Hard Learned Lessons of Others: What the US Military Can Learn from Successful Development Groups in Today’s World
Major Adam Brady
United States military operations will be dramatically impacted by the fiscal challenges facing the US government. In recognition, the US military is focusing on the development of “innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve [the Nation’s] security objectives [through] exercise, rotational presence, and advisory capabilities.”1 This smaller footprint creates the requirement for a more proactive stance with regard to conflict prevention. In putting more emphasis on conflict prevention, the United States can avoid going to war. The avoidance of the high costs of conflict, both human and financial, is directly in line with the guidance given for future operations. The current US Army plan of aligning units with specific geographic regions provides a unique opportunity to conduct these preventative operations.2
Unfortunately, the US military’s checkered past with regard to conducting development is evidenced by the recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.3 Though members of the military expended a large amount of effort and resources in an attempt to develop both of these countries, their relative inexperience in the area dramatically diminished their immediate effectiveness. Given this reality, the military has the opportunity to learn lessons from the actions of other successful development groups. The continent of Africa, the focus area for the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) and many development organizations, allows for some of these lessons to be learned and applied immediately.
Development in Africa
The history of development in Africa is unimpressive. Between 1960 and 2004 the continent received more than $620 billion in aid from OECD countries with few development gains to show for it.4 This aid was generally distributed without an understanding of the complex relationship between foreign aid, development, and the targeted population.5 This does not mean that successful development is impossible. Numerous governmental and non-governmental development organizations have been active in Africa since the middle of the 20th Century. These organizations have gained critical knowledge that must be understood by leaders within the military in order to successfully complete the missions we have been given. Groups such as Water For People, Oxfam, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) present lessons that can be learned by all military organizations during the conduct of stabilization operations.
A Focus on Sustainability and Exportability - Water For People
Water For People is an international organization focused on creating a “world where all people have access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and where no one suffers or dies from a water- or sanitation-related disease.”6 As an organization, Water For People works with local communities, partners, and governments to create long-term solutions to “water, sanitation, and hygiene problems in the developing world” while allowing local governments to keep “services functioning and extend [them] as the population grows [and] can be replaced without seeking the support of another external development organization or donor.”7 Along with focusing on the long-term consequences of these projects, Water For People ensures the projects can be exported to different areas. The lessons for the military are the ability to focus on a long-term plan while having the discipline to avoid short-circuiting it for near-term gain, and having the patience to determine the viability of a program prior to exporting it to other areas. By implementing these lessons into future operations, the United States will improve the chances of successfully concluding stabilization operations.
In order to accomplish these ambitious goals, Water For People works closely with communities and their local government. This process is very apparent in the work the organization is doing with its “Sanitation as a Business” program in Africa. This program is based on a single truth demonstrated throughout the history of development projects: organizations “do not have the money or human capacity [to provide a latrine] to everyone who lacks improved sanitation.”8 By creating a business model focused on providing improved sanitation, Water For People creates opportunities for the private sector to become involved in providing sanitation services.9 This pilot program, first implemented in Malawi, was successful enough to be exported to other areas in Africa. More importantly, Water For People proved that such a program could become successful and sustainable prior to exporting it.10 Only after these qualities were demonstrated did the group export the project framework to other areas of Africa. The ability to plan and execute such a long-term vision is a staple of Water For People’s efforts throughout the world. This vision allows the organization to evaluate the consequences of any project on the target population while ensuring the outcomes meet their stated goals. Without adherence to a long-term plan the chances of success for such a project will be diminished.
The U.S. military will continue to conduct stabilization operations throughout the world. Our current national focus on exit strategies and withdrawal timelines is understandable when viewed through the prism of politics and opinion polls. However, this focus can be counterproductive when conducting stabilization operations. Given that the intent of these operations is to create a self-sustaining government without any need for outside assistance, the time commitment required should be based on the conditions within the recipient state or location. This commitment should be factored into the operational planning for any future operations. The lessons learned from Water For People, combined with the definition of “sustainable development” given previously, provide military planners and commanders the long-term vision required to adequately plan and execute successful stabilization operations.
Quality Partnerships – Oxfam International
Oxfam is an international organization dedicated to finding lasting solutions to poverty and injustice throughout the world.11 According to the Oxfam Purpose and Beliefs, the group is “part of a global movement for change, one that empowers people to create a future that is secure, just, and free from poverty.”12 Oxfam believes that in order to achieve these goals and have a sustained impact, partnerships at all levels of a society and government are required.13 It is these partnerships that present the greatest lesson for the US military to learn from this group.
The word “partnership” appears in almost every piece of doctrinal writing that can be found with regard to stabilization operations. More importantly, this word is used to define the purpose of U.S. military in AFRICOM. According to a former commander, AFRICOM’s purpose is “through sustained engagement, to enable our African partners to create a security environment that promotes stability, improved governance, and continued development.”14 Unfortunately, the military does not adequately define the terms “partnership” or “partner” with regards to development and stabilization operations. The term “partner nation,” the only defined term incorporating the word partner, is defined as “those nations that the United States works with to disrupt the production, transportation, distribution, and sale of illicit drugs, as well as the money involved with this illicit activity.”15 This definition, focused on the illegal drug trade into the United States, does not give any indication for the actual expectation of partnership during stabilization operations.
For Oxfam, partnership is based on the following six principles: “1) Shared vision and values… 2) Complementarity of purpose and value added… 3) Autonomy and independence… 4) Transparency and mutual accountability… 5) Clarity on roles and responsibilities… and 6) Commitment to joint learning.”16 These principles provide the foundation for all interactions between Oxfam and other groups throughout the world. Included in these principles is an organizational understanding that partnerships are mutually beneficial relationships that are continually growing. While all six are relevant to the military, partnership principles 3 and 4 are the most applicable. These two principles also present the greatest challenge to the military. When used as the foundation for establishing partnerships, these two principles provide an opportunity to avoid significant issues created by the power imbalance inherent in stabilization operations between local stakeholders and the U.S. military. Based on Oxfam’s principles, a recommended military definition for “partnerships” is: a mutually determined agreement between the United States military and other nation(s) at any level that provides clarity on the roles for each partner, ensures mutual accountability and transparency, and demonstrates a shared vision and values between partners. By combining this definition founded on the Oxfam partnership principles with the definition of sustainability recommended above, the U.S. armed forces can create long-lasting partnerships that provide essential services to a population while creating a government structure that is self-sustaining.
Institutional Change - USAID
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), subordinate to the DOS, is the principal U.S. government agency responsible for providing development assistance to countries “recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms.”17 According to the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) published by the DOS and USAID:
Development stands alongside diplomacy as the twin pillar of America’s civilian power. Through development, we seek to invest in countries’ efforts to achieve sustained and broad-based economic growth, which creates opportunities for people to lift themselves, their families, and their societies out of poverty, away from violent extremism and instability, and toward a more prosperous future. Ultimately, development helps countries become more capable of solving their own problems and sharing in solving common global problems.18
Given that USAID is the primary agency responsible for development, its importance in America’s foreign policy is apparent. However, USAID’s ability to execute such a monumental responsibility had diminished over many years.19 According to USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah, the organization had become satisfied with measuring success based on the amount of funds spent and number of projects underway without focusing on the actual results. Under the banner USAID Forward, Administrator Shah has begun to create fundamental change within the organization.20 It is this agenda of change that presents the greatest lesson for the U.S. military.
USAID Forward is focused on reform in seven areas: “1) Implementation and Procurement Reform, 2) Talent Management, 3) Rebuilding Policy Capacity, 4) Strengthening Monitoring and Evaluation, 5) Rebuilding Budget Management, 6) Science and Technology, and 7) Innovation.”21 These areas represent a concerted effort to create a modern, efficient government agency focused on long term sustainable development.22 While military commanders and staffs at all levels can learn from these reforms, areas 1 and 3 are the most applicable to military commanders conducting stabilization operations.
In accordance with USAID Forward, the organization is changing its implementation and procurement procedures while building up its knowledge management system in order to leverage the full potential of the organization, its technology, and its partners.23 The Implementation and Procurement Reforms are focused on providing the most efficient, cost effective, and sustainable methods of development.24 Additionally, in an attempt to leverage the full capabilities of the organization, USAID formed the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL) to create a functional knowledge management system while giving its personnel on the ground the flexibility to make decisions and take risks.25 These changes reflect the ability of a government organization, with its inherent bureaucracy, to rapidly and effectively make institutional corrections without a disruption in operations.
The partnership between the U.S. military and DOS, to include USAID, is important in every country with which the United States has diplomatic relations. The U.S. Ambassador is responsible for all USG operations conducted within a country’s borders. Therefore, the partnerships between the military and State Department are paramount in every country in the world.
Within AFRICOM, the military objectives of the command are subordinate to the overall USG objectives on the continent.26 The two USAID Forward reform areas, coupled with the institutional decisions to measure success outside of suspect metrics and amount of money being spent, provides a USG example to the military of streamlining the development process while creating more sustainable development throughout the world.
The flexibility of the U.S. military has been on display over the past 10 years during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ability of the institution to recognize pitfalls, evaluate their consequences, and change direction to avoid them in the future is well established. The need to reevaluate the doctrine of development using the lessons learned during recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is also apparent. As illustrated above, the application of lessons learned from non-governmental organizations represents an opportunity to gain a large amount of information from the success and failure of others without assuming the risks and costs of “on-the-job” training. By ignoring such groups, the military is disregarding a wealth of knowledge that can be applied during current and future military operations. The US military must continually review and evaluate the performance of development organization throughout the world in order to gain lessons learned and insight into the successful implementation of development throughout the world.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the United States Military Academy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
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