Is a Super-Regional (SAMENA) War Beginning? Considerations for the U.S. and your Non Profit

"Mideast Yemen"Are we witnessing the beginning of an Arab World War? Foreign Policy’s J.M. Berger suggests we are

The 20 March bombings of two mosques in Sanaa, which killed more than 140 people, sparked a Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.  

Berger notes that the array of conflicts “involves a cyclone of explosive elements: religious extremism, proxy war, sectarian tension, tribal rivalries, terrorist rivalries, and U.S. counterterrorism policies.”

Comment: Nearly every country spanning the arc from Pakistan to Libya is involved in some sort of conflict. This kaleidoscope of violence involves much more than the Arab world.

Interestingly, the prospect of an important nuclear deal this summer that lifts sanctions on Iran may have prompted the Saudis to act quickly and aggressively in Yemen.

If we are seeing the advent of a super-regional maelstrom that may amplify ethnic, tribal, national, and sectarian tensions, the impact from South Asia to the Middle East and into North Africa (SA-ME-NA) will be profound.

What should the U.S. do? Here are some initial thoughts:

1. Develop a broad policy vision for the region that supports issues such as durable peace, freedom, human rights, and self-determination.  This will likely result in elections of some parties that the U.S. might not like.  Such prospect is probably lower risk in the long-term than being on the side of despots.

2. Aggregate allies rather than enemies.  Various private intelligence companies and defense contractors have economic incentives for threat proliferation.  The U.S. should have enough of an open mind look for and cultivate allies and partners that share broad objectives.  As President Ronald Reagan noted, anyone who agrees with us on 80% of the issues is probably an ally.  This approach is likely to prove more effective than considering anyone who disagrees with us on 20% of the issues to be an enemy.

3. Avoid being rented.  The U.S. would often come running with money and munitions whenever someone suggested al Qaeda were afoot.  That was understandable after September 11.  The consequences have been significant.  The U.S. should now avoid such a Pavlovian response. Otherwise, actors with a variety of agendas will dangle the latest extremist group as bait for U.S. military action against local and regional foes.

What should Non Profits do?

1. If your organization is already operating in the SAMENA region, you should begin assessing both tactical and strategic risks to your efforts.  Tactical risk includes proximity to active fighting zones and potential effects on your ability to continue operations.  Strategic risk takes into account the impact on your efforts in the region as a whole. Will you be able to continue operating? Do you need to diversify functionally or geographically?

A good set of risk assessments will help you prevent loss of life among local staff and partners; loss of funds through extortion, graft, and damaged or incomplete projects; and lost opportunities due to over-reactions.

2. Look for potential opportunities for impact.  The course of a wider regional conflict will be unpredictable and will have profound implications on civilians and children — people most vulnerable to violent groups.  Examine potential opportunities where your non profit could have the greatest impact.  Your strategy and operations will need to have sufficient flexibility to react to emerging needs.

3. Be patient, build relationships, and promote local ownership.   Organizations wanting to make a splash in a hurry are at highest risk to having their support hijacked for private gain.  High cost and low impact is an outcome to avoid.  Do your homework on the situation and need, build relationships, and patiently develop local ownership and transparency. Sometimes you have to start slow to have a rapid and persistent impact.

Impact is a NonProfit’s bottom line.  My Mission is to help you thrive.   

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Christopher D. Kolenda is President and CEO of Kolenda Strategic Leadership which helps NonProfits maximize their impact and leadership.  He commanded Paratroopers in combat and served as Senior Advisor to the Department of Defense Senior Leadership and to three Commanders of International Forces (ISAF) over four tours in Afghanistan.  See his two books on applied leadership and strategy: Leadership: The Warrior’s Art and The Counterinsurgency Challenge.  Follow me @KSLCEO

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Kolenda Strategic Leadership LLC

Kolenda Strategic Leadership LLC