Building an Army That Can Build Nations

In today’s WPR top story, Richard Weitz points out that while the military’s doctrinal embrace of stability and reconstruction operations in counterinsurgency warfare is a welcome development, there’s no certainty that it will survive the Pentagon-Capitol Hill funding corridor. As Weitz points out, the Army that does the fighting is not the same Army that does the shopping, and Congress, for all its rhetoric about transformation, still has a penchant for funding the big ticket items that have little application to post-conflict reconstruction operations.

There’s also the little problem of branch rivalry: speak the words “stability operations” to the Navy and Air Force brass and they’re liable to hear “no new toys”. (This Armed Forces Journal piece gives you a sense of just how little has changed in Air Force thinking in the past twenty years.) And though Weitz doesn’t mention it, there’s also been some internal resistance to the doctrinal shift from within the military establishment. (Ralph Peters, though retired, is a charming example.)

I think there’s a case to be made for the argument that America should be very selective about which post-conflict nation-building operations we engage in. (A good place to start would be the invasions that make them necessary.) They’re long, arduous, and resource-consuming enterprises. But anyone who makes the case that America should avoid them altogether must in turn explain just how we ought to handle the problem of weak and failed states, because it’s not going away, and it can’t be ignored.

They also have to justify America’s astronomical defense spending in a global environment where the U.S. military would more often than not be watching from the sidelines, ill-suited to the crises at hand. As it is, the funding imbalance between military and civilian departments weakens our ability to project our combined hard and soft power, since stability and reconstruction operations require integrated interagency efforts. Here’s Weitz:

Despite its massive capabilities and earnest desires, the Army by itself cannot establish functioning governments and prosperous economies in the countries its defeats and occupies. The assistance of these civilian agencies, as well as their foreign counterparts, is essential for converting the Army’s battlefield victories into a war-winning strategy.

That’s a subject that Australian Army Lt. Col. Mick Ryan treats at length in this Parameters monograph titled “The Military and Reconstruction Operations”. Interestingly, he adds that humanitarian organizations and NGO’s will also have to adapt to the military’s new doctrinal emphasis on nation-building operations (should it stick).

By necessity, military-led reconstruction operations have spilled over into what was traditionally the domain of nongovernmental organizations. . . Some NGOs accept the security umbrella provided by the military, while others refuse to cooperate based on their organizational culture or fear of reprisal. While this reticence to working with the military is based on a range of factors, nongovernmental organizations will need to reexamine their cultures and relationships with the military if they are to be effective in rebuilding societies impacted by insurgencies. (p. 11)

It’s likely that the new Army doctrine will be the beginning of a dynamic process to develop effective operational approaches, both inter-agency and inter-organizational, to the problems posed by weak and failing states. Hopefully it will get a chance to mature.