The Jones Doctrine: Economic Development For Afghanistan

The administration is signaling a new strategy for Afghanistan: “economic development and governance”.  On the front page of the Washington Post last week, President Obama’s national security adviser, James L. Jones, told Bob Woodward:

“The piece of the strategy that has to work in the next year is economic development. If that is not done right, there are not enough troops in the world to succeed.”

This is an appealing statement.  But does it make any sense?

Providing people with the means to earn a decent standard of living is a good thing in itself, and better future prospects can encourage them not to fight.  Economic stress often – but not always – encourages violence.

Still, there are three problems with the Jones Doctrine, as applied to modern Afghanistan.

  1. Economic development generally requires a high level of physical security.  You only make investments if you are reasonably confident that you will live to see the benefits of those investments.  If setting up a store or planting more acreage raises your profile in the community and makes you more of a target, why not keep your head down?  The Taliban knows this and acts accordingly.  Economic development is something that follows – hopefully – from more physical security, rather than providing an alternative.
  2. The U.S. can provide more resources to targeted communities, e.g., roads and other physical infrastructure, improved health, and more teachers.  But none of this necessarily adds up to sustained increases in incomes.  This may not be a problem, if we are willing to keep ploughing money in essentially without limit.  But what is the budget for this activity and how much support does it have on Capitol Hill?
  3. If you can achieve security and provide infrastructure, what exactly will the rural citizens of Afghanistan invest in?  If it’s opium poppy production, doesn’t that create a whole other set of issues?  If you try to prevent people from cultivating poppy, what exactly are their alternatives – and how much money can they make?  If you try to eradicate poppy production, doesn’t that undermine the physical security goal?  And if the poppy trade gains the upper hand, doesn’t that support illegality and mafia-type activity in both Afghanistan and its neighbors?  How does that impact the Jones’ Doctrine sensible emphasis on improving governance?

All of these questions surely have answers, but none of these answers seem easy or should be assumed to have political support.  If you really want to switch emphasis in Afghanistan, there needs to be a much more engaged and detailed conversation – led by the White House and very much involving Congress.

As it currently stands, the Jones Doctrine appears more as a slogan for an intra-military discussion about troop levels (68,000 vs. 100,000).  Or perhaps it is just an exhortation to keep civilian casualties down – a sensible goal, but not by itself offering a way out of the quagmire.

By Simon Johnson

27 thoughts on “The Jones Doctrine: Economic Development For Afghanistan

  1. I think it’s been shown that higher troop levels provide better safety for each individual soldier, and also a higher probability of achieving mission objectives. I think Colin Powell argued for this before, but Rumsfeld and Bush refused to listen. If sending 100,000 troops doesn’t cost us in military preparedness in other regions, I don’t see the problem. If you’ve ALREADY decided to do the job, then do it right.

    Engaging the Afghan citizens, shaking hands, give some shoes to the poor children, letting girls go to school, helping farmers grow crops (not opium) more efficiently. Investing in the human capital there and making some friends. I don’t see how it hurts America long term.

  2. Jones’ point seems to be that economic development is necessary, not that it is sufficient. I don’t see how one could argue with that–without a functioning economy, all hope of long-term peace and prosperity is lost. As for poppy production, we could always offer to buy the crop off them for more than the Taliban are willing to pay. That might make for some really expensive poppy seed bagels, but if the extra cost results in reducing harmful drug use and removing a funding source for the Taliban, maybe it’s worth it.

  3. I defer to what the recently-appointed director of the human rights center at Harvard has to say about such foolhardy propositions: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n13/stew01_.html.

    Money:

    Policymakers perceive Afghanistan through the categories of counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, state-building and economic development. These categories are so closely linked that you can put them in almost any sequence or combination. You need to defeat the Taliban to build a state and you need to build a state to defeat the Taliban. There cannot be security without development, or development without security. If you have the Taliban you have terrorists, if you don’t have development you have terrorists, and as Obama informed the New Yorker, ‘If you have ungoverned spaces, they become havens for terrorists.’

    [However] there are no self-evident connections between the key objectives of counter-terrorism, development, democracy/ state-building and counter-insurgency. Counter-insurgency is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for state-building. You could create a stable legitimate state without winning a counter-insurgency campaign (India, which is far more stable and legitimate than Afghanistan, is still fighting several long counter-insurgency campaigns from Assam to Kashmir). You could win a counter-insurgency campaign without creating a stable state (if such a state also required the rule of law and a legitimate domestic economy). Nor is there any necessary connection between state-formation and terrorism. Our confusions are well illustrated by the debates about whether Iraq was a rogue state harbouring terrorists (as Bush claimed) or an authoritarian state which excluded terrorists (as was in fact the case).

    The language is comfortingly opaque. We can expose Rawlinson’s blunt calculus of national interest by questioning the costs, the potential gains or the likelihood of success. But a bewildering range of different logical connections and identities can be concealed in a specialised language derived from development theory and overlaid with management consultancy. What is concealed is our underlying assumption that when we want to make other societies resemble our (often fantastical) ideas of our own society, we can. The language of modern policy does not help us to declare the limits to our power and capacity; to concede that we can do less than we pretend or that our enemies can do less than we pretend; to confess how little we know about a country like Afghanistan or how little we can predict about its future; or to acknowledge that we might be unwelcome or that our presence might be perceived as illegitimate or that it might make things worse. We claim to be engaged in a neutral, technocratic, universal project of ‘state-building’ but we don’t know exactly what that means.

  4. “Still, there are three problems with the Jones Doctrine, as applied to modern Afghanistan.”

    No, there’s one problem with the Jones Doctrine as applied to Afghanistan: That we’re in Afghanistan at all!

    The United States needs out of the Middle East and to end the craziness of the endless provocations and military adventurism. The fact that this maniac’s theories are being treated here as though they have even the slightest merit is a measure of the vacuity that this site so frequently evinces. I mean, really.

  5. Mr.Johnson, from bilions of dollars arriving in Afghanistan each year since overthrowing Taliban, only how much? 15%? goes on development programs, the rest on security. despite the soldiers of 30 countries doing their work there.
    It is obviously not working

  6. America can ill afford her warlike posture in the world. The combination of Bush tax cuts and his invasion of Iraq put our nation $1,600,000,000,000 deeper in the hole, all of it debt, none of which have we even begun to pay back. Where do we get the idea that we are in a position to take care of Afghan roads, schools, and security when our own cities, schools, and institutions are in such disarray? The continuation of our “war on terror” leads to our own further collapse and humiliation.

  7. I work in Afghanistan (I write this from Kabul), and I sometimes work on economic development issues, so I am going to throw in my two penn’th.

    With regard to security: the level of security in the North is quite good, and there are some parts of the East and West where investment is increasing rapidly. The barrier is not so much security (although businessmen are still at significant risk of kidnapping), but other issues in the business environment- high distribution costs created by poor quality roads, inconsistent/limited supply of water and electricity, difficulties in acquiring factors of production and many legal/institutional issues (unenforceable contracts, no bankrputcy law, extremely weak investor protections, difficulties acquiring permits and registering land transfers and the like). Despite these challenges, investment does go on. Many of these kinds of things can be improved, and there will be progressive, marginal benefits- investments that were just below the threshold will become profitable as these types of issues were progressively solved.

    Granted, investment in Kandahar and Helmand, and other insecure southern provinces, is only taking place under rather specialized conditions- here security is the primary constraint.

    2. I don’t know the budget, but let’s put it like this: Afghanistan is between Iran and Pakistan. Personally I suspect that the US will want to keep a presence here for, conservatively, at least the next 100 years.

    More seriously, I think that the US investments have been poorly structured to create incomes in communities. I agree with that recent Washington Post article that the USAID package of assistance seems to have been infused with a very strong dose of free-market ideology and so has concentrated too much on business environment issues and business parks, and not enough on the kinds of programmes that transform the lives of the rural poor (which needs to include agricultural extension & credit systems, as well as roads, community development, irrigation and natural resource management). This will cost a lot- although it would cost less if USAID didn’t hire the Beltway Bandits to implement their projects (I believe that ActionAid estimated that it costs Chemonics, one of the most successful for-profit implementation companies, $250,000 to build a $25,000 school.)

    3. There are some reasonably high-value alternatives to poppy- horticultural crops, herbs, nuts and a few other things. Even wheat was comparing quite well to the price of poppy last year. When you add labour, non-agricultural incomes and remittances, it’s not that fanciful that alternatives can be found.

    Poppy is a to some extent a red herring. There are some rich landowers with large amounts of land who grow it semi-industrially, with irrigation, fertilizers and tractors. These are purely a law enforcement issue. There are poor farmers who know it is wrong and illegal, and are just waiting for some alternative which won’t entail that their kids starve. If there are decent (not necessarily more profitable) alternatives they will tend to switch- the problem is that historically there has been eradication followed by a promise of development (assistance with alternative incomes, etc), followed by nothing. When the counter-narcotics police or the provincial Governors’ forces go to eradicate, they will often encounter resistance (30-40 police were killed protecting poppy eradication forces in Helmand last year, if I recall correctly) but we don’t know who is doing the shooting- is it poor farmers, rich landowners or just the anti-state groups, who are resisting an incursion into their territory.

    But, looking at the bigger picture: Yes, economic development is essential. It is said that unemployment may be as high as 50%, and government revenues covers only 60-70% of its operating budget, even before you count most of the higher-paid Afghan experts working in the government, and large sections of the police.

  8. “Engaging the Afghan citizens, shaking hands, give some shoes to the poor children, letting girls go to school, helping farmers grow crops (not opium) more efficiently. Investing in the human capital there and making some friends. I don’t see how it hurts America long term.”

    Sounds nice. But if you have 100,000 teenagers with heavy weaponry roaming around a country they are occupying, it is just a matter of time, no matter how you try to create systems of control and discipline, until one of these soldiers rapes a local woman, or kills a child (perhaps by accident) or, … You cannot have an occupation without these tragedies. If the occupation is perceived as legitimate before these things happen, one perhaps weathers those storms. When it is not, as I believe is the case in Afghanistan, such events just fuel the rage and humiliation of the occupied populace and the situation inevitably spirals down.

    I think this good intention is one of the paving stones on the road to hell.

  9. But what if it is not possible to provide security first? Consider experts who crunch the historical data (as opposed to just opine based upon nothing).

    Jason Lyall of Princeton looks at the success of modern armies against insurgencies in Rage Against the Machines:
    Explaining Outcomes in
    Counterinsurgency Wars
    , and finds that the degree of mechanization is negatively-correlated with success. The U.S. military is probably the most mechanized in the world. Is it any surprise then that we are losing in Iraq and Afghanistan? Machines are useful for taking territory; not occupying it.

    RAND has a paper, Burden of Victory
    The Painful Arithmetic of Stability Operations
    , that looks at what it takes to successfully occupy a country, and finds “successful nation-building usually requires 20 troops per thousand population”, i.e. a 50:1 ratio. The population of Afghanistan is 32.7 million, so by RAND’s metric, 655,000 troops are required. Let me suggest that NATO is unlikely to field such a force, and therefore if the RAND analysis is correct, we will be unsuccessful in Afghanistan. (This also explains why Israel could not successfully occupy southern Lebanon; it would have taken 40,000-80,000 troops rather than 10,000.)

    To quote the only good line in a bad movie: “The only winning move is not to play.”

  10. Something appealing,
    Something appalling,
    Something for everyone —
    A comedy tonight!

    — A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

    ““The piece of the strategy that has to work in the next year is economic development. If that is not done right, there are not enough troops in the world to succeed.”

    “This is an appealing statement.”

    I am sorry to say that my first reaction was that it was appalling. Not that the economic well being of the Afghani people is not important, but is the economic development of Afghanistan a sine qua non? Sorry to be negative, but it sounds like a setup for failure, or perhaps a setup to provide a pretext to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely.

    Also, I would have been happier if the term had been “economic stability”. “Economic development” sounds like a Western term, which may not be appropriate for Afghanistan. Is this another example of our trying to remake the world in our image? The picture that comes to mind is a superhighway through the Khyber Pass.

    Afghanistan is a war-ravaged country, and a strategic ally. As such it deserves our economic assistance. But is the Jones Doctrine economic imperialism, where we tell other people what they need?

  11. Talkingcat: “many legal/institutional issues (unenforceable contracts, no bankrputcy law, extremely weak investor protections, difficulties acquiring permits and registering land transfers and the like). Despite these challenges, investment does go on. Many of these kinds of things can be improved, and there will be progressive, marginal benefits- investments that were just below the threshold will become profitable as these types of issues were progressively solved.”

    Oh, why can’t they be more like us?!

  12. Here’s a view that I agree with:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2201622/

    “Surely a smarter strategy would be, in the long term, to invest a great deal in reforestation and especially in the replanting of vines. While in the short term, hard-pressed Afghan farmers should be allowed to sell their opium to the government rather than only to the many criminal elements that continue to infest it or to the Taliban. We don’t have to smoke the stuff once we have purchased it: It can be burned or thrown away or perhaps more profitably used to manufacture the painkillers of which the United States currently suffers a shortage.( NB DON ) (As it is, we allow Turkey to cultivate opium poppy fields for precisely this purpose.) Why not give Afghanistan the contract instead? At one stroke, we help fill its coffers and empty the main war chest of our foes while altering the “hearts-and-minds” balance that has been tipping away from us. I happen to know that this option has been discussed at quite high levels in Afghanistan itself, and I leave you to guess at the sort of political constraints that prevent it from being discussed intelligently in public in the United States. But if we ever have to have the melancholy inquest on how we “lost” a country we had once liberated, this will be one of the places where the conversation will have to start.”

    Of course, I’ve had 11 Kidney Stones, so I know the value of painkillers. Notwithstanding the example of famous people like Michael Jackson, the drug and pain policy in the US is very poor. We could use the drugs, as could other countries. If you don’t believe me, try a kidney stone on for size.

  13. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/02/28/MNA415A7UB.DTL

    In an effort to eradicate opium production, the Afghan government, international aid groups and private businesses are distributing saffron crocus bulbs to farmers in this region along the Iran border. The farmers say their new crop is better suited to their religious beliefs (Islam prohibits the use and sale of illicit drugs) and, ultimately, is more profitable.

    Worldwide demand for Afghan saffron is rising, and the price has doubled in the past year to an average of $1,360 per pound – or roughly 38 times what poppy farmers in the southern part of the country earn.

  14. Sadly, this is just further evidence of how slapdash is the Obama administration’s thinking about our multiple involvements in the Greater Middle East. It should not be a surprise – for three reasons. The so-called ‘Dream Team’ of senior foreign policy advisors does not include a single person who has ever questioned the conceptual premises of our 9/11 interventions; and none of them have an experience whatsoever in the region – that is one. Obama himself is a conventional thinker on every matter of consequence, as witness his deference to the financial community – that is two. There was no debate worth mentioning about our escalted effort in Afghanistan, whether in political circles, foreign policy circles, or the media – that is three.

    On no occasion has the president seen fit to spell out candidly the justification, the premises, and the risks attached to Afghan gambit. A decent respect for his fellow Americans, and to posterity, should command that he do so. Fear of the elusive enemy that we have named ‘international terrorism’ since 9/11 is still the driving force. Obama has pronounced its destruction the top priority of his administration, albeit toning down some of his predecessor’s overheated rhetoric. He has not qualified the inflated importance it has been given. Our massive commitment in this cause is accepted by Americans for only one reason: the lingering dread that it could happen again. The connections between any plausible, concrete threat and our sweeping actions remain as obscure as ever. The possibility that our actions may actually increase the danger is ignored. Blind trust and faith join with fear as substitutes for the prudent deliberations of a mature democracy.

    The underlying illusions are that a world built according to our design and managed by us is both attainable and in everyone’s interest; that the future of NATO will be decided amidst the poppy fields of Helmand Province, and perhaps the fate of the West itself in the high valleys of the Hindu Kush.
    All this faith and audacity against the backdrop of the Iraq debacle.

    Games of make-believe are for kids – not great powers.

    This is a plea for honesty. If indeed there is a convincing case to be made that it is a vital national interest to pursue the ‘war on terror’ around the globe, and to infringe on our freedoms at home, let that case be made clearly and dispassionately. Let there be a genuine public debate. Let us make the elementary distinction between aspiring to everything we want to be and everything we can be. We owe ourselves nothing less. If the conclusion favors going forward, let us do so with eyes wide open. Instead, we are embarking on another magic mystery tour – with goals as elusive as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    Cheers,
    Michael BRENNER

  15. A few points:

    1) As Hitchens says, this would be a transition program. So it is not incompatible with growing Saffron.
    2) Turkey is also an Islamic country.
    3) No one here is suggesting illicit drugs. We’re suggesting that we use the opium, as we already do, to manufacture painkillers. As a sufferer of kidney stones, I can assure you that I do not use opiates to get high, but to treat incredible pain. How are kidney stones treated in Islamic countries?

    Bottom line, the treatment of serious pain could be much better in this country, as well as a number of others.

  16. I don’t entirely understand this remark, but if you are suggesting that having an institutional framework that would allow economic growth would undermine the uniqueness of Afghan culture, well, that’s a very strange view.

    And if you are suggesting that these features are undesirable because they characterize something that is highly undesirable about western societies, and that Afghanistan is getting along perfectly well without them, well, that’s just confused.

    In the long run, people will only be better off if their economy grows, and grows very significantly. That will only happen if these institutions are in place. People who are not in favour of hunger, disease, high infant mortality rates and lives without options favour economic growth.

  17. Simon

    I have read that the world has a large annual SHORTAGE of pain control medicines based on poppy derivatives.

    See http://www.poppyformedicine.net/
    and reports by Senlis Council http://www.icosgroup.net/
    and others

    Wouldn’t it make sense to support the legal regulated purchase and manufacture of Afgan grown poppy based pain killers as a step towards both economic revival for that war wracked country and a large step towards global control of illegal heroine supplies.

  18. Talkingcat: “I don’t entirely understand this remark, but if you are suggesting that having an institutional framework that would allow economic growth would undermine the uniqueness of Afghan culture, well, that’s a very strange view.”

    I am noting that you consider Afghani institutions and law as barriers to economic development. I do not sense — although it may be there — a desire to work within an Afghani cultural framework. Rather I sense the idea that they should have economic development the American way. As an American, it seems to me that bankruptcy laws would be a good thing. But I know from history that they are not necessary for economic development. Cultural change is a delicate matter. Fiddling with institutions is iffy; there are almost always unintended consequences. Changing material culture, while that also may have unintended consequences, is less intrusive. For instance, you mention poor roads as a problem. If our response was to send in the CBs or the Corps of Engineers, that would be relatively simple and efficient, and it would work within the Afghani framework. However, if our response is to change Afghani law and institutions to attract foreign investors to come in and build toll roads (which they might decide to do), that foreign investment, whatever the benefits of the roads, would be a drain on the Afghani economy for years to come. Or foreign investors might not decide to build the roads in the first place, because it would not make good business sense for them, even though good roads would help the economy. Now, we may debate the merits of foreign investment in Afghanistan. However, there is plenty that the U. S. can do to foster economic development there without requiring them to change their institutions to be more like ours.

    “And if you are suggesting that these features are undesirable because they characterize something that is highly undesirable about western societies, and that Afghanistan is getting along perfectly well without them, well, that’s just confused.”

    That is not what I am suggesting. If the Afghan people wish to adopt certain aspects of American society or legal system, that is up to them. It is not up to us.

    “In the long run, people will only be better off if their economy grows, and grows very significantly.”

    I am not arguing against economic development. I am questioning a Western ethnocentric view of economic development.

  19. Deposing Saddam Hussein and creating some kind of stable and non-expansionist government in Iraq was important to the US. Our only interest in Afghanistan is to disrupt alQaeda. We do not have to engage in “nation building” to serve our strategic interests in Afghanistan. What we need is secure bases from which to strike alQaeda whenever and wherever necessary along with the requisite intelligence. Even the Soviet Union with its unparalleled history of crushing minority nationalities employing mass relocations and even genocide was unable to subdue the Afghans. Kidd gloves and cash for “development” won’t work for democracy in a world that has not yet reached the Middle Ages.

    Why MUST we secure Afghanistan but not Somalia?

  20. I believe that conventional wisdom for the ‘what the Afghans will invest in’ is fruit and nut trees and oil and gas pipelines. Opium would not be a favored crop by farmers, opium has more expensive labor and the marketing mechanism requires illegal and violent middlemen. Providing physical security for economic development also requires a monopoly of force by the state in legal transactions, i.e. one party doesn’t use force to extract unfair terms or bribes that make up any return on investment.

  21. The “Jones Doctrine” is not new. Canadian troops have been on the ground in Afghanistan since the early days of the war (and in the field, not just at Bagram or Kabul.) Their anti-insurgency doctrine has always included emphasis on economic development, so hearing it now from the US government gives us canucks a sense of déjà vu. It seems fair to note that this has not noticeably turned the Canadian effort in Afghanistan into a success.

  22. Yes, but note what Brenner wrote about conventional thinking in the current administration.

  23. This misses the key point that the economic development of Afghanistan should not be our mission in the first place.

    Our goal is to place beyond use the command and control elements of Al Qaeda. This punishes the people who attacked us, prevents them from attacking us again, and deters others from attacking us.

    Afghanistan is just the random territory from which Al Qaeda chose to operate. It could as easily have been Somalia or the forested Andes or anywhere else that a friendly central government does not have power.

    We have absolutely no responsibility to the people of the country that hosts Al Qaeda; indeed, one could more easily argue that they are legitimate targets. Why should we provide more aid to a nation that did us harm than to a place such as Congo, that is poor and has done nothing to us? We should focus on going after our targets and then get out of the country, husbanding our resources to be prepared to counterattack anywhere in the world.

    http://tauntermedia.com/2009/07/06/depart-i-say/

  24. I’m sure my suggestion is both unoriginal and politically infeasible, but here goes:

    Why not start an agricultural support program in Afghanistan that buys opium poppies at a price significantly above what farmers now get? I understand there’s a huge markup between farmer and final sale, so we could probably afford this. We could structure the program so that the price declines annually, giving farmers time to shift into other crops. In doing so we would
    – remove a major funding source for the Taliban
    – decrease the supply of opiates on the market and thus reduce drug abuse
    – make friends in the Afghan countryside

    Doesn’t this make sense?

  25. This is an excellent idea, I myself mentioned this to a friend, make the locals economically and politically invested in success. Surely the price that the farmers would be paid would be a steal a long drawn out war, both in dollars and lives. Even if the US simply burned the poppies, the farmers would be indifferent as long as they had some income. Erradicating poppies in crazy; the idea the dirt poor Afghan farmer will forgo growing the one profitable crop so that American’s can feel better about the supply of heroine is insane, this only ensures the populace has every incentive both culturally and economically for the US to fail, the opposite approach should be a start, as a military solution looks less and less plausible.

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