Category Archives: canadian foreign policy

The End of the American World: Without Vision there can be no Leadership

America is leaving the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This is, by scientific consensus, a terrible outcome for the planet. But it is also a disaster for American foreign policy and its role as a global leader.

With this decision I’m left scratching my head. What does America stand for? What does it want the world to look like? I can no longer tell you.

Here, quick test: Name an issue the US Government is taking a leadership position on in the world.

I can think of three. All of which are reactionary, none of which represent of a vision of where we should go. What is easier to tell you is what the US Government — and by this I don’t just mean the president, but also a large number of congresspeople and possible senators—no longer believe is important.

American Priorities.png

US Foreign Policy Priorities

Some of these items — women’s rights and climate change for example — have been contentious domestically for some time. But others formed the bedrock of the American vision for the world. Yes, there are lots of examples of American hypocrisy in its foreign policy (this is true of all countries) but trade, the western alliance (grounded in NATO), human rights and democracy served as general foundations for bringing together key stakeholders around the world in a shared vision of what the world should look like.

That is now all in tatters.

What does America believe in? What is the shared vision around which it will rally allies and unaligned countries? Beats me. Fighting terrorism is important, but it isn’t an organizing principle upon which to build a vision of the future.

China is willing to marshal economic and political capital to fight climate change which it is also leveraging to engage India and others. Its One Belt, One Road infrastructure plan is a vision for re-organizing global trade. Its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank offers an alternative to the World Bank(which it is unclear the current administration even cares about) as a way to fund development and growth.

There is a lot about China’s vision for the world that is unclear and frankly, I’m not comfortable with. It is not hard to imagine a mercantilists’ world where human rights are non-existent. But it at least conveys a vision of shared prosperity, and it has a vision that tries to tackle global shared problems like climate change that require leadership.

And this rot in US leadership is not about Trump. What is clear is that Congresspeople and Senators appear happy to trade American leadership and vision for domestic wins such as repealing the Affordable Care Act and rolling back taxes. When Chancellor Merkel of Germany says the United States can no longer be relied upon, she wasn’t just talking about the president.

It’s the end of the American century, not because America lacks the capacity to lead, but because, at best, it has no identifiable vision for where it wants to take the world. At worst, I’m left inferring its vision is a planet my kids won’t be able to live on and a trade system unconnected to rules but linked to market size and where America must also “win.”

This isn’t to say the alternatives are much better, but those looking for vision and leadership need to hope America wakes from its sleep walk, get very creative in finding partners, or start picking between relatively unpalatable options.

But hoping others change has not been a sound basis for foreign policy in the past, and so I doubt the world will wait long.

Canada’s Opaque Transparency – An Open Data Failure

Yesterday, at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s (PDAC) Canada Minister of Natural Resource, Joe Oliver, announced with great fanfare a new initiative to compel mining companies to disclose payments of over $100,000’s to foreign and domestic governments.

On the surface this looks like a win for transparency, particularly for a sector that is of great importance to Canada: mining.

And this issue matters since not only do extractive industries represent an important part of Canada’s economy, but the sector has been dogged with controversy. Indeed the Toronto Star just uncovered today a report commissioned (and buried) by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) that showed Canadian mining companies have the worst record when it comes to environmental standard and human rights.

Forcing mining companies to account for their payments to foreign and domestic governments won’t solve every problem, but it can help curb corruption. Indeed the issue was seen as so important that at the last G8 summit, the leaders agreed that companies should be compelled to disclose these payments.

Happily, there is a legitimate global movement to make government payments by extractive industry companies more transparent. It is called the Extractive Industries Transparency Iniative (EITI). It has set a series of standards for disclosing such payments so that they are easier to track across borders. In fact EITI is seen as so important it is actually the only organization mentioned by name in the last G8 summit communique. This is the same EITI program about which last year the Minister’s press secretary boasted:

Since 2007 Canada has also been a supporting country of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and is now the second largest financial donor to the initiative, providing $12.65 million to the World Bank’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Multi-donor Trust Fund…

Which brings us to Minister Oliver’s important announcement.

Did the government announce that it was joining 42 other countries, including its G8 partners the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy to join the standard it has been a major funder of?

No. It did not.

Apparently EITI is good enough to fund so that others can implement it. When it comes to actually doing what is effective… the government balked. Canada, apparently, is going to adhere to its own “unique” approach.

And it gets worse.

Read the Minister’s statement more closely, particularly this line:

“We want to make it as easy as possible, so we will not create a central database. Instead, we would require that reports be posted to company websites, with the government and public notified.”

So unlike EITI, which offers a centralized repository where records can quickly be downloaded and compared, Canada’s “compliance” will involve each company to maintain their own records “somewhere” and will require anyone interested if actually figuring out what is going on to go and track down each one individually.

We call this secrecy by obscurity. It makes a mockery of the notion of transparency.

We have a global infrastructure designed to make disclosure cheap, easy and effective. Infrastructure our own government has poured $12.7M into it. And we turn around and ignore it all.

Canada claims it wants to be a leader in open data. But if it can’t even get something basic like this right… such claims sounds increasingly silly here at home, among our G8 partners and, well, among the rest of the world.

Addendum: It gets worse still. Few people have noticed yet, but Canada recently (and quietly) stopped reporting the names of corporate directors in the public database of the country’s firms. This is a major step backwards and makes those who benefit from one of the most important benefits society can confer – limited liability – invisible to the public who confers that right. This is a major step backwards. Read this wonderful Economist article on why. More on this to come.

Open Government Consultation, Twitter Townhalls & Doing Advocacy Wrong

Earlier this week the Canadian Federal Government launched its consultation process on Open Government. This is an opportunity for citizens to comment and make suggestions around what data the federal government should make open and what information it should share, and provide feedback on how it can consult more effectively with Canadians. The survey (which, handily, can be saved midway through completion) contains a few straightforward multiple choice questions and about eight open ended questions which I’ve appended to the end of this post so that readers can reflect upon them before starting to fill out the form.

In addition to the online consultations, Tony Clement – the Minister responsible for the Open Government file – will host a Twitter townhall on Open Government this Thursday (December 15). Note! The townhall will be hosted by the treasury board twitter account @TBS_Canada (English) and @SCT_Canada (French) not Minister Clement’s personal (and better known) twitter account. The townhall will first take place in French from 4-4:45pm EST using the hashtags #parlonsgouvert and then in English from 5-5:45 EST using the hashtag #opengovchat.

Some of you may have also noticed that Democracy Watch issued a strongly worded press release last week with the (somewhat long) headline “Federal Conservatives break all of their international Open Government Partnership commitments by failing to consult with Canadians about their draft action plan before meeting in Brazil this week.” This seems to have prompted the CBC to write this article.

Now, to be clear, I’m a strong advocate for Open Government, and there are plenty of things for which one could be critical about this government for not being open about. However, to be credible – especially around issues of transparency and disclosure – one must be factual. And Democracy Watch did more than just stretch the truth. The simple fact is, that while I too wish the government’s consultations had happened sooner, this does not mean it has broken all of its Open Government Partnership commitments. Indeed, it hasn’t broken any of its commitments. A careful read of the Open Government Partnership requirements would reveal that the recent December meeting was to share drafts plans (including the plans by which to consult). The deadline that Democracy Watch is screaming about does not occur until March of 2012.

It would have been fair to say the government has been slow in fulfilling its commitments, but to say it has broken any of them is flatly not true. Indeed the charge feels particularly odd given that in the past two weeks the government signed on greater aid transparency via IATI and released an additional 4000 data sets, including virtually all of StatsCan’s data, giving Canadian citizens, non profits, other levels of governments and companies access to important data sets relevant for social, economic and academic purposes.

Again, there are plenty of things one could talk about when it comes to transparency and the government.  Yes, the consultation could have gotten off the ground faster. And yes, there is much more to done. But this screaming headline is somewhat off base. Publishing it damages both the credibility of the organization making the charge, and risk hurting the credible of open government advocates in general.

 

List of Open Ended Questions in the Open Government Consultation.

1. What could be done to make it easier for you to find and use government data provided online?

2. What types of open data sets would be of interest to you? Please pick up to three categories below and specify what data would be of interest to you.

3. How would you use or manipulate this data?

4. What could be done to make it easier for you to find government information online?

7. Do you have suggestions on how the Government of Canada could improve how it consults with Canadians?

8. Are there approaches used by other governments that you believe the Government of Canada could/should model?

9. Are there any other comments or suggestions you would like to make pertaining to the Government of Canada’s Open Government initiative?

 

Canada’s Foreign Aid Agency signs on to IATI: Aid Data get more transparent

Last night, while speaking at the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan Korea, Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda announced that Canada would be signing on to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

So what is IATI and why does this matter?

IATI has developed a common, open and international standard for sharing foreign aid data. By signing on to IATI Canada is agreeing to publish all the data about its projects and who it funds in a form and structure that makes it easy to compare with others who use the IATI standard. This should make it easier to understand where Canadian aid money ends up, in turn allowing analysts to spot efficiencies as well as compare funding and efforts across donor and recipient countries as well as other stakeholders. In short, aid data should become easier to understand, to compare, and to use.

In the medium term it should also make the data available on CIDA’s open data portal (already helpful to non-profits, development groups and students) even more useful.

This is an enormous win for the good people at Engineers Without Borders, as well as the team at Publish What You Fund. Both groups have been working hard for over a year talking Canadian politicians and public servants through the ins and outs – as well as the benefits – of signing onto IATI. I’ve been working with both groups as well, pushing IATI when meeting with Federal Ministers (I recommended we make it part of our Open Government Partnership goals) as well as writing supportive op-eds in newspapers, so needless to say I’m excited about this development.

This really is good news. As governments become increasingly aware of the power data can have in facilitating cooperation and coordination as well as in improving effectiveness and efficiency, it will be critical to push standards around structuring and sharing data so that such coordination can happen easily across and between jurisdictions. IATI is a great example of such an effort and I hope there are more of these, with Canada taking an early lead, in the months and years ahead.

 

 

Weaving Foreign Ministries into the Digital Era: Three ideas

Last week I was in Ottawa giving a talk at the Department of Foreign Affairs talking about how technology, new media and open innovation will impact the department’s it work internally, across Ottawa and around the world.

While there is lots to share, here are three ideas I’ve been stewing on:

Keep more citizens safe when abroad – better danger zone notification

Some people believe that open data isn’t relevant to departments like Foreign Affairs or the State Department. Nothing could be further than the truth.

One challenge the department has is getting Canadians to register with them when they visit or live in a country labeled by the department as problematic for traveling in its travel reports (sample here). As you can suspect, few Canadians register with the embassy as they are likely not aware of the program or travel a lot and simply don’t get around to  it.

There are other ways of tackling this problem that might yield broader participation.

Why not turn the Travel Report system into an open data with an API? I’d tackle this by approaching a company like TripIt. Every time I book an airplane ticket or a hotel I simply forward TripIt the reservation, which they scan and turn into events that then automatically appear my calendar. Since they scan my travel plans they also know which country, city and hotel I’m staying in… they also know where I live and could easily ask me for my citizenship. Working with companies like TripIt (or Travelocity, Expedia, etc…) DFAIT could co-design an API into the departments travel report data that would be useful to them. Specifically, I could imagine that if TripIt could query all my trips against those reports then any time they notice I’m traveling somewhere the Foreign Ministry has labelled “exercise a high-degree of caution” or worse trip TripIt could ask me if I’d be willing to let them forward my itinerary to the department. That way I could registry my travel automatically, making the service more convenient for me, and getting the department more information that it believes to be critical as well.

Of course, it might be wise to work with the State Department so that their travel advisories used a similarly structured API (since I can assume TripIt will be more interested in the larger US market than the Canadian market) But facilitating that conversation would be nothing but wins for the department.

More bang for buck in election monitoring

One question that arose during my talk came from an official interested in elections monitoring. In my mind, one thing the department should be considering is a fund to help local democracy groups spin up installations of Ushahidi in countries with fragile democracies that are gearing up for elections. For those unfamiliar with Ushahidi it is a platform developed after the disputed 2007 presidential election in Kenya that plotted eyewitness reports of violence sent in by email and text-message on a google map.

Today it is used to track a number of issues – but problems with elections remain one of its core purposes. The department should think about grants that would help spin up a Ushahidi install to enable citizens of the country register concerns and allegations around fraud, violence, intimidation, etc… It could then verify and inspect issues that are flagged by the countries citizens. This would allow the department to deploy its resources more effectively and ensure that its work was speaking to concerns raised by citizens.

A Developer version of DART?

One of the most popular programs the Canadian government has around international issues is the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). In particular, Canadians have often been big fans of DART’s work in purifying water after the boxing day tsunami in Asia as well as its work in Haiti. Maybe the department could have a digital DART team, a group of developers that, in an emergency could help spin up Ushahidi, Fixmystreet, or OpenMRS installations to provide some quick but critical shared infrastructure for Canadians, other countries’ response teams and for non-profits. During periods of non-crisis the team could work on these projects or supporting groups like CrisisCommons or OpenStreetMaps, helping contribute to open source projects that can be instrumental in a humanitarian crisis.

 

The Geopolitics of the Open Government Partnership: the beginning of Open vs. Closed

Aside from one or two notable exceptions, there hasn’t been a ton of press about the Open Government Partnership (OGP). This is hardly surprising. The press likes to talk about corruption and bad government, people getting together to talk about actually address these things in far less sexy.

But even where good coverage exists analysts and journalists are, I think, misunderstanding the nature of the partnership and its broader implications should it take hold. Presently it is generally seen as a do good project, one that will help fight corruption and hopefully lead to some better governance (both of which I hope will be true). However, the Open Government Partnership isn’t just about doing good, it has real strategic and geopolitical purposes.

In fact, the OGP is, in part, about a 21st century containment strategy.

For those unfamiliar with 20th century containment, a brief refresher. Containment refers to a strategy outlined by a US diplomat – George Kennan – who while posted in Moscow wrote the famous The Long Telegram in which he outlined the need for a more aggressive policy to deal with an expansionist post-WWII Soviet Union. He argued that such a policy would need to seek to isolate the USSR politically and strategically, in part by positioning the United States as a example in the world that other countries would want to work with. While discussions of “containment” often focus on its military aspects and the eventual arms race, it was equally influential in prompting the ideological battle between the USA and USSR as they sought to demonstrate whose “system” was superior.

So I repeat. The OGP is part of a 21st century containment policy. And I’d go further, it is a effort to forge a new axis around which America specifically, and a broader democratic camp more generally, may seek to organize allies and rally its camp. It abandons the now outdated free-market/democratic vs. state-controlled/communist axis in favour of a more subtle, but more appropriate, open vs. closed.

The former axis makes little sense in a world where authoritarian governments often embrace (quasi) free-market to reign, and even have some of the basic the trappings of a democracy. The Open Government Partnership is part of an effort to redefine and shift the goal posts around what makes for a free-market democracy. Elections and a market place clearly no longer suffice and the OGP essentially sets a new bar in which a state must (in theory) allow itself to be transparent enough to provide its citizens with information (and thus power), in short: it is a state can’t simple have some of the trappings of a democracy, it must be democratic and open.

But that also leaves the larger question. Who is being contained? To find out that answer take a look at the list of OGP participants. And then consider who isn’t, and likely never could be, invited to the party.

OGP members Notably Absent
Albania
Azerbaijan
Brazil
Bulgaria
Canada
Chile
Colombia
Croatia
Czech Republic
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Estonia
Georgia
Ghana
Guatemala
Honduras
Indonesia
Israel
Italy
Jordon
Kenya
Korea
Latvia
Liberia
Lithuania
Macedonia
Malta
Mexico
Moldova
Mongolia
Montenegro
Netherlands
Norway
Peru
Philippines
Romania
Slovak Republic
South Africa
Spain
Sweden
Tanzania
Turkey
Ukraine
United Kingdom
United States
Uruguay
ChinaIran

Russia

Saudi Arabia

(Indeed much of the middle East)

Pakistan

*India is not part of the OGP but was involved in much of initial work and while it has withdrawn (for domestic political reasons) I suspect it will stay involved tangentially.

So first, what you have here is a group of countries that are broadly democratic. Indeed, if you were going to have a democratic caucus in the United Nations, it might look something like this (there are some players in that list that are struggling, but for them the OGP is another opportunity to consolidate and reinforce the gains they’ve made as well as push for new ones).

In this regards, the OGP should be seen as an effort by the United States and some allies to find some common ground as well as a philosophical touch point that not only separates them from rivals, but that makes their camp more attractive to deal with. It’s no trivial coincidence that on the day of the OGP launch the President announced the United States first fulfilled commitment would be its decision to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The EITI commits the American oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments, which would make corruption much more difficult.

This is America essentially signalling to African people and their leaders – do business with us, and we will help prevent corruption in your country. We will let you know if officials get paid off by our corporations. The obvious counter point to this is… the Chinese won’t.

It’s also why Brazil is a co-chair, and the idea was prompted during a meeting with India. This is an effort to bring the most important BRIC countries into the fold.

But even outside the BRICs, the second thing you’ll notice about the list is the number of Latin American, and in particular African countries included. Between the OGP, the fact that the UK is making government transparency a criteria for its foreign aid, and that World Bank is increasingly moving in the same direction, the forces for “open” are laying out one path for development and aid in Africa. One that rewards governance and – ideally – creates opportunities for African citizens. Again, the obvious counter point is… the Chinese won’t.

It may sounds hard to believe but the OGP is much more than a simple pact designed to make heads of state look good. I believe it has real geopolitical aims and may be the first overt, ideological salvo in the what I believe will be the geopolitical axis of Open versus Closed. This is about finding ways to compete for the hearts and minds of the world in a way that China, Russia, Iran and others simple cannot. And, while I agree we can debate the “openness” of the various the signing countries, I like the idea of world in which states compete to be more open. We could do worse.

Lots of Open Data Action in Canada

A lot of movement on the open data (and not so open data) front in Canada.

Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) Open Data Portal Launched

IATI-imagesSome readers may remember that last week I wrote a post about the imminent launch of CIDA’s open data portal. The site is now live and has a healthy amount of data on it. It is a solid start to what I hope will become a robust site. I’m a big believer – and supporter of the excellent advocacy efforts of the good people at Engineers Without Borders – that the open data portal would be greatly enhanced if CIDA started publishing its data in compliance with the emerging international standard of the International Aid Transparency Initiative as these 20 leading countries and organizations have.

If anyone creates anything using this data, I’d love to see it. One simple start might be to try using the Open Knowledge Foundation’s open source Where Does my Money Go code, to visualize some of the spending data. I’d be happy to chat with anyone interested in doing this, you can also check out the email group to find some people experienced in playing with the code base.

Improved License on the CIDA open data portal and data.gc.ca

One thing I’ve noticed with the launch of the CIDA open data portal was how the license was remarkably better than the license at data.gc.ca – which struck me as odd, since I know the feds like to be consistent about these types of things. Turns out that the data.gc.ca license has been updated as well and the two are identical. This is good news as some of the issues that were broken with the previous license have been fixed. But not all. The best license out there remains the license at data.gov (that’s a trick question, because data.gov has no license, it is all public domain! Tricky eh…? Nice!) but if you are going to have a license, the UK Open Government License used by at data.gov.uk is more elegant, freer and satisfies a number of the concerns I cite above and have heard people raise.

So this new data.gc.ca license is a step in the right direction, but still behind the open gov leaders (teaching lawyers new tricks sadly takes a long time, especially in government).

Great site, but not so open data: WellBeing Toronto

Interestingly, the City of Toronto has launched a fabulous new website called Well Being Toronto. It is definitely worth checking out. The main problem of course is that while it is interesting to look at, the underlying data is, sadly, not open. You can’t play with the data, such as mash it up with your own (or another jurisdiction’s) data. This is disappointing as I believe a number of non-profits in Toronto would likely find the underlying data quite helpful/important. I have, however, been told that the underlying data will be made open. It is something I hope to check in on again in a few months as I fear that it may never get prioritized, so it may be up to Torontonians to whold the Mayor and council’s feet to the fire to ensure it gets done.

Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) launches (non-open) data website

It seems the PBO is also getting in on the data action with the launch of a beta site that allows you to “see” budgets from the last few years. I know that the Parliamentary Budget Office has been starved of resources, so they deserve to be congratulated for taking this first, important step. Also interesting is that the data has no license on the website, which could make it the most liberally licensed open data portal in the country. The site does have big downsides. First, the data can only be “looked” at, there is no obvious (simple) way to download it and start playing with it. More oddly still the PBO requires that users register with their email address to view the data. This seems beyond odd and actually, down right creepy, to me. First, parliament’s budget should be free and open and one should not need to hand over an email address to access it. Second, the email addresses collected appear to serve no purpose (unless the PBO intends to start spamming us), other than to tempt bad people to hack their site so they can steal a list of email addresses.

Why not create an Open311 add-on for Ushahidi?

This is not a complicated post. Just a simple idea: Why not create an Open311 add-on for Ushahidi?

So what do I mean by that, and why should we care?

Many readers will be familiar with Ushahidi, non-profit that develops open source mapping software that enables users to collect and visualize data in interactive maps. It’s history is now fairly famous, as the Wikipedia article about it outlines: “Ushahidi.com’ (Swahili for “testimony” or “witness”) is a website created in the aftermath of Kenya’s disputed 2007 presidential election (see 2007–2008 Kenyan crisis) that collected eyewitness reports of violence sent in by email and text-message and placed them on a Google map.[2]“Ushahidi’s mapping software also proved to be an important resource in a number of crises since the Kenyan election, most notably during the Haitian earthquake. Here is a great 2 minute video on How how Ushahidi works.

ushahidi-redBut mapping of this type isn’t only important during emergencies. Indeed it is essential for the day to day operations of many governments, particularly at the local level. While many citizens in developed economies may be are unaware of it, their cities are constantly mapping what is going on around them. Broken infrastructure such as leaky pipes, water mains, clogged gutters, potholes, along with social issues such as crime, homelessness, business and liquor license locations are constantly being updated. More importantly, citizens are often the source of this information – their complaints are the sources of data that end up driving these maps. The gathering of this data generally falls under the rubric of what is termed 311 systems – since in many cities you can call 311 to either tell the city about a problem (e.g. a noise complaint, service request or inform them about broken infrastructure) or to request information about pretty much any of the city’s activities.

This matters because 311 systems have generally been expensive and cumbersome to run. The beautiful thing about Ushahidi is that:

  1. it works: it has a proven track record of enabling citizens in developing countries to share data using even the simplest of devices both with one another and agencies (like humanitarian organizations)
  2. it scales: Haiti and Kenya are pretty big places, and they generated a fair degree of traffic. Ushahidi can handle it.
  3. it is lightweight: Ushahidi technical footprint (yeap making that up right now) is relatively light. The infrastructure required to run it is not overly complicated
  4. it is relatively inexpensive: as a result of (3) it is also relatively cheap to run, being both lightweight and leveraging a lot of open source software
  5. Oh, and did I mention IT WORKS.

This is pretty much the spec you would want to meet if you were setting up a 311 system in a city with very few resources but interested in starting to gather data about both citizen demands and/or trying to monitor newly invested in infrastructure. Of course to transform Ushahidi into a process for mapping 311 type issues you’d need some sort of spec to understand what that would look like. Fortunately Open311 already does just that and is supported by some of the large 311 providers system providers – such as Lagan and Motorola – as well as some of the disruptive – such as SeeClickFix. Indeed there is an Open311 API specification that any developer could use as the basis for the add-on to Ushahidi.

Already I think many cities – even those in developing countries – could probably afford SeeClickFix, so there may already be a solution at the right price point in this space. But maybe not, I don’t know. More importantly, an Open311 module for Ushahidi could get local governments, or better still, local tech developers in developing economies, interested in and contributing to the Ushahidi code base, further strengthening the project. And while the code would be globally accessible, innovation and implementation could continue to happen at the local level, helping drive the local economy and boosting know how. The model here, in my mind, is OpenMRS, which has spawned a number of small tech startups across Africa that manage the implementation and servicing of a number of OpenMRS installations at medical clinics and countries in the region.

I think this is a potentially powerful idea for stakeholders in local governments and startups (especially in developing economies) and our friends at Ushahidi. I can see that my friend Philip Ashlock at Open311 had a similar thought a while ago, so the Open311 people are clearly interested. It could be that the right ingredients are already in place to make some magic happen.

Game Theory: Coalition, Libya, Gaddafi and the exit strategy

Great question Andrew – one that deserves answering.

Here’s my quick assessment. My guess is that the intention of the military action is to give Gaddafi alternatives to fighting. The goal of the no-fly zone and other military activities is designed to bring about a stalemate in the Libyan conflict. It’s goal is to provide the rebels with a clear safe haven which they can defend and sustain themselves. This fact, over time, would foster circumstances by which a negotiated agreement (or internationally mediated agreement) between the Libyan government and the rebels would be seen as necessary by both parties. This could, of course, come about with (or without) Gaddafi’s endorsement – but it would leave him some leverage if he chose to go down this path. Indeed, this political negotiated outcome is an explicit goal of the UN resolution. Moreover, the removal of Gaddafi is not called for. There is a wonderful analysis of the resolution on the BBC website, I’ve extracted the relevant parts below:

Screen-shot-2011-03-20-at-4.48.03-PM

The stalemate outcome analysis also feels plausible given it is hard to imagine the Libyan rebels have either the equipment, training, resources and resolve to topple the Libyan government, with or without air support. Occupying vast swaths of the country may simply be sufficient for the rebels to achieve their goals – to force Gaddafi to accept he can no longer rule the country alone.

So in short, Gaddafi has as simple choice. He can fight and try to win outright (or gain enough leverage so as to create a negotiated outcome that would achieve the same outcome as winning). This has the benefit of huge upside if he wins (with disastrous outcomes from the west – expect some retaliatory terrorism) but it also has more dramatic downsides. If he loses, a complete loss of power, death and/or imprisonment all seem very likely. So this is a high stakes path.

Alternatively, he can choose to negotiate. This route has more ambiguity, something that presents a risk in of itself (a reason why the back channels will matter so much – see below). Here the upsides and downsides are slightly less extreme, although there is a possibility of an outright “win” for Gaddafi is not off the table completely.

Given these choices it wouldn’t be inconceivable for Gaddafi to choose to fight at first to test the resolve of the Allies and the rebels (something we are seeing now) and, should that not work (which it probably won’t, but could) he can always change gears and retreat into a stalemate negotiation and put forward offers that attempt to fracture the rebel coalition. If he can do that, he could still win back enough support to retake the country, find some way to influence the next government, or at worst, be forced to retire.

I’ve tried to sum all this up on a choice matrix below. The sum of it is, the top lefthand outcome seemed a certain outcome a few days ago. Now the allies are forcing the right column back into the picture. Have downsides down the left become significant enough? And the upsides or exit strategies for Gaddafi on the right certain enough to chance the calculus? That’s really the question – but I do think it remains a possibility.

david-eaves-gaddafi-analysis

There are, of course, at least two other parts of the puzzle that need to be in place to ensure that Gaddafi isn’t forced into fighting.

1. Someone would need to back channel to him the allies intentions: that the UN resolution is designed only to force a stalemate, not oust the current government. It might be logical for Gaddafi to then try to continue fighting and see if he can win despite the airstrikes (as this would maximize his leverage) and, he can always choose to back down later.

2. The western allies and the rebels would need to not interpret the retreat or adoption of a defensive posture by Gaddafi forces as signs of imminent collapse and try to press the advantage.

Obviously I do not know if condition number 1 is in place. In regards to condition number 2, this is also unclear, although I suspect the risks are relatively low. The UN resolution would appear to suggest this isn’t as possible but maybe the biggest unknown is France, which appears unusually keen for battle. The worst case scenario here is that Sarkozy sees the conflict as a way to establish is “presidentialness” in the lead up to an election and so seeks to exploit it, dragging the rebels, and the rest of the allies down a path that needn’t be trodden. But even here, the likelihood feels relatively low.

Of course, there are always thousands of other variables and I’m sure there are more than a few holes to poke in this analysis (I’m all ears for those who want to take a stab – would be great to hear more), but hope this is a helpful attempt to answer that important question. If the only choice you give someone is to fight, expect a fight. And it isn’t clear that we have the resources or stomach to fight back to the bitter end, so I hope someone in Paris or Washington DC has thought this through from this perspective.

Today in the Toronto Star: End the silence on aid

Sorry for the cross post – I have this piece today on the opinion page of the Toronto Star. They’ve actually done a nice graphic for it so do encourage you to check it out.

End the silence on aid

For the past two weeks, Canadians have slowly watched the minister of international development, Bev Oda, implode. Caught in a slowly escalating scandal, it’s become clear that the minister misled Parliament — and the public — about how the government chooses whom it funds to do international development work.

The scandal around Oda, however, is a metaphor for a much larger problem in Canada’s foreign aid. The world is dividing itself into donors who hold forth an open model of evidence, accountability and, above all, transparency, and those who cling to a model of patronage, ideology and opacity.

So the question is: Where will Canada land on this debate? So far, the answer is not promising.

Internationally, the Kairos decision suggests Canada is on the wrong side of the divide. Indeed, the gap between CIDA and the world’s leading institutions is growing. Consider a recent report by the U.K.-based international advocacy group Publish What You Fund. Of the 30 institutions assessed in its 2010 report on aid transparency, the Canadian International Development Agency ranked 23rd. Among countries, Canada ranked 15th out of 22 (the Netherlands, U.K. and Ireland held the top three spots).

We are, by any metric, near the bottom of the pack. For a country and a government that prides itself on accountability and transparency, it’s a damning assessment.

What’s all the more frustrating is that transparency isn’t just about accountability. It’s about effectiveness and saving taxpayers’ money — something our major allies have already figured out.

So while Canada’s international development minister fights allegations of making the decision-making process more opaque, a coalition of leading countries is moving forward — without Canada — to do the opposite.

Take, for example, the newly founded International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). A coalition of donor governments, developing countries and NGOs, the IATI has a single goal: to improve aid effectiveness by making information about aid spending easier to access, use and understand.

It’s a deeply pragmatic exercise, one far removed from the partisan politics around aid seen in Canada. In one of its first reports, it outlines how setting up systems to make aid data available would involve a one-time cost of between $50,000 and $500,000, but would save taxpayers in countries like Canada several times that amount every year.

Part of these savings would come just from reducing bureaucracy. Making data publicly available would eliminate the need for civil servants to respond to duplicate information requests from international organizations, other governments and Canadian organizations. Instead, the relevant information could just be downloaded. It’s the kind of efficiency we expect from our government.

It’s also the kind of transparency Canadians are starting to see elsewhere. The World Bank — at one time loathed for its opacity — has made transparency a core value of its operations. It recently launched an open data portal where it shares enormous quantities of information on the global economy and aid projects. It has also promised much more and is slowly rolling out a “mapping for results” website where every project the bank funds and how much money it receives can be viewed on a downloadable map.

Canada sits on the sidelines while others move forward implementing proposals that could — ironically — fund several Kairoses every year.

The costs aren’t borne just by taxpayers, but also by Canadian NGOs. They have to provide the same information, but in different forms, to every government and organization that funds them. This means aid workers spend precious time and money filling out CIDA’s unique forms. Repeat this cost over the hundreds of projects that CIDA funds and the collective waste is enormous.

Perhaps more importantly, making our aid more transparent and accessible would close another gap — our inability to measure our effectiveness. One of the reasons countries like the U.K., Denmark and Sweden have signed up to the International Aid Transparency Initiative is so they can more easily compare the projects they fund with one another. These are countries that are serious about getting bang for their buck — they want to compare the evidence, see which projects work, and which ones fail.

It’s a lesson leading Canadian organizations are taking to heart. Engineers Without Borders, for example, regularly publishes a “failure report” in which it outlines which of its projects didn’t work and why. This honest, open and evidence-based approach to development is exactly what we need to demand of our government. Anything less constitutes a waste of our tax dollars.

And yet, the current debate in Parliament suggests we may be mapping a different route — one of opaque, ideologically driven development that is blind to both effectiveness and accountability. This serves neither Canadians nor donor recipients well.

Regardless of whether Oda resigns, Canadians should not lose sight of the larger issue and opportunity. We are in the midst of a global movement for international development aid transparency.

The benefits are clear, our allies are present, and even five of our focus recipient countries have signed up. And yet, Canada is nowhere to be found.