RAND Issues 'The Beginner's Guide to Nation-Building'

For Release

February 12, 2007

The RAND Corporation today issued the first comprehensive step-by-step guide for nation-building, in an effort to help governments better respond to serious challenges like those America has encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The study by the nonprofit research organization is titled “The Beginner's Guide to Nation-Building.” It identifies the most important tasks required for successful post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction and ranks them in order of priority as: establishing security, providing humanitarian relief and coordinating with non-governmental organizations, establishing functioning government institutions, stabilizing the economy, democratization, and economic development.

Despite a wealth of prior and recent experience, the U.S.-led attempts to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan after American forces toppled their governments have been marked by unforeseen challenges and hastily improvised responses. One reason for the difficulties America has encountered is that U.S. policymakers did not systematically draw lessons from earlier operations, according to the study.

In an effort to help remedy this deficiency, RAND researchers examined peacekeeping missions and military interventions by the United Nations, United States and other countries since World War II. The study issued today is the third in a RAND series, which began in 2003 with “America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq” and continued in 2005 with “The UN's Role in Nation-Building: From the Congo to Iraq.”

“Even the most basic tasks for transforming a violent society into a peaceful one require a clear set of priorities and commitment from the multinational players,” said James Dobbins, lead author of all three reports and director of the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center.

Dobbins is a former assistant secretary of state whose 35 years as a career American diplomat include service as a special envoy to several countries where post-conflict nation-building operations were under way: Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and a final assignment to Afghanistan.

The primary objective of nation-building is to make a violent society peaceful. Security, food, shelter, and basic services should be provided first because those are the most immediate life-and-death needs, researchers said. They concluded that economic and political objectives should be pursued once these first-order needs are being met.

Political and economic reform generates resistance, which can be overcome only through the skillful application of manpower and money, according to the study.

“Objectives also need to be scaled to match resources, and failing to do so will lead to mission failure,” Dobbins said. “Peace enforcement to suppress an active conflict is, on average, 10 times more demanding in money and manpower than an operation that begins with agreement among all local combatants to accept international peacekeepers.”

RAND researchers identified the most significant components of effective nation-building missions, outlined how they are connected, and determined the best cost and size for their execution.

The study says:

  • Security, which is the most immediate objective after a conflict, should be provided by soldiers, police, and a judicial and corrections system. Establishing a modicum of security requires a military force that is large enough – as many as 20 soldiers per thousand inhabitants – to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate former combatants. Military or international civilian police forces are needed to protect citizens from criminals and violent political groups and to mentor a reformed local civilian police force.
  • Humanitarian relief agencies are, for the most part, professionally staffed and well resourced. The challenge is in coordinating with the intervening military organizations. Most humanitarian agencies are reluctant to do this, because any such alignment could limit their access to people in need.
  • Governance is a high priority because local institutions are needed to provide education, health care, electricity, telecommunications, water and sanitation. Funding from the intervening authorities will have to run around 10 percent of the pre-conflict gross domestic product of the country receiving nation-building assistance.
  • Economic growth requires a reasonably stable currency. Early attention should be given to creating or strengthening a central bank and other financial institutions. Donor support will be required to balance government expenditures and revenue.
  • Democratization should be viewed as a way to redirect the competition for wealth and power from violent into peaceful channels, not simply as an abstract exercise in social justice. Ideally, elements of civil society should be allowed to develop before national elections are held. However, institutions based on representative government are typically the only form of reconstituted state authority acceptable to most of the population.
  • Infrastructure and development will depend on the ability of the intervening authorities and the host government to control inflation and finance the government's budget, among other things. Early efforts should focus on the repair rather than the improvement of existing infrastructure. Improvements should be funded via loans, not grants.

The report notes that “the ultimate objective of any nation-building mission is to leave behind a society likely to remain at peace with itself and its neighbors once external security forces are removed and full sovereignty is restored.” It says democratization and development can contribute to the achievement of this objective.

“No military plan survives first contact with the enemy,” the study concludes. “Similarly, no nation-building plan can expect to survive first contact with the society being rebuilt. The function of planning is not to plot an operation from start to finish, but rather to assemble the necessary resources, and establish objectives achievable within those limits. The test of any nation-building plan is not whether it accurately predicts future events, but whether it provides the nation builder the resources and flexibility needed to meet such challenges as develop.”

Other authors of the report are Seth G. Jones and Keith Crane of RAND, and Beth DeGrasse of the United States Institute of Peace.

Support for the study was provided by the Smith Richardson Foundation. The project was conducted by RAND National Security Research Division, which provides research and analysis for the U.S. Department of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, defense and intelligence agencies, allied foreign governments and foundations.

The study is available at www.rand.org.

About the RAND Corporation

The RAND Corporation is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.