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Swords and Ploughshares

Sustainable Security in Afghanistan Requires Sweeping U.S. Policy Overhaul

SOURCE: Army National Guard

The Center for American Progress sponsored a simulation exercise to assess the impact of various foreign assistance reforms on the ability of the U.S. government to stabilize countries in crisis, choosing Afghanistan as the crucible. Above, a U.S. solider looks on as two Afghan men converse.

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Download the full report (pdf)

Download the executive summary (pdf)

Video: Sustainable Security in Action: An Afghanistan Simulation

Testimony: Striking the Appropriate Balance by Reuben Brigety

Executive summary

The breadth and complexity of the security challenges facing the United States abroad often defy solution through the application of military force alone. The Sustainable Security Program at the Center for American Progress over the past year generated a series of analyses to examine alternative approaches to conventional notions of national security—alongside policy recommendations to strengthen the non-military tools of U.S. power. All of this work is based on the premise that the United States can best promote its security interests abroad by supporting the essential needs of citizens around the world, especially in poor and unstable countries.

Yet the ability of the U.S. government to improve the lives of others in countries with varying degrees of instability does not match its ability to wage decisive combat operations. There is a fundamental mismatch between the civilian and military aspects of American power—a mismatch that undermines the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy, particularly the effective implementation of foreign assistance programs across the spectrum of conflict. This must be corrected to achieve near-term successes in immediate crises facing the United States, such as in Afghanistan today, as well as to ensure the long-term viability of U.S. foreign policy objectives abroad.

With the assistance of the Institute for State Effectiveness, the Center for American Progress sponsored a simulation exercise to assess the impact of various foreign assistance reforms on the ability of the U.S. government to stabilize countries in crisis, choosing Afghanistan as the crucible because of the immediate need for the United States to confront the crisis now confronting policymakers there. Approximately 20 experts with significant experience in development assistance around the world and in Afghanistan were invited to participate. The exercise was designed to test the hypothesis that reforming key aspects of America’s foreign assistance architecture would significantly improve the government’s ability to foster a stable environment in Afghanistan.

Going into the exercise, we presumed that if this specific conclusion proved correct in Afghanistan, then we could reasonably infer that such improvements might help the U.S. government to perform stabilization missions effectively in other conflict environments as well. Coming out of the three-day simulation exercise at the Airlie Center in Warrenton, Virginia, we realized that our original premise—that robust foreign assistance reforms outlined in our Sustainable Security analyses (see Page 2 for details) would secure U.S. foreign policy objectives abroad—was not sufficient to bring about success in Afghanistan. In fact, even more sweeping reforms were required to stabilize and then turn around the security situation in Afghanistan.

Major results

The results of the exercise yielded five major conclusions for foreign assistance reform generally and for U.S. policy toward Afghanistan in particular:

  • Integrated planning and programming in Washington and abroad is essential. U.S. foreign assistance mechanisms must be flexible and robust enough to have an immediate and enduring strategic impact abroad.
  • Counterinsurgency and development strategies must be intertwined. U.S. development assistance must be focused first in the most militarily secure areas of the country to build momentum and demonstrate success to other areas of the country still struggling with basic security problems.
  • Catalytic development of local development assistance capabilities is paramount. U.S. policies must build local capacity and demonstrable domestic solutions rather than building dependence on external support from abroad.
  • Development professionals matter. Hire enough development professionals to put them everywhere they are needed.
  • “Maximalist” measures are insufficient. Strengthening foreign assistance will require more reform than we thought.

In the pages that follow, the simulation exercises conducted over three days will be detailed alongside the conclusions drawn from them. A complete breakdown of the simulation model employed in the exercise and the list of participants and their roles in the exercise over the course of those three days is available online at the Sustainable Security page on the Center for American Progress Web site. Together, this report demonstrates that success in Afghanistan (and by inference success in other unstable trouble spots abroad) will require the Obama administration to retool its foreign assistance programs quickly and efficiently in the coming months and years. U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives will be much better served because of the effort.

Download the full report (pdf)

Download the executive summary (pdf)

More from the sustainable security series:

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education, poverty)
202.478.6331 or apreiss@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues, Legal Progress, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org