Background

One of the most useful, and most powerful planning review techniques is the simplest. This consists of analysing outcomes (or potential outcomes) using the upside/ downside methodology. All this does is list, in descending order, the positive and negative features of a particular policy, either as part of a plan review (successes, failures, lessons learnt) or part of potential choices of future actions (impact analysis). Identifying each of the components enables the planner to both attempt to forecast likely outcomes and to clarify the level of risk, with the hope that within a complex set of actions and reactions, the Law of Unintended Consequences will have a reduced impact. Risk should be further reduced if the planner considered the worst case or absolute worst case outcomes within the range of forecast cases.

How the "value" of the various components is identified will be a subject of useful debate as it will often be a combination of monetary outcomes (classical cost benefit analysis) or measures of overall utility.

The combination of these two elements will then lead to an attempt to quantify the often unquantifiable. For example, different governments place value on human life in an attempt to value conflicting investments in say accident reduction through road engineering. Such bald statements will always remain assumptions, and it is usually preferable to leave an upside/downside analysis in a more general form as this does not hide impacts behind questionable valuations.

The balance sheet for 9/11

A useful example of the upside/ downside technique is to consider the impact of the actions taken after 9/11, which are summarised in Table 1

Table 1 Upside/ downside assessment of post 9/11 actions, weighting by the author


Upside

Downside

Atavistic revenge for 3000 killed citizens

Radicalisation of the Islamic world

The removal of one of the world's dictators

Shia/ Sunni conflicts

 

Polarisation and fragmentation of Pakistan

 

Deleterious effects on commodity prices

 

Growing violence in India

 

100,000 to 1,000,000 Iraqi dead

 

2 to 3 million Iraqi refugees

 

30,000 to 50,000 dead Afghan dead

 

2 million Afghan refugees

 

Infrastructure (civil, engineering) destruction in Iraq

 

Destruction of Iraqi economy

 

Destruction of Afghan economy

 

US war costs estimated at $5 trillion, with significant budget impacts in other countries

 

6,000 invading forces deaths, 70,000 serious injuries, 300,000 mental health cases

 

Decreased nuclear weapon stability

 

The expansion of the global "security" industry

 

Substantial reductions in US civil liberties and general decline elsewhere

 

Substantial damage to US and allies international standing

 

Substantial damage to already poor international institutions


Upside elements

Revenge. The loss of 3,000 citizens in "the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbour" led inevitably to a demand for revenge. Many of the actions taken since fulfilled that call for vengeance, an important upside component.

The removal of a dictator. Sadam Hussein was regarded as a "bad man" and his removal, albeit that he was one of many throughout the world can be considered part of the upside of post 9/11 actions.

Two other upside components have been shown not to exist. The first is the question of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It is clear from the history of the period that relevant authorities were clear that WMD were not a problem, but were a pretext. The second is the status of Al-Quaeda and its neutralisation. Like almost all extremist groups they existed as a philosophy and not a management structure; regardless of action taken against figureheads the underlying philosophy remains unbroken, indeed some would say invigorated.

Downside elements

Radicalisation of the Islamic world. The Islamic world contains many of the world's countries with the youngest average age, and some of the poorest. The combination of the perceived attack on fellow Muslims, coupled with youth and poverty has undoubtedly created an atmosphere where violence as a solution is seen as more and more acceptable in many countries by certain sections of the population. The long term impact of this is unclear, but it is unlikely to be favourable. It is likely to continue to grow as more and more conflicts are spawned throughout the Middle East and Africa on the basis of "you hit me, I hit you back" (or in CIA parlance the term blowback).

Shia/ Sunni conflicts. The practically inevitable shift of power in Iraq from the Sunni minority to the Shia majority has already substantially changed the politics of the region, with unknown long term consequences.

Polarisation and fragmentation of Pakistan. With a population in excess of 160 million and a long history of internal divisions, the economic and political strains imposed by the country's involvement in the Afghanistan conflict are leading to violence and the likely medium term collapse of civic order. The escalating violence in Karachi, the main city, is but one example of this worrying trend. Again where this will end is an unknown quantity, but it should be of major long term concern.

Deleterious effects on commodity prices. Conflicts raise commodity prices because of the ensuing uncertainty, and higher commodity prices slow growth. The impact of the actions has been, according to many commentators to have reduced world wide economic growth over the past ten years.

Growing violence in India. The spillover of problems in Pakistan have already influenced and will continue to influence developments in India. Here a country with a larger Muslim population than that of Pakistan is facing greater and greater inequalities of income, with the ruling urban Hindu majority gathering most of the economic benefits of India's economic development while the Muslim and rural poor are left behind.

Iraqi dead. Various estimates exist for the impact of the invasion of Iraq on its population, ranging from 100,000 to over 1,000,000.

Iraq refugees. The war led to enormous displacement of settled communities within Iraq and a combination of internal and external refugees. Some major towns such as Baghdad have seen nearly complete ethnic cleansing.

Afghan dead. Estimates on the total number of Afghans killed in the conflict also vary considerably.

Afghan refugees. The conflict has continued to add to the number of Afghan refugees.

Destruction of Iraqi infrastructure. Civil government has fragmented, the provision of education, health, transport, power, water and sewage treatment has fallen below existing levels.

Destruction of Iraqi economy. What was mostly a demand economy with high levels of subsidy has disintergrated into high levels of unemployment and the closure of most manufacturing. Oil output, the main revenue generator of the economy, still remains at low levels.

Destruction of Afghan economy. Afghanistan was, and remains one of the poorest states in the world with a predominately agricultural economy. War has destroyed agriculture, creating a vast growth in drug production, coupled with rampant corruption as a significant proportion of the vast war expenditures are siphoned off by the elites.

War costs. The enormous war costs, estimated at over $5 trillion for the US by Stiglitz in 2009, continue to mount, with additional costs being carried by other participants. The opportunity cost of the effects of this investment elsewhere to reduce the official unemployment rate of 9% and effective unemployment rate of nearly 17% are considerable.

Participant deaths and injuries. Part of the long term cost of the conflicts will be the demands on various countries for the long term care of the seriously wounded and mentally damaged. This will include direct economic effects, but also the damage to families and longer term problems such as occurred after the Vietnam war when it was estimated that one in three of the homeless was a Vietnam veteran. An increase in violent crime also can be anticipated on the model of previous conflicts.

Decreased control over nuclear weapon development. Many commentators suggest that one of the lessons that may have been learnt from the lack of action against a country such as North Korea (part of the "axis of evil") compared with Iraq is in the one case the country has nuclear weapons and the other had not.

The expansion of the global "security" industry. The demand for more information and more control has greatly expanded the global security industry, with a reported 1.7 billion messages intercepted every day by the NSA, and the employment of nearly 70,000 individuals in the Transportation Security Authority being two examples of a worldwide trend.

Reduced civil liberties. Within the United States the passing of the Patriot Acts I and II has substantially altered the balance of power towards the state and away from the individual, but this is a global trend with international watchdogs reporting an overall decline in global civil liberties.

Damage to international standing. Polls show clearly that the international standing of those countries involved in the conflicts has been substantially damaged.

Damage to international institutions. Part of the checks and balances in the world was the creation of international institutions that attempted to further the rights of small countries against those of large. Ignoring or applying international norms unequally through such treaties as the Geneva Conventions, the International Criminal Court, and institutions such as the UN and NATO, has significantly reduced the effectiveness of all these components of international stability.

Various members of the Ibis team contributed to this case study. Contact Ibis with any comments.