Small Wars Journal

From Precedent, Possibility: New Models for “Whole of Society” Foreign Policy

Sat, 06/03/2017 - 4:30am

From Precedent, Possibility: New Models for “Whole of Society” Foreign Policy

Morgan G. Keay


Fragile and conflict-affected regions of the world threaten not only U.S. national security, but the stability and prosperity of markets and society. If we accept that governments, businesses, and citizens all stand to gain by addressing global crises, then a “whole-of-society” approach to U.S. foreign policy should be the norm. Yet in practice, full-spectrum, civil-military (civ-mil), public-private collaboration remains ad hoc and sub-optimized. This is especially true for U.S. engagements in the world’s trickiest places, namely fragile and conflict-affected regions. With the Trump Administration still forming its global strategies and re-shaping how resources and roles are arranged for U.S. foreign policy, comes an opportunity to re-imagine how stakeholders collaborate in countries facing crises. In light of proposed foreign assistance cuts, an expanding defense budget, and a more commercially-inclined Administration, civilian, military, public, and private actors may in fact have no choice but to leverage their comparative advantages like never before.

By zooming in on one global crisis and touching on examples from contexts around the world, this paper demonstrates some of the proven and potential options to optimize interagency and multi-sector collaboration in support of U.S. policy -- and for the benefit of all involved.

Lake Chad Basin: Ripe for Full-Spectrum Approaches

Extremist violence. Trafficking in weapons, goods, and people. The world’s second largest refugee crisis. Massive disruption of agriculture and trade markets. Famine and extreme poverty. These are the current conditions in West Africa’s Lake Chad Basin – home of Boko Haram. Dynamics in this multi-country region of the Sahel threaten U.S. security and political interests, hinder economic opportunity, and rob entire populations of a secure, prosperous future. Rife with violence but also economic possibility, the Lake Chad Basin offers boundless potential for expanded civ-mil/public-private collaboration that can advance U.S. national interests while yielding dividends for local and global stakeholders alike.

As a start, collaboration between regional and international civilians and security forces – premised on the necessity to counter Boko Haram – should be deliberately expanded beyond counter-terrorism (CT) objectives. Encouragingly, U.S. diplomats and local civil society groups have begun leveraging the regional CT-focused U.S. Special Operations exercise, Flintlock, to encourage “citizen-centric” security practices to host nation participants often known for their heavy-handed tactics. Through exercise scenarios demonstrating community policing tactics, human rights norms, and effective civil-military operations, Flintlock’s integration of civilians is a welcome step beyond CT and towards the security sector reforms critical for durable stability in the Lake Chad Basin. But for the tactics and tenets presented in a training context to be routinized, civ-mil collaboration must extend to the operational setting. Civilian advisors – local or international -- deployed alongside security forces, could help monitor units’ adherence to human rights practices, serve as much-needed community outreach representatives, and strengthen civ-mil relations where deep-seeded mistrust impedes long term stability. In addition to advancing security objectives, civilians embedded with military units could help jumpstart post-conflict recovery. For example, acting as “scouts” to identify investment or market revitalization opportunities in areas emerging from conflict, qualified civilians trained in development economics could be the “frontline” of public-private collaboration.

With functioning economies key to stable societies, injecting capital and promoting sustainable market opportunities in Lake Chad Basin communities recovering from conflict is vital for security. And because the scale of capital required to revitalize cross-border economies decimated by conflict dwarfs even the most generous foreign aid budgets, facilitating private sector investment should be viewed as policy imperative. Promisingly, with fast-growing populations, proximity to Africa’s largest economy (Nigeria), and vast untapped agribusiness potential alone, the Lake Chad Basin offers viable frontier market opportunities. Yet the risk profile and limited access to the region deters investors, denying the region of capital it needs for stability. This is where innovative public-private collaboration is needed. The U.S. is positioned to fund forward-deployed civilian “Economic Scouts”-- enabled by security forces -- to assess and present market opportunities to its trusted network of private sector partners. These include robust networks maintained by Embassy commercial sections, trade offices, and USAID.

To help overcome the substantial risks of investing in the region, U.S. agencies should extend “de-risking” benefits to “first movers” from these networks who are align – broadly speaking – to U.S. policy goals in the region. In exchange for adopting pro-stability business practices, for example, firms might benefit from prioritized U.S. or partnered military monitoring and patrols in areas where new ventures are sited. This could help mitigate security risks. To help mitigate commercial risks and incentivize investment, U.S. trade and development agencies could structure first-loss guarantees or other financial instruments. To attract investment in priority sectors – specifically agribusiness and infrastructure -- U.S. civilian and military agencies could even provide seed funding for new ventures or facilitate initial scoping visits with logistics provided by military units already deployed in the region. Commercial entities, in turn, would be encouraged to employ pro-stability practices, such as selecting jurisdictions for investment where local officials uphold transparent governance and accountable security standards.

Similar models of this ethical quid pro quo should be adapted for non-commercial public-private collaboration as well. The U.S. government, for example, did little to formally harness the surge of goodwill among civil society groups and citizens enabled by the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Better optimized public-private collaboration models might have sought to link concerned citizens with official policy or advocacy efforts, or to offer enabling support to groups willing to mobilize private resources in areas of priority need. As just one example, the vast shortfall in trauma counseling capacity throughout the region could be filled in part by private financial and human capital. The U.S. might have considered facilitating linkages between social service groups in the region and international volunteer counselors willing and able to mobilize their own time and resources to contribute to social recovery in the region. To address critical humanitarian needs, such as the famine-level food supply shortfalls along the Nigerian-Niger border, the U.S. military might have even been an appropriate enabler to coordinate food relief efforts among local and international, public and private actors.

Meeting critical needs in a complex crisis demands agility and risk tolerance public agencies often lack, but which private entities could be quick to provide with minimal enabling support from government. Such models create essential social value, and harness the comparative advantage of all involved.

From Precedent…Possibility

Precedent exists for the models of collaboration described above, but they remain the exception and not the norm in U.S. foreign policy, and have room for improvement.

Military-Enabled Civilian Expertise

Civ-mil integration was ubiquitous in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the large scale and un-practiced models of diplomats and troops working together strained institutional resources and cultures. Leaner civil-military collaboration premised less on resource-intensive “projects,” and more on targeted injections of civilian expertise – especially in operational settings -- either by U.S. officials or private citizens could be implemented with a fraction of the resources, and deliver more bang for the buck. An example of this is the partnership the U.S. Special Operations community forged with Notre Dame’s Business on the Frontlines (BOTFL)[i] program. In remote parts of Latin America, BOTFL’s self-funded MBA students deployed alongside military teams to nurture locally-owned enterprises luring youth away from drug cartels. This civil-military collaboration required few public resources, involved no formal contracts, and harnessed the intellectual capital of civilian experts -- in this case from academia.

Public-Sector Enabled Private Capital

The U.S. government has sought to enable private investment in conflict zones in the past with mized results, and should continue to learn and adapt. As part of U.S. stabilization and transition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense launched the Task Force for Business Stability Operations (TFBSO) to facilitate investor interest in nascent industries.[ii] Matching millions of dollars in private equity with indigenous companies, TFBSO brokered deals in the pharmaceutical, energy, and other sectors, leveraging the convening power of the U.S. government to unlock private financial capital. Constrained by official contracting and staffing regulations, however, TFBSO struggled to achieve scale, and faced resistance from civilian policymakers who recognized the merits of promoting commercial investments to advance stabilization goals, but questioned DoD’s suitability for the job. A fully civilian alternative, USAID’s Global Development Alliance (GDA)[iii] offers perhaps a more appropriate model to mobilize private capital and know-how, largely through “matched funding” models, but GDA is designed with traditional development settings in mind, and is not optimized for fragile or conflict-affected contexts. The fact that a DoD task force was stood up to fill this gap demonstrates that outreach to commercial entities is not business-as-usual foreign policy in the world’s toughest places, but it could be. By cultivating a hybrid model of TFBSO and GDA, and focusing explicitly on mitigating commercial and non-commercial risks to investors willing to enter high-threat markets, the U.S. can advance policy objectives, and enable economic value creation in places that desperately need it.

Concluding Principles

Optimizing civil-military, public-private models for U.S. foreign policy in fragile and conflict-affected locales demands a new set of guiding principles. Here are a few of them.

  • No agency or sector has the lock on any form of capital. Civilian and military, public and private entities should seek ways to combine and complement their respective social, human, political, intellectual, and financial capitals.
  • Embedding even a handful of civilians – whether officials or private citizens -- with the military can enable access and expertise where it is needed most, and is a hedge against the risk of an exclusively militarized U.S. presence abroad.  
  • Quid pro quo standards can facilitate mutual wins between private entities and the U.S. government, but demand ethical protocols to avoid favoritism, special treatment, or reputational risks, and require public officials in particular to gain more comfort “transacting” in the context of foreign policy.
  • Effective whole-of-society collaboration is enabled when the individuals involved have familiarity of agencies and sectors beyond their own. Civilian and military, public and private entities should embrace opportunities for interagency and cross-sector exposure as often as possible.

By embracing these principles, the U.S. can better advance its policy objectives in some of the trickiest places on earth while enabling social and economic value creation that benefits all involved. ##

End Notes

[i] See:

[ii] Zimmerman, R. et al. Task force for Business Stability Operations: Lessons from Afghanistan. RAND. 2016. file:///Users/morgankeay/Downloads/Task%20for%20For%20Business%20and%20Stability%20Operations%20Rand.pdf

[iii] See:


About the Author(s)

Ms. Morgan G. Keay is the Founder and CEO of Motive International, a Washington, DC-based social enterprise focused on multi-sector approaches to conflict mitigation, stability, and sustainability. A former U.S. official, Morgan has served in all “3D” U.S. foreign affairs agencies (Dept. of State, USAID, and Dept. of Defense), largely in conflict-affected regions of the world. She served as the Conflict and Stabilization advisor to US Africa Command (AFRICOM) HQ in Stuttgart, Germany, led an interagency joint task in Afghanistan responsible for coalition-wide transition strategy, and has designed and led operations involving US civilian and military partnerships with business influencers. Prior to her time in government, Morgan founded and for ten years ran an NGO in Mongolia, The Itgel Foundation, and served as a corporate social responsibility consultant for a Fortune 100 firm optimizing their investments for sustainable social value creation.


From the introductory paragraph of our article above:

"Fragile and conflict-affected regions of the world threaten not only U.S. national security, but the stability and prosperity of markets and society. If we accept that governments, businesses, and citizens all stand to gain by addressing global crises, then a “whole-of-society” approach to U.S. foreign policy should be the norm."

Thus, not a Whole of (Western) Government (WO[W]G) approach to U.S. foreign policy but, rather, a more correct and more useful Whole of [Western] Society (WO[W]S) approach to same?

In consideration of the above, could we say that this suggestion of a "whole of (western?) society" idea (or might we also call this a "whole of [western] culture" idea?) -- for formulating and executing U.S. foreign policy -- might we say that this such suggested approach:

a. Appears to embrace the post-Old Cold War "Clash of Civilizations" perspective/worldview of S.P. Huntington? And

b. Appears to reject our earlier (and exceptionally mistaken?) embrace of "The End of History" thinking of Francis Fukuyama?

Given that our US Army Special Operations Command also seems to be possibly making/has possibly made this exact same transition (from an "End of History" to a "Clash of Civilizations" worldview), should we consider including this potentially consistent -- and, thus, possibly very meaningful -- trend in our future discussions here on SWJ?


Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations examined the nature and course of conflicts among nations. His main thesis was that the wars of princes and ideologies were in the past and that new conflict would be between civilizations. Huntington named eight such civilizations including Western, Islamic, Confucian, and Japanese civilizations. With the book’s publication in 1993, readers could view the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm, and the ongoing conflict in Israel and easily envision Huntington’s description of the conflict between Western and Islamic civilizations. What was less obvious was the growing rift between the successor state to the Soviet Union—the rump state now called the Russian Federation—and the West. Moscow was emerging as the leader, champion, and oftentimes tyrant of the Slavic Orthodox civilization.


(See Pages 6 of "Part I. Context and Theory of Russian Unconventional Warfare" of the document linked below.)

Thus, as a foundational basis for viewing the world today, what are our thoughts on the fact that author Morgan Keay above -- and the U.S Army Special Operation Command also -- appear to be/might be on the same page, to wit: the "Clash of Civilizations" page?

(To wit: the post-Old Cold War worldview "page" which appears to be more consistent with [a] author Keay's suggested "Whole of [Western] Society" approach/basis for U.S. foreign policy and with [b] the U.S. Army Special Operations Command's possible understanding of today's conflict environment[s]?)