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Research Questions

  1. If the United States and the local partner have different priorities for governance and capacity building, under what circumstances can the United States shape the partner's preferences, with what policy levers, and for how long?
  2. What are the implications for U.S. decisionmakers and those charged with implementing U.S. policy, from ambassadors and commanding generals to front-line forces, military planners, and doctrine writers?

The U.S. experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and the resulting U.S. military doctrine emphasize the need for the United States to consolidate the gains it has realized on the battlefield. Recognizing this need, however, is much easier than understanding the measures necessary to succeed. Both U.S. decisionmakers and a variety of analysts have generally agreed that broad-based, inclusive governance and institutionalized capacity-building consistent with the rule of law are the long-term goals for stabilizing fragile states. The conditions under which these goals are realistic and how to realize them are much more contentious. This report summarizes research intended to advance at least partial answers to these questions, including a framework to help better understand when we expect U.S. leverage to be successful in nudging partners toward better governance practices. While there is no panacea for the difficulties of stabilizing countries after conflicts, this research offers guidance on how the United States might improve the odds of securing such hard-won gains and evidence to suggest that — at least under the right circumstances — it can do so.

Key Findings

  • The United States was frequently able to move fragile states toward better governance in the near term when U.S. and partner interests aligned or when the United States used its leverage (including conditions on military and economic assistance) and when all the prerequisites for leverage (clarity, observability, and strength of sanction) were in place.
  • Outcomes were much less favorable when U.S. and partner interests diverged and the United States failed to use its leverage, or if one of the preconditions for leverage was absent.
  • Although rates of success declined over longer periods, U.S. efforts were almost always at least partially successful when interests were aligned or when the United States had strong leverage.
  • These results suggest that the United States can effectively support governance reforms in postconflict states by seizing on opportunities when partner interests align with those of the United States and effectively using its leverage when interests do not align.
  • In many cases, the United States can at least secure partial reforms in an effort to buy time and local political support for the longer-term process of stabilization.


  • Begin with reasonable expectations about what "consolidating gains" means.
  • Prioritize the inclusion of as many factions as practical in the postwar order.
  • Focus U.S. leverage on critical objectives.
  • Clearly and consistently communicate U.S. demands.
  • Develop frameworks and capabilities for monitoring partner compliance.
  • Carefully select sanctions for noncompliance and side payments for cooperation.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, U. S. Army and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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