Debates about U.S. foreign policy tend to take place within narrow silos, defined by the very different backgrounds of those of us following different issues. It begins in graduate schools of international relations, where returned Peace Corps volunteers study microfinance and value chains in one classroom while military reservists and would-be CIA analysts read Clausewitz and practice net assessments in another, rarely taking the time to learn each other’s acronyms or appreciate very different perspectives on shared challenges. Here at the Enough Project we’re equally guilty … we share office space with some pretty nifty organizations working on national security policy and global development issues, but we rarely discuss anything more substantive than our shared frustrations with the printer or the terrifying contents of the fridge.
Breaking out of the stove-piped policy discussions on issues of national, human, and collective security is a focus of the Center for American Progress, where we’ve coined the concept of sustainable security as a more holistic approach. But I’m concerned that the increasingly fragmented world of foreign policy blogging is driving dialogue in the other direction: in the past few weeks there have been heated debates within the national security community on the question of civilian casualties as a metric of success in Afghanistan (Andrew Exum is all about it, Michael Cohen disagrees), in development circles on the role of foreign aid in poverty alleviation (see mud wrestling between William Easterly and Jeff Sachs), and among the human rights community on the ability of activists to press the United States to help resolve Sudan’s multiple crises (See John Prendergast’s debate with Mahmood Mamdani). As specialists on national security, global development, and human rights carve out their own niches on the internet, I worry that we’re all spending too much time obsessing over our specializations, while taking too little time to ponder wider questions about America’s role in the world: how can human rights activists learn from counterinsurgency doctrine to help make U.N. peacekeeping more effective? What can the military learn about aid accountability and impact evaluations that might help get our troops out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later? And how might the development community learn a thing or two from human rights activists about building a citizen constituency to advocate not just for more aid, but for smarter aid policies? There is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to learn a thing or two from our colleagues in interrelated disciplines, but to do so we’ve got to make sure we are reading a wider set of blogs.