Category Archives: Development

A Response To Nicholas Kristof; We are still at war, let’s fight together.

The one of the Military's Provincial Reconstruction Teams at work building a school in Afghanistan

The one of the U.S. Military's Provincial Reconstruction Teams at work building a school in Afghanistan

In a recent editorial for the N.Y. Times Nicholas Kristof plays upon his fiddle a familiar tune; building schools is better for peace than firing missiles.  In the abstract this theme is undoubtedly true.  Collectively we know that education is the key to a better, safer world.  It is not a question of whether building schools is better for peace then firing missiles, the question is actually whether building schools is better for peace in Afghanistan.

Kristof cites a recent report from the Congressional Research Service that states that the war in Afghanistan will cost more than any other war in our nation’s history aside from WWII.  He also cites the recently leaked military documents, which incidentally and sadly may cost both American and Afghan lives, for support that the military strategy is a “mess.” Additionally, according to Kristof, for the cost of one soldier “we could start to build about 20 schools there.” And, interestingly, Kristof states that education has been far better at neutralizing extremism than military power.

Mr. Kristof is not wrong for believing that education is critical and must be an integral part of our strategy for success in Afghanistan.  The problem with his point of view is that he does not accurately depict the brutal reality facing both the Afghan population and the U.S. military.  Kristof should consider a more narrow focus on those actual realities including the fact that many schools have no doubt survived the Taliban due to military provided security.

Surely Kristof has met women like Aisha, an Afghan woman who had her nose and ears cut off by the Taliban? And for what egregious offense did Aisha receive this punishment? Because she attempted to escape the abuse of family members.   Will these members of the Taliban enroll in school? And will this happen before or after they read their autographed copies of Three Cups of Tea? How long will the education plan take to affect a burqa wearing suicide bomber such as the one on June 11, 2010 who killed two civilians and wounded another 16?

Perhaps the worst part of Kristof’s view of Afghanistan is his rather uninformed depiction of America’s fighting men and women.  Many members of the media with experience embedded with NATO forces would tell you that today’s soldier is a true “renaissance man,” or woman.  The primary skill set of most soldiers is focused on warfighting, but our nation’s current mission has required much more.  Soldiers are taking out the enemy while at the same time providing humanitarian relief, meeting with town and tribal councils, and directing civil reconstruction projects.  It is up to the Afghanistan people to use this blanket of security and stability to form political gains and reconciliation.  The military cannot do this for them, but neither can simply building schools.

Kristof actually gives no evidence in support of his claims. In what situation analogous to Afghanistan, is it true that education has neutralized extremism better than military power? Our nation, despite the economy, is generally business as usual and this makes it easy for us to forget that we are at war.  We are at war with two enemies; one who killed thousands of Americans, lest we forget, and the other who gave those murderers safe haven.  Because the average American civilian has gone back to business as usual, does not mean the enemy has.

Even a cursory glance will leave you empty handed in finding a comparable situation where education has been successful as a unilateral strategy while leaving military assistance on the shelf.  We need only look to Umar Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who attempted to blow up a U.S. passenger plane on Christmas Day 2009.  The 23 year old came from a privileged background and studied at a boarding school prior to his enrollment at University College London.  What aboutKhalid Sheik Mohammed whose time at studying engineering in North Carolina “almost certainly helped propel him on his path to become a terrorist” according to the CIA.  Or the fact that we know that most of the 9/11 hijackers came from middle class and educated backgrounds.  It seems that it is not a lack of education that is our problem.

When the evil of fascism and racist extremism gripped our world during World War II, should the Allies have redirected our D-Day budget to the building of schools on the cost of France?  Was there a shortage of schools throughout Europe that allowed ignorance to rule the day?  Education is a wonderful and helpful tool to enriching lives and changing attitudes, but when a certain evil of this world rises up we must meet it with our intelligence, our material, and when appropriate our military.

Mr. Kristof says that his “hunch” is that CARE is doing more to bring peace to Afghanistan than Mr. Obama’s surge of troops.  But what are the statistics on stability in the areas where these schools are located? Are attacks by the Taliban and Al Qaeda down in those areas?  If there was a decline in violence was it in the absence of security? This blanket transformation of areas within Afghanistan must have surely led to a wholesale emigration of Afghans to these areas, and how are these schools coping with the surge?

I must wonder whether Kristof is aware of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) working to improve the lives of the Afghan population every day.  There are an almost 30 PRTs established by 18 national governments operating in Afghanistan.   PRTs are commanded by a military officer, usually a Lieutenant Colonel or equivalent and typically include representatives from the Departments of State, Agriculture, Justice, and Defense, as well as the United States Agency for International Development.  The PRT in the Zabul region of Afghanistan completed more than 65 projects over the course of a ten month period from 2009-2010.  These projects totaled more than $40 million and addressed medical education, road reconstruction, and quality of life issues.  In the Helmand province the PRT reopened 40 schools since December 2008 and actually built four of the schools.  Additionally, as of January 2010 pupil enrollment in the Helmand province increased 34% among females and figures showed a total enrollment of 83,995 students.    All totaled there are 103 schools open in Helmand, and in 2007 there were only 47.  The gains and accomplishments by PRTs are the result of years of work to reach out to the Afghan population.  As far back as 2004 military civil affairs soldiers from PRT Tarin Kowt worked as the “connection between U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and the people.” This early PRT worked to provide supplies and funds for agriculture, education, and construction.  The sacrifice and work of the American soldier to provide solid and sustainable improvement to the education and economic situation of the Afghan people must not be ignored.  Moreover, I have a hunch that these soldiers are doing quite good at bringing peace to Afghanistan.

My humble advice to Mr. Kristof would be to spend a week with our nation’s soldiers.  Speak with their commanders, speak with the grunts.  Focus less on the words of the elite in Washington and whilst you roll up your sleeves looking at the schools built by Greg Mortenson, roll up your sleeves and look at the work done by the U.S. military.  When you finish please write an op-ed describing what you saw, and this time around I would bet you will have a more balanced and realistic depiction of the military’s role in Afghanistan.  A needed depiction of our countrymen’s struggle to provide assistance.  The women and men of the military are not aliens from another galaxy or robots constructed by the government.  They are people just like you, from places like Yamhill, Oregon, and they are in Afghanistan doing the best they can, in a bad situation, because their President asked them to.

Posted on 3 Aug 2010


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Float like a starfish, sting like a spider

Army Starfish Program

“The Army’s Starfish Program” seeks to promote decentralization as yet another tool to counter decentralized and networked threats.

The day someone becomes CEO of a large corporation, it is classic to warn them about the dangers of hierarchy by saying “yesterday was the last day that anyone will tell you what is actually going on in the company”.  Conventional thinking is that the military is even more hierarchical.  In reality, however, it is impressive how the Army is at the cutting edge of non-hierarchical thinking.

A good example comes from an article in POLITICO about the book “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations”.

The title is based on the contrasting biology of spiders, which die when their heads are chopped off, and starfish, which can multiply when any given piece is severed — a trait the book’s authors posit is shared by decentralized entities ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous to Al Qaeda to Wikipedia.
“This book is about what happens when there’s no one in charge,” write the authors of “The Starfish and the Spider,” Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. “It’s about what happens when there’s no hierarchy. You’d think there would be disorder, even chaos. But in many arenas, a lack of traditional leadership is giving rise to powerful groups that are turning industry and society upside down.”
What caught my eye about the article was that Brafman was asked about his political ideology, but declined to discuss that because “he is doing consulting work with the U.S. Army trying to help it “become more starfish-like.”

A New York Times article describes another way the military is exploring non-hierarchical thinking, by working with Greg Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea“.  Word of Mortenson’s book spread among military wives, including one who sent the book to her husband, LTC Christopher Kolenda.  Kolenda read about Mortenson’s private initiative that built more than 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, mostly for girls, and he and Mortenson began cooperating.  Soon, Deborah Mullen and Holly Petraeus were urging their husbands to read the book.

As Colonel Kolenda tells it, Mr. Mortenson and his Afghan partner on the ground, Wakil Karimi, became the American high command’s primary conduits for reaching out to elders outside the “Kabul bubble”.
The military has found ways to avoid being like the CEO who doesn’t know what is going on.  But they have been careful to ensure that flattening the hierarchy of collecting information doesn’t compromise the hierarchy of command.  Gen. David Petraeus stressed this theme in an April 2009 talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
“You have to be careful   . . .   it is great to flatten [the organization] for information, but there does need to be a hierarchy when it comes to people pushing recommendations up, pushing policy decisions up . . . you can’t shove aside a subordinate organization and just take it over.
He also described the importance of taking initiative, citing a sign he saw at an outpost:
In the absence of guidance or orders, figure out what they should have been and execute aggressively!”
When I first met Petraeus in 2006 at an MIT ROTC event, he told me how impressed he was with some of the ROTC graduates who had served with him.  He described how he would give out his card to those who particularly impressed him, urging them to email him if they had something interesting to tell him.  What is even more impressive than this flattening of the information hierarchy is the way he does so, conveying the impression that he has 5 different ideas as to what is important, and making people feel comfortable bouncing a 6th off him, even if they think he’ll disagree.
It is impressive how the military is learning to have a flat information hierarchy, and doing so without compromising the hierarchy of command.  Boxer Muhammad Ali might sum it up as “float like a starfish, sting like a spider”.

This sophisticated understanding of information flows is a real asset, and it will not be surprising if many in the next generation of CEOs are chosen from people who have absorbed these lessons.  Many will have learned the lessons best in the military.  The United States may become more like Israel, where prospective employers care as much about what you did in the military as what you did in university.

Posted on 2 Aug 2010


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The AfPak Madrassa Threat: What Are We to Believe?

Islamic religious schools, or “madrassas,” have garnered special attention in recent years because they have proliferated rapidly and are thought to be the cultivators of Islamic religious extremists responsible for terrorist attacks.  Steve Coll writes in Ghost Wars that “in 1971 there had been only 900 madrassas in Pakistan, by the summer of 1988 there were about 8,000 official religious schools and an estimated 25,000 unregistered ones.”  Others, such as P.W. Singer, have suggested that there may be as many as 45,000 madrassas in the region.

Madrassas have also provoked concern in the West because of the narrative being told here.  The narrative begins in the 1980’s when the military commander turned President of Pakistan, General Zia-ul-huq, gave madrassas money and land.  This support was given in concert with anti-Soviet US aid money and Saudi support that together provided the foundation for the force that eventually vanquished the USSR from Afghanistan.  According to the narrative, the Mujahedeen continued to use the madrassas after the Soviets departed.  Then, the narrative suggests, madrassas became the best alternative for poor families with limited options.  Out of desperation, the story goes, the sons of poor families attend madrassas where they are turned into religious fighters and Islamic extremists.  From this point of view, the logical method of fighting extremism is to counter the proliferation of Madrassas by offering scholastic alternatives.

Greg Mortenson, a mountain climber turned activist, and the author of the best selling book Three Cups of Tea, has done just that.  He founded the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which has built nearly 150 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Mortenson builds schools in the most difficult to reach regions of the two countries – his goal is to illustrate that if an NGO such as the CAI can build schools in the hard to reach parts of AfPak, then others should be able to build them everywhere else.

Mortenson also specifically strives to educate girls and young women (girls still only make up just 30% of the total student population in Pakistan).  He quotes the African proverb: “If you teach a boy, you educate an individual; but if you teach a girl, you educate a community.” This is critical to battling extremism because, according to Mortenson, “a person who has been manipulated into believing in extremist violence or terrorism often seeks the permission of his mother before he may join a militant jihad – and educated women, as a rule, tend to withhold their blessing for such things.”  Mortenson’s assertion is that education will act as a counter to the growth of extreme Islamic militancy.

The western narrative that leads to this conclusion, however, is somewhat skewed.  To begin with, there may not be as much difference between public school students and madrassa students as it indicates.  According to Christine Fair (formerly of the Rand Corporation) a survey of 141 martyrs (based on posthumous family interviews) indicates that the only thing truly remarkable about the profile of extremists is that they generally have more money and more education than average citizens of the region.  And, according to the survey, only 4% of the martyrs referred to in the survey had attended a madrassa as a full time student.  This suggests that some families who enroll their children in madrassas have other options – and that extremists find their way to militancy by way of various paths.

Additionally, consider the survey conducted by Peter Bergen and Swati Pandey in 2005.  Of the 75 terrorists they interviewed, a majority of them were college educated, and only 9 had attended a madrassa.  Bergen and Pandey also found that madrassa students lacked sophistication:

While madrassas may breed fundamentalists who have learned to recite the Koran in Arabic by rote, such schools do not teach the technical or linguistic skills necessary to be an effective terrorist.  There is little or no evidence that madrassas produce terrorists capable of attacking the West.

This lack of sophistication doesn’t mean that madrassas produce extremists incapable of participating in local or regional fighting, and madrassas promote militancy in other ways – recruiting, for example – but it does indicate that providing alternatives to religious schools as a means to reduce extremism should be just one tactic in a larger strategy.  It cannot become the focus of our effort – as Nicholas Kristof suggests – at the expense of a well-rounded approach.  Rather, it must be just one part of how we make terrorism unprofitable and unattractive.  It would be easy – too easy – if the way to defeat Islamic extremism were simply to build secular schools faster than the enemy could build madrassas.  As we have found in the wars of the last decade time and again – our foe is crafty and complex, and we must attempt to understand him without presumption.  It is only when we shed our own logic and expectation – and see the fight through his eyes – that we will find successful solutions.

Finally, despite what I’ve written here, I believe that Greg Mortenson’s work remains vital. If we truly believe that success in Pakistan and Afghanistan is critical to our national security, then we must recognize that madrassas are not a singular villainous threat, nor are they benign or insignificant.  At a minimum they contribute to the narrow worldview that permits and perpetuates extremism.  Extremists can only thrive in a society that lacks the organization, resources and the will to oppose them.  Raising the general level of education in the AfPak region won’t happen overnight; certainly not by the stated US draw down date of July 2011.  But if we have, as I have suggested above, shed our logic and expectation to see the fight through our enemy’s eyes – we will recognize that societal education is critical to many other facets of our effort; state building, institutional capacity, fighting corruption – and that it is these efforts and not our specific tactical victories that will, eventually, bring about the national security we seek.

Photo by phil_p

The Military as an Innovation Source: Combining Cutting-Edge Technology with Local Knowledge

Innovation involves utilizing existing or new technology in previously unknown ways.  Assuming this requires both physical technology and the local application of that technology, militaries can be major domestic sources of innovation by possessing local knowledge along with the funding and technology needed for massive R&D efforts; this can best be realized by partnering with large-scale organizations such as universities.

Militaries often possess a significant amount of cutting-edge technology in transportation, telecommunications, arms, and other infrastructure.  Soldiers are trained to use such technology and often have a high amount of human capital in many fields.  Militaries are also uniquely positioned for partnerships with other well-resourced organizations such as multinational organizations and major foreign militaries; this provides an avenue for direct technology transfer and associated high-tech training and support.  Further, soldiers operate in risky environments that force them to innovate by using all available means to accomplish their goal when surprises arise, as they often do during battles and training.  Thus, soldiers experience unique circumstances in new locations while using fairly advanced technology, which demands critical brainstorming to innovate on a regular basis.

Militaries often have large amounts of personnel.  If they were conducting socioeconomic development activities as outlined in my previous post, or if they had numerous bases around the nation, soldiers will probably be dispersed throughout the country.  They have the transportation/mobilization capabilities and the security training to operate virtually anywhere in the country.  Further, assuming they are somewhat representative, militaries contain citizens from throughout the countryside with experience from a variety of different local conditions.  Therefore, although militaries are a large-scale organization, they tend to possess a significant amount of local knowledge as well.

Large-scale organizations, as measured by money available and by ability to possess or work with cutting-edge technology, are a main source of building on existing technology, possessing the scale and the fixed capital necessary.  Such large-scale organizations include large firms, think tanks, and universities.  This blog will observe universities in particular, but similar ideas are applicable to other large-scale organizations.  Universities are some of the biggest sources of innovation due to a steady source of skilled, diverse, and often entrepreneurial manpower (students) to brainstorm and experiment on developing new technologies, knowledge of current cutting-edge technologies and how they work, and much funding available specifically meant for R&D.

Local knowledge applies cutting-edge technologies to make them locally useful.  Militaries do not have a comparative advantage in focusing many efforts towards R&D—they need to train for security first and foremost.  However, militaries can join universities in a mutually beneficial partnership to produce relevant cutting-edge technologies and spread them out to adapt them to specific environments.  Militaries can be a large source of R&D funding in universities; for example, the U.S. military is one of the biggest funders of R&D at MIT.  Also, although universities already have some level of local knowledge from their diverse student body, it may be beneficial for some soldiers to join in R&D efforts to offer their experiences throughout the country while using the technology in risky environments; this will add to local knowledge and provide ideas for innovation.  Further, although students may not able to implement this technology throughout the countryside, militaries often possess the manpower and capabilities to do so in unique ways.

To ensure this innovation is utilized in ways that maximize development, rather than keeping it solely for their own benefit, militaries should be encouraged to share this technology with civilians in the countryside and offer them training.  One way to achieve this is through a new socioeconomic mandate for the military.  Another indirect means of achieving this is by offering incentives for turnover of soldiers into civilians to maximize the amount of civilians with high-tech training.  This should be combined with efforts by universities to market and promote the new technology to the private sector.

Much of the R&D efforts will be tailored towards technology that may be only useful for the military; for example, it is not clear that innovations in arms, heavy machinery, and other battle-related technology directly contribute to development.  However, aspects of these products will likely advance technology in other areas that will only be recognized based on pre-existent local knowledge and a knowledge of current cutting-edge technology in other areas.  Certain radar systems in helicopters may be applicable to new innovations in telecommunications in certain locations, for example.  Further, if militaries had a socioeconomic mission complementary to their traditional security mission, they will be much more likely to fund R&D that also focuses on socioeconomic-related technology.


More Than Warfighters: The Military as a Source of Success-Prone Citizens

Soldiers are trained to operate in life-threatening situations in new locations while leading others to achieve common and individual goals.  This experience contributes to soldiers’ acquisition of success-prone characteristics in several ways:

As a meritocracy, soldiers compete with one another to increase chances of praise and promotion.  This hones one’s need for achievement, and it places soldiers squarely in control of their own destiny, thus emphasizing an internal locus of control.

Experience with Risk.
Soldiers learn to operate in a risky environment.  They gain experience in minimizing foreseeable risks through preparation and training, and they learn how to continue pushing towards an ultimate purpose when risks exist that cannot be overcome in a new and changing environment.  To achieve missions, soldiers learn to innovate by using all available means to accomplish their goal when surprises arise, as they often do during battles.  To minimize the amount of surprises, however, soldiers conduct extensive training and planning to have a strategy for success before entering into a battle.  They learn as much as possible about the environment, and based on their knowledge they take calculated risks; they minimize risk-taking to ensure safety.

Human Capital.
All militaries conduct basic training as a means of indoctrination and fast-paced learning.  This usually provides soldiers with security-focused skill sets along with discipline, and most militaries force soldiers to complete at least basic education, including literacy programs at the very least.  In addition, soldiers are often provided unique opportunities for international education from allies.  Further, if military members stay in the service for several years, they experience both implementation and staff roles throughout their career, making them prime candidates for knowledgeable policymakers and social agents who know what it is like ‘out there.

Life Skills.
The nature of the military provides soldiers with ‘life skills’ that help them function in the world.  For example, they learn to work with technology, usually including the internet and email.  They also gain experience in handling personal finances with a regular paycheck.  In addition, soldiers interact with individuals outside of their local area for idea-sharing and achieving a broader point of view.  Finally, soldiers are offered leadership at relatively low levels, where many of them are responsible for subordinates and for carrying out tasks.

Rauch and Frese (2000) show that each of these characteristics—need for achievement, internal locus of control, innovation, planning and strategy, low risk-taking, human capital, leadership, and life skills—are directly related to success and entrepreneurship.  The risky performance-based environment in which soldiers operate is comparable to the atmosphere an entrepreneur faces, especially in developing countries where risks can be minimized through preparation but the institutional environment is such that risks will always be inherent.

On a national scale, policymakers should consider taking advantage of these characteristics through policies that translate them into the civilian realm, such as through a mandated ‘civilian reintegration program’ before a soldier demobilizes.  The goal of this program is to tailor their psychological characteristics that were gained in the military towards productive civilian activities.

This can be done by identifying and praising the specific success-prone characteristics described above, utilizing a variety of case studies to focus the skills they have gained to the civilian workforce, and providing business training, which could include components of management, accounting, and marketing.  Additionally, soldiers’ success-prone characteristics could be indirectly translated through using the military as a training apparatus to educate civilians and other military members.

Such policies aimed at increasing the supply of success-prone citizens, when complemented by policies that facilitate identification and financing of these individuals, can lead to a culture of private sector entrepreneurial success and aggregate economic growth.

How the Rise of Social Media Transformed Disaster Response in Haiti

When the earthquake struck Haiti this January, a number of administrations were quick to respond: government organizations, NGOs, IGOs, and foreign militaries. They had a difficult time coordinating efforts, but nonetheless different organizations found ways to contribute, the US Military leading the way in opening sea lanes and airports among other efforts. The initial relief effort in Haiti was a product of more global activism and funding than any other disaster relief initiative in human history.

And, for some reason, it wasn’t surprising. To me anyway. Thinking back to other recent natural catastrophes, including the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, and even Katrina, none of them seemed so fully covered by the news, and more importantly none seemed to galvanize support so quickly as this one. Surely the US would have been quicker to mobilize a relief effort to its own citizens in New Orleans than to mobilize a relief effort to a foreign country—be it so close in proximity.

It must have been something else which expedited the relief effort. Maybe in the case of the US it was partially a sense that it had to make up for its abysmal response to Katrina five years ago. More significantly, I think, it was the rise of social media that accelerated the global response effort. Social media existed during other recent major natural disasters, but its continuing skyrocketing usage likely surpassed some sort of tipping point, enabling it to substantially change the way we execute disaster relief. Listed below are five ways in which social media aided or altered the disaster relief effort, including both the civilian and the military side:

Social media may have changed disaster relief forever. Future natural disaster relief efforts will likely continue to feature similar response initiatives as social media continue to develop and expand, and continue to supply new avenues for relief. Of course, Haiti’s proximity to the US may have actually allowed the social media disaster relief revolution to take place; the US is a nexus for social media, a highly modernized country, and one with a vast collection of relief organizations. Likewise, a similarly monumental social media relief effort would be likely to take place near, say France or Japan, but less likely in sub-Saharan Africa. In this way, social media’s impact on natural disaster relief efforts may continue to increase on average in the future, but will likely be affected by other variables.

While social media are certainly able to expedite and improve humanitarian relief efforts, there is a wide range of goals they cannot accomplish. They increased a sense of immediacy in responding to the earthquake in Haiti, but that did not necessarily equate to a substantial impact. Social media may have significantly lowered what would have been a much higher casualty count (in an area characterized by poverty and urban slum sprawl), but we cannot know for certain. More sophisticated coordination among relief organizations likely could have improved relief efforts in ways that technology could not; whether social media can assist in developing this sort of coordination is questionable.

Haiti will continue to have problems. Separations in families, destroyed infrastructure, and a lack of security will continue to torment those in the region affected by the earthquake, not to mention that Haiti is Haiti—a country consistently ranked in the 15 worst failed states, poorer than all other nations in the western hemisphere, and continually afflicted by violence including a successful military coup against the ruling power as recent as 2004. What will it take for Haiti to finally recover from the earthquake, let alone the problems that afflicted it before the earthquake, even aside from the hurricanes that barrage it every summer?

But the world’s experiences in disaster relief in Haiti will hopefully enable us to be more successful at disaster relief in the future. We learned that social media enable us to respond to disasters more quickly, and sustain response initiatives longer. We learned that social media enable anyone to participate in relief efforts from anywhere in the world. We learned that however important social media are to disaster relief efforts, there are many tasks they cannot accomplish on their own. To be more effective in the future, we much continue to increase our capacity to leverage social media, but more importantly we must find more effective ways to organize relief efforts among government organizations, militaries, IGOs, and NGOs.

FEMA was bolstered after our failures in the Katrina effort. Perhaps now the US should build up a new administration—be it through USAID, CIDI, or a version of FEMA—dedicated directly to coordinating natural disaster response initiatives, via some combination of Red Cross, Emergency Management, International Development, and military personnel. This sort of command would hopefully improve interagency coordination and task delegation within the US—though these ideals have never been a strong suit of US bureaucracy. Furthermore, any such initiative would still fall short of addressing the greater question, How can we better coordinate alongside foreign relief efforts? Would the US oblige itself to take the lead on every major disaster initiative? Some say yes; we already do by default. But what about other humanitarian crises, including ethnic conflict, slavery, civil war, and genocide? The 21st Century experiences no shortage of these, and somehow the rest of the world—including the US—continues to function as normal.

Social media have a broad capacity to improve natural disaster relief initiatives. Do they have a capacity to improve coordination among civilian organizations and military commands within disaster relief operations? Results so far are unoptimistic. And disaster relief could use the help.

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The Role of the Military as a Socioeconomic Development Implementer

Contrary to the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof’s conclusion that the most development-enhancing thing to be done with militaries is to disband them, domestic militaries actually serve many positive roles for development once good civil-military relations are present. For example, they minimize violent conflict, provide security so that civilians can carry out productive activities, reduce insecurity and instability risks to increase foreign investment, create demand for domestic industries and R&D, and provide discipline and employment to a significant proportion of the population. Each of these military-development connections is inherent in the military’s very existence, regardless of function.

However, to hasten socioeconomic development, the missions of militaries can also be modified from a traditional war-fighting focus to a focus on both war-fighting and development-implementing, especially when few external conflict threats exist. Militaries can thus serve as direct development project/program implementers to enhance state service delivery capacity and to modernize the population. In Senegal, for instance, the Senegalese Armed Forces have an ‘Army-Nation’ component that conducts activities in public health care, infrastructure provision, and re-integration for demobilizing soldiers. Each of these is seen as directly contributing to security so that the military operates within its realm, and each clearly impacts the broader development of the country. According to the Gallup World Poll, the Senegalese Armed Forces are indeed the country’s most trusted institution among the populace.

Militaries should be strongly considered for complementing civilian development organizations, both private and public, due to several comparative advantages in state capacity enhancement that most militaries have: (1) culture of expedience and order-taking; (2) vast resource availability for money, manpower, infrastructure, and technology; (3) partnership possibilities for technology transfer and support from international powers and for regional coordination on transnational issues with regional partnerships; (4) human capital in a variety of skill sets since militaries are societies within societies; (5) direct line to the country’s head of state for ease of coordination and funding; and (6) few limits on areas of operation since militaries have security training and weaponry for insecure places along with adequate transportation vehicles for remote locations.

Along with these advantages, militaries are significant sources of modernization in the following ways: (1) source of hope and social-climbing for lower classes through a meritocracy; (2) social solidarity effects of forging a national identity; (3) international exposure for soldiers that increases idea-sharing; and (4) source of education and skills-training, especially when military skills relate to the socioeconomic realm so that soldiers find related work after demobilization.

However, the importance of strong civil-military relations cannot be overlooked before any of these comparative advantages can be realized, especially considering the coups d’état so prevalent in the recent history of many developing countries. Civil-military relations based in norms of military subordination to civilian authority is the only sustainable means of any policy regarding the military’s function. Especially for this recommended policy that could be considered outside the traditional role and operations of militaries, strong civil-military relations are a prerequisite, with a professionalized armed forces and a civilian leader who respects the military and does not abuse his or her authority by using the military for inappropriate means.

Certainly leaders of countries with a history of political involvement of the military will rightfully be wary to utilize the military for anything other than war-fighting. However, with many developing countries still struggling with basic service and infrastructure provision, among a host of other development problems, leaders cannot ignore the vast potential contributions an organization like the military can make. If civil-military relations are properly controlled, militaries can be a domestic source of capital that can catalyze socioeconomic development.

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A Veteran’s Perspective on the Afghanistan Surge

As of late there has been much discussion about the decision by President Obama to deploy more troops to Afghanistan.  Having first hand knowledge of the situation through two combat deployments there myself, I fully support that decision.

The introduction to a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof is a hypothetical story of why the local populace in Afghanistan supports the Taliban and not the US troops whose presence there is meant to protect them. He goes so far as describing the Taliban as pious and honest; The same Taliban that kills innocent civilians not abiding by their anarchistic orders and encourages the stoning of women for moral transgressions, while harboring and training the very terrorists who murdered thousands of innocent American civilians on September 11, 2001. These, to name a few, accompany a slew of egregious acts of this so-called “pious” Taliban.

He continues by comparing the shoes President Obama wears on this War on Terror to that of Lyndon Johnson’s during Vietnam.  Our current conflict is nothing like Vietnam in terms of origin and it has no chance of yielding the kinds of casualties witnessed in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.  We have had defined strategies from the beginning that have focused on supporting the local populace, not attacking them.  The all-volunteer army and police forces the U.S. has fielded are a testament to that support.

Decreasing efforts to defeat the poisonous influence of an ever-growing Taliban would mean that, after having come nearly eight years since first entering into Afghanistan, it would be all for not.   No amount of monetary investment will fuel the necessary educational growth within the country, as it will inevitably flow through the sieve that is the unstable Afghanistan, as we know it.

I believe the path to success is through education.  However, if we allow these terrorist groups to grow and take hold of a nation they’ve done nothing but destroy, then no amount of school building (and re-building and re-building and…) will matter.  Without the security that the increased troops will provide, that sieve which is Afghanistan will take the money and put it to no good use.  Our presence there is absolutely, without a doubt, necessary for the work that has been done thus far to bring a permanent change to a country currently defeated by a terrorist group.

The Taliban move into towns, kill elected officials to establish dominance and commit extortion, acting in no way like a pious and honest lot.  Afghans may not be too keen on the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, but at the end of the day they realize that without us, the Taliban have free reign.  If the Afghan populace begins to think that the Americans are just passing through from one valley to the next, offering no real security and are uncommitted to their cause, our presence this entire war will have been moot as the Taliban will regain control and instill the terror so familiar to Afghanis.  Our troop levels in Afghanistan have been dangerously low for years. Until we sustain higher levels for an extended period of time until a point President Obama advises we will be unable to effectively defeat the Taliban, never truly establishing a lasting and secure country.

Only after we give Afghanistan the type of security wherein they are able to operate freely in their daily lives should we continue to put money into building schools and expanding the country’s infrastructure.  Only then will those monetary investments be able to offer a return that is acceptable.

An even more recent article by Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse from the Huffington Post, cite the U.S. military having a 666:1 advantage over the estimated number of Al-Qaeda.  While the sheer numbers may be close to true, the number of ‘actual’ soldiers, sailors, and marines fighting Al-Qaeda head-to-head in the fields and mountains of Afghanistan is on much more even ground.  While the U.S. and NATO forces do whatever is in their power to protect the civilian population during the fighting, Al-Qaeda does not.  In order for the civilian population to be sufficiently protected and the enemy sufficiently defeated, we need to increase the real-time U.S. troop to Al-Qaeda ratio significantly.

The current surge does this and time will tell if is it sufficient enough.

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