The American Interest
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Toolbox: Investing in Peace

Time to take U.S. stabilization and reconstruction capabilities seriously.

Published on January 1, 2009


TO: President-elect Obama

FROM: Carlos Pascual

DATE: January 1, 2009

SUBJECT: Investing in Peace: From Rhetoric to Operational Capacity

Since 2001, about 4,700 American servicemen have given up their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost of the wars and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan is estimated in the range of $1.2 trillion to $3 trillion. And still the United States has failed to invest the modest sum of about $350 million annually that is critical to creating a civilian capacity to lead, plan and implement stabilization and reconstruction missions, which are fundamental to winning the peace.

Such investment in peace-building would not eliminate the high cost of reconstruction after military conflict. But it would help ensure that such funds are used effectively, which can in turn save lives, shorten military interventions and increase the prospect that military and peacekeeping interventions around the world produce the desired outcome: sustainable peace.

The need for an effective peace-building capacity is not just a Bush-era anomaly created to enable “preemption planning” and “regime change” operations. Rather, it responds to an emerging recognition that weak and failed states can destabilize entire regions, draw external actors into conflict, and become a base from which to project instability even to other continents, as we saw on September 11, 2001. In their study, “Military Expenditure in Post-Conflict Societies”, economists Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler note that some 44 percent of countries recovering from civil war face the risk of renewed conflict within the first five years of reaching a peace agreement.

Why It Matters

State failure is neither an abstract nor a distant concept. It can reverberate in our financial and political capitals and even our suburban shopping malls, causing us to sacrifice civil liberties and change the way we live. If the United States does not fund and build core capabilities for stabilization and reconstruction, we will continue to invest in military solutions that may lead to short-term stability but will likely unravel if states cannot govern effectively. In the United States, peace-building assumed a new place in national priorities after 9/11. The September 2002 National Security Strategy asserted that “America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.” Since then, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union have all created some form of institutionalized, cross-agency capacity for peace-building. The United States has started on this track, but its efforts are underdeveloped and under-funded.

An effective stabilization and reconstruction capacity requires the integration of traditional military peacekeeping and peace-enforcement capabilities with civilian initiatives to address humanitarian needs, to build capacity to administer the rule of law, to promote reconciliation among previously warring parties, and to help build the physical, human and institutional infrastructure necessary for self-sustaining peace. To succeed, stabilization and reconstruction initiatives require multilateral cooperation to bring together the range and depth of skills over at least a five-to-ten-year period. This has been true in Afghanistan, Iraq and even tiny Kosovo as well.

The chances for state failure rise dramatically in the void between war and peace. This fragility is most often linked with civil wars, of which there were 19 in 2004. The U.S. invasion of Iraq demonstrated yet another form of state failure, one linked to international interventions. The absence of planning and capacity for stabilization and reconstruction in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 helped prolong a war that has weakened the United States globally and helped trigger an international energy crisis. According to the 2006 Human Security Brief, when the international community invested in international peace initiatives, it reduced lives lost due to war by almost 40 percent between 2002 and 2005.

An effective stabilization and reconstruction capacity also matters because, historically, neighboring states have suffered a significant share of the cost of another country’s civil war due to refugees and the disruptions from wider instability.11.
Paul Collier et al., “Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy”, World Bank Policy Report and Oxford University Press, 2003.
Stabilize a country and you help stabilize an entire region.

The need for capacity to rebuild from conflict is not just a phenomenon associated with American military intervention. The stakes are also high in Sudan, Haiti, Lebanon, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor—to name just a few places where instability can pose wider threats. Conflict and instability are realities of the international security environment that affect American interests even when U.S. troops are not involved.

Understanding the Challenge

Stabilization and reconstruction, or what the international community calls peace-building, is not a precise science, but we have learned enough about it to identify practices that will increase the chances for sustainable peace. Some degree of progress is needed in four stages that may move concurrently but not always sequentially.

Stabilization is the first requirement after conflict. It is incumbent on the international community to guarantee peace and impose law and order in the absence of a widely accepted rule of law. In addition to basic security, there is a “window of necessity” to meet humanitarian needs and give people confidence in the future. The process must start to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate (DDR) warring opponents. Elections, when conducted too soon, can be detrimental, forcing competition among previously warring factions before wounds have healed and potentially entrenching criminals or warlords in political office.

Unraveling the past means that, eventually, societies recovering from conflict must address the factors that drove them to fight in the first place. If they do not, these issues—such as exclusion from politics, ethnic or religious persecution, massive poverty, corruption, and land and water disputes—will at some stage resurface.

Building the infrastructure, laws and institutions of a democracy and market economy entails creating the foundations for a prosperous nation state. It is the most complicated stage of transition. Laws and regulations must be written and adopted, people must learn new forms of governance, investments must be made in appropriate infrastructure, and governance theory and training must be put into practice.

Nurturing civil society is an investment against revolving authoritarianism. Outsiders cannot build civil society, but they can offer training to media, civic organizations, business groups, environmental activists and others who can advance community interests and guard against abuses of power. Women have often played a critical role addressing health care, education and water and land issues that can contribute to an environment of trust.

Building a Stabilization and Reconstruction Capacity

In August 2004, the Bush Administration created a Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) in the State Department to lead interagency civilian efforts and coordination between civilian agencies and the military in order to help post-conflict countries build sustainable peace. (Full disclosure: That was me.) In 2005, President Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive 44 to formalize the State Department’s leading role in managing stabilization and reconstruction missions. Also in that year, a companion directive for the Department of Defense was issued (Directive 3000.05) to guide military engagement with civilian agencies.

Four years after S/CRS was created, there is a record of progress. It has led the interagency community to build consensus on a planning framework that creates a common approach and vocabulary between civilians and the military. The S/CRS Essential Task Framework is the best compiled checklist of lessons learned in the field. Organizational models have been developed to coordinate interagency teams. Strategic planning tools have been applied to Sudan and Haiti, and S/CRS has played at least a limited role in eight other countries.

However, the Bush Administration’s failure to fully support the capacity it set out to create, combined with Congress’s rejection of the Administration’s meager budget requests, have left S/CRS’s capabilities sorely lacking. In the 2008 Supplemental Appropriations Act, Congress provided the first serious allocation for this purpose, about $55 million. This figure is still well below the $350 million needed annually. Given the huge demands on the International Affairs budget, even the modest annual increase needed will not occur unless President Obama invests the political capital to secure the resources and authorities.22. On February 4, 2008, the Administration submitted its FY2009 budget request to Congress. The FY2009 International Affairs Budget request is $39.5 billion, an 8.5 percent increase over FY2008 (including emergency funds). The entire International Affairs Budget is a mere 1.3 percent of the $3.1 trillion FY2009 budget

Operationally, three levels of capability are needed to execute effective stabilization and reconstruction operations. Even beyond that, the United States must coordinate these functions with the United Nations, regional organizations and other countries in order to mobilize the resources needed over an extended period of time.

The first function is comparable to that of the Joint Staff in the military: to lead the design of a common U.S. strategy in a given theater for civilian agencies, and between civilian agencies and the U.S. military to support countries emerging from conflict. The creation of the Joint Staff gave the military the capacity to coordinate its forces to achieve a common goal. S/CRS was created as the comparable civilian counterpart to lead strategic planning, identify operational tasks and who will perform them, link plans to resources, and apply lessons from experience. S/CRS is not an operational agency but an interagency team of about a hundred people that provides the means to make operational agencies function effectively. Its tragic flaw is that while it has acquired staff, S/CRS has no authority over operational budgets. While it can cajole and recommend, it cannot command.

The second function is to deploy competent field teams to spearhead civilian stabilization and reconstruction efforts on the ground. The comparable function in the military is the capacity to establish a theater headquarters drawn from the forces within a combatant command. Such field teams may include a mix of political, economic, development and administrative specialists. These are the functional equivalent of field generals, commanders and mid-level officers. Presently, such teams are put together in crises by calling for volunteers from diplomatic posts around the world. Deployments are slow. Individuals may have little knowledge of local circumstances, and they rarely have expertise in stabilization and reconstruction issues. And teams have not prepared to deploy together. The U.S. military would never deploy anyone anywhere under these conditions.

The third requirement is to mobilize specialists in key skill areas for specific programs. Not all communities have the same needs, but the task of peace-building can involve every aspect of national security and political and economic life: police, police trainers, rule of law experts, humanitarian and relief efforts, job creation, infrastructure, political reconciliation and effective governance. If the United States has a stake in helping countries achieve sustainable peace, it must work with international partners to ensure that support in these areas—material and financial—can be delivered in a sustained and timely way.

The creation of a civilian reserve corps is key to this latter requirement. Given Congress’s resistance to any significant civilian stabilization and reconstruction funding, a civilian reserve could at best be modest—on the order of 3,000 specialists. If deployed, they would enter into active government service. Reservists would phase out to civilian contractors who could sustain efforts over a longer period and add far more significant resources. The skill focus should initially be on police, police trainers and rule of law experts, as they generally are the critical missing links to establishing stability.

The challenge in building a stabilization and reconstruction capacity is not conceptual. The basic and operational requirements have been well elaborated. The imperative now is to invest in, exercise, test and use the existing foundations.

Ten Priorities for U.S. Action

Building a more effective U.S. stabilization and reconstruction capacity has three aims: to help states emerging from conflict to become viable and sustainable so that they do not threaten their own people and the international community, to ensure that civilian agencies can deliver skills that complement our military capacity, and to augment and leverage multilateral efforts to sustain successful missions. Here are ten key steps to meeting the challenge of stabilization and reconstruction.

Civilian leaders must use the capacity they create. The President, the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of State must call on S/CRS to lead civilian stabilization and reconstruction efforts, if they intend the office to be taken seriously. There will always be bureaucratic tensions across functional and regional parts of government. In the Bush Administration, the White House and Department of State used S/CRS for relatively secondary functions when convenient. When tension has arisen between regional bureaus and S/CRS, the bureaucratic answer has been to say that all offices are important. S/CRS must lead the planning process for stabilization and reconstruction missions, and for each mission it must assign a senior official, a civilian equivalent of a three-star general, to coordinate it. The Secretary of State must use this person as her lead adviser. If the demand does not come from the top, efforts to institutionalize capacity will flounder.

Establish and maintain a fifty-person leadership roster. At any given time, there will be three to four major stabilization and reconstruction efforts underway. We currently have Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Sudan, Lebanon and Congo, with Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Somalia waiting to explode. The Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization cannot personally lead every effort. Rather, S/CRS must become the repository of skilled people who can lead such efforts. Senior personnel, former high-level officials and country experts would be trained on S/CRS tools and capabilities and be on-call for emerging crises. S/CRS cannot succeed without such a depth of capacity on which to draw.

Create a 250-person active response corps (ARC). Part of this Corps should be at State and part in other civilian agencies. This active duty team will have trained and worked together to prepare for stabilization and reconstruction missions. This Corps would be the center point for the field teams discussed above. After completing service in the ARC, personnel would remain in a standby corps for five years. Eventually, instead of having a few people prepared for rapid deployment, the U.S. government would have 750–1,000 people ready on an active or stand-by basis. The ARC concept has existed on paper since the inception of S/CRS in 2004. In 2006, it got an allocation of 15 positions to establish a “proof of concept.” The FY2008 supplemental should add another hundred personnel. About 250 positions are needed to achieve the necessary technical and administrative skill base to establish and sustain three to four concurrent field operations.

Require the U.S. military to provide security for civilian deployments. The Blackwater disasters in Iraq demonstrated the limits of using contractors to provide security for civilians in conflict zones. For the U.S. military, securing civilian personnel becomes a distraction when conflict erupts. Yet there is no way for civilian teams to lead and inform stabilization and reconstruction efforts if they cannot get around.

Create a civilian reserve. A 3,000-person civilian reserve will cost about $55 million per year to maintain. A deployment would be in the hundreds of millions, but the cost of such deployments would have to be covered at some point in any case, and they have usually been implemented through contractors. A civilian reserve provides the capacity to get on the ground quickly and to address key issues before they get out of control. Building an indigenous capacity to sustain the rule of law is the most critical function toward long-term sustainability. Yet in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States still does not have a functioning strategy for civilian law and order. A reserve capacity can cut down the response time to weeks rather than months or years. Personnel would be pre-trained, ready to work with other U.S. government civilians and military personnel, and fully accountable as government employees. The FY2007 Defense Supplemental appropriated $50 million to start up a civilian reserve, but the funds were redirected when Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) blocked the authorization to use them, despite the pleas of senior military personnel.

Expand and refine pre-competed contracts. The S/CRS Essential Tasks Matrix identifies the skills that are needed in stabilization and reconstruction missions. Not all skill areas could be covered in a civilian reserve. Instead, pre-competed contracts need to be in place in critical areas. Some contracts exist through USAID, State/INL and Treasury. The quality of the contracts and contractors is not uniform, and most do not have seed funds to prepare personnel to deploy quickly. A modest injection of $10–15 million could ensure that such contractual mechanisms are in place. A central database should be completed in S/CRS that pools information in a common format.

Create a $200 million replenishable Conflict Response Fund (CRF). The CRF would provide the resources needed to jumpstart deployments for three to four months in critical sectors. Currently, funds are provided either through a budget supplemental, a reprogramming from other accounts, or both. Since the International Affairs budget does not have the same cushion as the Defense budget, it is not possible to launch a deployment from within existing funding and then seek supplemental funding to pay back the loan. The CRF should require submission of core plans to the Congress and authorization by the president. This funding is not additive to the overall costs of any mission; it is a front-loaded advance to seize opportunities in the early days and may in fact save money in the long run.

Create authorities to manage funds more effectively. There are close to twenty accounts in the International Affairs budget. These accounts are managed as fiefdoms by agencies, bureaus and offices. This practice destroys efforts at rational planning. The accounts drive the solutions rather than strategic requirements driving the strategy and budget. The U.S. military could not function under such planning conditions. The Lugar-Biden Bill, first proposed in 2004, has offered a practical solution through more flexible transfer authorities. The core requirement is to create a stabilization and reconstruction account for a country when the president determines that doing so is in the national security interest of the United States. In that case, funds could be transferred into the new account and then used for any function in the International Affairs budget. It may seem arcane, but such flexibility would provide a powerful impetus to turn stovepiped accounts into rational plans.

Renew Section 1207 of the Department of Defense Authorization for transfers. Section 1207 of the Department of Defense Authorization allows the Departments of Defense and State to determine that it would be in the U.S. national interest for Defense to transfer up to $100 million to State to support stabilization and reconstruction missions. This authority was renewed in FY2008, and it should be made permanent. Senior defense officials realize that they cannot fulfill their mission unless states emerging from conflict develop the capacity to enforce the rule of law and govern effectively. Without such capacity, military and peacekeeping deployments will be longer and more costly, and more lives will be at risk.

Coordinate U.S. efforts with international partners. As argued earlier, most stabilization and reconstruction missions take at least five to ten years. The costs and required skill levels exceed what any single nation can provide. The United Nations, for all its limitations, can bring legitimacy and mobilize support from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China. Already, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada have funded much larger stabilization and reconstruction capabilities than the United States. NATO, the world’s strongest military alliance, is barely able to sustain a massive stabilization and reconstruction mission in Afghanistan. If Pakistan, Egypt and Nigeria were to explode from internal tensions, the United States, NATO or the United Nations would not collectively have the force levels, skills and capabilities to help these countries stabilize. A starting point would be to fully fund the assessed costs of UN peacekeeping and to support the modest Peace-building Fund, which serves a comparable role to a Conflict Response Fund.

Strategic and Affordable

The total cost of the capabilities outlined above—a stronger S/CRS, an Active Response Corps, a Civilian Reserve, improved contract mechanisms, and a Conflict Response Fund—would be about $350 million annually. Even with a 100 percent margin of error, this is a miniscule sum relative to the Defense Department’s budget.

The approach suggested here would provide the means to deploy more quickly, strategically and effectively when timing is critical and the momentum of a peace-building effort can be radically altered. Consider: If a faster and more effective stabilization and reconstruction mission had been planned and deployed in Iraq in April or May 2003, and if that deployment had allowed just one U.S. Army division to complete its mission one month earlier, it would have saved $1.2 billion—not to mention the Iraqi and American lives it might have saved. Peace is in our national interest; we must therefore invest in the capacity to sustain it.

Paul Collier et al., “Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy”, World Bank Policy Report and Oxford University Press, 2003.
On February 4, 2008, the Administration submitted its FY2009 budget request to Congress. The FY2009 International Affairs Budget request is $39.5 billion, an 8.5 percent increase over FY2008 (including emergency funds). The entire International Affairs Budget is a mere 1.3 percent of the $3.1 trillion FY2009 budget.

Carlos Pascual is vice president and director for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. He served as the first Coordinator for Stabilization and Reconstruction at the State Department from 2004 to 2005.