As NATO’s war in Afghanistan continues to suffer setbacks, perhaps it should consider operating the “business of war” as an actual business. No international company is better suited to serve as a role model than the world’s leading home remodeling chain; The Home Depot, Inc. It has revolutionized the construction and remodeling industry through innovation and efficiency, concepts sorely lacking in the NATO effort.
1. Home Depot’s trademark and guiding principle is: “You can do it. We can help.” That should be the mantra of any nation-building effort, perhaps tweaked to say “You can rebuild your country. We can help.” Instead NATO seems to have embraced a policy of: “We know best. Do as we tell you.”
2. The Home Depot business philosophy is customer service. To that end, it listens to what its customers want and provides those items at a reasonable price and with service plans so that equipment can be maintained for the long term. All of these concepts seem alien to the political and military components of the NATO countries. Afghans are rarely asked what they want or need. Instead, in many cases, Ph.D. economists from the West, with no expertise regarding Afghanistan, decide how the Afghan development aid is to be spent.
In addition, once project funds are spent on a road or building or power plant, there rarely are any follow-on efforts to service or maintain them. In Afghanistan; NATO constructed roads (including the nation’s asphalt ring road) are already collapsing due to a lack of maintenance. Likewise, NATO-constructed buildings are deteriorating and power plants stand idle or only in partial use. None of this would be acceptable under the Home Depot model. If one is going to spend capital on an investment, there should be an equal effort made to protect that investment with proper maintenance.
3. The Home Depot chain of command embraces a minimum of bureaucracy. Such streamlined operations are possible because the company has embraced information management innovations that permit senior managers to quickly analyze store, district, region, division and company operations. In contrast, NATO is a sluggish top-heavy bureaucracy.
The Home Depot, Inc. vs. NATO (Afghanistan)
2245 stores 101 bases (known)
321,000 employees 130,000 military personnel
28 Senior Officials 130 Generals and Admirals
(Board members, Executive
and Senior Vice-Presidents and
NATO should follow the Home Depot lead and send at least 100 of its Generals and Admirals home. It is also not clear why NATO has Admirals working in a landlocked country. These appointments appear to be favors to Admirals with political connections.
4. Another Home Depot precept is to utilize technology but not overly rely on it. Statistics are important but the company recognizes that each metric has its own shortcomings. Pentagon audits in Afghanistan have discovered that thousands of NATO weapons which had been provided to Afghan forces cannot be accounted for. Some may now be in the hands of the Taliban. NATO officials opine that most of these weapons are probably not really missing and that the only problem is poor record-keeping, but they don’t know for sure. While a Home Depot store may lose a few light bulbs and an occasional power tool, no store has ever lost thousands of assault weapons. Where there are inventory shortages Home Depot officials revert to an old-fashion remedy which is to go look for the merchandise.
NATO training officials should consider using this low-tech remedy and actually try spending time in the field searching for the missing weapons. NATO officials should also consider inserting active radio frequency or ultra-high frequency tags into the stocks of each weapon so that they can be tracked by Global Positioning Satellites. That is what the Home Depot would do.
5. Home Depot corporate officials will remove managers who fail to perform and will fire those who fail to act in conformance with company principles. Such practices would likely be shocking to NATO bureaucrats. In addition, staffing levels at Home Depot stores are tied to sales such that stores that produce high revenue are permitted higher staffing, which facilitates even higher sales. This model rewards the productive and efficient. Again, these appear to be alien concepts to NATO which follows no known accountability model.
6. Home Depot officials insist that their personnel be in the field and on the floors of their stores, while NATO countries tend to keep their Embassy officials, contracting experts and aid mangers sequestered in Kabul, detached from the Afghan public and separated from the projects they are supposed to be managing. That is not the Home Depot way.
7. Finally Home Depot has a commitment to high ethical standards. According to Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post, NATO is planning to ship 60-70% of its surface cargo to Afghanistan by rail through Uzbekistan, a country where dictator, Islam Karimov and his feared NSS secret police, rule through terror. Lavish NATO payments to Uzbek officials have helped make Dictator Karimov’s daughter a billionaire. NATO officials have apparently convinced themselves that in order to keep the Afghan people free, the Uzbek people must remain enslaved.
This repugnant situation has somehow been rationalized away as an acceptable tradeoff. It would not, however, be acceptable to Home Depot’s management, which has no stores in Uzbekistan and never would deal with the likes of Islam Karimov. In fact, a Home Depot NATO would likely lean toward regime change in Uzbekistan, a position more consistent with the NATO Charter.
In addition Home Depot would never gamble on such a precarious logistics arrangement as exists in Uzbekistan. The rail link from Qarshi in Uzbekistan runs south to the Afghan frontier town of Hairaton. Trains from Qarshi travel over the western ranges of the Tian Shan mountains on tracks that have been described as “rickety.” Even if the rail link does not collapse from natural causes, rail sections could easily be destroyed by the Taliban. That would create havoc within NATO and could threaten its Afghan mission. As the American saying goes, one should never place all of ones eggs in the same rickety basket. In contrast, Home Depot’s supply chain is safe, redundant and secure. NATO would do well to begin managing its war as if it were The Home Depot.