Civil-Military Interface Still Lacks Operational ClarityJanuary 12, 2011 By Frederick M. Burkle
The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) is an important first step in redefining civilian roles and capacities in crises, conflict, and instability. After the expensive failures of both the military and USAID in Vietnam during the 1960s and 70s, Congress set new guidelines governing military interventions and assistance to foreign governments. Foreign assistance staff was cut from 15,000 to 2,000 people. When modern-day conflicts arose and USAID found itself understaffed and under-funded, the military was called upon to fill a gap and became overnight, in essence, our primary development agency.
Reluctant to give this up, the military today has made assistance to populations a primary function of its counterinsurgency wars and long-term planning. Unfortunately, because the military does not “easily accept honest criticism from outside…or scrutiny that exposes institutional shortcomings,” as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, measures of effectiveness or “reviews of performance” that claim success are too often only anecdotal.
Secretary Clinton assumed responsibility to redefine American diplomacy and development by leading through civilian power, not military power. While most of us in the aid community applaud this challenge, it is clear that it will take years – probably two decades at the least – and billions to restore USAID’s potential to what it should have remained decades ago. A crucial challenge will be reclaiming development responsibilities from the military, and nothing convinced me in this document that the proposed relationship with DOD, which still remains USAID’s major “operational” development agency partner, will change much, if at all.
My disappointment in the QDDR from the outset is that while it is high on rhetoric that speaks to a major recovery and rehabilitation of USAID’s civilian power and prestige, it is severely devoid of how this is to be operationalized. DOD’s humanitarian programs continue to grow in funds, programs, and staff. Arbitrarily designed and planned programs arise out of the Combatant Commands and the individual services without proper vetting, monitoring, and evaluation, or – too often – are never coordinated and communicated with USAID offices in the host countries. DOD and the private contractors it serves will not give up this dominance without a Congressional fight – one that, I am afraid, considering the political and fiscal climate, USAID will lose.
Lessons From Across the Pond
Yet, we are learning more and more every day that militarized aid has not worked. I must refer the readers of this blog to Kelly Morris’ article in the December 4, 2010, issue of The Lancet, which openly and transparently addresses the decision to “fundamentally change” the way in which Britain’s USAID counterpart, the Department for International Development (DFID), spends their development budget.
Talking of Afghanistan primarily, Morris writes that DFID has concluded “militarized aid is the wrong tool to promote development in the long term.” The current militarized aid model – both the funding and delivery of development projects and the alignment of aid with security objectives – does not work. An Oxfam report, Quick Impact, Quick Collapse, calls for this model to be replaced with UN coordination of aid delivery, local ownership of programs, and a phasing out the military-dominated provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs), which studies have been shown to be “potentially wasteful, ineffective, and harmful,” poorly designed, and irrelevant and/or unsustainable to local needs.
DFID’s “overall goal will remain the elimination of poverty and delivery of clean water, sanitation, basic health care, and education to the world’s poorest people,” Andrew Mitchell, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, told The Lancet. But it is conflict, Mitchell reminds us, which condemns people to live in poverty. As long as there is conflict, the poor remain poor and development efforts will be disrupted or prevented. DFID fully recognizes that they must begin to focus attention on the root causes of poverty and poor development and cannot focus on security alone.
Putting development at the heart of an integrated approach that supports the world’s most vulnerable people makes sense. Furthermore, the United Kingdom has established a new Independent Commission for Aid Impact to assess development impact and accountability, and to report the results publicly – something the United States does not do. For the military, preventive health care and public health is not a priority, and certainly not an accomplishment of coalition forces in Iraq, which focused on short-term, feel-good projects that have, for the most part, fallen apart…as they have in Afghanistan.
In Iraq in 2004, one of the first acts of the new Iraqi Ministry of Health was to develop a surveillance system for civilian casualties – something that was non-existent from the onset of the war in March 2003. A joint Ministry of Health and International Committee of the Red Cross report revealed that violence took second place to the morbidity and mortality that developed from destroyed public health infrastructure and social protections. These indirect deaths from war are preventable but require attention from the occupying powers to the invaded country’s declining public health, social, and physical protections. Iraqis were well aware of this deficiency, and the United States’ lack of attention to the matter led to the loss of lasting trust.
Too Little, Too Late?
DFID is serious about addressing conflict from prevention to post-conflict and putting their money where their mouth is. Meanwhile, the vast majority of USAID’s budget in countries with conflict is used for “routine programming,” not the root causes of the conflict. Most disturbing to me is that while there are plans to incorporate crucial requirements to vet, monitor, evaluate, and measure the effectiveness of programs, there is no mention of this requirement for joint USAID-DOD programs. The Pentagon has continued to avoid this responsibility; and USAID becoming a “partner” creates the risk of these joint programs becoming similarly flawed. Had the UK’s PRT programs, which were modeled after those of the United States, allowed such monitoring, they would either have been ended or critically altered long ago.
The QDDR does little to clarify USAID’s future operational relationships with DOD and how this bevy of civilian experts will be used in this “partnership.” Although expanding civilian capacity within USAID has been a crucial need for decades, the manner in which this “expert” capacity is to be improved falls dangerously short and remains unclear.
The PRT program in Afghanistan called for USAID experts to be embedded with the military. These experts came from staff at multiple civilian governmental agencies. Many of these government civilians did not have expertise, were unclear of the objectives, and were hindered by unclear military chains of command and reporting, let alone the prohibitive expense of fielding the programs. They felt that expectations were unrealistic and were not sensitive to “local traditions, knowledge, and capacity” that should have focused more on “training and mentoring than building potentially vulnerable infrastructure,” as Bernard Carreau points out in the National Defense University’s PRISM journal.
Many projects were carried out without local support, design, or relevancy. Carreau also notes – and this pertains to the concerns of humanitarians who have worked in Afghanistan for decades – that the advisors lacked training on Iraqi or Afghan culture and history on “how to negotiate and work with tribal leaders, host government officials, farmers and other stakeholders.” I, for one, will need to know more about how these “experts” and the projects they support will be vetted, trained, educated, and monitored.
Lastly, doubling of the size of the staff of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (already small and over-taxed) is a drop in the bucket. Such small increases will make little difference operationally and will fail to provide the substance needed for root-cause assistance programs and supervision. The QDDR also plans to expand the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), which is the one program within USAID that addresses root causes and does it well. However, OTI has never been able to meet its potential because of inadequate budgets and staffing; and it is only given a short paragraph in the QDDR – that tells me little about how it will assume a more crucial operational role.
Overall, the QDDR has tremendous potential, but emphasis must be placed on USAID’s autonomy and assurances that they will have the internal capacity to develop sensible programs to address root causes. Re-reading the history of USAID from decades past will be instructive and reassuring in that respect.
Frederick M. Burkle, Jr., MD, MPH, DTM, is a senior public policy scholar at the Wilson Center and a senior fellow of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Sources: AP, Department for International Development, Foreign Service Journal, The Independent, The Lancet, National Defense University, Oxfam International, USAID, Washington Post.