The inception of a learning community

Friday, 12. June 2015

On the 20th of May, one year after the conclusion of the ISAF-mission, a Dutch-German 'Common Effort Community' has been formed in order to draw lessons from 'Afghanistan' for future conflict management.

Civil-military cooperation in internationasl crisis and stabilization missions is more important than ever. Picture: 1GE/NL Cps

"Diversity is the key for success in a complex world" Ursula von der Leyen told the participants of the multinational civil-military exercise 'Common Effort 2015' on the 20th of May. The Minister of Defense thereby addressed 150 soldiers of the Dutch-German corps and 100 civil experts, who reflect this diversity. For three days they practiced the implementation of a comprehensive approach to cooperation in the context of international stabilization missions.

Dr. von der Leyen held her keynote for the occasion of an agreement between 24 non-governmental organizations, think tanks, ministries and the Dutch-German corps, who founded the "Common Effort Community". Through joining this association the members not only commit themselves to joint practice, but also to the sharing of knowledge and experiences. In doing so, the understanding of conflict and fragility will be enhanced and strategies for the protection of civilians can be improved, thereby promoting an integrated (comprehensive) public and political approach in Germany, the Netherlands, NATO, the EU and the UN.

Many names for a joint initiative.

"Diversity is key": Federal Minister of Defense, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen. Picture: 1GE/NL Cps/Jacqueline Woller

The 'integrated (comprehensive) approach' laid out by Dutch and German experts and soldiers epitomizes the main emphasis of the Federal Academy for Security Policy. Hence, aside from the Federal Ministry of Defense, the German Red Cross and the International Institute for Politics and Economics 'Haus Rissen Hamburg' multiple training centers of the federal government- including our Academy- belong to the agreement. In the ceremony our participation was represented by our vice president Armin Staigis.

"So far we have different names for this approach: the British call it ‘whole of the government approach" and the Dutch even "whole of society approach", in Germany it is merely referred to as "comprehensive", said Staigis who himself was chief of staff for the Dutch-German corps from 2004 to 2008. Yet, he explained, in essence everyone aims for the same: The best possible cooperation of all actors that are part of conflict resolution. The ISAF mission of the international community is now concluded but the task remains to build on these experiences to draw lessons from them and  apply new insights in the future.

Founded in 1996 the originally bilateral 'First Dutch-German corps' now include a dozen NATO partners. Between 2003 and 2009 they already constituted a key component of the 'International Security Assistance Force' in Kabul, Afghanistan, thereby not only leading the deployment but also the mission to rebuild the country after many years of civil war.

Possible success and boundaries of the comprehensive approach

Preceding the signing of the agreement a panel discussion with NGO and government representatives discussed the most pertinent areas of work for the comprehensive approach. Adapting the economist Peter Drucker, Rüdiger König, the head of the 'crisis prevention, stability and post-conflict rehabilitation department' of the Federal Foreign Office said that "Culture eats strategy for breakfast – and structure for lunch". Thereby, he affirmed that in the cooperation of a diversity of participants it is more crucial to learn about and take into consideration different work ethics than to confine oneself to existing structures.

Commitment to a good and necessary cause: the signatories to the „Common Effort Community“declaration. Amongst them brigardier Armin Staigis, the vice president of the Federal Academy of Security Policy; with Federal Defense Minister von der Leyen. Picture: 1GE/NL Cps/Jacqueline Woller

Florian Westphal, Director of 'Doctors Without Borders Germany', highlighted that the experiences gained through cooperation also have boundaries: "we cannot exclusively work with the military, but we do interact with it". The reason for this stance is that for his humanitarian aid organization the care for essential human needs are the priority, thus, in conflict situations they have to remain neutral.

Author: Marcus Mohr

Website of the First Dutch-German corps