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Editorial

Interrelated challenges

by Hans Dembowski
Bundeswehr soldiers on patrol near Kunduz

Bundeswehr soldiers on patrol near Kunduz

Meaningful progress has been made in the global fight against poverty since the United Nations Millennium Declaration a decade ago. A major exception to an overall positive trend, however, is evident where civil wars and strife mark everyday life, or where they did so recently. Security obviously enhances development.

Afghanistan is a particularly stark example. Donor nations are paying special attention to this country because they have troops there. Nonetheless, the situ­ation seems to keep getting worse. So questions arise as to whether the mission makes sense at all and what exactly the impact of developmental efforts is. The Dutch have decided to bring their troops home, whereas Germany’s Bundeswehr and other NATO forces are staying in the country.

Many development agencies find cooperation with the armed forces difficult. They fear they’ll be coopted or instrumentalised. Many compare the current setting in Afghanistan to the Vietnam war. In truth, it is completely different.

The Vietcong wanted to develop an ethnically homogeneous nation. This assessment is easy in retrospect: a mere decade and a half after US troops withdrew, the Communist leadership opted for the market economy because it offered better opportunities and better results. In Afghanistan, a geographically and culturally divided territory, the insurgents do not offer a coherent vision. If the allies gave up, the insurgents would probably start killing one another immediately – as was the case after the Soviet Union’s Red Army admitted defeat and left the country.

The Cold War is long over. Current Western military doctrine is focused on civilian reconstruction in Afghanistan. Peace activists in Germany and elsewhere have long argued that security cannot simply be left to tanks and troops. Indeed, security is a comprehensive issue that depends on societal engagement at many levels. Germany’s Federal Government accepts this notion and therefore speaks, in a comprehensive sense, of “networked” security.

In the meantime, many aid organisations have overhauled their strategies. They no longer wait for a fully operational state to re-emerge when disasters strike. Even at the stage of first humanitarian relief, they now consider long-term perspectives, looking out for options for action that are likely to prepare the ground for reconstruction. This approach is in keeping with the comprehensive understanding of security, but it inevitably implies taking sides politically.

No doubt, development and security are interrelated phenomena. Aid agencies – whether rooted in civil society or run by governments – must assess again and again in every single case whether to disengage or take sides in one way or another. Any real answer will always depend on the circumstances of a given situation. Generic statements pro or contra cooperation with the military do not make sense.

Afghanistan, of course, is only one of many countries in crisis. The international community is obviously neither willing nor able to intervene with decisive military force in all places where civilians might need protection – just con­sider Somalia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Initiatives that strive to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence, like Germany’s Civil Peace Service, therefore remain indispensable. Crisis prevention is what matters. It is true: security cannot be enforced simply by gun barrel. (Hans Dembowski)