Small Wars Journal

America's Broken Interagency

America's Broken Interagency - Hon. Thomas A. Schweich, Foreign Policy Research Institute

The Hon. Thomas A. Schweich is Visiting Professor of Law and Ambassador in Residence, Washington University in St. Louis. He was U.S. Ambassador for Counternarcotics and Justice Reform in Afghanistan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, and Chief of Staff of the U.S. mission to the UN. This essay is based on his presentation at the February 12, 2009 Defense Showstoppers: National Security Challenges for the Obama Administration conference, sponsored by FPRI and the Reserve Officers Association, held in Washington, D.C.

The last job I had with the Bush administration was coordinator for police training, judicial reform, and counternarcotics in Afghanistan. When I got the job, the National Security Council said, "It's got three parts. First, you have to go to Afghanistan and try to coordinate among their agencies for police reform, judicial reform, and counternarcotics. Then you fly to Europe to coordinate with the EU on the same issue. Finally, you come back to Washington and coordinate U.S. interagency." The last of these jobs was the most difficult one.

Afghanistan's interagency process could best be described as "uncoordinated lack of action." For example, in the areas of police training or counternarcotics, the ministry of the interior and the ministry of counternarcotics were supposed to coordinate their activities. The ministry of the interior would train police, the counternarcotics office was then supposed to execute the policies. Well, the ministry of the interior was run by former Mujahideen Tajiks while the ministry of counternarcotics was run by Hazaras who used to work for the Soviets. They didn't like each other very much, they didn't coordinate, and they didn't talk to each other. Then, the two of them were supposed to get together and go down to Helmand and Kandahar and tell the Pashtuns how to get rid of drugs...

More at Foreign Policy Research Institute.


Christopher Paul (not verified)

Thu, 03/12/2009 - 5:44pm

This is not a new lament. Since at least 2003 "the interagency is hard" or "the interagency is broken" has been a frequent refrain in the discussion. Is anyone aware of any real progress (or research) on this issue? Success stories, rather than more reports of friction or inefficiency? Ill share one: For their narrow area of endeavor, JIATF-South seems to have nailed shut the international and interagency coordination problem.

For those of you who dont know, JIATF-S is in charge of coordinating and running air and maritime narcotics interdiction in (from) Central and South America. Id love to do a lessons learned study from their successes (and the history of failures that predated their current model). They claim to have recorded lessons learned and that these are available on SIPR. I dont currently "need to know" so have not seen these records, but fear they will be unnecessarily technical relative to the kinds of observations that could be really useful in moving toward a general solution to interagency coordination woes.

Again, Ill repeat my invitation: anyone else with good examples, preferably reasonably well documented or studied ones?