Ways to Improve U.S. Stability and Reconstruction Missions Are Outlined

For Release

April 3, 2009

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 today by the RAND Corporation.

Stabilization and reconstruction efforts after armed conflicts are important for U.S. national security, preventing terrorism, providing humanitarian aid, enhancing U.S. credibility and building lasting ties in the countries the United States assists. Although these efforts have become integrated into how the United States views national security, U.S. government institutions continue to reflect the late Cold War era, when those issues were a lower priority, according to the study.

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the agencies best suited for this type of work, are not set up for large-scale, rapid deployment, leaving the bulk of the work in the hands of the Defense Department, whose main mission is war fighting.

"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. "The military isn't trained to take on what are inherently civilian tasks. It does it now, by default, and it does a decent job. But the broader consensus is that we need a greater ability to assign these responsibilities to civilians."

The main tasks needed during these missions are: deployment of civilian police, police trainers, and judicial and corrections experts; military and intelligence training; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of military forces; humanitarian assistance; and governance, democratization and human rights.

"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."

In 2004, the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization was created within the State Department. This office has developed a planning framework and an interagency management system. Its most ambitious effort, the Civilian Stabilization Initiative, which includes the Civilian Response Corps, has only begun to receive funding from Congress.

The corps would create a cadre of civilian specialists who could be deployed overseas quickly to take on stabilization and reconstruction missions. But this and other steps taken by the U.S. government have to date been insufficient to fully turn the tide of Defense Department leadership of reconstruction efforts, according to researchers.

The study also 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.

Other authors of the study are Olga Oliker and Heather Peterson. The study, "Improving Capacity for Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations," is available at www.rand.org.

Research for the study was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence community.

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