Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The UN announced today it would not participate in reconstruction efforts in Marjah and directly criticized NATO strategy. This is an unusually blunt assertion from the UN and a significant development by itself, but the New York Times buries the lede by putting this passage towards the bottom:

“Clear, hold and build, it’s short-sighted for two reasons,” the United Nations official said. “Territory changes hands in a conflict, and if the services are associated with a particular group, it will be destroyed.” That has happened often with projects like schools and clinics around the country. 
Not only is the UN withdrawing support for the Marjah Offensive, it is condemning the U.S. military and their embrace of COIN. Their basic rationale is that by making aid a clear military initiative the aid itself becomes a legitimate target for the insurgents. I’m not sure I buy that reasoning. The Taliban has long targeted foreign aid projects, such as schools and roads, so making it a military strategy doesn’t change the reality of the situation.

However, it is not their criticism of COIN doctrine that is the story here, it is their willingness to openly buck U.S. and NATO strategy.
Long-term stability in Afghanistan is a tricky task under the best circumstances, but it is impossible to achieve without UN support. Criticisms of the UN and its inefficiency, gridlock, and politicization are legion; and I won’t try to refute them. But the UN carries a stamp of global legitimacy that no other organization can match - least of all the U.S. military. There will be domestic political ramifications in many European countries at a time when the U.S. is pressuring them to increase their commitment to Afghanistan, and international condemnation will be harder to avoid.

Without the UN seal of approval, the U.S. and ISAF will find their task that much harder to accomplish.


Jeff Schneider said...

Great post Dave -- I have so many comments... but I guess my first one is this: The UN has been woefully useless in areas of conflict for... well, when did Inchon happen? This is not meant as a dig, but an observation. I find it unfortunate that the UN is unwilling to embrace a COIN approach, especially with the fight against the Taliban. I appreciate their desire to maintain neutrality -- but should they try to maintain that neutrality the betray their core principles of supporting human rights, dignity, and security. I find it very disappointing that the UN has not supported the Marjah offensive -- and perplexed, because the true victims of their actions are not ISAF forces, but the innocent civilians who will be denied aid because the UN will not support the offensive. In my eyes, this is the truest example of lose-lose. They will not stop the offensive, and they will not help the civilians. Furthermore, should they continue on this path, I cannot see them maintaining the "legitimacy" OR "perceived efficacy" they seem so wedded to.

A great post Dave!


Maren said...

"The Taliban has long targeted foreign aid projects, such as schools and roads, so making it a military strategy doesn’t change the reality of the situation."

I question this to a certain extent. Sure the Taliban has stood for destroying schools etc. in the past, but as an insurgency today, not the power holder that it was 10 yrs ago, its target is in fact the military, not necessarily the aid itself. I think we have to be very critical of assumptions on this issue, because as dynamics and "who's winning" evolves and changes, so the targets change. Would love to hear from someone who has further insight into this.

I certainly agree with the point about political ramifications of the UN's strongly stated position. As was said in another conversation about this issue, so much animosity!

I am still chewing on all of this, but my gut feeling is that the bottom line here has to do with turf wars over the ownership of COIN, and clarifying the strategy itself might yield some agreement. How can we break down the model closely to evaluate whether UN and other aid providers would have to operate literally under the auspices of the military? Or maybe we're witnessing a major shift in the role of the UN, and in a context such as Afghanistan we will see different contractors more willing to engage with the military in different areas, to different degrees.

John said...

The UN continues to be the joke of the world. No matter your political perpective their peacekeeping operations around the world are a joke and those blue helmets should have afraid to go out at night and incompetent imprinted. They are more politically driven that our congress! God bless our troops and protect them. USA all the way!

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