Organizations at War

 

 

Abdulkader H. Sinno's Academic Website

 

Organizations at War in Afghanistan & Beyond

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Is it possible to explain the evolution and to predict the outcomes of conflicts as complicated as those that afflicted post-1979 Afghanistan?  Is it possible to use a common analytical tool to explain the results of ethnic, religious, revolutionary, secessionist, and liberation conflicts despite their treatment by scholars as distinct categories?  This book makes the case that this could be accomplished by developing a new perspective and theory premised on the understanding that societal groups, civilizations, classes, religions and nations do not engage in conflict or strategic interaction—organizations do. 

To engage in conflict means to perform a number of complex processes—formulation and execution of strategy, coordination, mobilization, etc—and amorphous entities such as classes, civilizations or people cannot do such things.  To assert that a given conflict pits a politicized group against another is to use shorthand to indicate that organizations that recruit among those groups are engaged in conflict.  Words influence where we look for answers, and such generally accepted but distracting linguistic constructs have limited the ability of social scientists to develop useful and powerful analytical tools to better understand complex conflicts. 

The Organizational Theory of Group Conflict avoids misleading linguistic constructs by focusing on that which truly explains the evolution and outcome of conflicts: the ability of politicized organizations to outperform their rivals.  Successful overall performance results from the execution of a number of essential organizational processes such as efficient mobilization, strategy execution, coordination, the management of factionalism, and the processing of information.  An organization’s ability to execute these processes depends on how its structure fits with its ability to keep its rivals at bay from a sheltered space.

A sheltered space is a portion of the contested territory where an organization’s rivals can not intervene with enough force to perturb its operations.  Centralized organizations are generally more effective than non-centralized ones, but are more vulnerable to the attempts of rivals to disturb their operations because of their dependence on coordination among their different specialized branches.  An organization—such as the state, an occupier, or a strong insurgent group—which controls a sheltered space that protects it from the easy disturbance of its operations by rivals must therefore adopt a highly centralized and specialized structure.  Organizations that don’t have such a space must adopt a non-centralized structure to increase their odds of outlasting their rivals.  To have a sheltered space is not essential to win the conflict, what is essential for the organization is to organize properly based on whether it has such a space.  An organization that suddenly gains control of a sheltered space must therefore transform itself into a more centralized and differentiated structure or risk dissipating its resources.

The Organizational Theory explains otherwise puzzling behavior or developments one normally encounters in politicized group conflicts, such as the longevity of many unpopular regimes, the surprising demise of some popular movements, why some seemingly advantageous strategies are never adopted, and why some who share a common cause are often more concerned with undermining their ideological kin than their ideological enemies.  

I test the theory by applying it to successive Afghan conflicts after 1979 and then to a larger (42 conflicts and 134 organizations) statistical sample, both of which confirm its predictive and explicative power.  Afghan conflicts are particularly conducive to test the Organizational Theory because they feature a wide array of organizations with broad variation in structure that facilitate the conduct of revealing critical tests that hold most other variables constant.  The Organizational Theory convincingly explains 1) the resilience of the Afghan resistance and the failure of both the Soviets and the Kabul regime to overcome the mujahideen, 2) why the Najib regime survived well beyond everyone’s expectations after the 1989 withdrawal of its Soviet sponsors and the suddenness of its ultimate demise in 1992, 3) why only two centralized mujahideen organizations tried to upstage each other while others largely disintegrated afterwards, and 4) the post-1994 dramatic rise of the Taliban that left all observers baffled.  I use evidence from my own field research and from primary and secondary sources.  The last chapter argues that the Organizational Theory is useful to analyze conflicts beyond Afghanistan by verifying its predictive ability on a large sample of conflicts—all ethnic, revolutionary and secessionist conflicts that lasted longer than three years in post-WWII North Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.  The epilogue also explains initial U.S. military successes in Afghanistan following the September 11 events, and argues that current American efforts at “state building?in this country are likely to fail.

 

Praise for Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond

[Sinno] knows a lot about Afghanistan and offers significant insights about organizations and strategy on which others will want to build.

Professor Lawrence D. Freedman, War Studies at King's College, (Foreign Affairs, (Sep/Oct2008, Vol. 87, Issue 5, pp 169-170)

[Sinno’s] finding should end the current search of U.S. policymakers for a “moderate Taliban?that can be broken off from the insurgency...For the Taliban remains a formidable organization, and Abdulkader Sinno’s Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond is a formidable account of why.

Professor Barnett Rubin, NYU (Perspectives on Politics 7, no. 1, pp 216-17)

Sinno has produced an insightful book. His emphasis on organizational theory will arm those who study conflict with a valuable perspective.

Brigadier General H.R. McMaster (Survival 50, no. 5, October-November 2008, 204-06)

This book is a fascinating and serious piece of scholarship that carries implicit policy warnings?The book presents very important conclusions, but is clearly written for an advanced, specialist audience?b> Highly recommended.

Professor M. D. Crosston, Clemson University, (Choice, September 2008)

For anyone interested in insurgency and counterinsurgency, Afghanistan and Pakistan, or late-period Soviet military history, the book is worth the effort…The book accomplishes a crucial social science goal: it develops a parsimonious and generalizable theory that explains a wide range of behavior, without the need to resort to other variables (such as religion, ethnicity, ideology, or unique factors of anthropology or history). Sinno concludes with a set of predictions about other cases, using his findings to provide useful advice for policymakers. While he only mentions in passing the relevance of his findings for the Middle East, it is striking how well his arguments seem to explain ongoing conflicts everywhere from the Palestinian territories to Iraq. For all of these reasons, this book has great value

Professor Kimberly Marten, Barnard College, Columbia University (Political Science Quarterly Volume 123, 2008, issue 4, pp. 478-79) 

Sinno does a remarkably thorough job of analyzing the Afghan insurgency and tribal interactions from 1978 through the present. This section is insightful, thoughtful, and exceptionally valuable; he reveals a deep knowledge of Afghan politics and rivalries, personalities, and agendas. Sinno’s organizational theory approach to explaining success and failure of rival groups during this period is persuasive. His tables and analysis are clear and direct and provide an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to understand the complexities of events in Afghanistan from the end of the Soviet occupation through the collapse of the Najib regime and the rise of the Taliban. It is doubtful that there is an analysis of events in Afghanistan that is better, more complete, and more useful to a military commander, diplomat, or Provincial Reconstruction Team chief than what can be found in chapters 6 through 8 of this book. This analysis should open some eyes and minds to reassessing the purpose and direction of the current operational activities in Afghanistan. 

Keith D. Dickson, retired Special Forces officer and a Professor of Military Studies at the Joint Forces Staff College. (Joint Forces Quarterly, issue 53, 2nd quarter 2009)  

Ce livre surclasse bon nombre des publications actuelles parce que l’auteur applique des théories organisationnelles complexes aux participants en conflit, explique pourquoi des régimes ?la moralit?douteuse peuvent prendre le pouvoir et pourquoi des groupes qui semblent considérablement plus faibles que leurs adversaires peuvent être victorieux. C’est un ouvrage solide sur le plan théorique, fond?sur des renseignements obtenus de source directe et des données statistiques, qui repose sur un raisonnement clair et est bien organis?

Heather Hrychuk (Journal de l’Armée du Canada)  

This book is not only different in the way that it examines conflict in Afghanistan and other countries, it also breaks new ground with an innovative thesis about the importance of ‘organizations? in these wars. 

Shams Afif Siddiqi (The telegraph, India, Friday, January 2 , 2009

Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond should be mandatory reading for Afghanistan analysts, counterinsurgency specialists, conflict and civil war scholars, and even for the leadership of groups that are engaged in conflict.?nbsp;

Christian Bleuer, Australian National University (Asian Politics & Policy)  

As well as being a useful source for postgraduate study, Organizations at War should also be made compulsory reading for any military officer, diplomat or NGO official heading for Afghanistan.

Dr. Rod Thornton, University of Nottingham, UK (International Studies Review)

Abdulkader Sinno’s book, employing a combination of organizational models and typologies with an extensive analysis of the strategies and circumstances of many of these actors, is an ambitious and innovative effort to make sense of these dynamics. The work is important for its depth of research and for demonstrating that many aspects of Afghanistan’s apparently chaotic situation can be understood using general principles of organizational theory."

Professor Philip Schrodt, Pennsylvania State University (International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 42, 2010, 709-711)

[Sinno's] book is a valuable contribution to organizational theory, strategic analysis, and strategic planning. It offers a coherent approach to assess the impact on conflicts of particular organizational structures. It should be read by students of strategy and built upon by experts. Sinno’s understanding of past Afghan conflicts is first rate, and his explanations of the outcomes of past Afghan conflicts will be of equal interest to regional experts.

Stéphane Lefebvre, Defence R&D Centre for Operational Research and Analysis, Canada (Strategic Studies Quarterly 2010)

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