The War We Don’t See

This is a topic that I’ll probably expand on later, but I was just reading an article discussing the role of Hamid Karzai’s brother in the present Afghan conflict.  This article gets at an issue that I’ve thought about before.  From the FP article cited above:

But he could not exist without the support of coalition forces. AWK has long worked closely with, and perhaps been paid by, the CIA, for whom he helps operate a paramilitary force, according to press reports.


As some of my research interests deal with the role of bureaucratic agencies in foreign policy, I find this particular chunk of text to be interesting.  Books and articles discussing the foundations of America’s modern military are rife with stories of fierce competition between the various branches of the service, each fighting for its stake in the game. Also, I’ve recently read Tim Weiner’s book on the history of the CIA–and yes, this book most definitely has a very particular world view–and he provides some interesting accounts of embassy officials and CIA officers going after one another in a pretty aggressive fashion.

The CIA, by virtue of its mission, tends to operate (or at least tries to) in a relatively low-key and quiet fashion.  Often times its activities are not made public until years later.  So I have two questions:

1)  What are we going to learn in 10-20 years about the working relationship between the CIA and the US military in the Afghan conflict?  Maybe some juicy details will come out sooner rather than later, but this article hints at the continued problems caused by bureaucratic competition and narrow viewpoints imposed by a particular agency’s mandate/mission.  The covert nature of military and intelligence operations can certainly add to the troubles of getting these competing elements to share information.

2)  How does this sort of thing impact our ability to conduct empirical analyses?  The obvious answer is that it doesn’t help.  Here I’m not so much thinking about this particular conflict, but secrecy is still very much a part of international relations and government.  Some articles have been written that deal with the issue of secrecy in one way or another, but they tend to be game theoretic models.  Clearly the issue by its very nature presents difficulties in gathering data and conducting empirical analyses, and there are severe censoring problems–what about the secret negotiations that we never find out about?

I believe this graph conveys my feelings on the matter:

Can you tell I’ve just discovered the “insert image” button?  Nevertheless, I think this poses an interesting question for the field.

About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2013. His research focuses on the political and economic determinants of foreign economic and security policy, security issues, and state repression.

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