Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Pay to Play: the New US Multilateral Burden Strategy

What to make of these two articles concerning US reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan: "U.S. Has End in Sight on Iraq Rebuilding" and "U.S. Cedes Duties in Rebuilding Afghanistan"? In both cases the US winds down their level of S&R engagement - and these are the two biggest on the table. Of course the two stories are different: one deals with financing reconstruction, the other with the question of force sizing and military strategy in on the extended stability side. Yet given that there are no decisions to immediately turn focus elsewhere, and that that the job isn't completely done in either case this looks like a relative US disengagement.

Using the term 'relative disengagement' must of course be heavily qualified. As the article on Iraq states, the absence of a new bill proposal doesn't mean there are no funds allocated:
While the Bush administration is not seeking any new reconstruction funds for Iraq, commanders here have military discretionary funds they can use for small reconstruction projects. The U.S. Agency for International Development is expected to undertake some building projects, as it does in 80 other countries, with money from the foreign appropriations bill.
The problem with this perspective, however, is that it doesn't fit very well with the philosophy of the DoD Directive 3000 or the NSPD44 (more here). What we would be looking at in that light would have been something more integrated - not the old school either-or solution described in the quote: either 'bribe money' spent locally for force protection or purely civilian reconstruction on "some building projects". Of course, a civilian framework might hint that the security situation had improved enough for proper post-conflict reconstruction to charge ahead; but it may also imply that the strategic necessity implied with the use of military means is no longer behind the decisions made.

The allocated budget still holds quite a lot of US money left for Iraq reconstruction for this year; in both cases other donors have given some means; and in neither case the choice is aligned to a military withdrawal. Of course, in Iraq it is hoped that the withdrawal will be possible within the next year or so, while the situation looks a bit grimmer in Afghanistan. But if there is any one well-wrought lesson to be drawn from the welter of transitioning, reconstruction and state-building reports that have come out over the last year it seems certain to be James Dobbins' about the importance of input variables: time, men and money.

Which leads us to this interview with John Bolton, also in the Washington Post may which give a deeper clue of what to make of the maneuvers. Given that there are still things to do, and that the US taxpayers - qua their administration - can feel the weight of the tab, could we then be looking at a forced return to multilateralism? Not that the US hand is forced, but rather that there may be a strategy of returning to multilateralism through sharing of responsibility? By withdrawing a bit from the fray - wouldn't that create a small vaccum, just a bit, and enough for the Other Actors to be concerned enough to pull their weight? Could that be the deep pedagogical instrumental intention here - a decision to tie together a more multilateral stance with an implicit demand that those who want to play may also have to pay?

Already six months after the invasion in Iraq, the Bush administration started sending new, more accomodating signals across the Atlantic to its traditional partners - ostensibly softening the brouhaha stemming from the choice of going to war with Iraq (practice) and the doctrine of preemption (principle). Judging by Bolton's stated intention with the UN reform the administration has calculated that securing US leverage at the UN's different institutions means securing the leverage of all the post-WWII big powers, the 'P5':

UNITED NATIONS -- John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said he will start the new year by reinvigorating stalled efforts to restructure management of the world body, beginning with a controversial push to seek assurances that the Security Council's five major powers will be guaranteed posts on a new Human Rights Council.

Bolton said in an interview that the Bush administration wants to ensure that the United States is never again denied membership in the United Nations' principal human rights body, as it was in 2001, when Austria, France and Sweden defeated a U.S. bid for membership in the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission. But his initiative would also boost efforts by China and Russia, two permanent council members with troubled rights records, to gain membership in the new body.

The proposal is part of a broader drive by Bolton to place the five permanent Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- at the center of U.N. decision making. But an official involved in the negotiations warned that creating fresh privileges for the council's most powerful states "would turn off a large chunk of the membership."

Bolton said one of his main priorities for 2006 will be rallying council support for new initiatives to combat terrorism and the spread of the world's deadliest weapons. Last month, he helped secure permanent posts for the "P-5" countries on a new U.N. peace-building commission that was established to oversee post-conflict reconstruction efforts worldwide.

"It's called the perm 5 convention. It's not written down anywhere -- it's not a treaty or anything like that," Bolton said. "It has been a convention operating also from the beginning of the United Nations that the perm 5 serve on all standing bodies of the U.N. that they want to serve on, in exchange for the perm 5 almost never seeking chairmanships of any bodies."

If the advantages of this involvement of the partners are obvious - reinvesting in the UN against for more institutionalised leverage, and more involvement from the main partners in crucial projects - then the problems are too. Just to take two: First of all, we are here only looking at the UN. While UN reform is important and necessary, the UN is not the sole forum for making big decisions: the G8 has become one and other, more may arise ad hoc when needed. Second, handing over responsibility after the fact may not work as well as sharing it up front. What we are looking at is still a transatlantic division of labor where the Americans do the tough work (or screw up, depending on your viewpoint) and the UN, the European countries, the EU and NATO get to do the cleaning (or save the day).

From a European perspective the question is not just the color grading of that division of labor, but its seeming clearcutness: it is also one of who gets to weigh in when and how much on the preceeding decision. Also for the coming ones.

Of course, from the US perspective, this could easily look like wanting to play without pay.

But in the end: if we are to comprensibly rethink warfare within everything else - in the terms of Tom Barnett - then we must look at all kinds of investments to judge the common and separate input variables in the larger global security game. This is then no longer just about military expenditure (but don't tell the Europeans, they still have quite a lag): it is about all of the elements that go into administrating the states system and especially the fates of the weakest and poorest states.

A showdown with North Korea or Iran would be far costlier than taking care of Sudan, but as Barnett has shown: the real expenditure is within the Gap. More specifically, in terms of interventions, measuring how big a punch you pack is not just a measure of battle-ready battalions. Nor is it just a measure of civilian money for post-conflict reconstruction. It is both and everything in between - and all of those elements, among all of the Responsible Actors, most be included in the calculation of decision making weight for the implicit proposal of these three pieces to be carried out.

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