Vol. 1 No. 1 | Winter 2014
James Stavridis Interview
20 December 2013
FSR: What do you think are the three major challenges and opportunities for U.S. national security when you look at the next ten years?
DEAN STAVRIDIS: Number one is cyber. It’s explosive. Every day you see new manifestations of the collision between our concerns about privacy and our need to protect ourselves. I think cyber is top on my list.
The second one may surprise you -- it’s biology. I think that over the next ten to twenty years, there will be enormous changes in the fabric of society as a result of biology, principally because of the ability to manipulate the human genome, the ability to create energy biologically, the ability to change life expectancy, to enhance human performance. I think all of those will have profound implications in security, and I don’t think many people are thinking or talking about that right now.
And I would say the third is in the field of unmanned systems. So, it’s robotics,it’s what are
commonly called drones, it’s undersea unmanned vehicles, it’s surface ocean unmanned vehicles – robots, if you will, and also, here is the interface between biology and technology. I think those are three areas that are going to be profoundly important. Those are functional areas, as distinct from geographical crises we could point to.
In that sense, I’d say North Korea is probably at the top of my watch list of concern. So is Iran. No surprises here. And I would say the third, somewhat functional, somewhat geographical challenge that straddles the two is trafficking – the movement of narcotics, cash, weapons, God forbid, weapons of mass destruction, over global transit lanes that are created largely to move narcotics, but are serviceable for moving other things. So that’s kind of my shopping list of things I’m really worried about.
FSR: One of the more interesting developments of the 21st Century has been the rise of private military companies, like the former Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and the like. Do you see these firms as evidence of greater public-private partnership, or as something different? Are these new proxies? How do these organizations coexist with governments committed to the rule of law, transparency, and democratic decision-making?
DEAN STAVRIDIS: I think they’re both. I think they’re both private-public cooperation mechanisms, and, companies that are engaged in kinetic and occasionally very violent operations.
There are private contractors who do construction, who do humanitarian response, who do disaster relief, they tend to be criticized in the public sphere, but companies that do construction, back office, logistics, intelligence functions that I think can very well be done by the private sector.
If the question is, are we going to move toward a world of private armies or, let’s say, private platoons, or private battalions, I don’t think so. There’s a novel by Steven Pressfield, called The Profession, and it postulates a near future in which there are serious, standing formations of troops that can be hired to go conduct military operations. I think that’s highly unlikely. I think the systematic application of offensive violence will remain in the realm of nation-states for the foreseeable future. So, I’d argue that the private-public cooperation in this sphere is very positive, in its largest dimension, and is somewhat problematic but I think is relatively, relatively controlled and managed in the private security firms who do defensive operations, say on large tankers that are moving through the seas, they have private security on them often, protective details for senior people moving around violence-torn areas, I think that’s manageable and sensible. On the far side of it, to get into the idea of, “I’m going to hire a battalion to go create security in a war-torn province in my country,” I think that’s unlikely.
FSR: Slightly different, going towards the more geographical areas – you’ve tangentially mentioned Asia. What do you think is the best way to manage the rise of China from a US perspective?
DEAN STAVRIDIS: As I’ve often written, and thought about, we have to do it collaboratively. What we cannot afford to do is to drift into some kind of a Cold War model, where we’re simply going to build walls between ourselves and the Chinese, which we did, unsuccessfully, during the Cold War, with huge parts of the world. I think the relationships are mature enough to prevent that, the question is, where are the potential zones of cooperation with China in the international sphere? I think they range from humanitarian operations, partnering with the Chinese to do hospital ship work, to do response to epidemic, pandemic sorts of things, potentially, doing construction of wells, and clinics, and schools.
Second, I would say there’s a potential zone of cooperation with China in the high North. China’s very interested in the Arctic, it’s an area of the world that they don’t have a natural geographic footprint but would like be involved, and I think it’s in the interests of all to see what will be, probably, the largest national economy by the middle of this century involved in very constructive ways as we manage a very challenging region.
Thirdly, I think the maritime sphere offers potential for cooperation with China, in everything from deep sea-bed mining to undersea navigation and surveying to emplacement of fiber optic cables, et cetera et cetera. So the many maritime projects that I think are potential – and the salutary effect of that kind of work is that, as is obvious, a lot of the potential conflict with China also revolves around the maritime sphere. Balancing that with other, more constructive projects, I think, makes an awful lot of sense.
Fourthly, traditional exchanges in the security dimension, I think, would be useful with China. For example, war college to war college; language training back and forth; creating a committee to look at observers for each other’s exercises; participating in each other’s exercises.
And fifthly, I think the specific problem and challenge of North Korea will not be solved without China’s cooperation and assistance, and I think that’s actually an area of opportunity, particularly as we see the young leader begin to flex his muscle, and take North Korea in a really challenging direction for the international community. So there are five areas, there are many, many more. We need to focus on those, recognizing there will be places we disagree, as in the South China Sea, as in the Spratlys, as in our views about Syria, et cetera.
FSR: Many of these come under your thesis of building bridges instead of building walls.
DEAN STAVRIDIS: They do.
FSR: I would like to push back just a little bit. There are areas where China is flexing its muscle that we are very concerned about. The various island situations in the South China Sea, the very poor human rights record, not only inside China, but also outside - as Chinese firms and the Chinese government interacts with other governments, they create a moral hazard, where really bad regimes are given incentive to remain bad, because China doesn’t care about human rights, and that’s something that’s a core American value – to go out there, and to spread freedom. Where do you think the United States should push back, or set certain red lines to manage China’s rise?
DEAN STAVRIDIS: Well, I’m going to push back on your pushback, and say that if you go back and play the tape, right at the end of all those zones of cooperation I said that, “we must recognize where we disagree.”
And, in those instances, I think it’s very important that we maintain our higher moral standards, and that we continue to criticize China for its behavior, for example, as we have, in standing up two new Air Defense Identification Zones, in their extremely poor record on human rights, in their environmental damage they create globally, in their positions in the United Nations Security Council regarding places like Syria. So, the question is always in these situations, long-term, do you get better results by simply building a wall, and saying, “you’re a pariah, we’re not going to work with you, and we’re going to put our military forces around your periphery until you do the right thing”? Is that a good strategy? I don’t think so.
I think a much better strategy is to find the areas where we can cooperate, recognizing there are going to be areas where we disagree, and, as you say, push on those hard, as we should - specifically, I think anything China does that impinges on freedom of navigation is an area we should push back on; human rights is an area we should push back on – but, as I look at the long throw of history, withholding cooperation does not incentivize better behavior. I think it’s the opposite. I think cooperation, over time, incentivizes better behavior. It’s a fundamental point you can have a discussion about, and one can argue on both sides of it, but my view is, use soft power, recognizing that soft power without hard power is no power.
So you really have to do both, and as you’ve heard me say before, it’s kind of a rheostat; you can’t approach life as an on and off switch – “China bad, turn off switch, don’t work with them”; “China good, wonderful, turn on light switch” – it’s not like that, it’s a rheostat that you have to dial in.
FSR: What I’m curious about is how an organization like NATO, that’s created in a different security environment, responds to some of the threats and challenges that you mentioned earlier – trafficking, transnational criminal organizations, cyber; with the empowerment of individuals, non-state actors, hacker collectives, that sort of thing. I’m just wondering how you shift NATO’s focus.
DEAN STAVRIDIS: Well, I think we need to look at NATO, and, I would argue NATO has done a fairly good job of reinventing itself post-Cold War. Here’s an organization that was locked in a bipolar structure for years, a massive alliance facing another massive alliance, across a wall that we built. Fortunately, that wall came tumbling down in the late 1980s, early 1990s, and NATO went through a period of real soul-searching. Well, maybe we should dissolve the alliance. There were serious discussions about doing that – you know, it was kind of the “mission accomplished” argument. I think NATO, prima facie, just look at it, has made the transition.
Today there are 150,000 NATO soldiers, and sailors, and airmen operating on three continents, doing five or six operational missions, right now. During my time as the SACEUR [Supreme Allied Commander Europe], we pushed toward 200,000 people when the Libyan operation was going and, side-by-side with Afghanistan, with the Balkans, with the piracy operations, missile defense, Syria, et cetera. So I would argue the alliance has done a fairly good job of making the shift.
I would kind of think of it as a computer program. So, if NATO 1.0 was the Cold War, we all know what that was, I think what you have now is NATO 2.0, which is a very muscular organization, 28 members, probably going to add a few more in the next few years – Macedonia and Montenegro – and involved globally on three continents very much outside the borders of Europe. I think the question is, what does NATO 3.0 look like? And I think that that conversation is about to unfold. And I would guess that NATO 3.0 will be kind of a blend of those two. In other words, it will be less inclined to lean forward into global activity than it has been in the last 15 years, but I think it will still have to address transnational activities. You can’t hunker down in Fortress Europe and hope that the hacktivists, and variety of trafficking challenges, and the movement of weapons and cash are not going to come and create ill effect in Europe and in the United States.
So, I think NATO 3.0 will be a blended organization that will probably have a bit of a larger focus on the borders, the alliance will be somewhat more internally looking, but I think because of the transnational nature of the security challenges, NATO will have to have a continuing ability to move outside. Another way to put that is that, I don’t think NATO will be a global actor, but I think NATO will be an actor in a global world.
FSR: Last question, when you look at US missions abroad, mostly backed by the Department of Defense and the Department of State, and even NATO missions – we work very closely with the militaries of fragile states. Does that create incentive for military dominance over the civilians over the long run? In other words, if you look at all the money we gave, the equipment, the effort, to the Afghan National Security Forces specifically, in an area that doesn’t have a good record of democracy, do we create an imbalance? And if we do, how do we try to rectify that?
DEAN STAVRIDIS: I think it is possible that we create an impression of security driving the challenge, and Afghanistan’s probably an example of that. Because the military aspect is so muscular and so capable and has so many resources, I think it can create an impression of the military being the driving force in solving a situation. And that’s kind of a cartoon version of it.
Having spent a fair amount of time in Afghanistan, I think the strong actors are, in fact, the civilians. Hamid Karzai is driving the problem. I defy you to even name an Afghan general. It just hasn’t worked out that way. Same thing in Colombia. If you look at the Colombia counterinsurgency experience, it’s been the political leadership that has driven it. It’s Uribe that saved his country, it’s Santos that’s going to deliver the peace agreement. Name a Colombian general? Name a Colombian admiral? I’d say the same thing in the Balkans. It’s been political actors who have solved these things. I think the era of military dictatorship, while I wouldn’t say it’s over, we’ll certainly see examples of it, but I think it’s increasingly more difficult for the military to drive and be on top of events than it was let alone 20 years ago, let alone 50 years ago.
Second point, where it’s the U.S. and NATO involved in these exercises of trying to build the Afghan National Security Forces – there’s a large component of teaching, mentorship, engagement, from the US and NATO militaries to our counterparts in Afghanistan, as there was in Colombia, as there was in the Balkans, to make sure that civilian leadership is respected, and is the dominant force.
In other words, we come out of a culture in the West, thankfully, of civilian leadership, not military leadership; and, when we go to do partnered operations, we work very hard to make that point, and to underline that constantly. And that occurs at every level on the chain of command, from my conversations with my very good friend General Karimi, the head of the Afghan National Army, to the very lowest levels, when our company commanders and our platoon commanders and even our sergeants are well-taught and communicate to our Afghan counterparts that it’s civilian leadership who is in charge, not us. It’s rule of law. And are there instances of failure in that, particularly on the tactical level? Of course. But I think the thrust of the message has gotten across in Afghanistan, I would argue, in Colombia, and the Balkans, in Africa, and in other places.
James Stavridis is the 12th leader of The Fletcher School since its founding in 1933. A retired Admiral in the U.S. Navy, he led the NATO Alliance in global operations from 2009 to 2013 as Supreme Allied Commander. He also served as Commander of U.S. Southern Command, with responsibility for all military operations in Latin America from 2006-2009.
FSR Interviews Janine Davidson
20 December 2013
FSR: You oversaw the founding of the Consortium for Complex Operations in 2008, an initiative to enhance unity of effort between civilian and military experts for complex operations by networking – both virtually and more traditionally. Please comment on your unique role as a practitioner and academic in defining and employing an interagency approach toward US counterinsurgency efforts in fragile states.
DR. DAVIDSON: The idea of the CCO originated in the war in Iraq & Afghanistan, and it was designed to help practitioners, policy makers, and academics connect on complex problems that practitioners, military and civilian, find in the field. Though there is a lot of discussion on interagency coordination, the challenge is that creation of an interagency entity is legally not permissible, because Congress allocates money to the agencies separately and does not allow them to share resources. So there is a bit of a conundrum when Congress wants the Department of Defense, the Department of State, USAID, and the NSS to be more 'interagency’ in their approach yet does not allow them to share resources.
So we set up a collaboration initiative, funded and hosted by the Department of Defense, to which other agencies could bring what they wanted. The idea was to create a vibrant, collaborative, internet-based space where practitioners could ask questions, academics could answer them, and it would act as a generic think-tank, bringing people together to solve problems and adding to their efforts.
It evolved via its Executive Board where Department of Defense, Department of State, and USAID would get together to determine whether the issues emerging from the CCO dialogue required policy changes as opposed to just doctrinal changes. It resulted in some good work like ‘Lessons from Afghanistan’ and the journal, Prism. Before Prism, it was hard to find a publication that would span disciplines in a way that was useful to people who cared about military operations, peace-keeping, and counterinsurgency, and which bridged the interagency gap, the inter-disciplinary gap, and the gap between scholarship and academia on one hand and policy and practice on the other. I think Prism has done a really good job and if there is anything that endures from the CCO, I hope it’s the Prism journal.
Also, the collaboration between the CCO and the US Institute of Peace resulted in a catalogue of about 600 courses, which helped USIP to enhance their education program. That’s something that the CCO can and must be proud of, as it evolved beyond what the USIP would have been able to do without such a partnership.
FSR: Current US military operations and planning place a heavy emphasis on partnership capacity and engagement. Is this approach simply a new method of developing proxies and advancing American interests with minimal direct action? How can the United States rely on a wide variety of partners without compromising on US core national security interests?
DR. DAVIDSON: On a geopolitical level, we don’t have a great power conflict with someone else that we have to go find proxies for. That’s the broad context to your question. The more narrow, short-term answer is that the US military engages with other militaries to build their capacity for a variety of purposes. Engaging to assist in Syria, for example, is different from engaging to assist in Afghanistan, Iraq, or in Nigeria, Somalia, or any other country.
As far as engagement is concerned, we can separate out intervention policy, which is a Presidential decision, and capabilities development, which is a military program. What Michele Flournoy and I argued, in a Foreign Affairs article in July/August 2012, is that military-to-military engagement, if done correctly, is a force for good, as it can be stabilizing. For example, if we are engaging with militaries in Asia, Latin America, Africa, or Eastern Europe, and helping those militaries adopt the key characteristics of a professional military, then that’s a good thing. If we are engaging with another military and not taking into consideration the professionalization of that military, to include the complex civilian control element, or whether that country is fragile or weak and can’t do the mundane, administrative things that militaries need to function – pay-roll, training, uniforms, things like that, then the engagement could be a force for instability. Training a military or security sector in a fragile country must go hand-in-hand with assisting the civilian side of that government, to control, manage and administer the military.
So, as I mentioned, engaging for capabilities development is different from engaging for intervention in ‘hot’ conflict zones like Syria and Afghanistan.
FSR: In the Foreign Affairs article that you co-authored with former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, you write "forward engagement means leveraging the United States' biggest strength, the ability to lead, while encouraging others to share the burden." Are American partners and allies receptive to this notion of sharing the burden?
DR. DAVIDSON: This is one of those tricky, theoretical questions. There is some sort of continuum between how our engagement and leadership can encourage other militaries to professionalize and invest in useful sorts of military capabilities on one hand, and on the other hand, depending on the country and its circumstances, encourage free-ridership. So there is debate: are we encouraging these countries to free-ride on America’s security guarantee or are we encouraging them to step up and engage? I think it depends on the country.
The question of burden-sharing is related to our more mature partners who have more modern capabilities such as our NATO partners and other allies. Australia is a great example. We made a policy statement to enhance our partnership and our posture with respect to Australia. This means that we have committed to increasing our military-to-military exercises with the Australians with our Marines, and have committed to look for ways together to bring others along. So what will you see as our Marines engage with the Australian army and think about things like amphibious operations, and try to determine what sort of shared vision for the region we have, is the Australian desire to sustain their inter-operability. The latest announcement by the Australian Secretary of Defense that they have a goal to increase military spending to 2% of their GDP is an example of how our engagement with them can influence their motivation to enhance their capabilities.
In NATO, we have a harder time, as the NATO countries want to rely on American leadership while at the same time maintain an ability to defend themselves. I think there is a thin line between partnership and a free-ride, but the art of this policy is to sustain dialogue and discussion on the ways the other countries invest. When you see France stepping up to take the lead in Libya and Mali, you can make the case that it’s working.
FSR: That’s a great example. What about our newer partners? How likely are India, for example, or African partners to accept this notion of sharing the burden?
DR. DAVIDSON: There are different categories of partners and allies. With NATO, the big question is about its future: is the focus on a traditional Article Five defense of the continent, or are we going to be a collective security body focusing on operations in places like Afghanistan?
That’s fundamentally different from policies regarding our less-capable partners. The idea of engaging with them so that they share the burden on those kinds of operations is not the same. The reason you engage with the least capable partner is so that they reach the point where they can handle their own security problems, which, in a way, is sharing the burden. If they can’t handle their own security problems, they can spill over into the region and have geo-political ramifications, which would then require an intervention by the United States or NATO.
That’s also different from our engagement with Eastern European allies, like Poland and Romania, which had a big payoff in those nations’ ability to deploy forces in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. We enabled them, we helped train them, we helped equip them over the last 10 years so that they could deploy small units to fight alongside the rest of the NATO allies. Poland’s capability, for instance, obviously improved over time. So that’s sort of a model, I think, for how you enhance the capabilities of partners and allies in order for them to share the burden in coalition operations.
FSR: During your term between 2009 and 2012 as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans, you played a very important role in developing the Defense Strategic Guidance of January 2012. To what extent would you say that fiscal realities are driving the new defense strategy, or would you say that the strategy truly drives the budget?
DAVIDSON: The short answer is that the strategy is, so far, driving force development. Budget realities are certainly part of it, of course.
In 2010, we published the Quadrennial Defense Review. And then the world changed, because we had big budget cuts being demanded by Congress and the President. So, what we did was take a look at our strategy, and we had a conversation about whether this was going to be a case of strategy driving budget, or budget driving strategy. What the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance did, I think surprisingly and remarkably well, was state that we would stay true to our strategy and maintain the vision of what America is trying to do in the world, and adjust the ways and the means.
I’m not formally part of the Quadrennial Defense Review for 2014, which they’re working on now, but they will have to make choices, as Secretary of Defense Hagel pointed out in his speech on the Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR). We still have the same strategy, but we have to determine where we’re going to take risk on that strategy, and where we’re going to focus on modernization versus size, or size versus modernization. Budgets will be a constraint, but to date, the strategy is still pretty solid.
Some might say that that’s unrealistic, but here’s the deal: when you really look at the numbers we had a huge buildup in the last ten years. We should be able to bring the numbers back down to where they were back when President Bush took office in 2001. We as a country should be able to do that. We had two big wars, and after wars, this is what we do in America, we bring the military back down.
So the question isn’t whether we can cut the military and make it smaller and leaner. It needs to get smaller and leaner. The question is, how to do it responsibly? If you do it all up front, then you have a hard time taking the cuts, because to do it responsibly takes a long time, as there’s sort of a braking distance on modernization and recapitalization. Also, a lot of our equipment is just broken. It’s been used a lot in the last ten years. So do you bring it home and fix it? Or do you rebuild to the next generation? I think the smart choice is to rebuild it to the next generation, but that takes time.
FSR: You mentioned that the military needs to be made leaner. In the process of doing that, do you see any trends which indicate what areas will be prioritized while we cut down in others?
DAVIDSON: I think that the biggest sort of balance is between ground forces and other forces. In the last ten years, we have been in two conflicts that have been very manpower heavy, and again, historically, our system is built to have a small to medium standing army that can be built up if you ever have a big, manpower intensive war – WWI, WWII, Vietnam, et cetera. In that case, you build the army up by leveraging the reserve component and then adding more. That takes a little bit of time, but that’s how it’s designed. Then, after the war, you bring the size of the ground forces back down.
So people need to differentiate between size and capability. There is a certain number of troops under which you don’t want to go, because you want to be able to sustain your presence in places like Korea, and Germany, and be able to deploy, at least for a small to medium size event. But what’s important, though, is not the size, what’s important is the capability, and what they are trained to do.
This is where after Vietnam we made a huge mistake, when we said, “We’re never going to have to fight that kind of weird war again,” when in fact, that kind of weird war is actually not so weird; that kind of war is the nature of human conflict – insurgencies, stability operations and others. So after Vietnam we just sort of threw out all that doctrine and decided we were never going to do it again. This time around, what you see if you look at the military’s educational institutions, the training institutions, and the doctrine, is a desire to sustain that knowledge and that capability and that training, but to do it with a smaller force for now.
FSR: In your book, Lifting the Fog of Peace: How Americans Learned to Fight Modern War, you state the reality that American soldiers are no longer tasked with just fighting the big war, but are increasingly faced with tasks of stability and reconstruction operations. In this regard, the US military seeks the participation of outside agencies and NGOs. Are these concepts being institutionalized within those agencies and organizations? Do you think they will share responsibility in post-conflict stability operations?
DAVIDSON: I think that all the agencies have learned a lot in the last ten years. One of the fundamental pieces in that book that I think a lot of people missed is that the idea that civilians, State Department Foreign Service Officers, for example, are going to be in conflict zones, actively working side-by-side with soldiers at low levels, is actually a myth. It’s never been that way throughout history. We should expect the civilians to be at the political level, and to be actively engaged. But they’re not going to be digging wells and kickstarting provincial reconstruction with the military, as much as the military for some reason thinks that that’s the case.
That said, I do think that you do see that the State Department has institutionalized the idea that they need to be engaged in conflict areas. They’ve got the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, run by Rick Barton. Sarah Sewell has been nominated to take over as the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, and under that they have the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, which is the agency that does training of militaries and security forces. And then they have the Bureau of Counterterrorism, and the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, which does foreign military sales. So the State Department is heavily engaged, and I think they’re going to continue to be.
I think that there were unrealistic expectations by a lot of people in the military when they first went into Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think that those unrealistic expectations reflected wishful thinking regarding the way in which civilians would be operating in those environments. I do think that, for instance, USAID has learned a lot about how to do development in more fragile states and conflict zones. I think that now they’ve been deeply engaged in places like Colombia, where they’ve realized that a lot of their models and their concepts are changing.
So I think that all the agencies have learned. But the expectation that low-level company commanders have, that they’re going to have Foreign Service Officers and development experts with them, is unrealistic. When you’re in extremely violent areas, the military is going to be operating and other people aren’t, for obvious reasons.
FSR: Who do you think ultimately bears responsibility when there is a triad of the US military and outside agencies and NGOs in post-conflict stability operations?
DAVIDSON: I think it depends. Take Iraq. Iraq is a conflict we created. We invaded the country. Under international law, you invade a country and you turn it upside down, you are responsible for law and order. And that was a military task, and the military failed at that. For a lot of reasons. For political reasons, they thought it wasn’t their job; for cultural reasons, people told them they weren’t supposed to do those tasks; but that was all wrong, wrong, wrong. When you invade a country, and you turn it upside down, law and order is your responsibility. Just as Colin Powell said: if you break it, you own it.
Now, just as with any kind of disaster, natural or manmade, NGOs and other actors are going to flock to the area to help, because there is going to be suffering. I think that the US military has learned that that’s going to happen, and ever since Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans in the 1990s, they’ve wanted to coordinate and operate and work with the NGO community. Now, not everybody in the NGO community is happy to work with the military, and the military has had to learn that over time as well.
The US Institute of Peace did a great project six years ago, where they came up with military-NGO guidelines. And hundreds of NGOs that are part of a consortium called Interaction signed on for this. It was sort of a way of saying, “We don’t work for you, United States government; we don’t work for you, United States military; or any other military for that matter, but we’re happy to coordinate with you under these guidelines and these restrictions.” And not all the NGOs signed up for it.
NGOs are much more willing, able, and happy to work with the US military in a disaster zone, like the Philippines right now, than they will be in a conflict zone or in a post-conflict situation, when the NGOs are working on development issues and they don’t think the military should be there. In a hot, hot war, you’re not going to see a lot of humanitarian organizations there at the beginning. Now, if they were there to begin with, they may look to the military to come in and take control when the fighting begins. You saw that in Somalia back in the 1990s, and we’ve seen it in other places. In everyday places, however, the NGOs usually are doing what they’re doing. There is no lead and co-lead, there is only coordination. If people are attempting to stabilize a place that is in disarray, the uncomfortable truth is that nobody works for anybody, and the best you can do is coordinate with each other.
Dr. Janine Davidson
Dr. Janine Davidson was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans from 2009 to 2012. In this role, she oversaw the development of guidance for military campaign and contingency plans. She was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for outstanding Public Service in 2012. She is now an Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University where she teaches national policy-making, strategy, civil military relations and public policy. In an interview with The Fletcher Security Review, Dr. Davidson discusses her past work strengthening cooperation among government agencies, her thoughts on the history and future of that cooperation in conflict zones, and the United States’ emphasis on partnership building, a cornerstone of current foreign policy.
FSR: Welcome General Dunford. Thank you for taking out time from your very busy schedule. I’ll get straight to it: why are we in Afghanistan and why should we stay there?
General Dunford: Sure, Haider, we’re in Afghanistan today for the very same reason that we came here back in 2001, because we had an enemy sanctuary in this part of the world, specifically inAfghanistan; the attacks of 9/11, the attacks in Madrid, the attacksin London emanated from this part of the world and of course fromthe US perspective it was clearly the 9/11 attacks that caused us to come here in order to deny al-Qaeda the freedom of movement to plan and conduct operations from Afghanistan.
FSR: Still, given that Usama bin Laden is dead, Al Qaeda’snumbers have depleted, and only 28% of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting for (July 2013 ABC Poll),why should we remain in Afghanistan?
GD: Well, Haider, back to the original reason wecame here, the core interest will be to continue to deny sanctuaryof Al Qaeda here, and the method of doing that is to continue ourwork of developing sustainable Afghan security forces, and a sustainable political transition that will ensure that the Afghans can deny [Al Qaeda] sanctuary.
Then, more broadly, to be effective in the long term, clearly the counterterrorism capacity of Afghanistan is a piece of it, the counterterrorism capacity of Pakistan is a piece of it, and frankly I think a successful relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan is key to our success. And so, one of the things we’re also doing here is making what’s today a trilateral relationship between US forces in Afghanistan, the Pakistani military, and the Afghan military, and developing an effective bilateral military-to-military relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan that can be one of the foundational elements of the broader strategic partnership between the two countries.
FSR: How can the United States promote a stronger Afghanistan-Pakistan partnership in an atmosphere of mistrust?
GD: First of all, Haider, I think you understand that extremism is not just a challenge for Afghanistan, it’s a challenge for Pakistan as well, and so one of the first things that I think is important, and we’re working on this very hard, is to ensure that Afghanistan and Pakistan have a common understanding of the threat of extremism in the region, that will obviously set the foundation for a relationship of cooperation in dealing with extremism. Extremism is a threat, again, to both countries. We today have a trilateral relationship, have made a lot of progress in that relationship since November of 2012 in particular, we established a standard operating procedure between the three parties to deal with the border area, and mitigate the risk of miscalculation and violence in the border area. But, more importantly, we’re using that relationship to develop broader military-to-military engagement, and develop trust, and eventually develop complementary actions on both sides of the border, again to deal with what I fundamentally believe is a common threat.
And so, on the surface, some people look at that relationship and see challenges, as you alluded to, and I’m not being Pollyanna-ish here, but I actually see opportunity, because I do think that both Afghanistan and Pakistan do recognize the threat of extremism. I think Pakistan has increasingly recognized that over the past 18 to 24 months, and frankly I think both nations, as evidenced by [Pakistani] Prime Minister Sharif’s recent visit, and by the rhetoric that has come out of both Islamabad as well as Kabul, I think both nations have now identified dealing with extremism as one of their top priorities in their bilateral relationship. And I frequently meet with the Army Chief of Staff, in Pakistan – before he retired, I met with General Ashfaq Kayani at least once a month over the past year, and by coincidence, I was in Pakistan today [Dec 16, 2013]. I met with General Raheel Sharif, the new Army Chief of Staff, we spent well over two hours together today, and I met with the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Rashad Mahmood, as well.
Further, we’ve been able to use this bilateral relationship to expand and establish a bilateral relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the US bilateral relationship with both countries, and then the trilateral relationship that we have on some of the security issues, is really, at the end of the day, a foundation for an effective bilateral relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. For example, on a couple of my visits to Pakistan, the Afghan Chief of the Army Staff has accompanied me when I went over to visit with General Kayani, and I expect that General Raheel Sharif and his leadership will come to Kabul here very soon, and that the Afghan leadership will return those visits. And so, I think right now, particularly over the last year, 18 months, we have begun to lay the foundation for a much more effective [military to military] relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
FSR: How are you facilitating the Afghan-led reconciliation between Kabul and the insurgents, particularly the Afghan Taliban, and how is that shaping the Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship?
GD: First of all, in order for this conflict to come to the right end, there’s going to have to be a peaceful settlement, and so, we actively support that and it’s certainly one of our government’s top priorities, reconciliation, and you exactly got it right – it’s going to be an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led process. That’s something Pakistan has stated openly, that’s something the United States has stated openly, so the US and Pakistan position is completely in support of Afghanistan’s position that it’s Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.
I think, frankly, that the most important thing we’re doing in the military campaign is setting the conditions for a peaceful settlement. I personally believe that, as it becomes clear to everyone in the region that there will be stability and security in Afghanistan, that there will be a united country in Afghanistan, that the Afghan security forces will be capable of providing security to the Afghan people, and that the political process will result in a mature -- hardened if you will -- government here in Afghanistan, I think that increases the prospects for reconciliation. So, I think, in that regard, the military campaign is a supporting effort.
Clearly, the actual reconciliation process is led by the US State Department in terms of the US contribution, but we certainly facilitate in terms of relationships and, again, conditions on the ground, I think, at the end of the day, are the most important contributions we make to the peace process.
FSR: From our discussion it is clear that some American troops in Afghanistan are essential to sustain progress and deny sanctuary to terrorist groups. How do you view the critical Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), and the upcoming Afghan national elections in April 2014?
GD: First of all, Haider, I was on the negotiating team for the BSA. We worked very hard picking up from the team that had been working in Washington for the better part of a year. We picked up here in Kabul in September , and we worked very hard on a document that would address both US and Afghan interests and we were successful, in that regard. I think with regard to the BSA, it’s important to emphasize that the Loya Jirga was conducted, it overwhelmingly supported the BSA; depending on what polling data you look at, somewhere between 75% and 90% of the Afghan people support the BSA; I believe that all the presidential candidates support the BSA, and some have come out openly with that support – all of them participated, by the way, all [presidential candidates] were invited to participate, in the Loya Jirga, and many of them did, so they were also participants in that regard and expressed their support through the Loya Jirga.
And then, when you look at the region, Pakistan supports the BSA, India supports the BSA, China has come out in support of the BSA, Russia supports the BSA, the Central Asian states support the BSA, Iran has said that they recognize Afghanistan’s sovereign right to enter into any agreement that’s in their best interest. So, I think the conditions for setting the BSA are there, it hasn’t yet been signed, but I believe that it’s inevitable that it will be signed – it’s inevitable that it will be signed because even President Karzai set the conditions for a successful Loya Jirga with his opening speech in which he identified the reasons why Afghanistan must have the BSA to secure its future.
So, I think it’s a matter of time. Frankly, who’s suffering in the interim right now is really the Afghan people, with the delay, because, what we see here in Kabul is an inflationary crisis for basic staples, firewood and food and those kinds of things, we see a devaluation of real estate, we see a devaluation of the Afghani, Afghanistan’s currency, and so, those difficulties are there, and also feed the bit of the uncertainty in the Taliban narrative of abandonment. But I am confident that the BSA will be signed in time. When you think back in September, I will just tell you that most of the pundits, and you may remember this yourself, all thought that there was a high probability that the BSA would not be approved by the Loya Jirga, and if nothing else, they thought that it would be a close-run thing. And in the event, it wasn’t close at all – it was an overwhelming endorsement of continued US and, frankly, international presence, because the BSA is one of the documents that’s a manifestation of the long-term commitment; the other document is of course the NATO (Status of Forces Agreement) SOFA, and I believe that’ll be signed right on the heels of the BSA.
So, you correctly identify the BSA as critical, and that is the document that will provide the framework for our presence post-2014. President Obama has made it clear that without a BSA we can’t be here in Afghanistan, but, for all the reasons I mentioned in terms of what it will do for the Afghan people, what it will do for our interests here in the region, and what it will do to contribute to regional stability, I feel very confident that that BSA will be signed.
Let me switch gears, I guess, with regard to elections [in April 2014] , and tell you that I’m very encouraged. Starting last summer with the passing of the legislation in time, and then the announcement of the candidates that occurred back in October and now, a very vibrant political process that’s ongoing here in Afghanistan, I feel very good about where we are with regard to elections. And then, with regard to security, the Minister of the Interior here, former ambassador to Pakistan, former ambassador to Iran, former chief of staff here in the Palace, Minister Umar Daudzai, as the Minister of Interior he’s responsible for security, and I can tell you we are months and months ahead of where we were in 2009 for election security.
Inclusivity, of course, is one of the key elements - inclusive, credible, and transparent elections are what we’re looking for - inclusivity is really what we contribute to, from the security perspective. We are supporting the [Ministry of Interior] MOI, and I think there are three parts of inclusivity: one part is obviously security and access to the polls, and every week now, on Saturday, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Interior, the Director of [National Directorate of Security] NDS and myself get together and one of the key topics is election security. So right now, Afghan security force operations are very much focused on setting the conditions for people to have access to the polls.
Also, political leadership in Afghanistan has ensured that people understand that their vote matters, and the future of Afghanistan truly is something that they can contribute to. And so, ensuring that we don’t have voter apathy is the second piece of inclusivity, and then closely related to that is what the [Independent] Elections Commission is doing here and that is providing people with the knowledge they need to participate in the process. So frankly, you know, here it is, December of 2013, the elections are on April 5th of 2014, and again, we very carefully analyzed where we were in 2009, and we’re far, far ahead of where we were in 2009, and my sense here in Afghanistan is that there is – and I think it’ll increasingly become the case – there is an enthusiasm and energy to participate in the process, and people do want to have a say in the future of their country.
FSR: Election security is a good segue into Afghanistan’s broader security and the condition of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). How do you assess the ANSF, their viability amid a largely aid-dependent Afghan economy and other challenges? Are there any indicators of progress?
GD: Well, starting with the good part is, I think, as you probably know, in June of this year, we recognized Milestone 2013, and that was a follow-up to the Lisbon conference in 2010. And on that date, June 18th of this year , the Afghan security forces assumed responsibility for security across the country. And through this summer, the Afghan security forces successfully protected the Afghan people and provided security in the key populated areas, the major cities and other key populated areas, and they maintained freedom of movement along the major highways and so forth, and frankly, this summer, in terms of level of violence, was not much different from 2012. The single biggest difference was officially, the Afghan forces were responsible for security.
At the beginning of the summer, we identified two goals with regard to the Afghan forces that were important to move forward in the campaign: one was that the Afghan security forces were confident in their capability, and the second goal was that the Afghan forces were credible in the eyes of the Afghan people. And I can tell you with confidence that we achieved both of those goals. The Loya Jirga actually was a capstone event for Afghan security forces, over the course of several weeks they set the conditions for a peaceful and secure Loya Jirga. During the event, they moved 3,000 people in and out of the facility, and there was not a single security incident, which was indicative of their increased capability, the cooperation amongst the National Directorate of Security and Ministries of Interior and Defense, and I also think it’s an indicator for how successful they’ll be in securing the actual elections [April 2014].
Having said that, there’s a very real challenge. The Afghan forces over the last couple of years have been focused on quantity, fielding the force – we grew the force from less than 200,000 in about 2008 and 2009 to 350,000 police and soldiers today, along with an additional 20,000 plus Afghan local police force [part of the Village Stability Operations initiative]. So we have probably 370,000 Afghan security forces now, but we fielded them in a very short period of time. So we actually have some quality issues now that we have to focus on, and that’s really where we are. For the last few years we focused on quantity, and that allowed us to get the Afghan forces out in the lead, that allowed us to have the Milestone 2013 [when Afghan forces took lead of country-wide security].
But the capabilities that we have today are not yet sustainable. And so, it starts with the ministerial capacity, you know, we use terms like planning, programming, budgeting, acquisition, and since you teach at the Naval War College, I know you’re familiar with all of those, but basic things like being able to anticipate material requirements, having the processes in place to contract and purchase those requirements, and then of course the planning, programming, and budgeting process that will allow you to take the resources you have available and prioritize those for capabilities development. That’s one of the things we’re working on. So, today, making a connection between the ministerial level and the tactical level to ensure the tactical level is properly supported by the ministerial level is actually where we’re working. There are also some very real capability gaps that will continue to exist after 2014. We’ll keep working on the intelligence enterprise, that’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance [ISR]. Their close-air support, in 2014, we’ll actually be delivering the first of their attack airplanes, but the entire aviation enterprise won’t be complete until late 2016, early 2017, so that will remain a gap. Then, as I mentioned, inadequate ministerial capacity. So the three remaining challenges, really, are in those areas I just mentioned: the ministerial capacity, the aviation enterprise, and broadly speaking their intelligence enterprise.
But the positive news is that, with regard to their ability on a day-to-day basis to provide security to the Afghan people, they’re in pretty good shape. So, again, near-term: able to provide security; long-term: some sustainability issues, and that’s our focus not only now but into the support mission that will begin in early 2015.
FSR: Given ISAF’s broad mission in Afghanistan, what are the three major challenges and three major indicators of progress?
GD: Well, I’ll tell you what, there are probably three indicators of progress that come to mind right away. The first is the maturation of the political process that I believe will lead to political transition. And we’ve come a long way in that regard, I think the Afghan state is now mature enough to hold elections here in 2014 and allow the Afghan people to determine their future. Frankly, from that will come many other aspects of progress. The second one is the status of the Afghan security forces. As you probably know, there were no Afghan security forces in 2001, and the very first battalion of the Afghan Army was established in 2002. So a force of 600 in 2002 has grown into a force of 350,000. And during that same time they’ve gone from the coalition leading operations to eventually partnering operations between the Afghans and the coalition forces, to today when Afghans are leading operations. And what you probably ought to know is that we’re not conducting any coalition or US unilateral operations today. All operations are led by Afghan security forces. We conduct operations only for our own security. So, again, number one, maturity of the political process, number two is the security transition overall, but the main evidence for that is the status of the Afghan security forces.
And I’ll be honest with you; I think I have to put up there in the top three the hope of the Afghan people in the future. After three decades of war, I think the Afghan people recognize that in 2013, with the progress that’s been made, and I could go through a number of statistics but you have all those available to you – in terms of how many children are in school now; cell phone users, numbers of roads, access to medical care, and all of those metrics that demonstrate improvement – frankly, more important than any specific physical manifestation of improvement is the fact that the Afghan people now look towards the decade of opportunity, which is what we call 2014 to 2024, and the fact that the Afghan people, after three decades of war, actually have some hope for the future, that has to be, in my mind, one of the top three progress indicators.
That said, there are three major challenges: the first one would be sustaining the international community’s support for Afghanistan into that decade of opportunity [2014-2024] -- that’s going to be critical; you mentioned the Afghan security forces getting paid and so forth and the Afghan economy is going to need some work here. I think the military campaign is providing the space within which that progress can be made after 2014, but, certainly some significant economic challenges and I think that increasingly young people here in Afghanistan are much more concerned about jobs for the future than they are about the Taliban. So I think sustaining that international community’s support long enough for Afghanistan to complete security transition, to complete the political transition, but obviously to build their economy to the point where both of those processes are sustainable is important. The second challenge, and I mentioned it earlier when we talked about Afghan forces, but as much as I would identify as one of the indicators of progress the current state of the Afghan security forces, I’d identify a challenge making sure that that progress that we’ve made to date is enduring, and so the sustainability of Afghan forces is the number two challenge. And then the number three challenge really gets at the reason why we’re here in the first place. That is the dynamic of extremism in the region, is in the top three challenges right now that must be addressed, not only for progress in Afghanistan but progress in the region as a whole.
FSR: Finally, what lessons learned from the collaborative efforts between coalition troops to rebuild the Afghan security sector do you think should be applied to similar, joint efforts in other nations emerging from conflict?
GD: I think on the positive side one of the critical lessons learned is that despite the challenges of coalition warfare, it is absolutely the right thing. It happens over time, as you know, it wasn’t always as effective, but over time, we’ve built an extraordinarily effective coalition. We have 48 nations that are actually contributing troops on the ground; that number has been as high as 50, over the last couple years. And that has brought, I think, an extraordinary capability to Afghanistan, and I would attribute the strength of the coalition, both in terms of the resources that they bring, as well as the assistance that they provide in building Afghan security forces has been very positive. Many nations make great contributions, you know, I could point to the Czech Republic and the help that they’re providing in Mi-17 helicopter training to Afghan forces. I could point to the linkages in the relationship between the Turks and the Afghans; there’s a national affinity between Turkey and Afghanistan; I could point to the special operations of Australia, and the United Kingdom, and others; you could point to Germany and Italy, which obviously both have very strong relationships with the Afghan people and they’ve made an extraordinary commitment; and I could go on and on. But I honestly believe that one of the key things that we all ought to take out of this experience on the positive side is that, again, despite the challenges of cobbling together a coalition, and despite the fact that that has its inherent challenges, overall, on balance, the strength of the coalition has actually directly resulted in the progress that we’ve made to date.
*Editorial clarifications are indicated in brackets.
General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr.
General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force and United States Forces-Afghanistan on 10 February 2013. He previously served as the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps from October 2010 to December 2012. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger School, Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School, and the U. S. Army War College. He holds an M.A. in Government from Georgetown University and an M.A. in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. In an interview with FSR's Editor-in-Chief, Haider Mullick, General Dunford highlights the major challenges and opportunities in Afghanistan and the United States' broader national security strategy in the region.