Security is More Than Uniforms

by Asher Kohn on 11/8/2009 · 3 comments

Le Francais over at Ink Spots usually have some good insights on things I know nothing about. This time, I actually know something about. Gulliver is talking about how an alarmist!!! report says that 75% of Americans 18-24 are unfit for military service. This is arguably true or false, I don’t know, and that’s not my point. But this line caught my eye.

Really I just wanted to say that I think it’s pretty freakin’ weird to be talking about early childhood education, parenting guidance, mental and nutrition services, and so on as matters of national security.

He kind of hits on one of the main points I want to make on this blog. Education, parenting, and mental/nutrition services ARE issues of national security. When the state isn’t able to provide access to these things, then it becomes a failed state.

I’m not suggesting that the US is a failed state, but I am wondering why things that are problems here are not seen, necessarily, as problems THERE. It isn’t like the leadership of the Taliban, IMU, etc. are against education, parenting, and mental/nutrition services. They just have a different way of providing different services than the United States would particularly like. This brand of terrorism is revolutionary, not reactionary. They are seeking to create their own society in the gaps that have been left by the state. Society is not purely politics and military in the United States, and it isn’t in Afghanistan or anywhere else under the blue sky. And I know about PRTs and HTTs, but even these are part and parcel of the United States’ war effort.

I just listened to a lecture by Nazif Shahrani that I stole from Ghosts of Alexander on the standard “How America screwed up the fight in Afghanistan” bit. Except it’s not a standard bit. One of the things that he said that stuck out to me the most was that 9/11 was viewed as a military problem, not a justice problem, not an economic problem, not a cultural problem. Just a military one. Terrorism is not an issue that can be addressed solely through military means. The Bonn Agreement and current drama surrounding the government of Aghanistan paints a pretty stark picture. Military and political agreements are not going to be enough to solve the sort of problems that terrorism causes in any practicable way. I think the one thing that can be taken away from the War on Terror is that it is so much more (and so much less) than a War that “war” really isn’t the most honest term.

Afghanistan is a failed state. Pakistan is getting there. Similar things could be said about Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, to varying degrees. None of these countries are able to supply the education and social services that their people need. This isn’t a problem that can be solved by USMil or USAID, it needs a wholly different way of looking at the problem.

Shahrani hammers home that focusing on the locality is key when building up a state. He would, being an anthropologist and all, but I wholly agree with him, and am working on a post about this later. But the reason I link to BLDGBlog and DesignObserver is because I am genuinely curious to what results would come out of asking architecture and design students, “What would you do in order to build stability in Afghanistan?” I’m sure some wholly unique and entirely useful ideas could come out of that, ideas that political and military types wouldn’t necessarily think of.

It’s why Greg Mortenson represents an entirely different way of looking at the same issues that ISAF do. And of course, he’s a bit pie-in-the-sky at times and the NGO industry is a whole other ball of wax to be dealt with (starting with their security constrictions, as I’m sure people in the field can talk about more than I), but it’s at least different. And plus, he reads Registan. And in just the academic arena, there are plenty of people who have lots to say, of course. I’d just also be interested to see lots of ideas on how to solve the issues of terrorism that come out of places that are not think-tanks.

If people are looking for unique, different, ideas on how to solve the problems ailing Central Asia, and Afghanistan in particular, they ought to look outside of what the military or political structures can offer. Good ideas have come out of those sectors, of course. But that doesn’t mean that good ideas can’t come out of anywhere else.


Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 33 posts on Registan.net.

Asher is currently in law school at Washington University in Saint Louis. He is studying natural resource law in Central Asia and its intersection with different theories of jurisprudence. Besides Registan.net, Asher has written for The Los Angeles Times, Run of Play, İstanbul Altı, and Istanbul Eats. He has worked with the Natural Resource Law Center and the International Crisis Group, where he studied legal and political traction over a variety of issues.

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use

{ 3 comments }

Dafydd November 9, 2009 at 4:55 am

Well, if I wanted to build stability in these places I would let regional governments tax pipelines that cross their territory.

Like less than one percent of the value of the gas/oil/whatever that flows down it.

Pity he Afghans don’t have a pipeline (yet).

AS November 9, 2009 at 10:29 am

Afghanistan is a failed state. Pakistan is getting there. Similar things could be said about Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, to varying degrees. None of these countries are able to supply the education and social services that their people need. This isn’t a problem that can be solved by USMil or USAID, it needs a wholly different way of looking at the problem.”

I agree its useful not to just look at the global socio-economic problems that confront us strictly as matters of security, but there is a limit to that kind of thinking. For example, if we see terrorism strictly as a sympton of a number of self-perceived global injustices (therefore fighting terrorism/terrorists is a futile matter until these global injustices can be perceived as ‘rightened’) then this means we are entering a stage in the war on terrorism that requires nation building on a global scale and requires all the tangibles and intangibles that we don’t have (money, resources, global goodwill etc).

Even if you are talking about not necessarily providing these services (ie health services, education) directly to populations in question, but rather empowering countries and governments with tools to do it on their own (which is arguably what we already do, maybe just on a lesser scale than you desire) it becomes a matter of politics and some places like Turkmenistan probably wouldn’t be keen on building an American University in Ashgabat.

What I’m saying is its great to think about things in this way, but in the real world it has limited utility and we should already raise the fundamental questions Can we? and Should we? before taking any proactive measures in the world.

Prithvi November 9, 2009 at 10:15 pm

If you consider things like moral or health waivers, or discount trivial issues like childhood or mild color blindness, then possibly the percentage of unfit 18-24 year olds would probably fall past 50%.

I had a MEPs exam at Ft. Meade in the spring and found I had a form of red green color blindness, which would nominally discount me from military service, but I received a waiver. Even kids being overweight by twenty or thirty pounds isn’t a huge issue, since that can be reduced prior and during basic training.

The real issue is criminal records, but thanks to the recession, all the services have met their quotas thanks to absorbing high school and even college grads (like me) who would normally be in the civilian work force. Unfortunately since I’m going into the USMC rather than the army or nat’l guard, I don’t get a fat signing bonus.

Anyways, it seems like a country as populous as the United States will always have an adequate pool of manpower to choose from.

Previous post:

Next post: