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U.S. Urged to Delink Foreign Military, State-building Actions

Mali, long praised as a stable democracy and success story, was in reality a fragile state that collapsed, says a new report. Burned cars and abandoned tanks are relics of the violent fighting in Diabaly. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

WASHINGTON, Feb 20 2013 (IPS) - Development workers and aid strategists are urging the U.S. government to adopt a comprehensive strategy for addressing root problems in “fragile states”, warning that an outdated focus on military intervention is draining resources and exacerbating security problems.

Noting Washington’s ongoing policy confusion over how to deal with the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings, researchers with the Washington office of the Society for International Development (SID), an international network, are suggesting a restructuring of parts of the federal government to allow for longer-term planning and state-building initiatives.

A new high-level State Department position, the SID researchers say, should be mandated to focus on four issues: demographic pressures, inequality, fragmented security structures and state legitimacy.

If our counterterrorism relationship with Egypt served as the core of our relationship, what tariff did we pay on other things that … would have been really important?

Importantly, they are also urging a delinking of state-building initiatives from broader military and intelligence activities. Not only do these latter remain focused largely on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency approaches, but they have tended to lurch from short-term crisis to crisis.

“Mali, for example, long praised as a stable democracy and success story, was in reality a fragile state that collapsed,” notes a new SID report, released here on Tuesday (online copies are not yet available). “Currently, some 40-60 states, representing over one billion people, are fragile political entities and potential arenas of instability.”

Beyond the security concerns, this has serious implications for development aims. According to the World Bank, by 2015 half of those living on less than 1.25 dollars a day will be in fragile countries. Further, the problem is getting worse, with research from the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, reporting that extreme poverty doubled in fragile states from 2005 to 2010.

Yet, the report states, “The U.S. does not have a strategy for addressing the fundamental problem of fragile states.” Just two parts of the U.S. government are said to have a functioning definition on what constitutes a “fragile state” – the army and USAID, the overseas development agency.

“Because of the trends of history after World War II, the Cold War and now the threat of terrorism, an awful lot of our security policy tends towards military solutions,” General (Rtd.) Michael Hayden, a strategist now with George Mason University, said Tuesday at the release of the SID report.

“Fundamentally, the U.S. national security structure comes out of a law passed by Congress in 1947, and it’s a structure well-suited to the problems of the mid-20th century.”

Hayden told IPS that Egypt was one fragile state where the United States’ singular focus on the “war on terror” proved counterproductive.

“If our counterterrorism relationship with Egypt served as the core of our relationship, what tariff did we pay on other things that … would have been really important?” he asked.

“For example, how much did the American embassy [in Cairo] feel free to reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood or establish contacts with the political opposition? And was that harnessed by how much they did or did not want to put the counterterrorism relationship at risk?”

Hayden suggests that such an approach may have made sense for a few years after the attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, but says “even I can’t deny that this distorts other things that in the long term might be more important.”

Diplomatic experiment

The United States is far from alone in its failure to commit significant resources to addressing the base causes of instability in fragile states. However, some European countries have recently made moves in this direction.

Over the past two years, the British government has moved to target the bulk of its overseas aid programmes towards countries deemed fragile. The German government, too, has announced that it will be overhauling its official strategy for dealing with fragile states.

To a great extent, this new discussion is being led by the United Nations, which is currently debating how to add the unique concerns of fragile countries to the post-2015 iterations of the Millennium Development Goals. And, in late 2011, 19 countries agreed to become part of a framework known as the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, under which unstable states agree to a series of self-assessments aimed at strengthening certain indicators.

According to Pauline H. Baker, a co-author of the new SID report, the proposed framework, which she calls a “new diplomatic experiment”, needs to be seen as the United States’ potential offering to this discussion.

“There’s been a growing literature on this whole phenomenon, but very little government thinking about fragile states as a category of threats to security,” she says. “Previous studies have tended to focus on terrorism, political extremism or mass atrocities, but our view is that the United States needs to address the underlying drivers of this fragility, not merely react to the symptoms.”

This mindset has not subsided, she suggests, and instead is currently finding new ground.

“People are talking about Africa being the new frontier for counterterrorism, and all of the news that we’re seeing is all about military approaches,” she says. “But if you really want to fight terrorism, you have to fight the conditions that gave rise to it, and those are not military solutions – those are non-military solutions.”

She continues: “You have to deal with inequality, with demographic pressure, with the security forces in how they behave and how they’re structured.”

Willing partners

This conversation could well be moving forward in development policymaking here. In late January, a U.S. Army major made a high-profile call for USAID to be given a seat on the National Security Council.

Yet it remains unclear how exactly policymakers would decide on which fragile countries to engage with more closely. Baker and others involved in the new report stress that such initiatives would only work if Washington were to engage only with “willing partners”.

“We were very strong in saying that we can’t just barge in and say, ‘You’re a fragile state and this is the way we think you should be running things,’” she told IPS.

Instead, she says, the programme would require an “equal partnership” as well as a willingness to commit to broad-reaching reforms.

“In some cases – Afghanistan being one of them – we didn’t quite assess the commitment side of the story,” she says. “Countries who have regime survival as their primary focus, we won’t work with them – not until we know we’re working with a group of reformers who we feel really want to change their country.”

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  • waltinseattle

    Give a nation a Pentagon and it will find places to hammer with military power.

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