Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Analyst-Gate Expected

Is public diplomacy an information operation? It would seem some folks at Pentagon OSD thought so. The New York Times piece on how ex-military analysts were briefed by Pentagon in the period before the Iraq war should perhaps come as little surprise. But neither should the reaction. It isn't rocket science: Nobody likes to get fooled. And deliberate attempts at doing so will only undermine the credibility of the fooler - especially among those where there were the most to gain. Here from AFP:
The Pentagon has suspended a public affairs program that has come under fire for using retired military "media analysts" as surrogates to get out its messages on the Iraq war, a spokesman confirmed Monday. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the program was undergoing an internal review following criticism that the retired officers offered Pentagon talking points as their own during the run-up to the Iraq invasion and thereafter.

"It's temporarily suspended so we can take at look at some of the concerns," said Whitman. Teleconferences and briefings for the military analysts have been halted pending the review, which is being conducted by the Pentagon's public affairs office, he said. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has not directly addressed the issue since the New York Times carried a lengthy report on the program April 20, except to say that the analysts should make clear they were speaking only for themselves.

The New York Times found that the Pentagon laid on special briefings and conference calls for the retired officers, many of whom then repeated the talking points as military experts on television news shows. The Times also found that many of the media analysts also worked as consultants or served on the boards of defense contracting companies, but that those ties often went undisclosed to the public.

Moreover, the whole thing should be a slap oin the wrist for the media whose interest in colorful commentators sometimes exceeds their willingness to research their affiliations. The Onion caught that part brillantly: "Actual Expert Too Boring for TV".

Monday, April 28, 2008

CRS goes Africom

Africom has caught the eye of the ever-decent CRS guys:
The 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa highlighted the threat of terrorism to U.S. interests on the continent. Political instability and civil wars have created vast ungoverned spaces, areas in which some experts allege that terrorist groups may train and operate. Instability also heightens human suffering and retards economic development, which may in turn threaten U.S. economic interests. Africa’s exports of crude oil to the United States are now roughly equal to those of the Middle East, further emphasizing the continent’s strategic importance. This report provides a broad overview of U.S. strategic interests in Africa and the role of U.S. military efforts on the continent as they pertain to the creation of AFRICOM. Although the command is still in the early stages of its development, a discussion of AFRICOM’s mission, its coordination with other government agencies, and its basing and manpower requirements is included.
Go read or download the report here (pdf).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Return of the Complex: Men or Matériel

One of the cold war's major and paradoxical features was always the role of President Eisenhower's military-industrial complex: A sort of cabale of production and R&D and procurement - all dedicated to the cause of freedom, its defense and progress. During the 1990s, and as a result of the post-Vietnam willful doctrinal blindness, this setup had resulted in a tech-driven approach to war. One of pure war, outside its political context. RMA stood and stands for industrial age warfare, just with tech instead of infantry; one where mass still counted but now as intelligent hardware, rather than men and artillery.

Since 2001, the return of the paradigm of small wars - Barnett's lesser includeds - has slowly gained ground and is one of the principal perspectives in this blog. That means monikers like 'the long war', 'NSPD44', DoD Directive 3000.05', Transitioning, SSTR, COIN, Shaping/CSE JOC, etc. This paradigm is heavy on the manpower side, heavy on relatively low-tech machinery (thousands of vehicles vs. handfuls of fighter jets), and especially heavy on organizational intelligence (doctrine, education, training for joint, combined, interagency operations). But now the industry apparently has had it, and hopes to influence the political agenda so that the Pentagon moves from implementing the two directives mentioned to investing again, more, in the major wars of the future.
Years of military operations in Iraq have led many in the Pentagon to see antiguerrilla operations and smaller conflicts as the fights of the future. This has created tension with those who believe the military must not lose its ability to win a more conventional war against a country such as China or Russia, or even well-armed smaller nations.

The AIA represents roughly 275 aerospace and defense companies, ranging from giant contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. to smaller companies that play supporting roles. Defense stocks are strong, and the Pentagon's budget is at historic highs.


But with a change of administration looming and the tab for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan mounting, concern is growing that a peak is at hand. Recognizing the growing fiscal pressure that the next administration will face, the AIA wants the government to find ways to hold down costs for operating and maintaining the armed forces and devote more resources to buying military hardware. The AIA is also concerned that growth in the Army and the Marine Corps will drive nonweapons costs such as health care and training even higher.

For fiscal 2009, the Bush administration requested $515 billion for the Defense Department, with billions more in supplemental funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. That would be approximately 3.7% of GDP. But tough decisions that would effectively shut down production of Lockheed's F-22 Raptor fighter or Boeing's C-17 were postponed for the White House's next occupant.

The AIA suggests that the Pentagon spend $120 billion to $150 billion a year on weapons procurement, up from the fiscal 2009 request of $104 billion, saying that the military's air superiority is in "serious danger" because of age and underinvestment. The group says the U.S. "cannot afford to pull back investment spending as it has done during past postwar defense drawdowns -- the nature of the security environment strongly mitigates against taking such a risk during what may be a generation-long war on terrorism."

The interesting and problematic thing about this proposed turning of the tide is that no major program was ever cut in order to pay for the small wars paradigm. The total cost - not of running the wars, but of transforming for them - is probably only a fraction of the cost of running the missile defense program alone.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nagl: Teach a Man to Fish

In the new issue of Armed Forces Journal, John Nagl argues that we should focus more on host nation training units to meet the demands of the long war. Incidentally, that is one of the things that the new, no-longer-Shaping but CSE or Cooperative Security & Engagement JOC from JFCOM will be about (more on that debacle in this post). The operational elements of this in terms of major conflicts was in principle described back in the old SSTR JOC as a development on Internal Defense Operations. But this will be about both the peace time version (African peace ops capacity building, i.e. like ACOTA (CRS report, pdf file from FAS) and the war version (Afghanistan, where both Brits and Americans have integrated commands).

Nagl points to hwo these functions have traditionally been carried out by special forces; but that the demand has grown so much that regular forces should be educated and trained in these matters. Ultimately, the whole thing is about what I said the CSE JOC would end up being about: development in the shape of just (and hence:) stable states:
The Long War is ultimately a war of ideas. Strong partners with institutions that work toward political and economic development and reflect respect for human dignity present one of the best weapons to wage such a war. Enabling and empowering our partners through security force assistance coordinated within an interagency framework supports national policy goals and national security. Embracing a new adviser force structure and adviser education is the answer we need for the hard questions of this new era.
Of course, the private sector is and has been delivering a lot of the peace time training - and it seems likely that this is the way to go for small countries who would wish to retain a fighting force. Like Denmark e.g.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Economist on Africom

The Economist has picked up on Africom, but seems not to accept one basic premise of Africom. Namely, that American and African interests may coincide a long way when it comes to protecting globalization:
Helpful though these efforts are in a dirt-poor country, they were also a public-relations exercise to persuade suspicious African governments to welcome America's planned Africa Command (AFRICOM), with an increased military presence on the continent, before it becomes fully operational in October. Dubbed the Africa Partnership Station, two American navy ships, the USS Fort McHenry and the twin-hulled USS Swift, are near the end of a six-month cruise that has taken in seven countries in the Gulf of Guinea (Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Senegal) with the aim of improving maritime security as well as winning hearts and minds in this oil-rich region. (...)

“We wouldn't be here if it wasn't in [American] interests,” acknowledges Commodore Nowell. Despite the talk of soft power and the much-vaunted humanitarian aspect of the naval presence in the Gulf of Guinea, the real emphasis is still on security. It is plainly in America's interest to help African navies and armies to stop thefts of crude oil, illegal fishing and immigration, drug trafficking and piracy. All these hurt local economies, undermine political stability and threaten to turn poor countries into failed states, such as Somalia, that may breed terrorism.
The article is here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

UN Civil-Military Handbook Out

There's a new UN CIV-MIL handbook out. The focus is kind of a field manual level - the full title is "The United Nations Civil-Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord) Officer Field Handbook". The manual was funded and initiative was taken by both OCHA and the EU's 'ministry' (Directorate General, DG) for humanitarian aid:
Jointly launched by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission (DG ECHO) in Brussels on 10 March 2008. Funded in part by DG ECHO.
The preface is followed by sort of a statement of general purpose:
The essential dialogue and interaction between civilian and military actors in humanitarian emergencies that is necessary to protect and promote humanitarian principles, avoid competition, minimize inconsistency, and when appropriate pursue common goals. Basic strategies range from coexistence to cooperation. Coordination is a shared responsibility facilitated by liaison and common training.
Here's the table of contents:
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Key Concepts and Principles
Chapter 3: Key Policies and Selected Guidelines
Chapter 4: Transportation and Logistics
Chapter 5: Security, Safety and Medical Services
Chapter 6: Communications and Information Management
Chapter 7: UN Civil Military Coordination (CMCoord) Assessment
Chapter 8: Development of Country Specific Guidelines
Chapter 9: CMCoord Action Plan
Chapter 10: Establishing Liaison with Military Forces
Chapter 11: The Cluster System
Chapter 12: Deployment Considerations
Each of the substantial chapters deal with the substance from both civilian and military perspectives, and a description of standards and best practices, e.g. as "The Military Perspective; The Humanitarian Perspective; Key Military Actors; Minimum Information; Possible Tasks and Activities; Planning Considerations; Lessons Observed and Best Practices". The annexes, moreover, contain a host of practical info - like NATO acronyms, military ranks and insignia.

All of the practical elements seem straightforward and very much called for. But as the diagram of 'range of approaches' shows, the sets of roles attributed to each set of actors is still far from settled.

The publication can be found here (pdf).

Looking Through the Modern State

Unless we understand global politics as a question of the gradual spread of the modern state, we won't get far in understanding patterns of conflict (such as Collier's conflict trap) or the 'state of other people's state). Tom Barnett has a fine piece (Remember when America wasn't so democratic?) on this in the case of the gradual enshrinement of the democratic tradition in the US:
Americans spend little time remembering our history, preferring to focus on current and future accomplishments. That attitude gives us a bit of attention-deficit disorder when it comes to judging other countries' political evolutions. We simply cannot understand why they shouldn't be able to quickly put together a democracy like our own.

The harsh truth is that most developing countries that embrace markets and globalization do so as single-party states. Sure, many feature a marginal opposition party, just like the Harlem Globetrotters always play -- and beat -- the Washington Generals, but they're still single-party states. Mexico was like this for decades, as was South Korea and Japan. Once economic development matured enough, a real balance took hold and power started shifting back and forth between parties. Malaysia heads for the same tipping point today.

Americans, especially experts and politicians, typically view these regimes with a certain disdain, wondering how a public can put up with a manipulative political system where elites decide who runs for high office and only a tiny fraction of the public has any real influence. We demand more competition, more suffrage, and freer elections -- now! (...)

Remember this: Our country was born of revolution, including a nasty guerrilla-style war waged by a ragtag collection of militias against the most powerful military in the world at that time. (...)

Finally, a whopping 48 years after we issued our famous Declaration of Independence declaring all men equal, we conducted a presidential election in which three-quarters of the states let their citizens vote directly for candidates. (...)

This was the first half-century of American political history. It took us 89 years to free the slaves and 189 years to guarantee blacks the right to vote. Women waited 144 years before earning suffrage.

I know that's all in the past, but that's my point: It took America quite some time to develop this democracy we cherish. Remember that when you decry "sham" elections abroad or declare single-party states "dictatorships." Because if mature, multiparty democracy was so darn easy, everybody would have one.

The piece reminded me of Roland Paris' great analysis of international peacebuilding and the 'mission civilisatrice' of 19th century colonialism. The whole article is here, in pdf. First, the abstract, and then a bit from the introduction:
International peacebuilding operations seek to stabilise countries that have recently experienced civil wars. In pursuing this goal, however, international peacebuilders have promulgated a particular vision of how states should organise themselves internally, based on the principles of liberal democracy and market-oriented economics. By reconstructing warshattered states in accordance with this vision, peacebuilders have effectively ‘transmitted’ standards of appropriate behaviour from the Western-liberal core of the international system to the failed states of the periphery. From this perspective, peacebuilding resembles an updated (and more benign) version of the mission civilisatrice, or the colonial-era belief that the European imperial powers had a duty to ‘civilise’ dependent populations and territories. (...)

This article argues that peacebuilding missions are not merely exercises in conflict management, but instances of a much larger phenomenon: the globalisation of a particular model of domestic governance—liberal market democracy—from the core to the periphery of the international system. Most international organisations engaged in peacebuilding have internalised the broadly liberal political and economic values of the wealthy and powerful industrialised democracies (which comprise the core of the current international system), while nearly all of the countries that have hosted peacebuilding missions are located in the poor and politically weak periphery. Without exception, peacebuilding missions in the post-Cold War period have attempted to ‘transplant’ the values and institutions of the liberal democratic core into the domestic affairs of peripheral host states.
The point here is not that peacebuilding is wrong, but just that without realising - just like Barnett argues - what glasses you are looking at the world with, you'll have a lesser chance of getting it right. Just take the question of finding a viable version of the modern state in Pastho country. Or dealing with Hamas. And that understanding necessitates a sense of the history of the West and the Rest in terms of first functional state-building (churches, taxation, armies) and since functional nation-building (schooling, citizens, conscription, suffrage, rights) over the last 3-4-500 years.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Prediction is Hard: Pentagon on Social Networks

According to DangerRoom some people at Pentagon now try to predict (at least parts of the) future through some advanced social science:
The University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science just announced that it's been awarded a $7.5 million grant to work in this fast emerging field of network science, which melds everything from mathematics to sociology. Network science is increasingly the "hot" area for Pentagon research. Why? Because the Pentagon hopes that if it can understand complex networks, then it can understand terrorist networks, and even predict who will join such a network.
While there's a lot of good things to be said about attempts at modeling market behaviors through quantitative approaches, it is certainly wise to bring a pinch of reservation to the table as well. In one interesting attempt to forecast country instability, "Anticipating the Good, the Bad & the Ugly" (Journal of Conflict Resolution), Sean P. O'Brien admits that "the model can anticipate the oiliness of the rags but not the spark that will set them ablaze." Prediction, in other words will not be wrought from quantitative approaches. Trend forecasting and identification of likelihoods is what that game is about. Engineering, in this sense, as an organizational approach will only bring you so far. Leadership, intuition, horizontal thinking and perhaps common sense is still necessary.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Three Phases of Afghanistan and Poppy Strategies

Strategies for dealing with the poppy economy in Afghanistan exist (like this recent one by WB/DfID: Afghanistan: Economic Incentives and Development Initiatives to Reduce Opium Production) but have been notoriously difficult to implement.*

Poppies matter in Afghanistan. Can Afghanistan be "fixed" without fixing the poppy economy? Probably not. But is that question actually relevant at all? Do we have to deal with the poppy economy now?
That all depends on what we are doing when in Afghanistan. "Afghanistan" as policy problem in historical can be divided into three phases:

1) Invasion, toppling, counterinsurgency, contested state-building by NATO and 'world society'.
2) Counterinsurgency, contested state-building by 'host nation', i.e. Afghan state.
3) Development.

We are still in 1), and consequently our effort should go toward getting to 2). That means hard core focus on capacity building in Afghanistan - first and foremost security forces, both ANA and ANP, but also all the other elements necessary to sustain and control these forces, i.e. rule of law instruments and a reasonably functional central, regional and local administration, plus an acceptable political process.

If that's true, then maybe the real question concerning strategies for poppy economics is that it shouldn't be dealt with now. Or at least only to the extent that it matters for the Taleban/insurgents. Maybe we should even leave it alone for a while - maybe we only risk fostering more resistance that will hamper the phasing from 1) to 2)?

In the end, those questions ought to be part of the national debates about general strategies for dealing with "Afghanistan" in NATO countries.

* The Danish Institute for Military Studies' Afghan Index contains a useful collection of Afghan data.