Circles of Trust

Circles of Trust

I learned a lesson a lot about building bridges with people we disagree with last week when Bob Jones visited, helped teach a class taught by Doug Irvin-Erickson, and then took me to meet Dave Johnson of C4ADS which used to be known as the Center for Advanced Defense Studies.

What made Bob and Dave different is that they are both retired Army special forces colonels. So, when they stressed the same things I did, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Robert Putnam’s notion of bridging social capital and why it is so important at times like these.

In our discussions last week, three themes rose to the surface. I hear all of them all of the time from colleagues in the peacebuilding world. What made them unusual here was the source. Bob, Dave, and others I know with military backgrounds have been saying these things for years. It’s time we started paying attention to them.

The Limits of Violence

Since 9/11, our government has spent a lot of time, money, and more trying to prevent the spread of violence in general and terrorism in particular. While we have killed thousands of our foes, we have not been able to create what Bob calls natural rather than artificial stability in any of the countries we have been fighting in. As Rachel Kleinfeld argues in her new book, A Savage Order, our policies have probably done more to foster more violence than prevent it.

Bob and I don’t always agree on what should be done when it comes to dealing with that violence in the short term. Certainly, when he was a serving officer, he had to be prepared to fight and did when he was ordered to do so. At the same time, he has learned over the years that armed intervention cannot lead to what he calls natural stability or I would call stable peace in the kind of tumultuous, ever-changing world we live in today.

Building Circles of Trust

That’s why Bob calls for building what he calls circles of trust, not only when he talks with peacebuilders like me but in his writings for the Special Operations Command’s leadership. Like me, he knows they cannot be built quickly or easily, but as many military leaders have understood since the publication of Directive 3000.05 in 2005 which nominally made conflict prevention and post conflict stabilization and reconstruction as important as combat operations for the American military. Emphasis on nominally.

Still, Bob and dozens of other military leaders talk about long-term strategies to build circles of trust that emphasize.

  • Fostering popular legitimacy
  • Acting in culturally appropriate ways
  • Working for justice
  • Enhancing the dignity of respect given to the people we work with
  • Empowering average citizens and political leaders alike

Data for Peace

In some ways, I was even more surprised by what I saw at C4ADS. The first handout Dave gave me starts with this sentence:

What states are doing to resolve conflict is not working.

Instead, Dave and his team focus on illicit networks that drive the conflict through the interconnected problems of drugs, crime, terror, corruption, and the like, the impact of which are magnified by a world that is changing as rapidly and as unpredictably as ours. Their material suggests that it is the duty of groups like theirs to “help protect communities from those who would prey on them.”

But how does C4ADS propose doing that?

Not with the weapons Dave used in his military years. But with data that it can analyze and use for proposing solutions that more cumbersome governmental bureaucracies have trouble reaching. Its analyses have led to the imposition of sanctions, the seizure of illicit material, and the disruption of more than a billion dollars of illegal financial transactions.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Alliance for Peacebuilding or its members.

Originally published at Chip Hauss.