Sunday, November 11, 2007

From overmonitored rusty Kalashnikovs to stale cocktail receptions at the embassy - Joint training is the answer

This is the unedited version of an article soon to be published in "New Routes"

Visiting the weapons collection sites in the disarmament campaign in Macedonia four years ago as a monitor for the EU, I recall hearing the officials manning the collection points informing us that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe had been there just a while ago. Coordination was at times non-existent between our organisations and information was not shared from our side because of distrust of certain member states of the OSCE. Yet I also remember on later occasions how our EU monitors seamlessly reinforced the election observation mission of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. We reported everything observed up their chain of command just as the seconded ODIHR observers, or should I say most of them – because we all know that it happens that seconded personnel still primarily focus on reporting to their national authorities, weakening the concept of secondments to international organisations and their credibility.

Conflict stricken societies are characterised by a myriad of external as well as internal actors with various agendas, pulling in different directions as they may have conflicting aspirations of what the end state should be. The interlocking layers of the diplomatic, political, economic and societal networks constitute a complex web of interrelationships, dependencies, allegiances and conflict. Global competition between super powers may be an influence just as the personal relation between Ambassador X and Deputy Head of Mission Y or the fact that Police Commissioner Z simply is not comfortable with going to cocktail parties and exchanging niceties.

Moreover, cooperation may be difficult even among actors from the same country but representing different outfits under separate ministries. The set backs in Operation Iraqi Freedom have pin-pointed frictions in the great US war machinery incorporating the Pentagon, Langley and Department of State. The smaller UK structures have successfully integrated ministries and military in what is called a comprehensive or whole of government approach. Integration of military and civilian government assets have been tried with various succes in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan. There are political forces striving for integrating military and civilian components under unified command and the temptation to use military resources for humanitarian tasks is not new. However, the professional humanitarian aid workers are sceptical to the military taking over their domain. Not for being afraid of losing their turf, but stating that humanitarian assistance is not an easy task without pitfalls. A well meaning effort may actually cause damage in the long run. The salty humanitarians who often reach the conflict zone long before any international military force speak of their “humanitarian space” – they mean let us do our job, so you can do yours. This opinion sometimes conflicting with the will to integrate actors in peace support under unified command.

Regardless of where one stands on the question of integrating efforts or preserving integrity of specific actors everyone agrees that awareness and understanding of the other actors in the field radically increases efficiency. Hence, joint training platforms such as the Viking exercises and courses with mixed-multifunctional groups of participants are instrumental in enhancing the capabilities of tomorrows peacemakers. Peace building will probably always be complex and messy, but one misunderstanding more during training is hopefully one less out on the mission. Joint training builds multidisciplinary networks overarching organisational and departmental limitations. Bonds and even friendships are forged, promoting smooth cooperation and interfunctional understanding.

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