Tag Archives: Development

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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