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The View from Here: Reporting from London, England

Mike Gangwer Published on 23 December 2010
Dairy producers in England

As I have reported, I am now assigned to the State Department as an active member of the Civilian Response Corps.

There are about 200 of us from 11 federal agencies, including the Department of State, Department of Defense and U.S. Agency of International Development, staffing the majority of our active component. There are eight of us from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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I am detailed to London this week, having been assigned to work with the British government on a reconstruction and stabilization (R&S) exercise. This is my first visit to London and Great Britain. Here in this article I describe our work.

We have all completed a series of training courses, including a three-week planners’ course delivered at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. During the course, about 25 of us worked through campaign design, operational planning, plan implementation and then assigning metrics that help determine outcomes based on the effects or end state we seek.

The course is based on a fictional case study in a part of the world where we have experience in the R&S environment. Generally, the case study is complex and includes cross-sectoral components, such as economic development, human rights, governance, security and rule of law.

These components are not mutually exclusive but intertwined into a comprehensive set of conditions that must be evaluated together. We develop scenarios based on parameterization using drivers of conflict, risk assessment, possible actions by the host government or our own developmental inputs, and then we rank the scenarios based on possible outcomes.

This effort is what we call a stochastic problem. All have unbound inputs and thus all outcomes are based on a scale of probability. The end product is a glimpse into the future as we attempt to determine where there are causes that may result in civil unrest brought about by a potential driver of conflict.

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The U.S. government is not the only government in the world conducting these kinds of thought. Here in London, at a university campus, 16 of us are meeting to conduct the same exercise, albeit from a British perspective.

The structure of the R&S developmental service here is remarkably the same as ours in Washington D.C. In fact, this similarity is based on the concept of international cooperation, or jointness.

In various locations around the world, with increasing frequency, the U.S. government is working alongside other coalition forces, both militarily and certainly amongst civilian diplomats and general development officers.

We must work together or we overlap resources, fail to plug gaps or present mixed options for the host government. During my tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I regularly met with other developmental officers in the international realm. We compared notes and, more importantly, agreed on a unified strategy, especially for agricultural assistance.

Our group here in London includes two of us from the U.S., two more from the United Nations in New York and another from Rome, and two Canadians from Ottawa. The group is dynamic and has, collectively, nearly a hundred years of foreign developmental service under our belts.

The British military is represented. My partner is a field grade officer, a major in Her Majesty’s Army. He is 10 years younger than me and has been the equivalent of a Civil Affairs Officer his entire career.

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Our course is based on a case study taken from Africa. The British have extensive experience in Africa. We are providing a fictional briefing paper to the High Chancellor that includes not only economic development, including agricultural crop land renovation, but scenarios that will help relocate refugees back to the homeland, increase the professionalism of the national police and upgrade the justice system.

While this may seem a daunting task, it does help our policy makers evaluate where resources should be spent and the likelihood of mitigating the drivers of conflict. The implied goal we seek is economic development, government stability and a justice system based on basic human rights.

We often note that it is women suffering the most; we seek to address this suffering, although the entire R&S environment is framed within the cultural attributes of the host country. Yes, this is extremely difficult work. If it were easy it, would have already been done.

Tomorrow is our final day. We present our fictional report, have a group photo, exchange business cards and e-mails and say goodbye. One of the most important benefits of working with our international colleagues is, of course, the somewhat standardization or leveling of the R&S planning effort, but just as important is the networking of us across the globe.

We may be working together in some far-away land, and even if not, we can reach out to our fellow developmental officers and obtain assistance.

I was walking in the streets of London last night, and here in the middle of the Theatre District, very near Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street and Hyde Park, I noted to myself that in the not-too-distant past I was a dairy farmer in Parkdale, Oregon, a college professor at Oregon State University’s Extension Service, a conservationist with NRCS in East Lansing, Michigan, and a USDA Agricultural Adviser in several far-away lands. In this context, I could never have imagined myself doing this kind of work at this stage of my life.

Yet it is exactly where I need to be. I often claim that everything in my life prepared me for this very mission. And in the near future, I will redeploy to Pakistan, helping that country manage the rehabilitation of flooded farmland in a country of nearly 200 million people.

I am a public servant and seek to represent our best interests as a diplomat and development officer. Yet at the same time, and to be quite honest, I seek to see the beauty of the world, the manifestation of raising the bar of humanity slightly higher, alleviate human suffering and bring to an end the evil of civil unrest and strife.

For those who believe we cannot change the world because the challenges are too great or we are individually too small, I write that indeed we can and we must. For if this is altruism, then so be it. For this reason, we find the beauty of the world. PD

PHOTO : Our group here in London includes two of us from the U.S., two more from the United Nations in New York and another from Rome, and two Canadians from Ottawa.

The group is dynamic and has, collectively, nearly a hundred years of foreign developmental service under our belts. Photo courtesy Mike Gangwer.

  • Mike Gangwer

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