Up Close and Personal: Reconstruction & Stabilization Operations

Recent stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq have underlined the need for the United States to shift the burden of these operations away from the Defense Department and onto other government agencies better suited to the work, according to a study released last week by the RAND Corporation.

“The military isn’t the best agency for reconstruction and stabilization missions, even though it can get personnel and resources to a location quickly,” said Nora Bensahel, lead author of the study and senior political scientist with RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Putting the military in charge of these tasks also sets a bad example because one of the key components of democratic theory is civilian control over the military,” Bensahel said. “If these tasks are highly or completely militarized, it raises fundamental doubts as to whether it is, indeed, democracy that is promoted by U.S. assistance.”

On Personnel Surge?

“Absent fundamental changes in organization and resources, the State Department and USAID will probably be more knowledgeable about stabilization and reconstruction issues than DoD but nowhere near as good at surging personnel in response to a crisis. Developing the capacity in civilian agencies to surge personnel and funding will need to be a key priority of senior U.S. leaders all the way up to the presidential level in order to spark changes in both capacity and organizational culture. The question is whether the State Department and USAID can develop and maintain the ability to surge personnel and funding in response to a crisis, or whether DoD will continue to be relied upon to undertake stabilization and reconstruction missions.”

The Lead Agency?

“If nation-building remains a foreign-policy priority for the United States but the majority of resources and capabilities for that priority are concentrated in DoD, that organization, which already has the military missions under its control, will become the lead agency for a major component of U.S. foreign policy. Such a development would weaken the role of the State Department, both at home and abroad. It would raise concerns about the weakening of civilian control over military policy and undermine U.S. diplomatic efforts around the world. In short, it would be a fundamental realignment of how the United States both sees itself and is seen globally.”

The study recommends that the United States:

  • emphasize civilian, rather than military, capacity in stability and reconstruction missions
  • realign the roles of the National Security Council, State Department and United States Agency for International Development rather than create new bureaucracies
  • fund and implement the Civilian Stabilization Initiative
  • improve the ability to deploy police officers for both community policing and specialized tasks
  • improve crisis management for stabilization and reconstruction missions
  • ensure coherent guidance and funding for effectiveness and sustainability.

Read the summary here. Read the whole thing here.

Related Item:

RAND: Improving Capacity for Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations
By: Nora Bensahel, Olga Oliker, Heather Peterson
Download: 0.5 MB pdf file; 105 pages