Sweden's military efforts and civilian aid must be linked

The fight against militant groups such as Daesh in Iraq is closely intertwined with the conditions of the individual citizens of the country. Despite this, coordination between Sweden's military and civilian support is poor. We must increase the dialogue and stop thinking about the downside in Swedish public administration, writes researcher Mikael Eriksson.

With the newly adopted Iraq strategy from the summer of 2017, Sweden will continue to be a major donor to Iraq. The support for Iraq is aimed at the national Iraqi assembly, where stabilization efforts and reconciliation issues are a priority. This goal is important in a context where Iraq risks being divided ethnically and geographically.

However, the support is not easy. Iraq has long been in a security crisis as a result of the presence of Daesh (or Islamic State) in the country since 2014 and the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring 2011. The causes of the conflict are several and intertwine different internal and regional interests. The fragile security situation is also one of the reasons why Sweden has recently stepped up its military operation in Iraq within the framework of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Unfortunately, there is currently no collective discussion between civilian and military support to the country. A cohesive analysis in which both tough security challenges and development assistance embrace each other is, after all, extremely important in addressing complex societal challenges.

The state administration works in downpipes

To put it bluntly, there is currently no joint security analysis in the Swedish state administration about what the larger target picture for a national policy should be. The broad country analysis shines with its absence. The Ministry of Defense is traditionally responsible for security issues, while the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is responsible for political and civilian (humanitarian) support. Iraq is an example here among many.

The downspout thinking in Swedish public administration has been inherited over generations. This means that there are also no natural meeting points for the officials and administrators who are to channel the support for the efforts. The intelligence service has its perspective, diplomacy its and the aid worker and the analyst their own. The risk is thus that the coherent analysis of how to create security and sustainable, qualitative peace is lost.

Many different aid initiatives

Sweden provides both urgent and long-term support to Iraq. In the short term, Sweden provides support to the country to alleviate the humanitarian challenges, which can easily turn into greater security challenges. The long-term support is provided to contribute to the stabilization and reconstruction of the Iraqi state. The needs are extensive and are due, among other things, to decades of far-reaching UN and US-led sanctions, civil war, the dismantling of the Iraqi army, and devastation following the military campaigns against Daesh.

In addition to bilateral support, Sweden channels support to both the UN and the EU. Within the framework of the UN, Sweden works partly within the Security Council to support the UN's political mission in Iraq, Unami, and partly through a number of UN organizations. In 2016, Sida provided SEK 200 million in direct support to the UN to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and in 2017, Sweden will provide SEK 750 million to the UN refugee agency UNHCR's operations in Iraq.

In the EU, Swedish policy aims to persuade the EU to increase its involvement in Iraq in areas related to long-term stabilization and reform of Iraq's security sector. According to the government, Sweden is working for the EU to establish a civilian support effort.

Military operations take place in parallel

Almost in parallel with civilian and humanitarian aid, Sweden has also been providing military aid to Iraq since 2015. The purpose is to participate in the military training effort launched by the global coalition against Daesh (Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve) in Iraq. The mandate for the Swedish effort is to conduct training and education of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to strengthen their ability to fight Daesh.

The military effort takes place in a country with an extensive degree of violence and where the security policy challenges are several, both locally, nationally and regionally. Although the current mandate for the operation is to support the Iraqi Armed Forces with training and education, the long-term goal is to create Iraqi stability. With this long-term perspective in mind, different forms of support - civilian and military - should be merged into a common goal. After all, Sweden has its own national agenda beyond that of the coalition. 

The perspectives complement each other

However, supporting a country in conflict is not entirely unproblematic, something that the new Iraq strategy also draws attention to: "The security situation, the lack of access to vulnerable areas and people, the complexity of the conflict situation and the unpredictable development (at all levels), contribute to the absolute highest level of risk for the implementation, follow-up and opportunity to achieve results". Given the difficult security situation in Iraq, there is a clear link between civilian and security efforts. Without a certain degree of security and stability, there is a risk that civilian efforts will not be carried out as planned.

The problem is that the military and security dynamics in Iraq are constantly changing. Qualitative and sustainable development assistance efforts have a hard time surviving as the security situation changes. At the same time, military success, as in the fight against Daesh, cannot survive unless the social conditions of the individual Iraqi citizen change. Both perspectives complement each other and are not separated from each other as the prevailing view nowadays seems to be. 

More dialogue and concrete consensus is required

There are no simple solutions. On the other hand, there is much experience that points to the value of a coherent analysis in which military operations, assessments and target images are interspersed and woven together with humanitarian and civilian aid operations. Specifically, this could be new forms of meetings and collaborations between different administrations, new developed conflict analyzes, joint experience and follow-up studies and so on.

The problem, however, is that those who claim to represent the civilian sector (the "soft aid side") do not want to confuse their activities with the military. In the same way, actors in the security side (the hard military sector) do not want to act in areas outside their mandate. These are clearly valid reasons. But the impending analysis as well as Sweden's overall goal picture should, by all accounts, benefit from a closer dialogue.

Mikael Eriksson

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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