Remote Warfare Programme, Oxford Research Group -Written evidence (ZAF0045)
The Remote Warfare Programme (RWP) is a policy institute at the Oxford Research Group. We examine changes in military engagement with a focus on remote warfare: this refers to a recent shift in which Western states have become increasingly reluctant to deploy large amounts of their own troops. Instead, they support local and regional forces who are expected to do the bulk of front-line fighting against groups such as IS, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab.
We produce evidence-based research and policy recommendations to raise public awareness and to facilitate debate amongst military and policy practitioners. Ultimately, our aim is to help effect positive policy change to improve prospects for long-term security.
INTRODUCTION: UK REMOTE WARFARE IN AFRICA
- In November 2019, the Oxford Research Group’s Remote Warfare Programme released its latest report; Fusion Doctrine in Five Steps: Learning from Remote Warfare in Africa. The report, which focuses on the work of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and Department for International Development (DFID), examines how the roll-out of the UK’s new Fusion Doctrine can better address conflicts where the UK military is working with local and regional military partners in the Sahel and Horn of Africa. This is vital as serious obstacles remain when it comes to creating routine unison among the UK’s military, diplomatic, and aid activities.
- Yet if the UK is to have a lasting, tangible impact in these regions, which are increasingly congested regions for international engagements, it must deliver united, well-coordinated activities. A failure to do so would likely have a lasting and detrimental impact on peace and stability. Thus, creating processes for routinised fusion is essential to overcoming the challenges that remain: 1) departmental divisions in Whitehall, 2) poor coordination of British efforts in-country , 3) insufficient coordination between international actors in Africa, 4) lack of consistent and meaningful dialogue with host countries, and 5) poor dialogue with civil society.
- This evidence submission will explore the effectiveness of the UK’s contribution to peace and development in the Sahel and Horn of Africa based on the findings of our report. It will do so in two sections, each focusing on a specific area of interest identified in the inquiry’s terms of reference:
Section 1: How well are the United Kingdom’s military and diplomatic efforts in the Sahel and Horn of Africa coordinated?
Section 2: How well does the UK work in partnerships with host countries in the Sahel and Horn of Africa, and how does it ensure that it is responsive to their needs?
ENSURING UNITY AMONG UK EFFORTS
- When the UK military operates in the Sahel and Horn of Africa, a multitude of other UK efforts – including aid, trade and diplomacy – are almost always taking place at the same time. If these are to be effective, they must be coordinated both in Whitehall and on the ground. However, our research shows that obstacles remain when it comes to creating routine unison among the UK’s military, diplomatic, and aid components
- This is not to say that there has been no progress. In fact, as a result of successive governments’ focus on the issue of coordination since the 1990s, there have been real improvements in uniting the efforts of government departments to address conflicts. This has primarily come through the creation of several new institutions and frameworks. Perhaps the most discussed of these are the National Security Council (NSC) and the National Security Strategy (NSS), which have been championed as ways to bring departments together to create a more coherent UK foreign policy. As well as bringing together key departments through NSC meetings, the NSS also ensures that coordination happens below the NSC level as all staff across departments work towards common, stated goals. Additionally, the creation of the Stabilisation Unit (SU) in 2007, and the SU’s Joint Analysis of Conflict and Stability (JACS), introduced in 2011, have formalised a process in which a range of UK government officials from across Whitehall, are routinely brought together to establish a “shared understanding” of the risks and conflict dynamics affecting the countries that the UK is engaging in, including those in the Sahel and Horn of Africa. Many of those we interviewed as part of our report on the Fusion Doctrine, including government officials and those with experience of UK conflict planning, felt that this had been an important step forward.
- In-country, coordination has improved as a result of the creation of the Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund (CSSF), formerly the Conflict Pool. The CSSF has established a more direct link between the NSC strategies and programmes on the ground, ensuring that all actors in-country, whether military or diplomatic, are working according to the same strategy. These steps seem to be regarded positively, with the Independent Commission for Aid Impact’ (ICAI) 2018 report finding that there had been a “strong response” from government in improving the strategic direction of the CSSF.
- Fusion Doctrine is meant to build on and consolidate some of these improvements. In some ways, it has already done so. For example, Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) positions have been created to make one individual accountable for delivering each NSC objective. In doing so, the SROs are expected to build “a culture of common purpose across departments.” However, enduring challenges continue to hinder effective coordination between the military efforts of the MOD and the diplomatic efforts of the FCO when these both operate in the same theatres in the Sahel and Horn of Africa.
- While officials from separate departments are increasingly brought into the same room, there has not been a bridging of departmental cultures, language and/or understanding between those working in the MOD, FCO and DFID. This is a key challenge. It leads to significant difficulties both when the UK attempts to set a unified strategy for a region and when operations are being delivered on the ground. For instance, we were told that the MOD had often developed a strategy long before other departments. This led to frustration among MOD officials, who described having to wait for other departments to catch up. At the same time, it led to frustration among other departments who felt they were being dictated to by the MOD. One soldier we spoke to in Kenya said that “the military will spring to it and then be accused of trying to make others dance to a military tune because we’ve finished first.” This also appears to be the case when it comes to the development of the UK’s Africa Strategy; conversations on this topic suggested departments were often running parallel efforts – with the MOD developing its own strategy well before others with and with minimal consultation with the rest of government. A participant at our roundtable argued that:
“[The r]ole of diplomats is to keep options open; while the role of the military is to shut options down – to get a decision – and this leads to frustration.”
- The lack of cohesion in Whitehall is echoed in the country-level approach in many cases. For instance, while staff in different departments speak to their own host-country counterparts, the separate conversations are not coordinated. This has resulted in many parallel lines of communication going between the UK and the host nations. One roundtable participant highlighted the problem of this approach: “each person you ask will say they require different things.” This can, at times, lead to inappropriate training and support. For example, one UK soldier deployed in Kenya asked an interlocutor from the Kenyan military to get a sense of what training would be useful. However, this interlocutor was not checking the gaps in current training with the rest of the Kenyan military. This resulted in medical training being asked for but “the medical wing of the military…didn’t even know [it] had been requested.”
When grappling with the differences between departments, the answer does not appear to be for the MOD, DFID and FCO to homogenise and lose their individuality. Each department brings unique and valuable skills which should not be lost in the pursuit of shared working.
- Stronger mechanisms for bridging the gap between the cultures, languages and planning procedures of these actors would maximise the ability of departments to pool resources and capabilities and recognise the contributions each department offers. We recommend two ways this could be addressed:
• Staff from different departments should routinely be embedded in other departments to allow them to get used to different languages and cultures.
• A Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) position at the country level could ensure that those on the ground have a clearer sense of what others are doing. In some countries, ambassadors have done well to take on this role, yet progress has been sporadic and personality-driven.
PURSUING STRONG PARTNERSHIPS WITH HOST GOVERNMENTS
- For the UK’s efforts in the Sahel and Horn of Africa to be effective, the challenges outlined in Section 1 must be addressed. However, the eventual success of the UK’s strategy in another country will inevitably be decided less by the UK’s – or its international partners’ – perfect internal coordination, and more by domestic factors in host countries where the UK is engaged.
It is the host states and national populations will inevitably determine the success and sustainability of projects within their borders. Experts have long argued this point; for instance, Joseph Stiglitz, an American economist at Columbia University argues that “[w]e have seen again and again that...policies that are imposed from outside may be grudgingly accepted on a superficial basis, but will rarely be implemented as intended.”
- The UK has acknowledged this and has emphasised the importance of listening to partners and building their feedback into the design and implementation of the UK’s activities. In April 2018, the SU’s Elite Bargaining and Political Deals report noted that “interventions can be ineffectual, or counter-productive, when interveners fail to analyse and engage effectively with underlying configurations of power.” A few months after the SU report was released, Theresa May, prime minister at the time, argued in a speech in Cape Town that “[t]rue partnerships are not about one party doing unto another, but states, governments, businesses and individuals working together in a responsible way to achieve common goals.”
- While the UK has acknowledged the importance of having meaningful conversations with host nations, it remains unclear how it is building feedback from partners into planning and strategy making in Whitehall in a systematic way. We heard in several interviews with experts and deployed soldiers that the UK has a tendency to only involve the host government once the UK had already made up its mind about its course of action. This undermines effective dialogue as the UK presents ‘ready-made’ plans, with host-countries often accepting the assistance even when it is not useful because they don’t want to lose the funding that comes with it. This was explained in a conversation with a British soldier in Kenya. The soldier handed us a pen and, when we took it off him, he said “why did you take the pen? You already have a pen”, he said “you took it because I offered you a free pen” – indicating that the UK offer of training to partners was the same.
- On the whole, many soldiers felt the UK was not doing enough to deliver on partners’ wants and needs. In interviews with soldiers in Mali, one called for “an adult conversation about what [our partners] need and what we can deliver”, comparing the current approach to a builder that “just turned up at your house and started fixing things you hadn’t asked for.” In Nigeria, a soldier we interviewed told us that it remained “a fundamental challenge” to understand what partners want “and making sure we are being demand led.” In Kenya, more than one soldier asked where the ‘demand signal’ for their activities was coming from, with one stating that “no African country asks for [these activities].” To address this, the UK should involve regional partners at the beginning of programme design and throughout implementation, for example through shared Monitoring and Evaluation assessments.
- At the same time, it is vital that the UK builds on its ability to recognise when local governments and state forces are drivers of instability and violence. Since 2007, a depressing 23% of violent incidents against civilians recorded were perpetrated by state forces rather than anti-regime groups. When this is the case, the appropriate UK response should not be to train national security forces - in fact, building the capacity of predatory armed forces will feed cycles of violence and conflict rather than address them. Many countries in the Sahel and Horn of Africa have used international support to increase the capacity of their security sectors but have failed to address root causes of instability, such as corruption and abuses by predatory state forces.
- While the JACS framework has improved the government’s ability to recognise risks, there is still a gap when it comes to tackling these in an effective and systematic way. As it stands, the UK’s approach continues to focus on delivering tactical training activities even when the risks come from underlying political problems. The consequences of this tactical focus are visible across the Sahel and Horn of Africa.
One British soldier in Nigeria described how the international effort in-country was “treating the symptoms not the causes of the problem [when] the whole [Nigerian] defence structure needs institutional reform.”
- In Nigeria, experts have noted that “the army is more feared than Boko Haram.” In Somalia, internationally delivered short-term training courses are unlikely to “lead to locally credible and legitimate governance and security institutions.” In fact, we were told that the abuses of the SNA are “a big recruitment tool for Al Shabab because…they steal, rape, etc. Same as others, but this time in uniform, with Somali flags on it.” Similarly, civilian deaths caused by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in their fight against al-Shabaab are turning many Somalis against them. Indeed, a decade after AMISOM first intervened, with millions of pounds invested in the SNA, al-Shabaab remain deeply entrenched.
- To mitigate some of these risks, the UK must build a meaningful dialogue with partners, ensuring that peace and stability for the whole population is a priority. For this to be effective, it must also involve more routinised engagement with local civil society groups, to ensure that citizens can report abuses by state forces and ensure that the UK has a broader understanding of conflicts in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa than those presented by the state elites with whom the UK regularly engages.
- As a last resort, the UK should follow the example of allies such as the US to show that it is willing to suspend or even stop support when assistance is adding to instability rather than addressing the drivers of conflict.
- Bridging departmental cultures and meaningfully coordinating with key stakeholders within the UK and beyond are all necessary but far from easy. Despite these difficulties, the UK has come much closer to building a coherent UK strategy as the country attempts to contribute to stability and peace in the Sahel and Horn of Africa. Fusion Doctrine promises to build on and further this progress. However, significant obstacles remain when it comes to ensuring that the military, diplomatic and aid components of the UK’s offer to these regions effectively coordinate in a routinized manner both among themselves and with the host nations in which they operate.
- Until such coordination is formalised, the UK’s offer to its partners in the Sahel and Horn of Africa – whether host nations or other international allies – will be insufficient. Worse, rather than contributing to the resilience of countries and peoples in these regions, a disjointed contribution that fails to take the needs of the host nation and its population into account risks contributing to the cycle of violence rather than addressing the underlying drivers of conflict.
 The report is the culmination of field research undertaken in Kenya and Mali in 2018; interviews with British service personnel rotating out of deployments in Nigeria and Somalia from 2016-2018; and two separate closed-door roundtables held with experts (including local and regional experts) in 2019.
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