Monday, August 6, 2007

Hearts and Minds

Rear Admiral William McRaven had an intriguing quote in The Economist on June 14, 2007:
American officials insist that AFRICOM will not be all about building bases and airstrips but will co-operate with development agencies, NGOs and diplomats to win African hearts and minds and so deny terrorists havens from which to operate. Rear Admiral William McRaven, head of the special forces now operating in the Sahara, says his men are much more likely to drill boreholes and build houses than to shoot at anyone. “I don't want a fragile state collapsing any more than Greenpeace or USAID does,” he says.
Rear Admiral McRaven is Special Operations component, SOCEUR (Special Operations Command, Europe). His comment comes in the broader context of The Economist article called Policing the undergoverned spaces.

This post is not to suggest that the U.S. will win the long war by drilling boreholes, nor is it to suggest that U.S. military forces, much less the Special Forces, should be taking care of the water needs of the developing world (in fact I argue against this). There is, however, a growing recognition that along with traditional military operations we should be pursuing less militaristic methods of winning hearts of minds, particularly in countries deemed most likely to become breeding grounds for terrorists. The provision of water and sanitation becomes a particularly salient intervention in this equation. The U.S. intelligence community has realized for some time that overlaying the map of water scarce countries with the map of countries deemed the biggest threats to U.S. national security gets an almost perfect match. Plus the USG gets the biggest bang for its development dollar (in both direct and indirect returns) by investing that dollar in relatively simple water and sanitation initiatives.

One good recent example where this all comes together is CSIS's recent post on Below the Surface: U.S. International Water Policy. Erik Peterson notes:
Targeting water would also yield other geopolitical dividends—including removing what is a serious obstacle to stability and security within states and reducing the possibility for conflict or tension between countries with shared water resources. Finally, water represents an avenue for the United States to demonstrate leadership in the world at a time when its image has eroded so considerably. In short, a water-centered set of policies could represent a remarkable opportunity for the United States to “do good” while “doing well” when it comes to pursuing its own interests in the world.
So maybe this post is about how to win the long war after all.

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