Monday 19 January 2009

UK Defence forces thinking missing the idea of civil society management

I've just been to a very interesting talk by the UK Army's Chief of the
General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, on how the Army has had to
adapt in recent years in the face of its role in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lots of talk of the need to be better at "stabilisation" operations, to
work closely with local populations to build their capacity (he's proud
of what he believes the British Army achieved in Basra), and to ensure
that soldiers have "sustainable" deployments.

The issues not dealt with were about the overlap between managing civil
society in the wake of a war, including civil policing. This is, of
course, the great tragedy of the US deployment in Iraq; they stuffed it
up big time. Can you in fact have a "war" without having substantial
civil capability to support the rebuilding of the society attacked. The
question not explored today was what that capability has to look like in
the future.

Mind you, Dannatt was pretty upbeat about the UK experience in Iraq. His
argument is that it's taken them 6 years to be able to build up local
capability in their territory of work, versus some 38 years in Northern
Ireland, and similarly long stints in other spheres. Whether that rosy
view of southern Iraq is correct or not seems to be debatable,
especially as the US feels the need to move in an (admittedly smaller)
Army Brigade once the Brits move out.

The Israelis would seem to be repeating this tragedy in Gaza, using
"disproportionate" force as a "deterrent" when it's the management of
the society that's the issue in terms of security - gainful employment,
welfare and health services, rule of law, etc. All of which have been
actively subverted for many years by the nature of the Israeli hot/cold
pressure on trade and the movement of labour in and out of Gaza.

Civil management of damaged society (post-conflict Iraq, civil-war torn
Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo, Gaza) is the issue of the day; we need to
have more "joined up thinking", to use a Blairism, between the likes of
policing, development and employment policies.

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