Can Canada reconcile its defence, diplomacy, and development objectives in Afghanistan?
· photography by Martin Adler
Non-governmental organizations have also been vocal in their disapproval of military encroachment into the field of humanitarian assistance. For example, plainclothed US special forces have been known to use the kind of white trucks that are ubiquitous in the development community. There was also the US administration’s decision to drop food-ration packages roughly the same size and colour of unexploded cluster bombs from military planes. The confusion over the role of humanitarian workers that resulted from these and similar incidents severely jeopardized their security. On June 2, 2004, five Médecins Sans Frontières workers were killed in a clearly marked truck; a Taliban spokesperson stated that aid organizations thought to be working for American interests were legitimate targets. On July 28, after twenty-four years of active involvement in Afghanistan, MSF announced that it would be pulling out.
The issue of civilian protection is central to the 3D challenge. We may need to rethink a wide spectrum of tactics, from how we treat detainees to the nature of our military engagement. Air strikes, for example, can be an effective means of fighting the Taliban in hostile terrain with limited risk to our soldiers, but they also increase the likelihood that innocent civilians will be killed, turning local populations against Canadian troops.
The riots that have repeatedly broken out across the country protesting accidental deaths have borne this out. As Brigadier Richard Nugee, the chief spokesperson for the UN-authorized, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has said, “The single thing that we have done wrong and we are striving extremely hard to improve on is killing innocent civilians.” Is this a fair appraisal of the costs, though? Put another way: if we knew terrorists were meeting at a home in Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal, would we authorize air strikes? Within a 3D approach, the calculus for acceptable human casualties must be reevaluated.
John Watson, president of CARE Canada, a leading international relief and development organization, believes we’re not appropriately balancing military benefits against the wider costs. He places some of the blame on the military itself, which, he argues, is slowly co-opting development assistance under the rubric of defence. He points out that many of the concepts now associated with 3D peace-building – such as civil-military cooperation, provincial reconstruction teams, and “three-block war” – originated in military discourse, prescribe a lead role for the military, and value development and diplomacy only insofar as they are useful for the advancement of military objectives. It’s humanitarianism as a campaign for hearts and minds rather than as a moral responsibility.
It will not always be possible to simultaneously achieve all our goals, and some policies will inevitably contradict others. Indeed, Canadian involvement in Afghanistan has been many things to many people. What began as an exercise in national security and a response to global terrorism has gradually shifted toward humanitarian assistance and reconstruction. From a broader diplomatic perspective, it has also served to fulfill our commitment to NATO and provide an opportunity to repair relations with the United States, strained by our refusals to commit troops to the Iraq war and participate in ballistic missile defence. Serving multiple interests is justifiable, even desirable. The real problem is that while 3D calls for the integration of defence, diplomacy, and development, it does not lay out how they should be integrated.
The relationship between war and development in Afghanistan is something of a Catch-22. Many argue that you can’t build schools in a war zone. Others suggest that the suffering that persists in the absence of humanitarian assistance is increasing support for the Taliban, making the military fight more difficult. DND, in conjunction with the Prime Minister’s Office, has taken the lead on strategic decision-making in conflicts, which makes sense if security is viewed as a prerequisite for humanitarian action.
But the reality is that the three Ds are fundamentally interconnected, and the only way this tenuous balance can be managed is through collaboration – the cornerstone of 3D peace-building. If a particular military strategy has humanitarian implications, all relevant stakeholders need to be aware of them from the outset. This requires a level of public communication that doesn’t currently exist. DND, CIDA, and DFAIT have different mandates, operating procedures, and cultures, as well as different perspectives on Canada’s international policy and their respective roles. As an old adage about the UN reminds us, everybody is in favour of coordination, but no one likes to be coordinated.
The initial Canadian team in Kabul was acclaimed for their collaborative work. They benefited from their small size and the presence of an active ambassador; personal connections and joint experience in the field allowed them to overcome bureaucratic cultures. But with increased deployment to Kandahar, the advantage of scale was lost. As the Taliban grew in strength, new security restrictions emerged, and the military took the lead.
In Ottawa, the level of coordination between CIDA, DND, and DFAIT has seen some improvement. While the Prime Minister’s Office and DND continue to drive much of our Afghanistan policy, the three Ds are more sensitive to each other’s actions than ever before. However, more integration is necessary. Stephen Harper recently appointed an associate deputy minister within DFAIT to facilitate coordination, but it remains to be seen if the position, which lacks the authority exercised by the Prime Minister’s Office or the Privy Council Office, will have any real influence over the powerfully independent and resource-rich CIDA and DND.
The United Kingdom, an early adopter of 3D, has gone a step further by tying funding to collaboration. Instead of asking their development, defence, and diplomatic ministries to work together, Britain has made funding conditional on it through a joint-funding model called “conflict prevention pools.” Staffed by officials from across the bureaucracy, the pools bid alongside parent departments for resources. This brings policy analysts together permanently and establishes incentives for truly collaborative decision making. This may not be the right solution for Canada, but something similar may prove necessary if the departments continue to compete for influence and retain vestiges of their traditional roles.