COIN vs. Conventional Diplomacy

Via Small Wars Journal, two complementary articles on the increasing encroachment of the military instrument on civil development and humanitarian functions. The first, a CSM op-ed by Catholic Relief Services director Ken Hackett, criticizes the recent use of naval gunboats to bring humanitarian aid to Georgia in the aftermath of the recent conflict with Russia. The second, a National Defense University monograph by Patrick Cronin (.pdf), discusses the ways in which the increasingly political nature of irregular warfare has put pressure on the traditional civilian-military balance of power in conflict zones.

Hackett’s criticism is based on the need for humanitarian organizations to maintain impartiality in order to operate in conflict zones without being targeted by either side. Cronin’s discussion, exemplified by this citation of Bob Gates, illustrates why that is an increasingly anachronistic, if perfectly valid, argument:

[T]he lines separating war, peace, diplomacy, and development have become more blurred, and no longer fit the neat organizational charts of the 20th century.

With the military already on COIN footing, the State Dept. is under increasing pressure to play doctrinal catch-up. The risk is twofold. First, once diplomacy and development have been adapted to the needs of the conflict zone, they will increasingly be deployed to them, to the detriment of other areas in need of our development aid. Second, once development becomes an element of the American war-fighting instrument, it will increasingly be governed by military logic. Here’s Hackett:

. . .When the role of aid is to control or influence foreign governments or other parties in a conflict, the danger is that, instead of taking care of people’s needs, the aid will simply fan the flames of the instability that led to the conflict in the first place. . .

The initial setbacks in our counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq have been the cause of a great deal of soul searching among the military community, and rightly so. The result has been the formulation of a broad “whole of government” approach to conflict, exemplified by the particularly effective team of Ambassador Crocker and Gen. Petraeus. But we shouldn’t become intoxicated by our success to the point that we see the world exclusively through the lens of conflict, and conflict exclusively through the lens of counterinsurgency. Success in irregular warfare demands a “whole of government” approach, but the whole of government must not be reduced to the demands of irregular warfare.

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