Economic Growth, Security, and Stability in Conflict and Disaster Areas
An Interview with:
Expeditionary Economics is an emerging area of economic inquiry focused on rebuilding economies in post-conflict nations, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
The thesis that undergirds Expeditionary Economics is that the most effective way to quickly establish a trajectory toward economic growth in areas in conflict is to focus on helping local citizens form companies that can experience rapid growth in revenue and employment. Given the U.S. military's burden of leaving countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan in a stable economic state, it is critical that a strategy is developed for achieving post-conflict growth. A central issue surrounding Expeditionary Economics is whether the military and civilian agencies can invent the requisite expertise itself to do this, rather than outsourcing the task to private-sector contractors or other parts of the U.S. government.
The Kauffman Foundation has consulted with military and civilian leaders from a variety of institutions and is writing an Expeditionary Economics Field Manual. The Foundation's principal researchers working on Expeditionary Economics, Carl Schramm, Robert Litan, and Dane Stangler, answer questions about how the concept has evolved and why it is a solution to post-conflict challenges.
What prompted you to think about economic growth in conflict and disaster zones?
Schramm: Expeditionary Economics really germinated out of some thinking that I had done following my interactions with members of the military and others in the national security community. In 2009, I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion with the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) about the impact the Great Recession would have on geopolitics—on how the world might look on the back end of the recession. The focal point of this question was, of course, China, but I was astonished at the narrow confines within which the discussion took place. I tried to push the discussion outward by asking a few simple questions that related to economic growth and its historical impact both on the incidences of conflict worldwide and in nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Afterward, members of the JCS asked if I might elaborate on my thoughts. I ended up writing a thirty-page paper on economic growth and the military's often-reluctant role in promoting it.
What was the process for formulating the Expeditionary Economics doctrine?
Litan: It all started to fall into place as Carl was working on that first long paper. As he engaged us in discussions and consulted with other people familiar with these issues, we realized that this question of economic growth in post-conflict regions was either a completely underdeveloped field of study or had been almost totally neglected. There is extensive literature on economic development outside the military context, but it is in a state of intellectual turmoil, while little attention, at best, has been paid by researchers to the specific policies that are necessary for encouraging sustained growth after conflicts.
... we realized that this question of economic growth in post-conflict regions was either a completely underdeveloped field of study or had been almost totally neglected.
Schramm: Right. Expeditionary Economics began to take on a life of its own as an emerging area of inquiry partly, as Bob notes, because it is filling a void. My paper was circulated in national security circles, and this led to some important developments. One was that I subsequently published an essay in Foreign Affairs that defined Expeditionary Economics; the second was that we started to get more inquiries from people, particularly in the military, about how we might help them explore new ways of thinking about economic growth in conflict and disaster zones. The third was a conference that the Kauffman Foundation hosted that involved dozens of the most important military and civilian thinkers and practitioners in the field to help us build out Expeditionary Economics and chart its future course. This was a catalyzing event.
What role did the military play in developing Expeditionary Economics? Who else was closely involved?
Stangler: For better or worse, the U.S. military has been increasingly tasked with economic development and reconstruction in conflicts and post-conflict situations. The civilian side—through USAID and the State Department, mostly—is still involved, but budgetary constraints and security concerns prevent civilians from being as “expeditionary” as the military. This also reflects a de facto state of affairs in which post-conflict planning on the economic front has been relegated to the backseat, so the military finds itself, by default, responsible for an economy in an area in which it has just concluded combat operations or is still engaged in combat. So there is a palpable sense in the military that it needs to think better and harder about economic growth.
Schramm: The Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which is just thirty minutes from the Foundation, expressed strong interest and support in developing Expeditionary Economics with us early on, and, as a result, Bob, Dane, and I taught an elective course at Fort Leavenworth in the spring of 2010. The CGSC Foundation also has been enormously helpful, and we've met with leaders from the Army's 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in New York, and have had ongoing contact with the Pentagon.
What are the challenges with how the military currently handles economic development?
Litan: Well, the primary problem, as already mentioned, is that responsibility for economic development during and immediately after conflict often defaults to the military because the civilian side doesn't have the capacity— money, boots on the ground, or, frankly, intellectual thought leadership. Still, asking the military to help promote growth takes our armed forces out of their “comfort zones” by tasking them do things they are not well trained to do. Contrast this with something like emergency response, either domestic or abroad. In those cases, we rely heavily on the logistical capabilities of the military, where they have expertise and experience.
Schramm: But, when the military does engage in economic development following conflict, it finds little theory or practice at hand on which it can draw. The record of international development over the past fifty years, as practiced by the United States and other developed countries, whether in post-conflict areas or not, has not been overwhelmingly successful.
Why, though, should the military take the lead in spurring economic growth in these scenarios rather than the State Department, USAID, or another agency?
... we should develop a new and stronger doctrine of economic development that will better inform, prepare, and guide the military's efforts.
Stangler: It's important here to emphasize what we are not saying—we are not advocating for the elimination of the State Department or USAID, or for their complete displacement by the military. We have approached this situation as it currently stands, which is that the military has frequently, and increasingly, been given the lead role in reconstructing (or constructing) post-conflict economies. In recognition of that, we should develop a new and stronger doctrine of economic development that will better inform, prepare, and guide the military's efforts. Ideally, Expeditionary Economics will bring in the State Department and USAID and make them stronger, but we think it really prompts a complete rethinking of the way the United States and other countries approach international development overall—both the military and civilian sides.
What would Expeditionary Economics, successfully applied, mean to the military mission and to the larger U.S. goals?
Litan: We're not under any illusions that the United States or any other country can come in and, whether with military or civilian resources or both, completely transform an entire country. We've seen in recent years how difficult that is. But there are clearly some steps the military can take to help set a post-conflict country or region on a new and growing economic trajectory, and, in doing so, really make their stability and security mission easier, more likely to succeed, and more enduring.
Schramm: Ultimately, this is all about international security. There is a dawning realization that economic growth is critical to the stability and national security of fragile regions, the world, and the United States. That may sound completely obvious, but it has not been the guiding principle of international development over the past five decades. In part, this reflects the fact that the present model of foreign aid grew up during the Cold War and, as such, was used as a weapon in that struggle. Since the Cold War ended, no intellectual model has replaced that. We want Expeditionary Economics to prove to the military that it can and must play a major role in economic development in these situations, that this function will have an important impact on their other operations there, and that a “messy capitalism” strategy that prioritizes job diversity, local entrepreneurship, and firm formation will be the most effective as the economic leg of the stability and security stool.