An NGO Perspective on Integrating the Three D’s

Monday 1 November 2004, by Bill JANZEN

Notes for a presentation by Bill Janzen of Mennonite Central Committee, on a panel at the conference, “New Directions in Building Peace: The Integration of Diplomacy, Defence and Development”, co-sponsored by the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, and the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, October 13 and 14, 2004, Ottawa.

There is no doubt that when development NGOs consider the question in the title of this conference, they give a strong “yes” to the “d” that stands for diplomacy. I will illustrate that with several stories. The first comes from my days, thirty-five years ago, as a student at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs, a co-sponsor of this conference. One of our instructors was Malcolm MacDonald, son of Ramsey MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister of Britain. Mr. MacDonald had served as the highest ranking British representative in India, Kenya, Nigeria and other places in the decolonization era. He told us fascinating stories about how it had all happened.

One story, relating to the Biafran war, remains unforgettable. Stationed in Nigeria, Mr. MacDonald had noticed that tensions between the central government and that of the eastern province were becoming serious. He had then taken it upon himself to go to the leaders of these two governments, Messrs Gowan and Ojukwu, to plead for compromise. Eventually he had been able to get them to meet. They had then worked out an arrangement to work on the issues. Unfortunately, immediately after the meeting Mr. Gowan of the central government had become ill. The people around him had announced the agreement but had given it a very different interpretation. When Col. Ojukwu, the leader of the eastern province, had heard this on the radio, his fragile new confidence in the goodwill of the central government had been shattered. He had felt confirmed in his longstanding suspicions. Then he had announced the secession of the eastern province and declared Biafra an independent country. The rest, as they say, is history. Over the next several years a million Nigerians died in the fighting and the development of the country was set way back. The lesson is that Mr. Macdonald’s diplomatic efforts almost succeeded. Perhaps, with a little more support they might have.

Another example of the need for diplomatic work relates to Rwanda. We continue to hear a lot about the question as to why the world did not send in enough military power to stop that terrible genocide. It is a vitally important question and we should not walk away from it. However, we hear little about the signs calling for preventive diplomatic work. In the decade of the 1980s there were four significant developments that should have led to preventive diplomatic work. The per capita food production dropped by 30%. The international price of coffee, Rwanda’s main export, fell by one-half. The country’s external debt more than quadrupled. And, in 1990, the World Bank imposed a structural adjustment program that devalued the currency by 80%. These four factors greatly increased all kinds of social pressures. Should diplomatic observers not have noticed that they were providing fuel for an explosion, given the tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis? Was it not possible for diplomats to propose other measures to advance economic justice and thus to prevent that great tragedy?

There are many other stories that illustrate the potential of good diplomatic work. Anyone reading about the events just before the 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait has to be shocked at the lapses in basic diplomatic communications, the worst of which is the relatively indifferent response by the Canadian born Ambassador of the US to Iraq when Saddam Hussein inquired with her as to how the US might respond if he took certain actions against neighbouring countries. On the positive side, one can note the extensive and creative work of Canadian diplomats, some of whom are here today, following the 1993 Oslo peace accord relating to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Canada’s work to support negotiations in relation to the north-south conflict in the Sudan can also be noted. There are countless other stories of very good diplomatic work. NGOs would like to give every encouragement to our government in that kind of work.

If NGOs want to say a strong “yes” to the “d” that stands for diplomatic work, they are more hesitant about the “d” that stands for defence and security work. Why is this? Is it because NGOs are self-righteous? I would hope not. Is it because NGOs do not believe that soldiers can have humanitarian motivations? Again, I would hope not. Is it a case of “bloody hands vs. bleeding hearts”, as if each side has to view the other through negative stereotypes? Surely we are all more mature than that. I believe the hesitation on the part of NGOs relates to their belief that humanitarian work must be impartial, independent, committed to building local capacity, and accountable to local people. Some time ago when the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, called on NGOs to act “as a force multiplier for us ... as an important part of our combat team”, some NGOs were willing to cooperate but many were not. But Mr. Powell was not saying anything very new. Centuries ago, Marcus Aurelius said, “benevolence is a great weapon in war.”

The view of many NGOs that development work should not be too close to defence work did not start on September 11, 2001. If we look at the Cold War era, and at the way both superpowers worked at acquiring and maintaining friends, we see a significant integration of development work with defence and security concerns. The terms that are now common, such as a “whole of government” approach, or “policy coherence”, or an “integration of the three d’s”, may not have been used at that time but the reality was there. Witness the case of Zaire under Mobutu, or the Philippines under Marcos, or, on the other side, Ethiopia under Mengistu, or the countries of central and eastern Europe. Each superpower integrated its defence, development, and diplomatic work in efforts to acquire and maintain friendships. But the three “d”s were not equally successful. In the view of most NGOs it is clear that the “d” that stands for development lost out very badly. Indeed, in cases such as Zaire, instead of development going forward, it went backward a long, long way, with tragic consequences for millions of people.

After the Cold War there seemed to be a move among donors toward untying aid and focussing more exclusively on poverty reduction, if not eradication, and removing other self-interested considerations. Before long, however, other kinds of conflicts appeared and the question of the relationship between humanitarian assistance and security surfaced again. I believe the Canadian NGO that has been most explicit in calling for military action to provide security is Care Canada. In the early 1990s, in Somalia, where certain “war lords” blocked ports so that relief shipments could not come in and where some relief workers called for protection so that they could do their work, Care called for military involvement. Eventually both US and Canadian forces arrived. Eventually, both became embroiled in some very negative incidents but some observers say that they also did considerable good. A few years later, following the genocide in Rwanda which led hundreds of thousands to flee to the Congo, Care again called for military protection for the camps in the Congo. Care was disappointed with the response of western governments. In Bosnia and Serbia, Care worked closely with NATO forces.

However, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, Care has been more distant from the military. A Care worker told me, “We’ve been in Afghanistan for thirty years. We hope to be there for another thirty. It is not in our interest to get close to foreign military forces who will be there for only a short while.” The NGO, “Doctors Without Borders”, withdrew from Afghanistan last summer after several of its workers got killed. Reportedly, some military forces had used people dressed in civilian clothes to get information about insurgents from local people. As a result other civilians also became suspect. There is speculation that this confusion may have led to the killing of these workers. The organization then pulled its 80 foreign staff and terminated employment for 1400 locals there.

The question of NGOs and the military does not lend itself to a simple answer for all situations. NGOs are struggling with it, even the Canadian Council of Churches. Very few would say that there is never a place for military or police forces. Most do their work in contexts where someone’s military or police contributes to security. Nevertheless, at a minimum, NGOs want to maintain a distinction, arguing that they represent two kinds of structures with distinctive tasks, and that the one should not try to do the work of the other. This means, also, that NGOs are wary of military forces doing relief work. They say that only in rare emergency situations should military forces do relief work and that even then the relief should not be used to buy loyalty and should not be “supply driven” but “demand driven”, meaning that it should be a response to local needs; further, that the military should do such work only until a humanitarian agency can take over.

One NGO document states: “military forces tend to be at a relative disadvantage to humanitarian agencies in terms of contacts with the local community, knowledge of the local population, capacity to perform humanitarian needs assessments and ability to design and implement sustainable, locally owned initiatives...” On the question of cooperating with foreign military forces, NGOs feel that they want to minimize their dependence lest they, in reality or appearance, lose their independence and the local people’s perception that they are committed to them. All this may be frustrating to military people. They may feel that NGOs are not fair to them and that with all the criticism from NGOs about the “root causes” of terrorism and the need to address them, they should be more open to working in partnership in responding to problems. Perhaps. I cannot entirely settle the question of the relationship of development with defence and security but I believe that NGOs know quite a lot about what development is, and what it is not. Their voice needs to be heard. It is not in anyone’s interest if development is the “d” that loses out.

In closing, I want to go back to diplomacy. Earlier I referred to the diplomatic work of governments. But NGOs can also do diplomatic work of “track 2" nature. Let me illustrate this with two stories in which I had some personal involvement. One relates to Cambodia which, in the 1980s, was shunned by the western world because the government had been set up by Vietnam. Actually, Vietnam had sent its forces in to overthrow the Khmer Rouge but because of Vietnam’s alignment with the Soviet Union, the West continued to support the Khmer Rouge, albeit reluctantly. Only a few North American and European NGOs were active Cambodia. But these groups, serving as intermediaries, gradually built some trust between the government in Phnom Penh and western governments. One result of this intermediary, trust-building work was that when the superpower stand-off eased, Canada, thanks in part to the right Honourable Joe Clark, took a substantial leadership role in the Cambodia peace process.

The other story relates to North Korea. Earlier this week, I took several agricultural scientists from that country to meet with people in CIDA and the IDRC. Before coming to Ottawa they had spent nearly two weeks in southern Ontario visiting farms, research stations, the agricultural faculty at the University of Guelph, etc. We have provided food aid to North Korea since 1996 and we always wanted to encourage people there, including government officials, to think more self-critically with regard to their own food growing practises. Getting some of their people out here to see alternative methods is one way of doing that. We undertake such exchanges for our own humanitarian reasons but officials in the government of Canada support such initiatives strongly. They see them as contributing to the changes that the government also hopes for.

So, from an NGO perspective, some aspects of a closer interaction among the three “d”s appears to have potential but there are significant qualifications too. More discussion is needed.

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