The comprehensive approach is about saving lives, time and money and thus about achieving ends and strategic success more efficiently. The conference set out to address two questions; what is needed to make the comprehensive approach work and what are the obstacles to implementing new proposals and how can they be removed? It brought together a significant number of the parties working on and with the comprehensive approach to share best practice and critical information and to investigate how to establish a shared corporate memory by which lessons-learned could be shared and applied. The focus was a new culture of understanding between civilian and military partners based on enhanced institutional relationships via shared awareness and assessment, the development of a comprehensive planning framework and culture, and better civil-military interaction during complex crises linked to a more effective and efficient learning cycle.
Time is pressing. Corporate memory could soon be lost if post-Afghanistan militaries return to their warfighting comfort zone and politicians assume that there will be no more complex emergencies involving both hard security and humanitarian or stabilisation issues. Some at the conference expressed disappointment at the prospect that there might be no mention of the comprehensive approach at the May 2012 NATO Chicago Summit and therefore little added impetus to building an enduring improvement in inter-organisational working. Others argued that there is no need for more high level statements on comprehensive approach and that the time has come to finally implement what has already been agreed upon.
For the comprehensive approach to work civilian capability and capacity must be systematically developed as part of a cross-institutional planning partnership, the competencies of institutions and agencies clearly delineated, and a systematic and robust programme of exercising and training of both civilian and military professionals designed and implemented based on a philosophy of ‘train as you act’. A new neutral space or forum is needed in which all partners can exchange information and best practice and avoid duplication of effort to promote greater efficiency and effectiveness. Central to such a forum will be a much more open sharing of the real lessons generated by over a decade of civilian and military effort allied to greater transparency and less classification.
Organisations must also make internal arrangements to enable the work with others, planning and operating together; that is not simply an issue of civilian and military bodies, it includes also different military organisations as well as purely civilian organisational relationships. NATO’s setting up of a Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre (CCOMC), bringing together military and civilian expertise and connecting its operational military headquarters (SHAPE) to the networked world, is one such example. Creating arrangements like the Policy Action Group (PAG) that proved effective in Afghanistan would be useful in many complex stabilisation crises to provide coordination between the host government and the international community.