(Part 2 of UK-Japan-US Trilateral Proposal)
By Dr. Victoria Tuke
For over a decade, the stability of Afghanistan has represented a common foreign policy priority for the US, UK, and Japan. Immediately following the attacks of 9/11, all three worked together to ensure Pakistan’s leader, Musharraf, joined the US-led NATO ‘War on Terror.’ Today, the US and Japan are the top two financial contributors and the US and UK are the top two military contributors. US forces have suffered over 2,000 fatalities and the UK over 440, with many thousand more wounded. For Japan, whilst no ground troops have been deployed in armed missions, its economic contributions to a number of security areas including security sector reform remain essential. Between 2001 and 2012, $9 billion of aid was committed, and in July 2012, Tokyo hosted the latest multilateral forum on Afghanistan’s future.
Competition rather than cooperation, however, has prevailed in Afghanistan policy, as various donors have sought opportunities to contribute to post-Taliban development. Donors have failed to adequately deal with local complexities, resulting in delayed projects, mismanaged funds, and vulnerability to corruption. As troop numbers are scaled back, this paper argues for a post-2014 agenda which requires cooperation, not just at the multilateral level but within this structure between such heavily involved governments as those in Washington, London, and Tokyo.
- Dialogue through a trilateral forum should aim to improve understanding of each others’ policies and activities.
- With budget constraints affecting all three states and domestic pressure to defend aid contributions, efforts should be made to improve efficiency and avoid overlap of development projects. Through greater information-sharing, the US, UK, and Japan can take advantage of each country’s individual strengths, such as favorable opinion among Afghan elites, strong on-the-ground presence, and sound stabilization methods.
- With sustainability of projects a priority, and the shift from a war to normal economy a substantial challenge, the three governments can coordinate over how best to manage the transition of Afghanistan’s economy towards self-sufficiency. Such work would also secure the US, UK, and Japan a stake in Afghanistan’s future.
- Each country has unique relations with regional partners which should be capitalized upon to expedite the effectiveness of policies
Current levels of dialogue
Limited dialogue exists between the US, UK, and Japan. For example, only the US, UK, Japan, and Germany have Special Representatives responsible for coordinating government policy regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan.At this senior level, communication channels take place at the departmental level and can be seen in the regular conferences on Afghanistan hosted by these governments. The Tokyo Conference held in July 2012 was largely seen as a success. Yet the follow-up scheduled to be held in the UK in 2014, after Afghanistan continues the transition process with a presidential election, will be even more important.
Potential areas for deeper coordination
In advancing the case for closer US-UK-Japan trilateral dialogue on Afghanistan, it must be first recognized that Afghanistan resonates differently with the domestic audiences of all three states. Within the US and UK, the debate on Afghanistan is primarily about terrorism, whilst for Japan, the debate on Afghanistan revolves around development assistance.
The three differ in their styles of distributing aid, with Japan often taking a more business-focused approach through loans, rather than offering grants, more favored by the other two. Japan is also not in the habit of attaching moral conditions, such as human rights commitments and universal values to ODA, and in general has resisted pooling aid with others due to an aversion to this type of conditionality. The UK and US on the other hand, have no such reservations about making aid conditional on the application of values.
There remains significant room for improving the monitoring of development aid. Given the substantial commitments of USAID, DfID, and JICA, sharing information on successes and failures in the field would provide help all three through the learning process in a very fluid and dynamic field of operaitons. All three are facing domestic financial constraints, making the need even greater to ensure funds are allocated effectively and minimize overlap and duplication.
In the US and UK, public scrutiny of aid budgets is intense, spurred by government-wide spending reductions and reports of (US) mismanagement of aid to Afghanistan. Such mismanagement of funding has damaged public perceptions of each government’s work, presenting potential obstacles to future funding streams. In the summer of 2012, Washington was forced to defend claims that a $45 million compound for Afghan security forces was too expensive for Afghanistan to operate. The UK government was also under fire in September 2012, when British-built schools were forced to close since there were no staff available to run them. In Japan, by contrast, public interest is minimal and rarely discussed in public fora.
Japan differs from the UK and US in having a severely limited physical presence in Afghanistan. By avoiding boots on the ground, Japan has learned to operate large-scale funding operations with an extremely small national footprint. This has largely been achieved by ‘Afghanizing’ the monitoring stage of its aid process and by accepting losses to corruption. This small footprint presents both challenges and opportunities for USAID and DfID, who may have to resort to similarly small operations in-country. On the one hand, they have much to teach JICA on monitoring of development funds, while JICA has much to teach them on operating with vastly minimized staff numbers. In a country as large as Germany, achieving both of these functions should is essential to the combined efforts of Washington, London, and Tokyo.
Japan enjoys a very favorable image in Afghanistan which could benefit others. In part this stems from Japan’s lack of history in the region and absence of ground troops. Through the consistent commitment of funds to Afghanistan, Japan has accumulated moral capital and the perception of credibility as well as impartiality. This asset, when coupled with US and UK commitments and development expertise, can act as a force-multiplier creating mutual benefits.
Sustainability – the transition from aid to economic investment
Going forward from 2014 in Afghanistan, sustainability will be key. To date, substantial amounts of aid have been allocated and each of the three governments share a significant interest in ensuring the smooth continuation of project work and the development of self-funding efforts. With the withdrawal of troops by the end of 2014, the donor community will remain but efforts to make the transition from an aid-dependent to a self-sustaining economy. Efforts will need to accelerate in passing over civilian-control of development projects to Afghan organizations. Here, the US, UK, and Japan hold a shared, noncompetitive objective, which would benefit from coordination and information sharing of best-practices and lessons learned.
Until now, the unstable security situation has dissuaded the US, UK, and Japan, as well as other European countries from deepening private sector investment. However, looking ahead, despite understandable reluctance, greater efforts are needed to invest in Afghanistan’s economy and create a new model for economic development that places responsibility in Afghan hands.
Among other initiatives therefore, the US, UK, and Japan should begin coordination over how risks could be shared in the potential boom of such productive sectors as mining, agriculture, energy, and Afghanistan’s nascent private sector. These efforts would provide long-term results for the Afghan people by creating new sectors and industries and providing the Government of Afghanistan with much needed revenue. Financial contributions are set to dramatically decrease following the withdrawal of troops in 2014. Whilst $110 billion to $120 billion a year is estimated to have been allocated by the US alone since the 2010 ‘surge,’ this could be reduced to a still-substantial-sum of $2.7 billion.As the scaling back begins, assisting in the transition from a war to a normal economy and securing funding for the Government of Afghanistan (GOA) will ensure the stability of any future regime.
Such efforts would also ensure for the trilateral members a future stake in Afghanistan and secure another presence from that of military or aid provider. China, India, and Russia are already investing heavily. China, for example, has signed a partnership agreement and was the first to take an interest in Afghanistan’s mineral resources, investing $4.5 billion into the copper industry and $7 billion over 25 years into Afghanistan’s oil resources.Russia has also shown interest and Afghanistan was admitted as an observer member to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in June 2012.
Using Soft Power
Each government also has built relationships in the region which, if utilized effectively, could provide wider benefits. For example, all three have been deepening ties with New Delhi, which stands as a vital partner in future Afghanistan stability by ensuring Pakistan does not support the Taliban. Pakistan is crucial for Afghanistan’s future; therefore, how the three co-ordinate with Islamabad is also important. Relations between the US and Pakistan have been strained due to US drone attacks, but with good relations between Japan and Pakistan continuing as well as with other Afghan neighbors, Japan can encourage Pakistan further to support Afghanistan’s transition to stability and encourage consensus. Despite some setbacks, the US continues to hold influential sway over Pakistan, as does the UK, which has historical, demographic, and economic relations.
The US, Japan, and UK have already invested large amounts of money, men, and materiel into Afghanistan. The withdrawal of troops in 2014 will mean more pressure on the government of Afghanistan, and the gradual lessening of ISAF. It is incumbent on all three to ensure that this transition is a smooth one for Kabul and that the future of Afghanistan is a bright and secure one.
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