9 obstacles to the comprehensive approach


Over the past years, a new phrase has become part of most NATO Generals’ standard lexicon. A phrase with much inferred meaning and with many consequences. One which in many capitals has lauded in a paradigm shift in the workings between Defence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other

(non-)governmental agencies.

Carried by policymakers, humanitarian and servicemen alike, the comprehensive – or integrated – approach has even been elevated to doctrine; often depicted as the 21st century’s answer to pressing (humanitarian) conflicts across the world.

As witnesses to this doctrinal development and contributors to the training of Defence personnel, humanitarians and diplomats, we thought it best to share our observations. At this point, the comprehensive approach is still in its infancy. In our opinion there are several obstacles that curb its developments.

At the strategic level:

1. A dogmatic approach: we observe that the comprehensive approach is often depicted as one based on fixed rules and guidelines not taking into consideration local realities.

2. A hijacked approach: in which policy-makers, academia and advocacists have sought to push an agenda for personal advancement.

3. An unbalanced approach: where the motto more than the sum of its parts should apply, we often see a great discrepancy between the focus on the roles and responsibility of Defence and other organisations that have a key role in post-conflict reconstruction.

At the operational level:

4. Great in theory, great for bureaucracy, even greater in practise. When one leaves all the dogmas and actually seeks to work with a shared understanding within a multi-stakeholder environment you can gain ground quickly. Even more, acknowledge it is all about relationships.

5. Organizationally stovepiped. At present fixed SOPs, guidelines and organisational dogmas ofter prevent collaboration and structural information exchange.

6. Being unable to differentiate between a complex operating environment and the comprehensive approach.

At the tactical level:

7. CA = CIMIC = meetings, many many meetings. Let’s listen to everyone and everything. Although listening is good, often action is better. Start small before getting bogged down in realising large scale projects.

8. Security is vital for post conflict reconstruction. This has to be clear for everyone.

9. Values over objectives, introducing western concepts over local needs is always dangerous… and again start small.

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