Organizational perception and international relationships

this article is the result of a convergence: of events, ideas, communication.

and it also shares a process, by using a real-life “business case” that should be immediately familiar to anybody who, online or offline, follows the news.

before the real article, a couple of “introductory sections”

Keywords: change, HASDD, Middle East, NATO, stabilization, Turkey

Widening your field of view

Twitter, Facebook, AOL/Huffington , Reuters or Associated Press, Newspapers’ websites, text messages, satellite TV, newspapers: the choice is yours, you just need some time and your brain.

I used to spend time in libraries researching newspapers and magazines, long before Internet was accessible outside the Academic environment, and had access to few newspapers each day as a young teenager.

any news report is based on a biased choice: it is only human; and whoever says that (s)he is being “objective”, has anyway limited time- it is impossible to be omniscient.

but most people add to this selective process called “reporting” their own tunnel vision, by reading or watching only editorials produced by those who share their own views.

but if you go “multisource”, and cross-check what different sources with different motivation report, you can have at your fingertips more information with less than an hour once in a while a wider perspective on what is going on.

and remove some of the self-serving bias.

anyway, if you are just a reader, and the purpose of keeping abreast with news is to “feel informed”, then also the self-reassuring “tunnel vision” that I described above is enough.

but it is not if you are paid to provide analysis.

From reader to analyst

my approach to organizational analysis is quite simple: as a supplier of analysis, you have to be free from any bias related to your own self-interest or the self-interest of your sponsor.

then, you can leave to the advocates to choose how to sell and spin- but you should never confuse the two roles.

and if you need to cover both… clearly differentiate between the two roles.

I usually deliver a first workshop on the initial “bias-free” results, and then, as an outcome of the workshop, deliver the more “political”, approved report.

a partner at my first employer told me over 20 years ago, while we were waiting for some information: a management consultant is the guy who asks the customer to pay, so that he can lend the customers’ watch, and tell him what’s the time.

and then he added the second half of the joke (usually forgotten): it is true, because sometimes they cannot be the ones telling what’s the time- and they need somebody else to do it.

Why the title

A basic assumption: each and any organization is built on a purpose, develop across time, consolidates, and… adds to its founding aims its own survival.

And a corollary: both organizations and their external stakeholders gradually develop partially divergent perceptions of what entails their mutual relationship.

And this is compounded by the habit of most organizations to introduce change- while re-inventing or ignoring the past (including their own).

Christopher Andrew in a 2009 book called it HASDD (Historical Attention Span Deficit Disorder): oblivious to the lessons learned from history.

yes, historical ignorance is a bliss- but an expensive one.

While individuals can overcome HASDD, oHASDD (its organizational counterpart) is more difficult, as in most organizations you get few career points by hinting at repeating patterns.

Therefore, most members of any organization prefer to leave traces of their own foresight, to be retrieved after something happens that confirms what they could have hinted before- call it organizational fence-sitting.

An analysis should be delivered when resulting from an appropriate series of steps, and can still be used to influence decision making, not after it is confirmed by events.

European neighbourhood

Since I started being interested in the relationship between European states (over three decades ago), I kept seeing the EU expanding, after 1989 usually with NATO as a “conveyor belt” on the accession path to the EU.

As for Turkey- well, my knowledge kept expanding- but my ignorance revealed to be even larger than any knew knowledge I had acquired.

Let’s say that the perspective that I had received in school was significantly biased.

My first and only visit in Turkey was in Spring 2001, and before that my knowledge (backward development, newer to older) was through business contacts covering EMEA while in Paris, studies in London, visits in Germany, and, of course, studying history while at school in Italy.

What I saw was a multietnic society, with a different balance between powers, where the Army had a stabilization role that we are not used to in European Union.

Add the potential (now real) unrest in few countries around the Mediterranean Sea, the increasing non-European activities of NATO, the current economic crisis, and steps to expand the EU with few Balkan countries… and you get a general picture of how all the information and concepts described up to this point generated this article.

And what about the communication part? Quite simply, it all started with a short news fragment that I read on a Flemish newspaper, reporting that Serbia will organize the annual NATO conference in June.

My friend replied that NATO outlived its mission (everybody considers the conference a first step toward mending the wounds left from the Balkan wars, a step toward NATO and then EU membership).

And I replied: “as any organization- it is looking for a new lease of life. From military security, to job security.”

Converging events

But, beyond the jokes, I already wrote online why I think that actually NATO, born according to a joke to keep a country out, and another one down, can probably be a stabilization and efficiency enabler- and not just in Europe.

As for Turkey, I will use as a starting point an interesting article by Tarik Oguzlu published in a recent issue of the “Political Science Quarterly” (PSC henceforth).

The main point? Re-thinking about EU membership and what it entails.

Anybody who was surprised about the recent events in the Middle-East probably has been asleep for few decades.

The main issue wasn’t if there would be a transition- but how it could happen, and which constituencies would end up being represented by the new power structures.

In Turkey, the AKP advance, along with the institutional changes required to continue the negotiations with the EU, eventually modified the relationship between the Army and the political power.

Between the other elements, with a form of political oversight of the Army (as it is customary for EU and NATO countries).

Evolving NATO

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO has been soul searching- as many other organizations and institutions that since the 1950s had been focused on avoiding both a repeat of the mistakes made after WWI, and an expansion of the Soviet Bloc from the Urals to the Atlantic.

Membership in NATO used to be seen as a “rite of passage” on the road toward accession to the EU (e.g. it was so for the Baltic states and former-COMECON members), but first the interventions in the Balkans, then in Afghanistan created some tension.

Tension between those who would like NATO to dissolve or, at least, to be “rebalanced”, shadowing the creation of a European standing Army, and those who could see a future that extends beyond the European theatre.

I wrote and said what I think repeatedly- but let’s say that you can consider me in the latter camp, while I do not see why this choice should really be incompatible with the first option.

Also in my short compulsory service in the Army, as a political and history buff, I was impressed by the apparently seamless integration that was described by my officers, with operations that would have been impossible without a prior integration and harmonization of what I could describe as “business processes”.

And this, despite a significant difference in capabilities and resources between the contributing armies, as shown during the Balkan wars and elsewhere (logistics, access to satellite-based information, and so on).

New missions, new issues- but do the old motivations support the new missions?

Probably, it is a matter to shift from competition (NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact) to co-competition.

Regional evolutions and co-competition

Turkey has been a member of NATO- and, probably, this reduced the tensions between its members, as shown by repeated crises between Greece and Turkey that never converted into an open conflict.

But shifting from military, territorial security against the potential invasion by a common enemy, to securing trade and access to resources (Iraq, Afghanistan, and other stabilization interventions, such as the ones against piracy), re-opens the old question: are the economic interests of all the parties involved naturally converging, or better served by (co)competition?

Co-competition instead of just competition, as in a multipolar world sometimes competition on a certain issue does not necessarily rule out cooperation on other issues (e.g. China, EU, USA all share an interest in keeping stability on the maritime trade routes).

As any group of companies that allowed its units to use suppliers from the free market, instead of other business units, discovered, cohesion when you let internal and external suppliers compete is not what you assume it to be when you keep a “us vs. them” approach.

This ability of NATO to act as an umbrella was part of the discussions reported after the Deauville Summit between France, Germany, and Russia, and recent announces about the acquisition of NATO equipment by Russia.

And this could actually generate an interesting but unexpected role for Turkey, EU, and NATO in the Middle East.

Power transitions

I will not summarize here articles etc: you follow the links on my political twitter (@aleph123, notably those over the last six months (and I will keep adding more).

The main issue: a divergence between reality and interpretation, e.g. the over-hype about the side-effects of communication technologies (text messages, Internet, etc)- oblivious to the simple fact that you need somebody within the ruling elites deciding to leave those communication channels active.

As discussed in previous articles on this blog (e.g. search for “Egypt” or “Tunisia”), the current turmoils will not necessarily produce a democratic end, and often it seems as if the Army is the stabilizing factor, while the unrest is spreading across the region.

In Europe we had at least one case (Portugal in 1974) where the Army was an agent of transition from dictatorship to democracy: but Portugal had already a long shared history with its European neighbours,and it was quickly integrated (despite what the current debt woes would seem to imply) within the European democratic framework.

The same cannot be said about the countries currently on the first page of our newspapers, that in most cases transitioned from colonialism and neo-colonialism to “short-leash democracies” (or authoritarian, self-replicating regimes).

The risk of the spillover of a potential domino effect in the Middle East is real- as acknowledged by the pre-emptive electoral initiative by the Palestinian Authority, and the continued demonstrations in Iran (albeit not necessarily with a convergence toward an homogeneous democratic level).

Perspective and history

I was born in Italy, and I still hold just the Italian passport (also if now the covers states “European Union”).

What I found quite interesting when I visited Turkey in 2001 (just Istanbul, Izmir, and other areas around Izmir) was, as usual, to have yet another confirmation that my ignorance has no boundaries- actually, that its boundaries extend on a daily basis- whenever I learn something new.

Turkey, as Italy, is by definition and history a multietnic country, with thousands of years of history as both part of and battleground between empires.

A fear expressed within the article in PSC is to see the Turkish state split along cultural and religious fault lines, as price to pay to become a full member of the EU.

You can search on my blog the articles where I referred to Turkey (just enter “Turkey” withing the search box): few, but each time referring to its potential regional role.

For a long time I remember reading articles stating that Turkey could be the EU bridge toward the Arab world: forgetting that Turkey (and, not too far away, Iran) are not ethnically Arab countries.

Turkey managed to transition from an Army-managed democracy to a balance of powers that is different from the one we are used to in Europe (we talk about legislative, judicial, executive powers- and the military is usually considered a mere tool): but enables a balance between all the main actors.

Anyway, also in Europe, with the shift from conscription to professionalization, it is foreseeable a potential political role- albeit the lessons of the last couple of centuries of the Western Roman Empire will probably be useful.

Few days ago, I wrote few private messages with two main concepts: that the peripheral territory of the EU (e.g. Lampedusa in Italy) is Schengen’s border, not just the Italian border; and that maybe, considering what is happening, and the temporary disruption of the structure of the state (e.g. the disappearance of the police) in some countries, probably the solution could only be to have the Army intervene, and/or adopt the solution adopted long ago with Albania.

But I did not say who should be the actor: I think that we Europeans should thread lightly on trying to deliver a form of support that could easily be considered neo-colonialist (also due to our role in sustaining the deposed regimes).

An example of the side-effect of this structural instability: few days ago, the mayor of Lampedusa reported 3000 arrivals in 78 hours, transported on mainland Italy through planes and boats in 78 hours.

And more are expected, from Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria: the due process could be applied by an individual country only for smaller numbers- keeping the nominal rights implies extending the structural support to managing the emergency, at least across Schengen.

I heard on the Internet an interview with a Tunisian now in Lampedusa: true or false, he said that this time, as nobody knows who is in power anymore, and too many people are “settling scores”, citizens started cooperating to leave the country.

He said that each passenger contributed 1100 EUR, they bought a boat, and left, heading for Lampedusa.

Decades ago, European warships went patrolling the waters south of Vietnam, to pick-up boat people who risked their lived in more treacherous waters.

Right now, we are talking about patrolling the waters in the Mediterranean- and this could be useful to avoid other tragedies, such as overloaded boats sinking, but what next?

As I wrote in those messages I referred to above, we Europeans should remind the lesson of the Balkan wars, when Germany ended up with reportedly 600,000 refugees from Bosnia.

Therefore, stabilization is the way ahead. But how do you identify the appropriate stabilization approach?

You don’t. You identify the people and organizations able to deliver it locally, and support them.

As an example, I like to “quote” the job interview inside “Inception”, when to select a “dreams architect” (design in 30 seconds a maze that requires a minute to be solved; faster than the selection in “Dark City”, or “The 13th Floor”, movies about the same subject- building alternative realities).

So, ask yourself: are we, Europeans, able to produce a sustainable, long-term change in the region?

Again: look for your answer in history.

Local solutions to local issues

Let’s consider that we have a local dimension, e.g. within our own country.

And a surrounding dimension, internal (i.e. the same physical and cultural region), and external (physically but not culturally close).

Along with the usual external circles, getting farther and farther away from the identification.

Some contries, including members of the EU, are currently offering financial resources: but countries in the region are wary about potential strings being attached to any form or shape of aid from former colonial powers.

Moreover, who would you deliver the resources to, without generating a resistance and tilting the balance toward undemocratic choices, as it would be if there were to be a perception that we are choosing the next rulers?

We are already accused to have chosen with the previous ones: while, in some cases, it was more a matter of supporting the winner.

Looking at recent aid trends, bilateral development aid showed an overall significant predominance of EU funding, but scattered in multiple streams (with potential overlapping priorities), leaving as the single largest source of bilateral commitments the US (see these two articles on DevEx: a primer and current offers).

As acknowledged on Feb. 11th European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs, who said: “How can we expect a partner country in, say, Africa to take us seriously when fifteen or more European donors are working there with limited resources and too much time spent on coordination?”

And the key issue is not the overall amount, but the overloading of scarce human resources with the skills and abilities to manage the funds allocated to achieve the highest possible impact- along with the way chosen to deliver the funds.

While there is a physical contiguity between the Schengen area and the countries currently experiencing a difficult power transition, probably both reason of opportunity (we Europeans are former colonial powers) and culture would suggest an approach that we are unable to sell to our own constituencies at home.

The Army so far seems to be the “stabilizer of choice”, helping to transition from authoritarian or limited democracy toward a democracy that is not simply a “dictatorship of the majority”.

Probably, along with the Arab League Turkey could support a smoother transition, by accessing also all the training and structural support of NATO to help both stabilize and improve the coordination.

While helping to transition the local armies toward a working relationship within a democratic framework consistent with the local culture.

Moving forward

Yes, NATO is yet another organization looking for a mission to evolve beyond its original scope.

But the mission- global stability and interoperability in support to the existing International Institutions focusing on global issues- found it.

The EU role? Supporting development and integration- as we are already doing by building the shared energy grid between Europe and Africa, including the Middle East, looking toward long-term mutual interest.

Helping to stabilize the countries currently experiences a “transition through unrest” toward a more democratic regime would simply further expand on the approach that has already been successful.

As an example, beside the energy grid, consider the activities of the African Laser Centre, basically converting the research and educational facilities previously used by South Africa in relationship with its nuclear weapon programme toward civilian uses, helping to develop high-tech research facilities across the African Continent.

If Turkey were to assist, on behalf of the Arab League toward reforming the local military and delivering training to help adapt NATO approaches, the constant communication and bilateral exchanges would gradually help to develop locally military forces that could be an antidote toward further authoritarian temptations.

The risk? As any democracy, each country could become a tougher party to negotiate with, but stability and long-term sustainability of the mutual relationship would help spur local development- and expand cooperation.

As for the allocation of resources… another article soon, based, again, on experience, observation, and ideas.


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