Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Civilian Transportation Command?

The focus on transition processes from conflict to peace and thus reconstruction & development witin the civilian institutional circuit does not entail an end to inter-agency squabbles or wishful thinking in that context (pursuit of self-interest and wishful thinking being the main drivers of anything, though!). The reflections of the always interesting Dan Drezner are probably representative of the civilian circuit: the NSPD 44 (more in this post) ought to be only the first step on the way to aligning State and Defense budgets.
One final bureaucratic thought. The attempt to create logistical capabilities for aid and reconstruction within the State Department would have a significant effect on the traditional rivalry between State and Defense. The latter has always had an edge in terms of capabilities and resources. If State develops its own parallel means to deliver man and material somewhere, one of DoD's unspoken advantages in bureaucratic politics will be dented just a little bit.
This is of course never, ever going to happen. The idea of creating "logistical capabilities for aid and reconstruction within the State Department" must mean something completely different from building a parellel - civilian, but public - logistics system. That would amount to building a State version of the (joint) US Transportation Command, including the service agencies' actual fleets of air and sea freighters. Not happening of course: the cost would be ridiculous and the gain speculative. But lets have a look at it anyway as the subject of logistics is essential to both parts - fighting the wars and winning the peace, including relief operations.

First, obviously the cost of replicating the Transportation Command and the service units is prohibitive. Positioning from shows of force to in-theater deployment is the backbone of what the military does. Literal global reach is the strategic basis for anything: America's blue water navy and littoral capacities and the Air Mobility Command are central to much of the constitutive power the US. The ability to move almost anything anywhere fairly quickly equals power on a global scale. Tactics might win battles, but logistics wins wars: this truism explains why so much money has been poured into the "boring" platforms that move others - and serves to illustrate that the civilian side would have to demonstrate a strategic need of an equally important scale. Now, that argument might be made in the name of development - as part of shrinking the Gap - but it seems rather fluffier than Stieglitz.

Second, we might contemplate the spirit of the NSPD 44 and the call for enhanced military-civilian cooperations in the 3000 directive, which together points to the need for a more structured civilian effort - hence the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. In terms of logistics, what would enhanced civil-military cooperation and coordination of the civil side alone mean?

If we look at the civil equivalents of the service agencies we find a combination of the private logistics market where single organizations - IOs and NGOs - hire according to need and means plus a bit of proprietary logistics means and the occassional helping hand of ... the military (during the tsunami, the Pakistani earth-quake and Katrina the US military showed how importants its assets are for the big civilian relief ops). Thus we basically have an operating market-based solution for the ngos and IOs having the greatest needs - and means of course. One would suppose this is the best way to achieve efficient resource allocation - something that would speak against a unified command. Furthermore, the idea of a unified logistics command supposes a unified political command, which again is probably inconceivable. Just like the saying about war, logistics is so much what NGOs and IOs do in the field that any attempt at forced coordination of logistics efforts seems like a lost battle up front. Who is to tell the civil society organizations how to weigh their responses to different challenges?

Yet one implicit central tenet of the intended reorganization spree of development is exactly to achieve better coordination, so there will be less waste through inefficient double coverage. And freeing the efforts from negative impact of media driven high profile operations that take away focus and funds from the less hip needs. In the end, building a Civilian Transportation command would be less about replicating existing capacities - within the private sector and the military - and more about the joint Nichols-Goldwater element: improving planning and response capacities across the different actors, including the UN.

What such a unit could aspire to in the first place would then be a best practice hamonization of procedures: acting as a clearing house for lessons learned about reconstruction logistics - taking in (formally structured) information; putting out civilian doctrine proposals in some sort of negotiated process with the stakeholder organizations. It would thus be an important element of the political
decisionmaking HQ.

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