akin to that between investment banks and ratings agencies. Just like investors couldn’t tell the difference between AAA bonds and junk, taxpayers can’t tell the difference between development breakthroughs and subprime development.”

 

So from now on, he says:

 

“Every major project will require a performance evaluation conducted by independent third parties, not by the implementing partners themselves. Instead of simply reporting our results like nearly all aid agencies do, we will collect baseline data and employ study designs that explain what would have happened without our interventions so we can know for sure the impact of our programs.”

 

Shah then committed to releasing the results of all evaluations within three months of their completion, “whether they tell a story of success or failure,” and that the data would be integrated into the foreignassistance.gov dashboard.

 

“I want the American taxpayer to know,” says Shah, “that every dollar they invest in USAID is being invested in the smartest, most efficient and most transparent way possible.”

 

You can find the entire evaluations policy here.

 

In the rest of his speech Shah covered USAID’s plans on attracting more talented employees, attempts at cracking down on fraud, waste and abuse by building a culture of oversight, and in general, his plans for running USAID more like a business that focuses on results, holding people accountable, and getting the most bang for the taxpayer dollar. Key to doing so, he says, is by creating structures and a culture that supports initiative and innovation on the part of the workforce.

 

My thoughts after reading the speech are that USAID seems to be doing a whole lot more to address the organizational challenges associated with running the agency, as opposed to focusing on actual programs overseas. This is a good thing. Addressing both are certainly important, but you can’t really do the latter successfully until you’ve first tailored organizational systems and culture in a manner most conducive to achieving your goals. This is especially important in stabilization situations. Failure to do so has been the subject of much criticism in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

Shah’s reforms are more focused on true development (economic growth and capacity building) as opposed to post-conflict stabilization activities, but they none the less make sense since USAID’s primary mission is development and by strengthening weak states we can help prevent them from turning into failed states where conflict erupts. By developing a culture in which people and organizations are held accountable and where evaluations are transparent, USAID will be able to do a better job in the future, regardless of the nature of its involvement.


Thursday
Jan132011

Back to Iraq

Over a month ago I published my most recent blog post and since then a lot has changed.  In December I was at Duke’s Sanford School and studying for a Master’s in International Development while consulting for a start-up called Statecraft.  Now I’m in Fort Benning, Georgia, and getting ready to fly to Iraq where I’ll be working as an instructor at the U.S. military’s Counterinsurgency and Stability Academy in Baghdad.

 

In the interim, a couple cool things have happened. . .

 

My friend Paul Miller published a piece in Foreign Affairs on how to “Finish the Job” in Afghanistan.  We’ve known each other since our time as undergrads at Georgetown and happen to share very similar career paths.  He’s the only one of my friends from college who does the kind of work I do.  He also blogs on Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government and teaches courses on state-building at the National Defense University. 

 

The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review was also released.  For those of you tracking issues related to stabilization and state-building, plus humanitarian aid and international development, this is a very important event, though what actual impact it will have is up in the air.  The QDDR is the State Department’s and USAID’s version of the Quadrennial Defense Review, which the Pentagon uses to guide its operations and express its thinking about current and future conflicts.  As expected, the best commentary comes from the folks at the Center for Global Development and the numbers crunchers at the Stimson Center’s blog The Will and the Wallet.  Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy also has a good summary of the document and can be relied on for updates on all things development and diplomacy related.  The QDDR is about a month old, but something folks planning on working for the U.S. government foreign policy positions should get to know, especially if they’re involved in D3. 

 

As for me, I plan on returning to Duke, most likely for the spring 2012 semester.  My teaching job is supposed to last until August, but rather than going back for the fall, I’ll see if I can hop over to Afghanistan.  If not, I’ll spend the rest of my time in Central or South America where I’ll travel, surf, write, and learn as much Spanish as I can.    

 

I hadn’t planned on taking a leave of absence and heading back to Iraq, especially since I was enjoying living in the U.S. again.  In the middle of finals the position came up and I realized the experience of teaching and traveling the country (when classes aren’t in session we visit units on the ground to evaluate operations, local conditions, and what lessons can be learned) is something I can’t pass up, especially since the U.S. military presence in Iraq is supposed to end later this year.  While I’ve enjoyed my time at Duke studying international development, I’m looking forward to spending some time with a group of people whose lives revolve around thinking about things like stabilization, counterinsurgency, and state-building. 

 

Plus, for some weird reason, I really do love being in Iraq.

 

Thursday
Dec022010

What I think about the Wikileaks info dump . . . 

Basically, the same thing as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:


First of all, I would say unlike the Pentagon Papers, one of the things that is important, I think, in all of these releases, whether it’s Afghanistan, Iraq or the releases this week, is the lack of any significant difference between what the U.S. government says publicly and what these things show privately, whereas the Pentagon Papers showed that many in the government were not only lying to the American people, they were lying to themselves.

 

But let me – let me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel.”

 

When we went to real congressional oversight of intelligence in the mid-’70s, there was a broad view that no other foreign intelligence service would ever share information with us again if we were going to share it all with the Congress. Those fears all proved unfounded.

 

Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think – I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.

 

Many governments – some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.

 

Best.  SecDef.  Ever.


Sunday
Nov212010

The GOP Landslide and Aid to Africa

Todd Moss and Stephanie Majerowicz over at the the Center for Global Development predict that starting soon, as a result of the recent election, aid to Africa will likely drop by $900 million per year beginning in 2012.  They analyzed U.S. aid flows to Africa between 1961-2008 and found that aid decreases significantly when the Presidency and Congress are controlled by different parties.  


This result is driven by different parties in the White House and on the Hill–not because Republicans are structurally anti-aid.  Yes, the GOP has plenty of vocal foreign aid critics, but the record is pretty clear.  In fact, ODA flows to Africa are highest under all Republican control, followed by all Democratic control.  The combination for the next two years–Democratic White House and Republican/split Congress–is actually the lowest configuration.


I would be interested in learning why it is that aid decreases.  My guess is that when a Democrat is in the White House, the Republicans pretty much oppose any increase in spending, regardless of what it's for.  Not sure what the cause would be when the situations are reversed. 


As for the why aid is greater when the Republican's control Congress and the Presidency, I'm guessing that (in the past) it has to do with increased aid to non-aligned countries during the Cold War as we competed against the Soviets for influence in Africa.  More recently, however, there was a dramatic increase under Bush the Younger who quadrupled aid to Africa, mainly to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

 

Tuesday
Nov092010

Do Aid Shocks Cause Conflict?

The obvious (and right) answer is no.  Bad actors cause conflicts and an inability to agree on political control of the state may too.  The withdrawal of aid, whether for financial or political reasons, may make things more difficult and may correlate to a higher incidence of conflict in an aid-dependent country, but as we know, correlation does not equal causation.  There are probably a couple of dozen other "lurking" variables.

 

So it's a little disappointing that the authors of a study discussing the relationship between aid and the outbreak of violence title their post "Aid Shocks Likely Cause Armed Conflict"  and make the statement: "[t]he results give us greater confidence that aid shocks actually cause armed conflict" [emphasis mine]. Like most social science research, they qualify their conclusions — a typical CYA maneuver. 

 

You can find the full study here

 

My problem isn't so much with their data.  It does make sense that the withdrawal of aid and the recipient government’s resulting lack of funds can negatively impact the balance of power between the government and rebel forces.  The issue here is one of assigning responsibility and discerning the significance level of the correlation.  And by implying that ignorant or devious foreign powers are responsible for the conflict, rather than the perpetrators of the violence themselves (both rebels and the government), the authors fail to hold the right individuals/groups accountable.

 

And that's one of the main problems with so much development work: failing to hold the relevant parties responsible for their actions, whether they are intended beneficiaries, or the government receiving aid, or donors themselves.  For some reason, it's always the fault of someone or something else.