Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Strategic Communications Post-Conflict

I read an interesting document by Frances Fortune and Oscar Bloh called "Strategic Communication: The Heart of Post-Conflict Processes" published in Conflict Trends. I can't figure out where the source document is, but I received it via my subscription to the Human Security Gateway, which I highly recommend. The Human Security Gateway can be found here:http://www.humansecuritygateway.info/ and has LOTS of great resources.

The interesting thing about this piece is that the authors posit that if done well, a post-conflict government's communications can: a) manage citizen's expectations; b) engender ownership; c)promote inclusivity; d) strengthen transparency; e) improve credibility and confidence, and so forth. I think these are rose-colored-glasses statements. No doubt good communication is "good" on a binary scale of good and bad, and will enable citizens to understand their government. However the article starts off with this statement, which gives definition to "goodness" : "The overriding objective of any strategic communication is to engender change: a shift in citizens' attitudes (their perceptions) and behaviors (their actions) toward development and governance processes and how they own it." This statement elevates "strategic communication" into the mind-bending realm rather unrealistically.

The U.S. military is all wrapped around the information/communications pole similarly. And nobody seems to be reading the more than 30-years of literature on mass communications and its effect on populations' perceptions and behaviors. We know, for example, that there are very few mass media techniques that can change public behavior. We know that individuals can decide to change their behavior and can articulate the psychological stages that lead up to those changes. We also know what obstacles people face when trying to change their behavior and ways around those obstacles (thanks to Bandura, among others). Hence the idea that mass communication can change attitudes and perception as well as behaviors is very optimistic indeed. In fact, it's way over stated.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Course in Geneva on Health Diplomacy

While searching the web for PhD programs of interest, I came across an announcement from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva for a one-week course in Health Development. It's only about $2500 for the week, not including airfare or room and board.

Here's the announcement: http://graduateinstitute.ch/executive/global-health-diplomacy.html!

See you there...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Defense, Diplomacy and Development: A Gordian Knot?

CSIS issued an interesting report a year ago which I just finished reading this morning called "Integrating 21st Century Development and Security Assistance; Final Report of the Task Force on Nontraditional Security Assistance." The report can be downloaded here: http://www.csis.org/index.php?option=com_csis_pubs&task=view&id=4236. I liked the thoughtful writing and thought that the report provided insight into the diplomacy-defense-development nexus which is quite a Gordian Knot for practitioners and for the various involved agencies. I will write more about this report later, since it caused me to more clearly consider the legitimacy of the NGO claims against DoD--and in my mind pointed out why DoD may be somewhat unresponsive as a bureaucracy to those claims. But that controversial post is for the future.

I was also reading a report from October 2008 called "Health System Reconstruction: Can it Contribute to State-Building?" The report was commissioned by the Health and Fragile States Network and can be downloaded here: http://www.healthandfragilestates.org/. In it, the authors investigate, with a clarity that I have not see before, the argument that development of health systems creates a more resilient state. They define "resilient state" by these characteristics: a state with organizational and institutional capacity (to make and enforce policies, ensure the implementation of state-sponsored programmes, etc.); with legitimacy; with political processes to manage expectations (the compact between state and its citizens); and with access to resources. I think defining these characteristics further clarifies the argument heard over and over again that "health diplomacy" is probably a good thing for the U.S. to do, especially in the context of the Global War on Terror, since it builds legitimacy of foreign governments. The authors of the report conclude that this argument, that building health systems in fragile states will legitimize the state (and the successor argument that we should therefore assist with health system development because legitimizing states will mitigate development of terror networks and reduce potential for attacks against the U.S.) is unsubstantiated at this point. I'm not surprised.

Further, I actually wonder if building health systems in fragile states (whether being done by the U.S. government, U.S. military or NGOs or all three) might be a stimulus for Islamic terrorist groups? I know, this is heresy, but my general train of thought is this: Islamist terrorists are waging a war that is based on profound and inarguable religious beliefs. They believe the West is wrong, generally put. We (the West, or America) come in to their communities and try to assist their opponent governments, which are very weak, with building health systems so that the government may be responsive to its divided people. The first problem with this scenario in my mind is that not everyone all around the world expects their government to provide health care services or systems (so that others -- like NGOs -- can deliver the care). So trying to get a government to establish a system might not be enabling the Citizen-State relationship that we in the West prefer to see. In other words, our actions are never going to produce the results we hope to see. In fact,we might actually be disrupting the expected governance structures which might be based less on central state governments or on governments at all, but be based on 'war lords' or local strong men. Could it be that we sometimes are stimulating further disruption by our "good deeds"?

Assuming that we feel it somehow a basic and shared human value (Condoleeza Rice has said something to this effect) that all people should get health care everywhere and that by extension, we should try to work toward that end, we must act with caution since apparently there is no recognizably effective method of acting. The Western world often feels that it has a moral imperative to assist with saving lives where ever and whenever it can. But does that life saved cause another life lost elsewhere?

I am not a proponent of endless navel-gazing while these important issues are pondered by wise men with long beards. But I am a proponent for action which is documented and which can therefore be considered and assessed with some clarity for 'course correction' in further actions. The Health and Fragile States Network report should send a chill through the Gordian Knot of U.S. diplomacy, development and defense communities which are now engaged in trying to be more effective, as evidenced by the CSIS report. But it probably won't.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Militarizing health? Or "health-erizing" the military?

Well, I had my first comment on this blog, and it was smart and well appreciated! I even liked the teaser sentence: "addressing the Maslowian Hierarchy of Needs via legitimate organs of the Westphalian State, rather than create opportunities for the emergence of illegitimate power structures". Wow, who wouldn't be intrigued? I have often thought about, and at one point invested a bit of time toward a lit review on, Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs as it applies to the application of "smart power". The Army teaches us the PMESII model of assessing the current operational environment (Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure and Information). We invest huge amounts of energy and money to build economies and teach others how to have legitimate governments. Obviously these are important. But you can't go to work in your new government job and then spend your salary buying dinner if you are sick. And you'll notice that Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs is buried in the "S" portion of the analysis...deeply buried. I'd like to do an analysis that would describe the cost-benefits of public health system building vice building other governance structures. And obviously in practice it's not an either or situation, but it might be a worthwhile consideration that would modify our practices. What to do first and what sector should be focused on? Seems likely that first we would start with Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs and then over time shift focus or expand focus to other sectors. But maybe not. And, separately, I wonder if burying "health" in such an ambitious analysis describes what the military thinks of health care?

Now, on to today's topic, which is not unrelated. I was reading Defense Secretary Gates' transcript in the Jan-Feb 2008 issue of Military Review called "Beyond Guns and Steel:Reviving the Nonmilitary Instruments of American Power". This transcript was of a speech Secretary Gates delivered in November 2007. The speech is worth a read and has been languishing in a deep pile on my desk for a while, obviously. Secretary Gates discusses the need to invest in the foreign diplomatic efforts of the government. In it, he describes the military's use of anthropologists. Anthropologists are now being hired by the military to help describe and "translate" important cultural aspects of tribes in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example. (Their work is reaching more broadly than this, but this gives an idea). The professional field of anthropology has reacted very negatively to this trend, labeling the woman who is the primary proponent of this activity and saying that she is "militarizing anthropology". In his speech, Secretary Gates says that an unnamed person's response to this accusation is "...we're really anthropologizing the military." Ahhhh!! I like that.

In the same vein, the debate about DoD's role within the US Government's global public health engagement has a side-discussion that says that DoD is "militarizing public health". Global public health practitioners are all a twitter. Those that despise the military for whatever reason can repeat this mantra as some kind of justification for not working together.

DoD has been engaged in public health works around the world for.... at least decades (good topic for another post). To think that DoD will suddenly stop engaging in the world via delivery of health services is counter-factual and a denial of history. However the role that DoD plays can be shaped, and that's where I liked the idea of "health-erizing the military." In other words, perhaps its time that the other agencies help DoD understand that it has a talent. That helping peoples in other lands develop their public health systems might sometimes be an appropriate use of DoD resources, and an activity that will create healthier populations abroad and at home, legitimize governments, boost economies and hopefully give a good impression of America. It's not an either-or world: that there is still enough world for both USAID and DoD and the Dept of State to do good. Instead of complaining, why not grab the bull by the horns and give it a little shake? I can only hope that the incoming political appointees will reach out and grab ahold.

Monday, January 12, 2009

GAO's 13 Priority Items for the New Administration

The Washington Post has picked up on a webpage posted by the GAO that apparently is designed to influence and inform the incoming administration about what it considers the top 13 items of concern. (As an aside, one of the top thirteen problems is the conversion to digital TV. Amazing that television technology is equal to defense problems.) The GAO page can be found here: http://www.gao.gov/transition_2009/.

Six of the thirteen items deal with defense issues, and four of the thirteen related to health, the military, and the military health system's efforts in global public health :

-Preparing for a public health emergency
-U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan
-Undisciplined defense spending
-Improving U.S. image abroad

I suspect that the GAO reports that support each of these topic areas do not link or even discuss the military's global surveillance efforts and the effect that it has on preparing the U.S. public for a health emergency (or on the military's energetic efforts in pandemic influenza preparations), for example. But in all honesty I need to read the reports to be sure.

What I do know is the confusion of the post writer in today's paper when he broadly linked DoD's strategic communications efforts and information operations efforts in Iraq with public diplomacy. Here is Walter Pincus' article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/11/AR2009011102122.html?nav=emailpage.

Not to dive in to the unending debate about the difference between strategic communications, public diplomacy and information operations, the point here is that DoD has purposes which tend more toward fighting wars than making people love the U.S. The significance of this is important because the techniques used, money spent and outcomes produced are not the same for DoD as for, say, the Department of State.

Similarly, sometimes when DoD medical personnel perform health missions abroad they are doing so to 'win the war' and not necessarily to better the health of the people they interact with. In fact, I would suggest that most of DoD global health missions are conducted for reasons other than promoting healthy populations abroad. While this seems ethically challenged, the good thing is that in fact the secondary output of these missions is that people receive medical attention. Whether or not their health improves is another question all together. Practitioners from the US AID shudder with this kind of thinking, but in the same breath will say that they are doubtful about DoD's role in global public health.

This same point can be made regarding public diplomacy. DoD has the responsibility to support the development of Iraq and Afghanistan, in concert with other agencies and organizations. The SOFA agreement withdraws all combat forces by June of this year and the entire military by the end of 2011. The Department of State and USAID can remain in country. Just these time lines alone dictate different possible approaches.

Subtleties of purpose are causing great consternation in practice between the agencies. Congressional misunderstanding does not help. Recently, Congress asked the DoD to stop spending so much money on strategic communications in a number of areas. Is the Department of State going to take up the important work in Iraq and Afghanistan, and integrate military missions with messages? Hopefully not. Hence, when Walter Pincus links public diplomacy and DoD's information operations/strategic communications together the danger is that Hill staffers will not understand the important distinctions and add to the challenges of succeeding in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Unified Command Plan

The new Unified Command Plan was released recently, realigning responsibility for several nations, and more importantly, prioritizing stability, security and reconstruction operations (SSTRO) along with pandemic influenza.

First the pandemic influenza news is interesting because responsibility was given to NORTHCOM, the command that has responsibility for the U.S. area of operations. While the apparent intent of this move was to deliver this topic to one single agency for oversight, the discontinuity between the operational agencies of the military and the policy agencies may widen. Currently, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs (ASD(HA)) has responsibilities for surveillance operations. And, while not a Mars-Venus situation, NORTHCOM is miles away from D.C. both geographically and somewhat less, but not insignificantly, culturally. Pandemic Influenza response initiatives are wide and deep across the federal agencies, and it will be interesting to see how this apparent shift in responsibilities pans out.

Second, the prioritization of SSTR operations is interesting news. The reason for prioritizing stability operations (as they are called for short) is that the U.S. policy crowd would like to mitigate future conflict before it happens, and not always by application of the Bush doctrine. They would like the military to conduct operations that will create/support capable and legitimate governments. However, the use of the military for pre-conflict stability operations is an imaginative leap into an abyss for many in the military. With little evidence that using the military in this way actually creates any stability at all, other than hopeful anecdotes heard in conferences all across the land (validated by wonderful heart-warming photos of smiling children in dirty clothes and raggedy hair), the fighting force is asking the question--what are the priorities and where? The answer men, supposedly in the Department of State and U.S. AID, seem to be unhelpfully commenting in the media about what a bully DoD is for sucking up all the tax dollars, and not really stepping out with comprehensive and rationalized plans across any region at all. Aside from sniping at DoD, there also is much news from the Department of State about the Civilian Response Corps, which is supposedly a reserve force of willing and able civil servants who will march across the foreign lands (doing what?) in support of foreign programs. In other words, it seems as if there is a huge disconnect between the policy makers and the policy-executors, which is really nothing new.

This leads me to Afghanistan. The time is ripe for a broader prescription for what ails us in Afghanistan, but I have heard nothing from any quarter. The U.S. is engaged in two operations there: International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The legal mandates for both do not allow expansive engagement with the multitudes working across the country. Instead we are restricted to building Afghanistan's own security forces, primarily. This is leading toward ineffective and piecemeal projects. Progress is slow. Painful. Yet where is the State Department? We need a comprehensive plan, with public diplomacy as a key driver. Keeping these two goals in mind, a plan must soon be articulated across the agencies so that the policy will finally connect with the execution. And even if the effort is messy, which is necessarily will be, we will finally at long last have taken the next step in this idea of stability operations.