TCS Daily

Development in a Box

By Stephen F. DeAngelis - April 5, 2006 12:00 AM

A point of consensus seems to be emerging out of the Iraq debate - namely, that we need a new model for post-conflict reconstruction that brings together the military, the State Department and other government agencies.

In late February, Robert D. Kaplan, writing in The New York Times ("Send In The State Department"), called for the State Department to join the Pentagon in a proposed inter-agency task force designed to stabilize failing and post-conflict states. The next day, Max Boot, in a Los Angeles Times article ("Diplomacy For The Real World") made the case for reforming the State Department and other civilian development agencies so that they could be more effective at nation-building. Both authors cited the British Colonial Office as a model.

The argument is fine as far as it goes. But Kaplan and Boot don't go nearly far enough.

What they propose is an expansion and realignment of government bureaucracy. This is necessary, but is not a complete answer, because it ignores 21st century reality. The complete answer involves the military, civilian agencies -- and most importantly, the private sector.

The platforms for globalization -- operating within and between modern states - increasingly are private-sector institutions. The modern, globalized state could not function without critical infrastructure industries, such as financial services, telecommunications, energy, healthcare, and food supply -- all of which meet public needs, but are held in private hands. Essential talent and assets reside within those entities. And the private sector is the primary engine of innovation.

To participate in and reap the benefits of globalization, post-conflict and failing states need to build such platforms for themselves. It is the private sector - not a government bureaucracy - that knows how to create and manage them. Examples abound -- from financial markets, to global supply chains, to the Hurricane Katrina response of FedEx and Wal-Mart.

The superior performance of the private sector is the result of culture, of technology, and of the way the two intersect. Businesspeople are flexible and adaptable -- by nature and out of necessity. And network technologies have finally matured to the point at which they can fully support flexible, real-world organizational processes.

Network architectures and standards-based programming languages now make it possible to capture business best practices and encode them as automated rules that respond to complex, changing circumstances. Rules can be made contingent on a variety of conditions, which means that automated processes are equal to the challenges of real-world business -- or of a post-conflict region.

In this new convergence of people, processes and technology, there is the heart of an entirely new opportunity for post-conflict reconstruction. To realize the potential, it's necessary to create a flexible framework -- one that brings together private- and public-sector capabilities for the post-conflict task. Tom Barnett, author of The Pentagon's New Map and I have been at work on such a framework, which we call "Development in a Box." We see its development in four stages.

In the first stage, best practitioners -- from both government and the private sector -- set to work on the challenge of post-conflict reconstruction in a particular country or region. Best practices, standards and performance metrics are established -- determining, for example, that "this is the most effective rapid manner in which to set up a central bank." These best practices are then recorded in a catalogue for core infrastructural platforms.

In the second stage, the best practices catalogue is put into action -- local institutions are established according to its guidelines. As part of this process, the needed technology platforms are put in place -- we provide pre-configured information systems and associated technologies, such as container scanners for port security. In effect, we jump-start the systems and establish trust within the country, which is a node in a larger geo-political ecosystem of "trusted nations." These nations, in turn, make it possible to connect that node safely to the larger networks of transactions that we call the global economy.

The third stage is truly revolutionary. Here, best practices and information systems converge. The best practices, standard operating procedures and compliance rules for each institution are transformed into executable software code that governs the operation of each institution. Business logic, best practices and governance operate directly through the information systems. Additional automated rule sets are embedded that connect the institutions in a secure, compliant and efficient manner to global partners such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization. The node-state, once verified, joins the larger network under conditions of real trust and efficiency.

In stage four, the local population takes over. Locals are offered training to operate the core infrastructural platforms. Training involves the local community in the transfer of intellectual capital, and aligns the natural ambitions of local leaders with the local population on the one hand, and the global community on the other. It is in the self-interest of the local community to master best practices, best technologies, and global connectivity and integration. All of those, in turn, lead to local self-sufficiency and stability, shortening our term of providing aid.

The process is neither instant nor generic, and no, it will not magically surmount local resistance to social and economic connectivity with the world at large. That effort requires expert knowledge and "boots on the ground," and the modification of templates to account for specific cultural needs. The task of setting up a banking system will be similar the world over, but will have to be modified somewhat in Islamic countries to account for beliefs regarding interest charges. Nevertheless, a significant part of the reconstruction task will be common across boundaries. The framework harnesses a corporate best practice -- productization -- creating a post-conflict reconstruction system that can be replicated quickly, effectively and cost-efficiently in country after country, region after region.

"Development in a Box" is only one example of the fruit that public-private collaboration can bear in the post-conflict setting. Other innovations are sure to follow. No government agencies, acting on their own or in combination, are going to create anything remotely similar. Extreme innovation is a private-sector capability.

At the same time, it's necessary to recognize that the private sector, acting alone, will not be able to create a full suite of institutions and systems. That requires public-sector guidance and best practices. Nor is this an argument that private companies ought to be feeding at the development trough. The private sector has had its own series of failures and embarrassments; by itself, it is not the answer either.

Nor should it be. The case for "Development in a Box" is based on the recognition that the public-private distinction is increasingly obsolete in a global, interconnected world. Globalization and technology acceleration blur the boundaries between public and private. To integrate new states into the global economic and political mainstream, it is necessary for us to blur those boundaries still further. Our own modern, globalized, interconnected society is the result of ongoing public-private collaboration. Exporting that collaboration is the key to successful stabilization efforts. Command-and-control bureaucracy cannot deliver stability -- even if it supplements military capability with civilian agency expertise. The British Colonial Office was an effective tool for its time -- but in our time, a massive inter-agency structure won't dance. Flexible, spontaneous, boundary-free collaboration -- as exemplified by "Development in a Box" -- is the framework that we need today.

Stephen F. DeAngelis is founder, President and CEO of Enterra Solutions. He is a Visiting Scientist at the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.



Abject failure
At first we tried to interest investors in going into Iraq, so they could put down roots and establish the companies that would run the palce. This failed because we were unable to provide any security. To date there is zero private investment in Iraq.

Then we assumed contractors would do it-- giant outfits like General Electric and KBR. This resulted in absolutely fabulous expense to the American public, as no oversight has been exercised over those unlimited, open-ended, no-bid, cost-plus contracts to do whatever they felt like.

The other mistake was a conceptual one. We destroyed the existing economy since it was socialist and centrally planned. However it did provide employment. And having created massive structural unemplouyment, we also created a permanent insurgency. The status quo will remain in place until someone comes to power there who understands the economy WILL NOT WORK until the people are working again.

Guys who have to get up in the morning to go to work do not spend all day making car bombs.

So Iraq's infrastructure and economy remain at rates far below anything seen during Saddam's reign. Who is doing anything about it? Iran.

Google up their new Basra pipeline and plans for a joint refinery project. We could have done something like that-- apparently though, it didn't occur to us.

Rumsfeld's Iraq dream
Not that this article was a plan, but it at least is a hope that Iraq could rebuild, should it ever become "post conflict".

This post effectively says: "Once the shooting stops and the streets are safe, people will start businesses." Maybe Rumsfeld and our author didn't notice that Iraq still is in the first phase, waiting for the shooting to stop and the streets to be safe. And everyone is hoping that Iraq does not go directly to phase three: the oppressive fundamentalist socialism of neighboring Iran.

A lot of what is said here is important. But it assumes way too much and, in the end, makes a fatal error. There is no question that we do need a new model of nation building. In fact, we need any model for nation building that just claims to work since we really haven't gotten it right yet. And this is an interesting attempt.

But this means reforming AID and the World Bank and the IMF. You cannot have a "public-private partnership" if one partner is brain-dead. Business will quickly tire of carrying a corpse on its back. The first issue is structure; it cannot be a single agency that is creating the "war/peace plan" (they have to be finished and fully integrated before the first shot is fired).

Functionally, we all know what pieces are needed for a modern 21st Century state but most failed states have governments floating somewhere between medieval and 20th Century fascist. They need what we had in the 18th Century, not what we have now (thank you Milton Friedman for that obeservation).

But finally, the idea of bringing our "best practices" is mired in either 1970s Liberal paternalism (Hubert Humphrey's "Basic Human Needs" legislation) or neocon hubris. I can't tell which until I read their plan.

The State Department sent an Iraqi Swedish lawyer to manage the rule-of-law program in Iraq in 2003. In an airport interview he told the Wall Street Journal that he was bringing European (and I assume Swedish socialist) "best practices" to Iraq. I knew before he boarded the plane that he would fail, and fail he did.

state corporatism in drag
"I have been at work on such a framework, which we call "Development in a Box." We see its development in four stages."

DeAngelis' "four stages" read like a sick roadmap to that happy condition known as state corporatism, which was brought to the modern world by Mussolini, among others. I smell a rat and the rat is fasci_m pure, simple and by Mussolini's very own definition.

War is the health of the state; the health of the state means the health of its "private" sector buddies--all happily mixed together in the "box". In the meantime, liberty and free markets lie by the roadside gasping their last breaths.

The Plan
I think it's interesting that such a key subject like this has engendered so little comment. What we are about as a nation is spreading our way of life. As Iraq prospers under our tutelage, so the rest of the world is supposedly going to become convinced is the way to go.

The problem, quite aside from the ongoing violence, is that our model begins with wholesale privatisation.

Stage One was achieved immediately. All public sector factories were shut down and their employees laid off. Then in the fullness of time, foreign investors were supposed to come in and snap them up at bargain prices-- but that never happened. Instead, the laid-off employees began to run into problems feeding their families.

In the chaotic streets where the traffic cops were also laid off, the only business opportunity was in crime. So thousands of desperate men picked up guns and started kidnapping anyone who looked like he still had money.

This turned out not to have been the best possible future for the Iraqi people. Overwhelmingly in polls during 2003-2004 they said their number one complaint was the lawlessness.

The world has been watching, as we transformed a stagnant socialist economy that never lived up to its potential into a nonfunctioning basket case-- a failed state. Quite a lesson to impart.

The unity of corporate and military goals
You put your finger on it. This article is a roadmap for world domination by corporate militarists. The future Ike predicted continues to spread its tentacles and prosper.

I'm currently reading Barnett's "Blueprint for Action"-- the sequel to "The Pentagon's New Map". In elegant newspeak it outlines our wedge strategy in carving out new fiefdoms for the major corporate sponsors, from whatever remains of the underdeveloped world.

This also explains our military's tacit admission that eventually we must come to war with China. They are doing the same thing.

Oh well. The Africans are familiar with the process. They say when the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled. Too bad for us ants.

THX 1138

it is a sad day when...
we must somehow rescue capitalism from the capitalists as well as from the state.

Mussolini ?
With all due respect to the commenters, the author of the article isn't advocating Fascism, Swedish social democracy or some kind of military-industrial complex conspiracy straight out of an Oliver Stone film. It's about having some systemic, real-time, coordination and coherence to efforts aimed at bringing order out of chaos so we aren't simply -excuse my language - pissing into the wind.

The free market is an absolutely wonderful engine of positive change but it can't flourish under the rule of the gun, endemic corruption or a collapsed financial system. You need basic governance that can establish the rule of law and enforce contracts. Without that you simply do not have a market - except for the one called black.

Constructive Criticism
I have already applied this concept further at my own blog:

Some of the comments above approach this article too narrowly:

"Maybe Rumsfeld and our author didn't notice that Iraq still is in the first phase, waiting for the shooting to stop and the streets to be safe."

or are pretty ridiculous:

"You put your finger on it. This article is a roadmap for world domination by corporate militarists. The future Ike predicted continues to spread its tentacles and prosper."

This article's importance is not limited to "outlining an approach to planning for Iraq that should have been." Where many focus only on the mistakes made in Iraq, Mr. DeAngelis and Tom Barnett see in those mistakes opportunities to improve and do something better. They are looking beyond Iraq not just geographically but temporally as well.

However, that attention on the world and extending the reach of globalization is not part of an effort for "world domination" but a sincere effort to see the benefits the developed world often takes for granted within reach of the underdeveloped world, "the Gap." For those that adopt the Marxist critique of the Liberal worldview, this article will seriously be lost on them.

Another commenter writes:

"But finally, the idea of bringing our "best practices" is mired in either 1970s Liberal paternalism (Hubert Humphrey's "Basic Human Needs" legislation) or neocon hubris. I can't tell which until I read their plan."

This is a strange leap to make from this article. The dynamic database of best practices that Mr. DeAngelis describes is not a one-way street--it is a two-way dynamic, shaped in real-time by global performance standards regularly adapted to local requirements. Although the initial database effort will rely on well-known, best practices in the "Functioning Core" and "New Core" (to use Barnett's language), these best practices through DeAngelis' concept would be highly adaptive to new challenges and before-unexperienced adversity on the ground. Thus, a country like Iraq is as likely to export best practices during its conflict/post-conflict/post-disaster phase as it is likely to import "baseline practices." Such a system would wholly exclude any "Core" best practices that were deemed/proven unsuitable for the region of concern--DeAngelis is not suggesting we force pegs into square holes. As he states, "Flexible, spontaneous, boundary-free collaboration -- as exemplified by "Development in a Box" -- is the framework that we need today."

In regards to the general comments about the security situation in Iraq (again a very narrow view of this article), such a system as DeAngelis describes is not ignorant of any security situation at any level of conflict, and indeed it would be highly integrated with military institutional activities at every stage of conflict--from scenario and contingency planning to post-conflict/post disaster stabilization activities. In fact, such a system if ably employed end-to-end could more likely result in a strengthened security dynamic with reduced variation in conflict--rather a steady abatement of conflict. At the same time, such a system can be utilized even mid-conflict, implemented in progressive modules.

This article is the start of a positive dialogue. If we want to shape it with the value of our own experiences, constructive, reasonable, well-thought criticism is absolutely necessary.

Start small
Development in a Box is a concept for fixing "non-integrating gaps". The most famous of these are hell holes like N. Korea, dysfunctional anarchies like Somalia, and repressive authoritarian regimes like Iran and Sudan. But the Gap is not just in existence at the nation/state level. It exists in any slum you care to visit in any country in the world. If Development in a Box is going to have legs, it would be useful to do some test runs in Harlem, NYC, Cabrini Green, Chicago, and in hardscrabble appalachia.

Running it here successfully also has the nice benefit of allaying suspicion that it's just one more example of 1st world elitists experimenting on the backs of the third world poor with untried politico-social nostrums.

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