24th September 2009 | Draft
We Are on the Brink of Failure in Responding to Global Crises
Afghanistan as a strategic metaphor
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The following text reframes the global strategic challenge, using the failure
of conventional application of resources in Afghanistan as a metaphor. It has
been developed as an editorial experiment using simplistic substitution,
with due apologies, from the excellent text regarding the challenge in Afghanistan
by Nick Clegg
Are on the Brink of Failure in Afghanistan: this is our last chance
, 18 September 2009).
It is produced on the occasion of a historic General Assembly of the United
Nations, the Pittsburgh
G20 Summit Meeting, and publication of a report
by an international group of environmental scientists and economists, coordinated
Global-Scale Failures and Missing Institutions. Science,
2009, 325). This indicates that the world faces a compounding series
of crises driven by human activity, with which existing governments and institutions
are increasingly powerless to cope with (see also Human-made
Crises 'Outrunning Our Ability To Deal With Them,' Scientists Warn, ScienceDaily, 17
September 2009). Other such editorial experiments are
The crucial question on the planet today is not whether the various wars against
hunger, poverty, ill-health, climate change, environment degradation, drug
addiction, and the like are important. They are. It is not whether the consequences
of failure are serious. They are. It is a much more brutal question: can we
succeed? And the answer is no. Unless we change both our current policies and
our present attitudes, failure is inevitable.
The reasons are manifold. The international community continues to lack
a united strategy with clear priorities. Intergovernmental institutions are
all over the place. President Obama's plan is taking too long to be applied.
Those engaged in such "wars" are fighting them at full
capacity, but their governments are not. Respect for national governments,
to which we are tied, is not rising, but falling. We lack a political plan
that works. And it is far from clear that the various strategies in place
are working. All of this has led to erosion of public support for these "wars"
at a frightening rate.
There are no quick fixes. But we need to start immediately, to forge a co-ordinated
response to each of these problems and, above all, to show the strategic
resolve to see it through.
The central failure is the absence of any clear international strategy.
The business community think the planetary challenge is economic growth;
the environmentalists think it's safeguarding ecological systems; the religious
think it's enhancing spiritual values; the scientists think it is lack of
research; and for the technologists its the lack of R&D investment; and
the politicians think it's the lack of political will to change.
World leaders repeatedly call
for international conferences to review progress. These will be a waste
of time if they do not produce the single united international strategy
that has so far been so disastrously lacking. The United Nations, too,
has to wake up to the fact that it faces a catastrophic failure with very
wide consequences for its own future, unless it can start working like an
integrated alliance, rather than a hotchpotch of the committed and
We now have strategic expertise of the highest
quality, as exemplified in Afghanistan by the US Generals Petraeus and McChrystal,
recently joined by Britain's new head of the army, General
David Richards, the first person to hold that post with actual - and
much admired - command experience there. There is a chance
for a new start. But the word from Washington is that the overall strategy
is floundering and the political plan is taking far too long to put together.
Some say the fault lies in institutional infighting, with those endeavouring
reform imprisoned in institutional conventions and ignored by operating
and intelligence services. Others say the problem is the
personality of those seeking to instigate such innovation. Whatever the reason,
there is a perception of lack of co-ordination and drift.
Excellent reports on the challenges facing world governance have been produced.
But why is it taking so long for their strategic conclusions to be properly
implemented? Much rests on imminent, long-anticipated
overall plans, such as that of the G20. There is a need for a change in strategy
and a change of gear.
National governments need to change gear too. The recent speeches of national
leaders should have been a clarion call to their
nations. Instead, they have tended to be lectures rationalizing policies
of the past. We all know our leaders will never
be comparable with the historical exemplars of our nations;
their chief means of persuasion are not their charisma, but volcanic
vituperation. Nevertheless, they must find better means to tell us
what the wars in which we are engaged (virtual or otherwise) are for,
if they are to reverse the alarming erosion in public support. The
peoples of the world are not squeamish. They have shown time and again that
they are prepared to put up with pain and sacrifice, provided that they are
convinced of the cause and see a reasonable chance of success.
You cannot win a war on half-horsepower. The world's leaders need to make
it clear that this struggle is now the world's first priority and we will
strain every sinew to win it. In most of our recent wars, leaders
have formed a special war cabinet. Why not now? Why not a minister for global
challenges in every country? Why have we not assembled the very brightest
from our national agencies to form a co-ordinated team to see this thing
Success in response to these global challenges will not be won
by the bomb and the bayonet. It will be achieved by development and local
ownership. So why the many inconsistencies in
the allocation of our resources -- with the non-essential receiving far more
funds than those that are ever more potentially dangerous, implicating those
who are poorest?
We also need to think again about governance. If, despite the
cloud hanging over democratic processes, those who are part of the problem
continue to be returned to power, we have to ensure that
when re-elected they act very differently from previously. Their institutions
must not be made up of from the unfragrant coalition of those complicit
in crime and malfeasance that they have put together to get themselves
elected. They should constitute a genuine government offering a unified
strategy, which will clean out corruption and pursue an aggressive
policy of integration of those who are willing to pursue their aims
through the constitution, rather than by inappropriate force.
This should include a recognition by the international community that a
programme to strengthen local government, running with the grain of traditional
local structures, will be more effective than pouring more money
into national centres of power. Traditional local politics
are the key to the challenges of the world, not western models
of centralised government.
We must also take a long, hard look at our tactics at field level.
The policy of "clear, hold and build" in rural areas might have
worked in the past, but since then, the situation has moved heavily against
us. Now, in the rural areas at least, we are no longer combatting challenges
which have their source elsewhere, but, in most of the areas of territorial
dispute, a war among the people there.
The aim of recent global strategies was to resurrect
our lost opportunity. The theory was that, if our change agents moved in,
there would be a spontaneous reaction from the locals, abandoning inappropriate
local patterns of behaviour and seeking international protection and
development. But in most cases it hasn't happened, leaving our change agents
once again overextended and isolated in protected centres, from which
they can only dominate an area large enough to increase their vulnerability,
but too small to begin the development process.
If this is so, it's time to consider plan B. One option would be to concentrate
our forces in the cities in future, so as to deepen the effect of the development
process where it matters most, and then build out from there as force levels
and resources allow.
Beyond that we may even have to consider plan C, a modern version of the
old policy, which
would use strategic insight and special forces to prevent inappropriate
patterns from re-emerging and undermining fruitful behaviour or becoming
a haven for aggressive exploitation, while we concentrate on
the rest of the world outside the areas dominated by such patterns.
All this will be very uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as reinforcing
failure with more lost lives. It is not yet lost in global society.
Not quite. We are in the territory of the last chance. There will be no more.