Stability, Reconstruction Skills Key to Long Lasting Security

By Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.

farrelAs U.S. forces carry out the difficult job of stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq, civilian and military leaders are beginning to realize that this nation-building expertise will be critical in the future.

The Defense Department is emphasizing stabilization and reconstruction operations as core competencies. These have typically been viewed as post-conflict functions, but now they are being regarded as critical to the prevention of conflicts and to our nation’s security. It is now recognized that the skills needed for post-conflict stabilization are the same ones needed for pre-conflict stabilization. This truly constitutes a shift in the way most Americans typically think about the role of the military.

After 9/11, a consensus began to emerge that if the United States can help stabilize weak and failing states, they would be less likely to become terrorist sanctuaries.

If we do these things right before hostilities, “we may not have to do hostilities at all,” said William Schneider, chairman of the Defense Science Board.

Schneider spoke recently to NDIA’s “Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction Operations” conference, in Falls Church, Va.

His message was clear: The nation must make a lasting commitment to these missions, which must involve the military as well as civilian agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Following problems with reconstruction efforts in Iraq in 2003, it was apparent that the U.S. government had no standing civilian capacity to plan, implement, or manage stabilization operations. In December 2005, the White House issued National Security Presidential Directive 44, which recognized that the United States has a significant stake in enhancing its capacity to stabilize and reconstruct countries or regions. NSPD-44 directed the Secretary of State to coordinate U.S. government stabilization and reconstruction operations.

Thus far, the implementation of this directive has hit some rough spots, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Defense and State “have begun to take steps to better coordinate stabilization and reconstruction activities,” but challenges remain, GAO noted. A major problem are cultural differences and poor coordination among U.S. agencies.

During a recent congressional hearing, Celeste Ward, deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations, pointed out that some progress has been made toward “higher-level” integration.
While we may not be engaged in the future in nation-building operations equal to the scale of what we’re currently doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, “I think it is fair to say that the United States will likely be engaged in similar contingencies in the coming decades,” said Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., House Armed Services oversight and investigations subcommittee chairman.

Even those skeptical of nation-building understand that stable states are less likely to have ungoverned spaces where terrorists find safe harbor.

Among the unresolved issues, however, are the allocation of resources and the need for better planning. Historically, the U.S. government does not adequately fund these operations until a crisis erupts. That has to change.

John Herbst, coordinator of the State Department’s Office for Reconstruction and Stabilization, has proposed the creation of a “Civilian Reserve Corps” that would be composed of Americans who, like military reservists, would volunteer to work overseas.

That proposal has yet to gain traction, and it is one of several ideas that are being debated.

Encouraging efforts also are being seen at the Pentagon, where Defense Secretary Robert Gates has become a notable proponent of “soft power,” which should be integrated with “hard power.”

He lamented that many of the nation’s assets to exert soft power have been decimated. The U.S. Agency for International Development saw its permanent staff drop from 15,000 during Vietnam to about 3,000 in the 1990s. And the U.S. Information Agency was abolished as an independent entity.

As civilian capabilities have dwindled, the Defense Department has taken on many of the reconstruction and governance duties. “Our brave men and women in uniform have stepped up to the task, with field artillerymen and tankers building schools and mentoring city councils — usually in a language they don’t speak. They have done an admirable job,” Gates said. “But it is no replacement for the real thing — civilian involvement and expertise.”

One big problem is, of course, money.

Consider that this year’s budget for the Defense Department is nearly half a trillion dollars, while the foreign affairs budget for the State Department is $36 billion — less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone, said Gates. “There are only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers — less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group.”

The newly created Africa Command offers a huge opportunity for the United States — military, civilians and NGOs — to conduct stability and reconstruction operations in an area that is home to some of the world’s most severely unstable and war-torn countries.

Obviously, our military’s primary job will continue to be to fight wars. But the events of the past six years should make us realize that the world indeed has changed and the thinking about our nation’s defense must change accordingly.

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Topics: Defense Department, Interagency Issues

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