Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shouldn't you first know the most rudimentary facts of security assistance...

...before writing a paper entitled "Unintended Strategic Consequences of Security Assistance in the South Caucasus"?

EDIT: Geez, I'm too damn snappy these days. This Thompson thing must've knocked a screw loose. I didn't mean for this title to sound nearly so condescending and unkind as it does. This stuff is complicated, and it's not easy to figure out the details. These folks are making an honest run at the subject and I generally agree with their conclusions, so I shouldn't have sounded so universally dismissive. Sorry! Now back to the original post... [/END EDIT]

The reason I ask is that this paper isn't so much about security assistance as it is about the total clusterfuck that is U.S. policy in the Caucasus, and specifically with regard to Georgia. The authors' argument basically comes down to this: don't support partner countries in ways that have unpredictable consequences in an unstable region. And while I generally agree that this is a sensible prescription, one could reasonably argue that consequences are always unpredictable when it comes to indirect approaches like security assistance/security force assistance. Whenever you're adding an extra layer of decision making, and the decision maker at that extra level is a sovereign state, you're often going to end up with effects that are obscure to the folks who set the whole process in motion.

That said, there are a couple of pretty rudimentary mistakes when it comes to the titular subject, none more egregious than this comment about the disconnect between donor priorities and recipient wishes:

The U.S. administration has offered away to square the circle by advocating "brains before brawn” and promoting the increase of intellectual capacity. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in August 2009, “Focusing U.S. assistance initially on fundamental intellectual issues like training, doctrine and personnel management . . . is our prioritized approach, and this will serve as a foundation on which Georgia can build for years to come.” This seems a sensible approach in and of itself. However, there is no guarantee that writing a check for $1 billion for Georgia means the money will go somewhere other than the defense program even if it is not specifically targeted for defense. Rather, it allows Georgia, should it wish, to reallocate funds internally.
This would definitely be a problem... if it were actually true. I mean, I suppose in a technical sense, it is true. If security assistance was provisioned by just writing a check to the partner country, then that money could just be dropped into the Georgian treasury and it becomes fungible. But that's not how the process works.

Military grant aid is provided through the Foreign Military Finance and International Military Education and Training programs, both of which are budgeted in the 150 account -- the foreign assistance budget. What this amounts to is a chunk of money dedicated to a certain country for use in purchasing U.S. military equipment, training courses, or seats in professional military education classes (war colleges, command and staff college, etc.). The recipient is obligated to use this money for its intended purpose: if Georgia got IMET money, for example, it can't buy Abrams tanks instead of seats for its majors at CGSC.

Of course, this grant aid does free up the recipient's country funds for whatever use that government chooses, if you imagine that they had already planned to buy U.S. stuff with their own money. But that's very rarely the case.

This is actually one of the few decidedly positive characteristics of military aid over other types of development aid: no one expects it to be no-strings-attached! (Well, except Pakistan, but I digress.)

Anyway, check out the article if you want some perspective on the way that a foreign and security policy based on support for client states rather than direct intervention can come back and bite you, but don't go looking for a thorough and informed analysis of the limitations of security assistance.

24 comments:

  1. Heed these words from Gulliver; he's a veritable expert on security assistance and its associated processes (and lots of other stuff too, some of it even good for dinner table talk.)

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  2. Shouldn't we first agree to define Security Force Assitance before we try to know what it is???

    Ha ha.

    I prefer Dave Maxwell's definition of UW, IW, FID, COIN, and SFA.

    http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2010/04/why-does-special-forces-train/

    v/r

    Mike

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  3. Mike -- Shouldn't we first agree to define Security Force Assitance before we try to know what it is???

    Meh, I tried to stay away from that for now. The Army has a pretty good idea, or at least it published an FM so it ought to.

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  4. "so I shouldn't have sounded so universally dismissive. Sorry! Now back to the original post... "

    Which was, YOU'RE ALL A BUNCH OF DOUCHES LIKE LOREN!

    Dude, you're becoming the Cartman of COIN blogging.

    SNLII

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  5. Dude, you're becoming the Cartman of COIN blogging.

    Just trying to avoid becoming the Foust. I need to crank back the bitchiness.

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  6. Hey, Foust has a legit gig now.

    So, maybe you need to be MORE like Warren Sapp and less like Peyton Manning.

    SNLII

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  7. Warning: Going legit might neuter you.

    If you doubt this, listen to the chorus of castrati at CNAS and prove to me that Exum ain't singing higher than he once did.

    SNLII

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  8. "The Army has a pretty good idea, or at least it published an FM so it ought to"

    Actually, no, we don't. It all stems on SF and JFCOM's internal and joint debates on UW and IW. Until they resolve those fissures, all the terms (SFA, FID, IW, UW, COIN) will mean all things to all people.

    I've sat in some tough talks while some smart and influential people bumped heads and tried to sort through it. Like I said, I prefer Dave Maxwell's definition.

    As for the doctrine, I engaged Rob Thorton on that. He's got the unheralded task of writing it. Right now, we're still in a process of discovery.

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  9. By the way, there's a long, tortured history about JFCOM/SOF/SF's writing the manual that they have now, and how they were treated by the FM 3-24 bunch and blah blah blah.

    SNLII

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  10. "By the way, there's a long, tortured history about JFCOM/SOF/SF's writing the manual that they have now, and how they were treated by the FM 3-24 bunch and blah blah blah."

    Sometimes SNLII's snarky comments reveal some sad truths, but it goes back long before the FM 3-24 bunch, before the decisions to invade Iraq, to right after 9/11 and the deciders were trying to figure out what to do.

    I've met at least three prolic, insightful, and influential people that were ignored by the Bush Administration in the immediate aftermath. It is a shame.

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  11. Mike -- Actually, no, we don't. It all stems on SF and JFCOM's internal and joint debates on UW and IW. Until they resolve those fissures, all the terms (SFA, FID, IW, UW, COIN) will mean all things to all people.

    I completely agree with your last. And having said that: the Army is moving out with a model for the delivery of SFA by the GPF. We can talk all we want about doctrinal/lexicographic questions being unresolved, but there is an FM for SFA and the Army has a concept for it.

    Also, FWIW, Rob worked for JCISFA. Talk to the man SNLII calls Klugzilla about the Army FM.

    But I'll leave ot at that, because this wasn't supposed to be about SFA exactly.

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  12. "Also, FWIW, Rob worked for JCISFA. Talk to the man SNLII calls Klugzilla about the Army FM."

    FWIW, JSISFA, SNLII, FM....

    I don't mean to be rude, but there is something about this alphabet-soup thread and that particular sentence that made me smile.

    (I'm not complaining. Really. It just looked funny to see all of those together in one sentence.)

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  13. And to show you that I am not being rude or making fun, the alphabet soup of today (my day) includes the following:

    HIPAA, DysN, IDN, yada yada yada.

    :)

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  14. Klugzilla? You've got me confused with someone else, man.

    SNLII

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  15. ANV--I thought security assistance WAS dinner table talk...:)

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  16. Klugzilla? You've got me confused with someone else, man.

    You're right, my bad.

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  17. I will, however, own up to calling someone PanzerFoust, which he hates.

    So please keep calling him that.

    SNLII

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  18. Is this article really any worse than the turd sandwich served up by Exum this week? I never cease to be amazed by the abilty of CNAS to churn out nonsense and be taken seriously.

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  19. SNLII was talking about that on his website, Schmedlap. Dissected it like Finel.

    Vivisected.

    SNLII's Evil Twin

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  20. "Is this article really any worse than the turd sandwich served up by Exum this week? I never cease to be amazed by the abilty of CNAS to churn out nonsense and be taken seriously."

    Well, I don't want to call anything a turd sandwich, but I was VERY confused by that CNAS paper.

    For COIN to work, we have to have a government that we think will eventually work? I thought that was established already. Is this about Karzai being an unreliable ally? And our key ally in the War on Terror being an unreliable ally? To the tune of billions of KLB dollars?

    ???????

    - Madhu

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  21. Zen, who's a million times smarter than me, says this about the paper:

    "Exum has a judicious and deftly played piece of analysis and policy advocacy here that takes as a starting point that the US has few options but to work with the regime of Hamid Karzai, whatever its flaws and previous American mistakes, and then offers his prescriptions for rebuilding that relationship. Exum advocates a strengthened and reorganized civilian agency presence via a “political campaign design”, a template borrowed from military planning and modified to suit the civilian components of the DIME spectrum."

    http://zenpundit.com/?p=3411

    Still confused?

    - Madhu (and, I'm out. That's it for this thread! Later.)

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  22. SNLII was talking about that on his website, Schmedlap. Dissected it like Finel.

    On who's website?

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  23. I think Exum's paper was a carefully measured criticism of the lack of a "civilian surge" such as what was described in last year's war review; from Jan'09 to Mar '10, the civilian presence in country has risen from 360 to roughly 1000, which is definitely more but doesn't seem to represent the numbers the White House articulated. So whether it was nonsense or not, it did serve a purpose in highlighting that lack of personnel to serve any kind of non-military program in Afghanistan.

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  24. ... it did serve a purpose in highlighting that lack of personnel to serve any kind of non-military program in Afghanistan.

    Well, I'm so glad Exum came along and set us straight. It's not like that's been common knowledge all along or anything.

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