Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

The Comprehensive Approach to Post-Conflict Reconstruction:

Canada, US, Germany, France, and the UK in Afghanistan

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Zyla


It is suggested that donor countries working in fragile states like Afghanistan adopt a Comprehensive Approach (CA) to provide effective and coherent responses for fragile states in post-conflict reconstruction. [The CA is sometimes used interchangeably with the term ‘whole-of-government’; we use CA here.] Specifically, the CA is calling on improving coherence by way of attaining greater interaction, coordination, and understanding among federal departments and agencies (especially the foreign, defence, and development department).

In the specific context of Afghanistan and considering Canada, the US, Germany, France, and the UK as case studies, the overall success of achieving policy coherence is commonly considered mixed at best, for the following reasons: (1) a lack of coordination among donors as well as clarity on objectives for the mission; (2) the lack of a clear strategic framework guiding donors’ actions; (3) conflict with long-term interests of reconstruction and development; (4) tensions between national peacebuilding and military agendas; (5) unclear national priorities; (6) conflicting national rationales for the Afghan mission; and (7) disagreements about the causes of instability in Afghanistan and how to address them.

However, the literature shows a gap in providing a much deeper, systematic analysis of what factors causally led to the CA’s policy incoherence in the first place, at which bureaucratic level of the government machinery (and why), involving which individuals, interests (or preferences), bureaucratic cultures, and hierarchies. This is surprising because the liberal foreign policy analysis theory literature (the theoretical framework used for this project), for example, suggests that foreign policy makers hold beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences, emotions, memories, and (national) self-conceptions. Analyzing those factors would provide a more holistic understanding of how policy was developed and implemented, why, and what predispositions and preferences decision-makers at the individual, societal, state, and international level of analysis hold towards the country’s CA in Afghanistan.

The objective of the project is to fill the gap identified. It uses an inductive research design to assess which of the variables suggested by the theoretical framework are showing relevance in the two case studies, why, and in what way. It is informed by an epistemology of explanatory understanding, which interprets social actions from within specific contexts in which policies were drafted and from which they obtained their meaning. Methodologically speaking, we use a comparative case study research design that examines the above noted case’s CA in Afghanistan with the purpose of detecting larger phenomena, meanings, and causal mechanisms. The project uses the following qualitative research methods to gain a more holistic understanding of the CA: semi-structured expert interviews, qualitative discourse analysis, access to information requests, and media scans (see methodology section for details).

The project creates new knowledge in the following ways: (a) it fills the above identified gap in the literature and thus provides the basis for future research projects with larger-N cases; and (b) it generates extensive qualitative data on the CA in Afghanistan.