Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

CRHT = countering Rex’ hybrid thread

Rex has once again managed to post a treatise while I’ve simply pondered a tweet.  I am, therefore, going to cheat and respond to Rex’ giant list of take aways (sampled in quotes below)  from the NATO CHT experiment last week.  Sadly, I found myself agreeing with him more than I wanted to, but hope that my reflections still counter his thread sufficiently to qualify (and score!):

1.  “I’m not convinced that “hybrid threats” works very well as a military concept…”

I agree with Rex – the NATO description of the concept presupposes a known “adversary”, whereas nearly all of the hybrid threats involve criminal activity that is best fought through law enforcement and where identities are purposely concealed.  Furthermore, hybrid threats just ended up, eventually, by the end of the week, being anything we don’t expect – I guess it wouldn’t be particularly compelling for a new doctrine to just call itself, “Responding to unexpected threats” but the acronym would be RUT, which would be hilarious, accurate and ironic…

2.  “… seems to work fine as a shorthand for “all that messy, non-conventional war stuff NATO might do.”

I agree with Rex, this concept is probably the best that the alliance could agree on.

3.  “Ideas matter… This is the unspoken “walrus in the room” …”

Rex, damnit, you won, you won, do you have to keep rubbing the walrus in my face?

4.  “… many national politicians have a more inclusive and integrated sense of national and security interests than do some senior military personnel…”

The Bank has an apolitical mandate, so I am not in any position to speak to the comprehensive approach of politicians or military personnel – clearly, though, economists have the most fully inclusive and integrated senses of national  and security interests….

5.  “Unity of command is impossible to achieve in complex peace and stabilization operations…”

This is going to be difficult for NATO and other military actors to swallow, I think – it runs counter to everything about hierarchical organizations that make them so effective at what they do.  World Bankers and the UN are comfortable with differing degrees of flat and latticed command structures (for a variety of intentional and unintentional reasons, peculiar to the organizations) which can often be useful in complex, multi-sectoral, multi-actor environments.

6.  “The “next” NATO operation is unknowable….”

Thus the delicious irony of RUT!

7.  “…Consequently, NATO needs to prepare against a very broad spectrum of things, rather than a particular thing.”

Yes, and gaming/experimenting/scenario and contingency planning can be particularly useful for preparing against such a spectrum.

8.  Afghanistan, Libya, and the Balkans can inform reflections, but they shouldn’t drive them…

This is huge and never fully internalized by our military counterparts – Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans are outliers on nearly every measure of intervention by an order of magnitude.  There are still lessons to be learned, but they must be qualified by the context, especially if NATO is going to talk about having a “lighter footprint” as I heard multiple times during the week…

9.  “… Heretics and iconoclasts can be useful people to have in a room…”

I disagree, vehemently, to the point of blog apostasy.

10.  “… It needs to strategize how it develops and sustains relationships. I think the experiment made major contributions in this respect…”

I agree, this was a solid contribution, created lasting relationships and a  network of people that had worked through a new vocabulary and difficult concepts and demonstrated a commitment to helping to solve these types of problems.  Carana often has this multiplier effect as well – it creates bonds that can contribute to later collaboration way beyond the learning from the experience.

11.  “… Indeed, occasionally the cake batter tries to kill you…”


12.  “On the subject of self-mixing cakes, never underestimate the ability of the locals to manipulate the outsiders.”

Yes, but, to their credit, many NATO participants (in my group at least) acknowledged these issues when confronted by them.

13.  “Lots of people have been doing (or trying to do) conflict prevention and stabilization a very long time, and usually doing it without any NATO presence.”

I basically agree, but I think exercises like this, other classroom experiences I’ve shared with NATO and evolving thinking on the comprehensive approach by the organization has demonstrated more humility on this topic than they are often given credit for.  The relevant comparator for them is often national militaries – and I think they will be very useful interlocutors when national militaries start developing this more.

14.  “Things can be made better, but the perfect can be the enemy of the good. A sort of cynical optimism is therefore important. Hubris is fatal (sometimes literally so). Be aware of the law of diminishing returns, and know when something is a “good enough” solution and we should move on to the next problem.”

Rex, the official term from the WDR is “best fit”, please adjust your spell check.

15. ” Perhaps because they’re locked together in small steel cylinders for long periods of time, submariners can really tell jokes wickedly well.”

Damnit, we didn’t have any submariners in our group.  We had a decent joke from a financial analyst, but none of the cyber/police types stepped up at all.  They were probably IMing jokes to each other on the secret new internet they were inventing…

16.  “Think about emerging and hybrid opportunities too, not just the threats—the “Arab Spring” being a case in point. (This was a comment actually made by Jamie Shea in his excellent speech, but I thought it was worth repeating. He said a lot of very sensible things—it was a shame he didn’t open the conference.)

There was really a lot of wisdom and expertise in the room – for a conference introducing elements of statebuilding, peacebuilding and nationbuilding in the context of 21st century violence and threats to stability for a very diverse audience, I think it was a great contribution.  I’ve already drawn on some observations in follow on work.  In many ways, the challenge for NATO will be NATO – now that these threats have been recognized, how will the institution adapt in the future?  This is not unique, much of my last week was spent working with Bank staff trying to smooth the transition away from business as usual in a fragile environment.

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