Guidelines for Improving U.S. Nation-Building Operations

For Release

July 21, 2005

The United States’ nation-building missions in Iraq and Afghanistan largely have been unsuccessful in establishing law and order in the two nations, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

Analyzing current and past levels of political violence, crime rates, rule of law metrics, and public opinion polls, researchers found that nation-building operations in the two nations have fallen short of their goals. By contrast, U.S. and allied nation-building efforts have been more favorable in the recent cases of Kosovo and East Timor.

In the study, titled “Establishing Law and Order After Conflict,” researchers compared U.S. and allied efforts in reconstructing internal security institutions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq with the missions in Panama, El Salvador, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and East Timor. Internal security institutions include police, justice, and military structures.

The report recommends that the United States should devote as much attention to planning post-conflict internal security as to planning the combat phase of nation-building operations.

“Planning for a nation’s police, courts, judiciary, and other internal security functions is a complicated task,” said Seth Jones, a RAND political scientist and the report’s lead author. “But as we are seeing in the case of Iraq, planning post-conflict security is the lynchpin of any nation-building operation.”

The study focuses on security because it is the critical first step in nation-building. Failing to quickly establish security can undermine the stability of the central government, undercut efforts to rebuild political and economic sectors, and ultimately undermine U.S. security, according to researchers.

Based on these case studies, the report argues that there are several key “inputs” to success in establishing security in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nation-building missions.

One is the number and type of specially-trained troops and police deployed to accomplish internal security tasks. Large numbers of troops and police are critical for defeating and deterring insurgents, patrolling borders, securing roads, combating organized crime, and conducting general law enforcement functions such as policing streets, according to the report.

Other key factors include the level of financial aid, duration of security and justice assistance, and the existence of a peace treaty or formal surrender. In short, successful nation-building missions should follow what often has been called the “Powell Doctrine”—the use of overwhelming force and resources to achieve security both during and after major combat.

The implications for Iraq and Afghanistan are straightforward. Both lacked sufficient post-conflict security and justice resources, such as troops, police, and a peace treaty or formal surrender. This directly contributed to the breakdown in law and order, Jones said. Greater resources, along with a formal surrender in Iraq and a peace treaty in Afghanistan, might have helped avert the prolonged insurgency now being faced.

The report urges the United States to bolster the planning of post-conflict security institutions by:

  • Gathering intelligence on internal security systems, such as counter-terrorist, intelligence, and military forces, prior to intervention. According to the report, nation-building missions have routinely failed to collect and disseminate the right intelligence, and failed to involve knowledgeable individuals from host nations.
  • Establishing planning mechanisms within the U.S. government—such as the State Department’s Office of the Coordination for Reconstruction and Stabilization—to work in concert with the U.S. Department of Defense to provide leadership and garner support for the long-term commitment for post-conflict policing missions.
  • Ensuring the early mobilization of post-conflict police and justice resources. By having the plans, staff, funds, and equipment in place prior to an intervention, it is easier to avoid a debilitating deployment lag that has plagued all previous interventions.

Since nation-building efforts involve multiple agencies—domestic, foreign, and non-governmental—the study urges the United States to develop policies for post-conflict internal security reconstruction. Researchers note that these policies should be guided by best practices, and tailored to the context by involving internal security, development and regional experts.

Based on their analysis of nation-building missions, researchers set rough guidelines for the successful reconstruction of security after combat—including the ratio of troop and police levels to inhabitants over time, levels of financial assistance, and security assistance timelines. For example, researchers suggest that average annual financial assistance should be roughly $250 per capita over the first two years of nation building, and that 1,000 soldiers per 100,000 inhabitants are required to provide security and stability.

Other authors of the study are Jeremy M. Wilson, Andrew Rathmell and K. Jack Riley, all of RAND. The study was sponsored by RAND as part of its mission to conduct research in the public interest. The effort was made possible by the generosity of RAND’s donors and the fees earned on client-funded research.

The study was conducted within the RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment division. The division’s mission is to improve development, operation, use, and protection of society’s essential built and natural assets; and to enhance the related social assets of safety and security of individuals in transit and in their workplaces and communities.

Printed copies of “Establishing Law and Order After Conflict” (ISBN: 0-8330-3814-1- paperback) can be ordered from RAND’s Distribution Services ( or call toll-free in the United States 1-877-584-8642).

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