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

On Blogging & Future Plans

It’s been exactly one month since I last posted.  When I did, it was from the Israeli city of Zefat, which is known as a center for Jewish mysticism.  I wasn’t there for the Kabbalah though.  I was there because it’s in the middle of the Galilean wine region and I wanted to visit some wineries, including this one called Rimon, which makes an amazing wine made entirely from pomegranates.  You can order a bottle online.


I returned to Iraq about two weeks ago and rather than blogging decided to catch up on work, finish reading a couple books on the run up to the Iraq war, and tried to figure out if I really wanted to do the blogging thing.  It’s been more work than I thought.  And unlike articles or a book, it’s unpaid.


What I do like about blogging is it forces you to think more deeply about the subjects you are covering.  And I believe it will help improve my writing and ability to communicate verbally my thoughts on war, post-conflict stabilization and international development.   So I plan to continue with it, but am thinking just one post a week at most.


One final note: I decided while in Tel Aviv to accept an offer to attend Duke University for a Master’s in International Development.  I’m doing the M.A. in part because the grad degree is the new bachelor’s, and because I need one to get where I eventually want to be professionally, which is help make government policy and hold leadership positions related to international development and national security.  After 4.5 years in Iraq and over 7.5 years living abroad, I’m also looking for a break and a chance to relax in the States for an extended time period.  I think Durham, North Carolina, which is where Duke is, will be a great place to live.  I’m looking forward to spending two years there, and then moving on to DC where I hope to settle permanently.


So this blog will survive, and I suspect when classes start, will probably focus more on the state-building (international development) side of things more than anything else.  It may go dark for a while during certain periods when I go on vacation again or am overloaded with school work, but I hope to keep it going at least until I graduate. 


Then we’ll see what happens.


Jordan & Israel

I haven't blogged since the 8th because I'm currently on vacation traveling through Jordan and Israel.  So far I've spent a couple nights in Wadi Rum riding horses with the Beduoin, toured Petra, visited a Turkish bath in Amman, and mudded up and floated in the Dead Sea.  Right now I'm in Israel, having just finished an all day wine tour in Galilee and will then head to Jerusalem for a few days siteseeing and then it's off to Tel Aviv.  I'll begin posting again when I return to Iraq in about two weeks. 




Does the U.S. Need a Special Office for Nation-building?

Recently the Special Inspector General for Iraq (SIGIR), Stuart Bowen, testified before the Commission on Wartime Contracting on the need for a new “U.S. Office of Contingency Operations” to oversee future American efforts at post-conflict stabilization and nation-building (really state-building, but that’s another post).


Bowen, who since 2004 has investigated and exposed much of the corruption and incompetence in the Iraq reconstruction effort, argues the new office is necessary to prevent poor coordination and planning among U.S. government agencies, two problems which have been a distinguishing feature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The main reason the new office is needed, he says, is that there is no one U.S. government agency charged with responsibility for stabilization and reconstruction efforts and “there is no central point of planning and management," which has "bred the problems of poor coordination and weak integration we’ve encountered” in Iraq.


But as Spencer Ackerman notes, neither the Departments of State nor Defense support the proposal . . .


“In formal responses appended to the USOCO paper, two senior administration officials praise Bowen’s effort and endorse his diagnosis that civilian and military efforts in stabilization and reconstruction missions suffer from an ad hoc planning and implementation structure, saying he “correctly identifies under-funding [and] lack of capacities” within State and the U.S. Agency for International Development as a key weakness. But both reject USOCO as a solution. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy writes that the problem is “one of capacity and not of structure” and observes that congressional support for a restructuring “in today’s fiscally constrained environment seems unlikely.”


Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, presenting State’s lengthy formal response to USOCO, pledges to Bowen that the USOCO proposal will receive “full consideration” from an ongoing State Department and USAID comprehensive review of development and diplomacy known as the QDDR. But he says Bowen’s fix is “problematic on several fronts,” and that USOCO would take too much policymaking responsibility away from the Secretary of State and the department’s regional bureaus.” 


Bowen has publicly stated the he will try and sell the idea to Congress, but considering the two agencies primarily charged with the post-conflict stabilization missions are not on board with the proposal and will actively fight against, it means the chances of it coming to fruition are unlikely.


I’m a big fan of Bowen for his work uncovering corruption in Iraq and I’m glad he’s stuck around since first being appointed in 2004, but I’m against the new proposal for a couple reasons. 


First, the main cause of the screw ups in the initial post-war period had to do with political choices made at the highest levels of government, primarily the decision to not start planning for the post-war period until just a few months before the war began.  What made it worse was the planning was based on a series of false assumptions that were tailored not to the situation at hand, but on a politically expedient notion that the war would be easy (a view that made it easier to sell to Congress and the public), so ergo, not much planning would need to be done.  The problem in this case wasn’t the lack of a special office to do planning and coordination, but the lack of sound strategic decision-making by a bunch of incompetent senior government officials.  These officials were also blinded by ideology and a desire to remake Iraq into some democratic redoubt which resulted in them ignoring the complex realities on the ground that didn’t fit into their magical thinking and ended up resulting in needless deaths and lost resources.


Another problem is that the office won’t solve the issue of interagency friction.  Having spent over four years in Iraq, with that time split almost evenly between roles with State and Defense, I can tell you that employees seconded to interagency organizations (like Provincial Reconstruction Teams) will have allegiance first to the organization and leadership that evaluates, pays and promotes them.  That means working against the interagency team's objectives if they are not in the interest of that person’s organization.  I’ve seen it happen.  A special office that draws on personnel from various departments won’t be able to do combat this problem unless it can create disincentives for failing to play nicely, such as the ability to write negative performance reports or dock pay.  But this is a power home agencies are never going to give up. 


The solution to problems of planning and coordination in future missions are quite simple:  begin planning and coordinating for them early.  Planning for the post-war occupation of Germany was several years in the making before Hitler killed himself and the country surrendered.  Personnel and resources were specifically prepared for that eventuality and a special School of Military Government was even established.  This meant that once the combat phase of the war was over both military and civilian officials were ready to move in and successfully help rebuild, de-Nazify, and democratize the country.  



Public Service?

Yanked from Shlok.





Animal Farm

Once upon a time the CIA helped fund and edit the script for the brilliant film Animal Farm, which was released during the height of the Cold War and helped turn generations of school children against communist dictatorships.  This was helped along by the fact the movie was generally shown in schools as part of the curriculum, after which a class discussion on its allegorical nature was held.  The CIA is out of the film business now (I think), but the movie is a useful example of how art can help influence the public, one way or the other.


For those who haven't seen Animal Farm (the classic 1954 version), you can watch the entire thing on YouTube by clicking here.


More on Cyber ShockWave

Last week I wrote about the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Cyber ShockWave project that imagined a situation in which a foreign country or criminal syndicate attacked critical U.S. infrastructure through the internet.  The event, which was filmed on CNN, is now available on YouTube . . .



For a synopsis of what went down, you can read this Washington Post article.  Long story short: the U.S. is not capable of preventing such an attack and senior government leaders haven’t thought through how to adequately respond to one.


On a similar note, James Fallows in the March issue of The Atlantic pens an article on the Chinese cyber threat.  Fallows is one of the best writers around when it comes to issues of national security and his articles in the run up to the Iraq war and its aftermath constitute some of the sharpest and most prescient commentary available on the subject.  He even wrote the introduction to John Robb’s groundbreaking book Brave New War.  Robb is the seminal thinker whose concept of systempunkt foresees the use of cyber war as strategy in which attacks against infrastructure and financial systems create cascading effects that potentially lead to the destabilization of society.  I did a post on it here.  It’s likely the designers of the exercise drew on Robb’s work in developing the Cyber ShockWave scenario. 


Fallows argues the Chinese military recognizes that at its current stage of development it can’t go toe to toe with the U.S. military and that the Chinese government is more concerned about creating jobs and keeping its economy growing than it is in preparing for or getting involved in a conventional fight with the United States.  What the Chinese are preparing for, however, are ways to fight asymmetrically via the internet, and in addition to attacking infrastructure and collapsing financial networks, Fallows envisions a doomsday scenario in which hackers can erase all the knowledge and information stored on U.S. based servers and databases.  If this occurs, it’s difficult to imagine how we recover.  Fallows doesn’t provide any answers.  But John Robb does.   


Weaponize Ridicule

This clip about bumbling jihadis in the new movie The Four Lions is hilarious . . .



It comes via J. Michael Waller whose Political Warfare blog has a great series of posts on how comedy can be used to help defeat radical extremist movements.  Osama Bin Laden has previously stated that he isn't afraid of dying but that he's afraid of being humiliated.  According to Waller, one way to make his worst fears come true is by making fun of him and those wishing to mirror his actions.  


"Ridicule," says Waller, "strips the terrorist of his power.  If we stop being afraid, we turn the icons of fear into objects of contempt."


While mockery won't solve the problem of terrorism, which is essentially blowback resulting from specific U.S. government actions abroad and can only be solved through a smarter foreign policy and less meddling in the affairs of other nations, it can be used to draw support away from extremist organizations seeking support from the masses. 


Satire has a long and established history of being used to subvert the beliefs of those who it is directed against.  If we hope to influence the minds and wills (hearts don't mean anything . . . so what if someone likes you if they're not willing to do anything to support you) of the populations who provide the sources of support for violent extremists, we'd be much better off churning out more films like The Four Lions. 



D3 Weekly Link Roundup

The always informative Eeben Barlow on the difference between parastatal and privatized military companies.

Volunteering in Haiti for Spring Break might not be the great idea you think it is.


Peacebuilding versus Al-Qaeda.


There was a coup in Niger.  Even so, the Center for Global Development argues against withdrawing development assistance (the U.S. suspended all non-humanitarian aid programs).  


Kings of War have a useful rundown on the militarization of foreign policy while Dan Gerstle over at War and Peace covers a UN report criticizing the militarization of aid in Afghanistan.


Prism, the journal of the National Defense University’s Center for Complex Operations (read post-conflict stabilization and state-building), releases its second issue (you can download the first one here).


Reach 364 (a U.S. Air Force officer studying Arabic in Amman and with a smarter head on his shoulders than your average flyboy) writes a good post over at his Building Peace blog on cross-cultural learning and the dangers of overconfidence when working in foreign countries. 


U.S. troop presence dropped below 100K in Iraq this week and thoughts on the drama in Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary elections.


Tough times for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (unlike USAID, they focus on middle-income countries). 


The World Bank’s Conflict and Development blog has a set of online video interviews with leaders from conflict-affected countries about overcoming conflict, building institutions, confidence building, and the role of the international community can play in addressing these issues.  You view them here and here.


Why disaster response will always be insufficient.


A great piece by Joshua Foust on why the media can’t get it right in Afghanistan.


Saundra over at Good Intentions are Not Enough explains the importance of needs assessments before designing/initiating any assistance programs.


USAID and the U.S. military’s SOUTHCOM team up to help with Haiti’s long-term reconstruction.


Finally, some cool pictures of goats.  (Hat tip to Chris Blattman).


Chris Blattman’s African Poverty and Western Aid

For those who don’t know him, Chris Blattman is a Professor at Yale and a blogger who works on development issues (he’s also a consultant at the World Bank and UN Peace Fund).


He’s got advice for you on everything from getting a job in development and the consequences of child soldiering to the great debates surrounding the role of evaluations in international development.


I mention him because I’ve just discovered he’s teaching a course right now on “African Poverty and Western Aid” that is partially open to the general public.  He won’t be grading your papers and you won’t be sitting around with him and the other students discussing the subject matter, but you will learn a thing or two, especially if you’re like me and didn’t discover you wanted to work in post-conflict stabilization and international development until later in life.   


If you’re real hardcore you can probably set up some sort of study group with colleagues or interested friends.  That will offer the chance to further discuss the readings and you can even do the papers and then have each other read and evaluate them.   


There’s also available an already completed course on The Political Economy of Civil Wars and Terrorism that he taught last fall and which should be of greater interest to those studying post-conflict stabilization and COIN in Iraq and Afghanistan right now.


Cyber War and the ShockWave Project

My very first post here at D3 discussed this 60 minutes piece on the ability of foreign governments or non-state actors such as terrorists, hackers or parasitical criminal syndicates to use the web to engage in systempunkt, the tactic of destroying key infrastructure or communication nodes (usually centralized to capitalize on economies of scale) in order to create larger societal disruptions. 


Taking off line the power plants supporting a large city, for instance, has a cascading effect that impacts downstream government and business functions creating turmoil in the provision of essential public services and the economy, not to mention destabilizing the lives of individuals and their families. 


Without power, the water supply available to densely populated urban areas will eventually shut off and supermarkets relying on complex internet software and just-in-time inventory delivery may soon end up empty.  Sure, such items can be trucked in, but in such quantities so as to satisfy demand?  Without street lighting at night and degraded police force capabilities, criminals are more likely to come out and wreak havoc.  The list of negative possibilities is endless and the result may be a breakdown in law and order or mass population movement outside the affected area.


The groundbreaking work on systempunkt (a riff off the Blitzkrieg concept of schwerpunkt) was done by theorist John Robb whose blog Global Guerillas and book Brave New War are the key texts when discussing these issues.


So why do I mention them?


Because today the Bipartisan Policy Center is conducting an exercise called Cyber ShockWave that is essentially a war game for the sort of scenario described above.  The event will convene former senior government officials playing the role of cabinet members as a massive cyber attack occurs against critical infrastructure in the United States.  


According to the BPC,


“The participants, whose mission is to advise the president and mount a response to the attack, will not know the scenario in advance. They will react to the threat in real time, as intelligence and news reports drive the simulation, shedding light on how the difficult split-second decisions must be made to respond to an unfolding and often unseen threat.”


To make it as realistic as possible, a production company has built a duplicate of the White House Situation Room and used professional scriptwriters to help security experts design the exercise.  CNN is filming it for broadcast later in the week and once the war game is finished participants will engage in an after action review open to questions from the media and public.  I’m looking forward to seeing the results.


However, my guess is that if a massive cyber attack on American infrastructure occurs, the government response will largely be ineffective.  Bureaucratic inertia, failure to plan or resource on a large scale, and good ole incompetence will make the official action more or less meaningless for everyone but the very few (especially in the short-term).  What will matter are how individuals prepare themselves and their attitude in adjusting to the new reality until systems come back online.  Yet there is one thing the government and individuals can do to minimize the impact of such widespread disruptions, and it isn’t building a more complex firewall. 


In short, it’s about building resilient communities able to weather the shocks that will likely in occur in the new world we’re living in.  One model is transition towns.


More on community resiliency is available here.


D3 Weekly Link Roundup

The other Super Bowl.


The ultimate development essay question:  “Is Africa to development was Mars is to NASA?” And is there a fifth poverty trap for Africa?  (Paul Collier in The Bottom Billion counts four).


Transparency International releases a practical guide for combating corruption in humanitarian relief and reconstruction.


Executive Outcomes founder Eeben Barlow challenges the prevailing wisdom on COIN and provides some useful info on the development of conflict in an African context. 


Meanwhile, Tom Ricks starts a series on COIN Metrics that he cribs from a paper by David Kilcullen.


BTW, the Russians had some kick-ass COIN All-stars too.


The State Department readies for a larger role in Iraq. 


Great non-profits need a better rating system, according to Full Contact Philanthropy.


Using General McChrystal’s own words, Harvard professor and Foreign Policy magazine blogger Stephen Walt suggests we shouldn't believe anything he says in regards to Afghanistan. 


In Mesopotamia, Musings on Iraq reports that a slim majority of Iraqis are optimistic about the future and that U.S. media coverage is way down and “almost out.”


Glenn Greenwald pens an excellent piece on the true scope of our wrongdoing when it comes to the Iraq War.


Want up to $250K for your individual community service project or favorite non-profit?  Via Pulling for the Underdog, we learn that Pepsi’s “Refresh Everything” initiative is giving out up to $1.3 million a month for US-based individuals and community groups interested in positive change.  It’s been called a “pathbreaking” corporate social responsibility initiative.  (Click here for an insider’s view on how it works).


Online courses on designing and funding sustainable development projects.


Owen Barder discusses aid, income and “Dutch Disease.”


Myth and realities regarding Chinese aid to Africa.


Haiti, anarchy, and the collapse of societies.


Daniel Gerstle over at’s War and Peace blog on how disaster preparedness and peace-building can save money and lives over the long-run.


A review by the Kings of War on John Mackinlay’s book The Insurgent Archipelago.


The mad scientists at DARPA move beyond planet hacking and into making the earth transparent.


The gents over at On Violence discuss what U.S. Army physical fitness training has to do with losing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Finally, Joseph Collins on civil-military relations (my comments here).



The Civil-Military Divide?

Joseph Collins, retired U.S. Army colonel and current professor at the National War College, has a great article in the new issue of Armed Forces Journal.  He takes down the misguided notion that a binary relationship exists (or should exist) between politicians and generals when it comes to fighting America’s wars.  In short, the prevailing meme is the President sets out an end state and issues the orders, and then the military is given the autonomy it needs to figure out how to win (Congress is supposed to be involved in there somewhere, but since the House and Senate have abdicated their responsibility to declare war . . .  not so much).  Yet as Collins notes, this makes neither theoretical nor practical sense. 


At the highest level, politics, policy, military strategy and operations are often twisted together like the strands of a rope.  A new book on civil-military relations, American Civil-Military Relations: The Soldier and the State in a New Era, edited by Suzanne Nielsen and Don Snider of the West Point faculty, concluded that “a separation between political and military affairs is not possible — particularly at the highest levels of policymaking.”  One hundred and eighty years ago, Clausewitz recognized the same phenomenon. He wrote that the most senior generals had to have “a thorough grasp of national policy,” and that they must become “statesmen” without ceasing to be generals.


Presidents and defense secretaries . . . can’t simply bow to claims of military’s expertise, or exclusive military domains.  It is they, and not the generals, who are ultimately responsible for national security. The people hold the president and, indirectly, his Cabinet accountable through elections, not the generals.  Only the president can balance all of the national interests and political tradeoffs involved in a strategic decision.


Collins provides useful advice for how to prevent what is normal friction between politicians and the armed forces from evolving into a full blown crisis.  Among them is the idea that the President engage Combatant Commanders and other senior military officers in one-on-one meetings. This allows military brass to avoid the tendency to keep their mouths shut and disagree when other senior military or civilian officials who can impact their careers are in the room.  Another, which I particularly like, is for generals to stay out of the op-ed pages right before a national election and avoid going on right or left-wing political talk shows.  This latter one is particularly important if the military leadership wants to be seen as being above politics.   



She Wants Revenge

Having more or less lived abroad since the summer of 2002, including significant time periods spent living in four different countries, I’ve had to make do with feeling at home wherever “home” happens to be.  This song by the Talking Heads, who I started listening to as a kid way back in the eighties, has always rang true for me, particularly this video version which I love . . .



Recently though, I’ve found a band called She Wants Revenge whose genre-bending sound and dark, animalistic lyrics have made them my new favorite . . . 



The tracks These Things and Out of Control are also really cool.




Tourism in Iraq 

About two years ago during a 4th of July event at a local hotel here in Erbil with the America-Kurdistan Friendship Association, I met an American guy who had ridden his motorcycle from Turkey into Iraq.  After a few months teaching English, (there are a fair number of young expats teaching here, and if you’re interested, this place is hiring), he intended to ride down to Baghdad and Basra before heading northeast into Iran.  He told me his plans, I advised him it would be safer to skip Baghdad and Basra and just go straight into Iran via Kurdistan, and then never heard from him again. 


Then last month I was having lunch at a military dining facility in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit with a fellow Georgetown grad when I told the story.  My lunch partner, a governance officer at a PRT in Diyala Province, said he knew this guy.  It seems he made it all the way to Baquba before being arrested by the city’s police who turned him over to the local military unit for DWA—Driving While American.  The Colonel commanding the brigade he was handed over to said he was going to put him on a helicopter and fly him back up to Erbil, but the guy (whose name I don't remember) said no way, he’s not leaving his bike.  So after a couple days trying to figure out what to do, the military had him sign a release form saying their offer to help him leave Iraq was rejected.  And then they finally let him go, after which he rode off and headed south toward Baghdad. 


While there are obvious dangers traveling as an American in certain parts Iraq where Al-Qaida and other insurgent groups have a presence, I wouldn’t be surprised if someday we hear about him having made it to Iran safely with some great stories to tell.  I’ve found Iraqis to be an incredibly friendly and giving people, especially to guests, and those individuals who are in the most danger of kidnapping are either rich, politically valuable, or associated with the U.S. occupation.  So there is a good chance he made it, especially since he hasn’t popped up yet in an orange jumpsuit in some jihadist video. 


Despite assumptions to the contrary, Iraq has a thriving tourism industry, and it’s safer than you think.  While most tourists are Shiite pilgrims who visit Islamic shrines in Najaf and Karbala, for Westerners, there are still opportunities to see most of the country


The most sensible thing to do is probably spend all your time in the Kurdistan Region, which is the only place in Iraq where no American soldiers have died as a result of hostile actions and where Westerners are able to move about freely without any security.  And there’s some great historical sites here, like the Erbil Citadel, Shanidar Cave, or the fortress city of Amedi.  People are friendly (unlike a lot folks in the Arab parts of Iraq, Kurds love Americans, who’ve been a presence here since Operation Provide Comfort began in 1991).  Also, the scenery is beautiful and the food is good (try the sarope).

There are a couple Kurdistan-focused tourism companies you can use, such as Babel Tours, and The Other Iraq Tours, the latter of which is owned by a former U.S. Army Civil Affairs officer who returned to live spending time deployed here in 2003, but doesn't seem to have done anything recently.  Or you can just come on your own, but check out the government’s official Kurdistan Tourism page before you do.


If you want see the rest of Iraq, then Hinterland Travel might be what you’re looking for (they also do tours to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, and Burma).  I first read about them in this New York Times article from last year and have considered taking the trip myself.


I’ve traveled to 35 countries at this point and before I croak would like to hit 35 more.  I’ll be visiting Jordan and Israel for about 8-10 days each starting in March, and then once I leave my current job in May, plan on traveling through Greece and Turkey and back down into Iraq.  I hope to return here in June/early July so I can experience the culture as a tourist, since right now I'm required to take armed security wherever I go and along with the rest of my team am limited to traveling to sites for official business only. 


I’ll be sticking to the Kurdistan Region on this trip, but I plan to come back one day and see the rest of Iraq too.  While in Baghdad with the military in 2003 I was lucky to see up close much of the city and visit with Baghdadis in their homes and some local restaurants, but once the insurgency heated up in the summer and fall of 2003, it become more difficult.  It is my hope than one day I can go back along with my old translator Ali who I continue to stay in touch with, go revisit some of those old neighborhoods I used to patrol in, tour some of the museums, eat Masgouf and drink beer in a nightclub on Abu Nuwas.


(Disclaimer:  The U.S. Department of State maintains a travel warning for Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region.  You venture out at your own risk.  This post is not an endorsement of any of the travel companies listed above.) 


How to Get a Job with the United Nations

Okay, so this will be the last job post for awhile.


For work reasons I have had to deal with the UN Mission in Iraq on several occasions, and along with having partied with them at their Erbil compound, have for personal reasons asked the question: “So, what’s the best way to get hired?” And each every time I’ve been told there’s no secret code, you just have to apply.  And get lucky, because there are a hell of a lot of people from around the world who are applying too. 


This page and this one both have the most comprehensive set of links for the career pages of the numerous organizations within the UN system.  But the website UN Jobs (which includes positions with other international organizations like the World Bank) is easier to sort by country, and has over 2000 positions listed in over 221 different locations (interesting note: there are 88 vacancies currently listed in the USA).  For jobs with the UN Development Program, click here.  And if you’re interested in working on a UN Peace Support Mission, click here


If you’re under 32, you may want to consider taking one of the competitive exams so you can be hired as a career bureaucrat in the NYC-based UN Secretariat.  


You can also click here for jobs available with the UN missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Be advised that for most people a UN job will be out of immediate reach unless you’re already working within the UN system or have several years experience in the development or humanitarian aid communities.  So if you’re in college or just looking for a career change, there is a good chance you’re going to have to start at the bottom and work your way into a position.  The good news is that there are tons of openings, so it’s not impossible.


Some other advice:  Whatever country you want to work in, it’s a good idea to already know the local language and/or have a lot of experience in country.  Most UN hires will be locals or returnees with experience in the language and culture.  If you’re a foreign expat with this experience, your chances of being hired increase considerably.  (Note that fluency in at least two of the six official languages of the UN is a huge plus for any job you’re applying to).  Also, if you don’t have relevant language skills, you better make sure you have special skills and experiences that your average applicant won’t have . . .  like having worked before with the UN or an international organization, some form of training  in UN operations, or technical expertise in a particular subject area that takes years to become a specialist in (like water sanitation, assisting internally displaced people and refugees, or food security, to name just a few).  In many cases, prior experience as a diplomat, military officer, or government official also helps.


Finally, consider becoming a UN Volunteer.  As with UN internships or the Peace Corps, it is a great way get some much needed on-the-ground experience in development assistance or humanitarian aid and peacekeeping operations.   You must be willing to commit at least six months or a year, but you’ll get a living allowance to cover basic living expenses, free travel on appointment and at the end of assignment, and life, health and permanent disability insurance.  There’s also annual leave given and a resettlement allowance for when you return.  But the greatest benefit will be the skills and job experience you will acquire, which can otherwise be incredibly hard to get.  And who knows, you may be able to network way into a paid position with the UN mission or program in the country where you’re working.  After all, you’ll already know the local culture and have an understanding of how the mission there operates.