Strategic Advising in Foreign Assistance
A Practical Guide
Kumarian Press, Sterling, Virginia, 2016, 171 pages
Book Review published on: April 21, 2017
Nadia Gerspacher provides Strategic Advising in Foreign Assistance to current and future foreign advisors in order to support them on their missions and to improve the quality of advisor contributions as they support building host-nation capacity. She puts forth the importance of the advisors’ mission as they assist in the developing local governance: it is better to help improve the quality of the host nation and its local actors through the use of inexpensive advisory missions than to wait until it becomes a failed and conflict-ridden state that requires a costly military intervention to stabilize. This book goes over many of the successes and failures she has seen with previous advisory missions, including a compilation of lessons she learned at the United States Institute for Peace and while working with advisors and communicating with counterparts in foreign ministries.
She first establishes the difference between advisors, trainers, and mentors. Trainers are short-duration instructors that teach host-nation personnel how to employ and utilize a particular system or piece of equipment. Mentors teach their counterparts how to conduct their mission—often by example—taking the lead in planning and executing operations before slowly transitioning aspects of the mission to their host-nation counterparts. Advisors, on the other hand, provide subject-matter expertise regarding existing host-nation capabilities and facilitate capacity development from the sidelines as their host-nation counterparts take the lead.
One of the author’s main points is that advisors need to work with existing capabilities instead of entirely dismantling them and rebuilding them from the ground up. She acknowledges that advisors, like any other people, may be biased to their own nation’s methods for conducting operations, but those methods themselves are rarely perfect and may only function effectively because their own culture facilitates it. Advisors need to forego the thought that they know how things should be and instead need to learn more about the operational environment of the local government in order to see how things came to be. A local ministry may appear weak and ineffectual at delivering essential services, but that may be as a result of other extraneous variables the advisor may not initially be aware of. The advisor will need to work with existing government apparatuses, because while they may appear to be ineffectual, they may also be what is required at the time, bolstering some other unidentified necessity.
Advisors should see themselves as colleagues of their host-nation counterparts; as part of a team whose job it is to determine local capacity for government, identify possible gaps, and collectively develop solutions. They facilitate discovery, learning, and problem solving, and they should provide the necessary advice and backing to support their counterpart and local actors to achieve necessary change within the environment. The author provides guidance on ways to achieve this level of mutual cooperation that can lead to an effectual relationship by developing mutual respect with their host-nation counterparts, acknowledging their contributions, and understanding their individual and collective trauma. The purpose of advising is to help develop workable and sustainable courses of action for host nations to undertake, and this naturally requires an effective advisor-counterpart partnership.
The intended audience of this guide is obviously people who work as foreign advisors, but any individual that has to provide advice to other individuals or organizations can find value in its writings. Department of Defense personnel who train and mentor foreign militaries may at times find themselves providing advice on military operations during host-nation military planning. A teacher may train and mentor their young students, but can also provide advice for what that student may do with their lives once they leave school. An incoming leader to an organization can apply many of the author’s principles to help improve the way operations are carried out by working with staff to identify it current capacities, finding gaps, and developing collaborative solutions to fill those gaps. Indeed, the underlying premise of this book is to understand the nature of the target audience and work with them to develop solutions to problems, and arguably that can apply to anyone. Therefore, though the guide’s primary target audience is advisors, almost anyone can find some value in writings because almost everyone provides advice at some point in their life.
Book Review written by: Capt. Colin Marcum, U.S. Army, Fort Bliss, Texas