The Comprehensive Approach: the point of war is not just to win but to make a better peace - Defence Committee Contents


107. The Comprehensive Approach is difficult to implement because of the number of international parties usually engaged in a conflict situation. In addition, interactions occur at many different levels between allies so increasing the complexity. This will also be true of future conflicts. This difficulty makes relationships, co-ordination and understanding between international organisations and allies all the more important.

108. The MoD, the FCO and DFID told us that the UK had been one of the strongest advocates of the Comprehensive Approach across a wide range of international organisations, in order better to combine civil and military measures and co-ordination within any given operational environment.[110]

109. Other allies and international organisations have a concept similar to the Comprehensive Approach adopted in the UK. There are, however, different views internationally as to its exact definition. In June 2008, the Finnish government hosted an international seminar on the 'Comprehensive Approach to Crisis Prevention and Management' attended by many nations and the principal international organisations including the UN, NATO and the EU. The seminar adopted an overarching definition of the Comprehensive Approach.

    While there is no commonly accepted definition for 'Comprehensive Approach', there is broad agreement that it implies pursuing an approach aimed at integrating the political, security, development, rule of law, human rights and humanitarian dimensions of international missions.[111]

The United Nations

110. The UN has taken steps to move towards a more comprehensive approach to peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Measures include joint assessments, joint programme frameworks, and the adoption of integrated UN Missions in a number of countries, such as Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste. There is also the Peacebuilding Commission, an intergovernmental advisory body of the UN, which supports peace efforts in countries emerging from conflict. Its role includes bringing together all relevant actors, marshalling resources, and supporting the development of integrated peacebuilding strategies.[112]

111. The United Nations issued Guidelines on Integrated Missions Planning Process in June 2006. This guidance provided for a comprehensive and inclusive UN system approach to planning of integrated missions, bringing together different UN departments and agencies and formed part of the broader UN peacebuilding strategy. The UN recognised that it "struggles with integrated planning due to its huge and bureaucratic decision-making system, the applicability of current planning procedures to the field and the fluid context on the ground."[113]

112. In addition, the UN is working to improve joint working with other partners. For example, in 2008, it signed the UN-World Bank Partnership Framework for Crisis and Post-Crisis Situations and a Joint Declaration on Post-Crisis Assessments and Recovery Planning with the World Bank and the European Commission.[114]

113. Prompted by a UK-led debate at the UN Security Council in May 2008, the UN instituted a review of how it could provide more effective and well co-ordinated support to countries emerging from conflict. The Presidential Statement that followed the debate highlighted the following gaps:

    The Security Council encourages efforts to address the urgent need for rapidly deployable civilian expertise and stresses that the critical role for such expertise is working in co-operation with national authorities to strengthen national capacities. The Security Council highlights the need for the United Nations to play a leading role in the field in co-ordinating international efforts in post-conflict situations. The Security Council stresses that coordination between national authorities and others involved in longer-term reconstruction and development, including organs of the UN system in accordance with their respective mandates, the international financial institutions, as well as with civil society and the business sector, is vital for the success of UN and international engagement in post conflict situations. The Security Council stresses the need to ensure that finance is available from the outset for recovery and peacebuilding activities to meet immediate needs, and to lay a solid foundation for longer-term reconstruction and development.[115]

114. The Report of the Secretary-General on the review, 'Peacebuilding in the immediate aftermath of conflict', was published in June 2009. The Report highlighted the challenges that post-conflict countries and the international community face in the aftermath of conflict and stressed the importance of the earliest phase following a conflict. It concluded that, in many cases, it had missed this early window.

    The immediate post-conflict period offers a window of opportunity to provide basic security, deliver peace dividends, shore up and build confidence in the political process, and strengthen core national capacity to lead peacebuilding efforts. If countries succeed in these core areas early on, it substantially increases the chances for sustainable peace—and reduces the risk of relapse into conflict.

    While building peace is primarily the responsibility of national actors, the international community can play a critical role. In too many cases, we have missed this early window. Time and time again, we have failed to catalyse a response that delivers immediate, tangible results on the ground. Often, it has taken months before essential government functions resume or basic services are available. In some case, it has taken several years before the international community has aligned its efforts behind a common strategic vision. Capacities and resources have been insufficient to meet urgent demands on the ground. Even though capacity is limited, we frequently struggle to focus scarce resources on a limited set of agreed results that can enhance confidence in and commitment to a peaceful future.[116]

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

115. NATO adopted political guidance on the Comprehensive Approach in 2006. In April 2008, NATO agreed an Action Plan with pragmatic proposals to develop and implement its contribution to a comprehensive approach. The plan states that NATO—the Headquarters, the Command Structure and the nations—wants to bring together all the resources at its disposal—military and civilian—to deal with the problems that face it. It also focused on improving NATO's co-operation with other actors, including other international organisations and NGOs. The Comprehensive Strategic Political Military Plan for Afghanistan, agreed at the same time, embodied this.[117]

116. In April 2009, NATO reaffirmed this approach at the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit. Following the Summit, the Heads of State and Government confirmed the priority afforded to the Comprehensive Approach.

    Experience in the Balkans and Afghanistan demonstrates that today's security challenges require a comprehensive approach by the international community, combining civil and military measures and coordination. Its effective implementation requires all international actors to contribute in a concerted effort, in a shared sense of openness and determination, taking into account their respective strengths and mandates. We welcome the significant progress achieved, in line with the Action Plan agreed at Bucharest, to improve NATO's own contribution to such a comprehensive approach, including through a more coherent application of its crisis management instruments and efforts to associate its military capabilities with civilian means. Progress includes NATO's active promotion of dialogue with relevant players on operations; the development of a database of national experts in reconstruction and stabilisation to advise NATO forces; and the involvement of selected international organisations, as appropriate, in NATO crisis management exercises.[118]

117. UN Security Council resolutions have provided the mandate for NATO operations in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, and the framework for NATO's training mission in Iraq. NATO has also provided support to UN-sponsored operations, including logistical assistance to the African Union's UN endorsed peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Sudan and in Somalia; support for UN disaster relief operations in Pakistan, following the earthquake in 2005; and escorting ships carrying World Food Programme humanitarian supplies off the coast of Somalia. The September 2008 NATO-UN Declaration committed both organisations to work together more closely and establish a framework for consultation and co-operation, and reaffirmed their willingness to provide assistance to regional and sub-regional organisations as requested. The MoD, the FCO and DFID told us that practical co-operation to deliver the comprehensive approach on specific operations is generally further advanced than political co-operation between Headquarters.[119]

118. In Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and NATO are working together on the ground and have jointly developed an integrated planning process to focus civilian and military resources on key districts in a coordinated way. In 2008, NATO also generated a NATO-wide policy for Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and their management. The work of the PRTs in Afghanistan is now co-ordinated through the Executive Steering Committee which is chaired by an Afghan national and has representatives from the following organisations on it: the NATO SCR, the UN, the EU and ISAF.

119. The witnesses from NATO told us that NATO considered the Comprehensive Approach to be important although they recognised that NATO was considerably behind the UK in the development of the Comprehensive Approach. General McColl said:

    It is far more difficult for NATO to do that than the UK. Whereas from where I sit in my NATO position, […]in comparison to other nations, it is often commented to me that the UK is joined up in this respect. When you look inside the UK and understand the various difficulties that we have in delivering that Comprehensive Approach, it may not appear quite like that to us, and there are difficulties and there are areas where we can make improvement. […] but given the fact that it has really only been since last year that we have given ourselves a commitment to do this, it is not surprising that the UK—which has been at this for slightly longer—has made far greater progress.[120]

120. When asked if it was more difficult for NATO because it is a military alliance, General McColl said it was more difficult because it is primarily a political alliance and in order to move forward on the Comprehensive Approach, NATO needed consensus from all nations. One of the primary obstacles is the relationship with the EU.[121] This is dealt with in paragraph 124 below.

European Union

121. As well as being the biggest donor of development funding, the European Union (EU) has a powerful set of civilian and military resources which should enable it to apply a comprehensive approach to crisis management: civilian expertise, judges, police officers and customs officials; military force, economic might and the most extensive diplomatic network in the world. Since the launch of the first European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) mission in 2003, the EU has deployed civilian and military personnel in three continents in areas of UK strategic interest. Of the 21 ESDP operations launched to date most have had a more civilian than military focus—helping to build the rule of law, support peace agreements or monitor borders.[122]

122. In the wider context of the EU's ability to adopt a Comprehensive Approach, the existing pillar structures of the EU institutions have a fragmented approach to crisis management, post-conflict reconstruction and development. There is a gap in culture, working practice and political direction, between the Commission and the Council Secretariat, and within the Secretariat between the policy and operations arms.[123] The MoD, the FCO and DFID told us that the UK fully supported and helped to influence and accelerate EU thinking on this subject, through the active participation of the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, the Permanent Joint Headquarters (both part of the MoD) and the Stabilisation Unit.[124]


123. There are standing arrangements agreed for consultation and co-operation between the EU and NATO, including the "Berlin Plus" arrangements whereby the EU has both guaranteed access to NATO planning capabilities (aimed at avoiding unnecessary duplication) and use of NATO's command and control arrangements for running operations. EU military operations thus fall into two categories, "Berlin Plus" operations using NATO command and control arrangements, like EUFOR ALTHEA in Bosnia, and "autonomous" operations using command and control provided by one or more Member States, like Operation ATALANTA in the Gulf of Aden. The MoD, the FCO and DFID told us that the UK continued to engage actively to encourage progress, including through a NATO-EU capabilities group that brings together nations and staff from both organisations.[125]

124. The primary obstacle to progress is NATO's relationship with the EU. It has not been possible to sign a security agreement with the EU because of continuing issues with Turkey and Greece related to Cyprus. For example, NATO has not been able to sign an agreement with the European Police Mission. The Mission has had to sign separate agreements with every nation that runs a PRT. Similarly, they have not been able to develop a vehicle tracking system showing where EU and NATO vehicles are in Afghanistan. The compromise is a system which shows where EU vehicles are to NATO vehicles but not the reverse. General McColl said:

    It is more difficult because it is primarily a political alliance and, in order to move forward on something as complex as the Comprehensive Approach, you need consensus from all nations and there are a number of obstacles to that. The first—and I would describe it as the primary obstacle—is our relationship with the EU. As you go round capitals, you will find capitals outdoing each other in explaining how important they view the relationship between NATO and the EU, and yet the reality on the ground is somewhat different, and the reason for that is because there are some nations who deem it unacceptable for us to sign a security agreement with the EU.[126]

Working on the ground

125. As General McColl pointed out, the use of the Comprehensive Approach is often characterised by the large number of different players and the complexity of the co-ordination of those players. This is very much so in Afghanistan.

    Talking to the issue of Afghanistan […] we have 40 nations in the alliance. Each of them has three or more departments involved in this issue of the Comprehensive Approach. We then have at least ten others who are critical players in the country. We have international organisations—another 20—we then have NGOs, who run into their hundreds. Then on top of that, of course, we have the Afghan National Government. All of that needs corralling and the idea of having one single hand that is going to control all of that is clearly wishful thinking. Therefore, what we have to have is a concept which enables to us co-ordinate a reference in a coherent way, and the Comprehensive Approach, as we have heard, is the language of common currency in Afghanistan and in many of these theatres, because it is commonly understood that we need to work together. So I think from that perspective it is absolutely essential that we have a comprehensive approach and that we spell it out.[127]

126. General McChrystal reported that working in a coalition presented inherent difficulties.

    As formidable as the threat may be, we make the problem harder. ISAF is a conventional force that is poorly configured for COIN [counter-insurgency], inexperienced in local languages and culture, and struggling with challenges inherent to coalition warfare. These intrinsic disadvantages are exacerbated by our current operational culture and how we operate.

    Preoccupied with the protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us—physically and psychologically—from the people we seek to protect. In addition, we run the risk of strategic defeat by pursuing tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage. The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily but we can defeat ourselves.[128]

127. The UK is at the forefront of the development and use of the Comprehensive Approach and has worked well with international organisations and other member states to further the development of the Approach internationally. However, more needs to be done. We, therefore, recommend that the MoD, the FCO and DFID should continue to work with the UN, NATO and the EU to promote the effective use of the Comprehensive Approach within these organisations so that future complex emergencies requiring a multilateral approach can operate more effectively. We consider such work to be essential to addressing the perception and reality of uneven burden-sharing amongst member states.

110   Ev 86 Back

111   Ministry of Defence (Finland) Seminar publication on Comprehensive Approach: Trends, Challenges and Possibilities for Cooperation in Crisis Prevention and Management, June 2008, Back

112   Ev 86  Back

113   United Nations, Integrated Missions Planning Process: Guidelines endorsed by the Secretary-General on 13 June 2006, June 2006, Back

114   Ev 86 Back

115   Ev 86 and United Nations Security Council, Statement by the president of the Security Council (S/PRST/2008/16), 20 May 2008 Back

116   United Nations, General Assembly Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on peacebuilding in the immediate aftermath of conflict (A/63/881-S2009/304), 11 June 2009 Back

117   Ev 86 Back

118   Strasbourg/Kehl Summit Declaration Issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Strasbourg/Kehl, 4 April 2009, Back

119   Ev 87 Back

120   Q 215 Back

121   Q 216  Back

122   Ev 87 Back

123   ibid. Back

124   Ev 88 Back

125   Ev 87 Back

126   Q 216 Back

127   Q 235 Back

128   "Commander's Initial Assessment", 30 August 2009, Back

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