Author: David L. Phillips, Executive Director, The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity
Updated: January 2007
Publication and Teaching Notes
By David L. Phillips
Why should the United States care about rogue regimes or failed states? Simply put, unstable regimes are a threat to U.S. interests. Terror groups and criminal networks find haven in weak or failed states. They exploit porous borders to move people, money, weapons, and drugs. Human security is affected when government institutions are unable to meet basic needs or provide essential services. Poverty, disease, and humanitarian emergencies have transnational implications. Not only are conflict prevention and nation-building investments in U.S. security, they are also consistent with American ideals.
Clarity of purpose is critical. What was the reason for intervention? Was it to stop aggression, to prevent ethnic cleansing, to eradicate weapons of mass destruction, or to create a liberal democracy? Goals must be based on a realistic assessment of what can be achieved. Without a clear vision of the end-state, government agencies and international organizations will not know what to do.
Governments always feel pressure to complete the mission and execute an exit strategy. Self-imposed deadlines can be avoided by measuring progress in milestones; however, setting goals and moving quickly to achieve them does not obviate the need to sustain activities. Success is contingent upon the level of commitment as measured in time, manpower, and money—and only success can win “hearts and minds.”
Burden-sharing and unity of command are the twin pillars of successful nation-building. Governments, regional organizations, multilateral bodies, international financial institutions, and nongovernmental organizations must define their respective responsibilities to develop a shared understanding, reduce redundancy, and maximize resources.
The United Nations is typically the vehicle through which the international community organizes collective action. Encompassing various aspects of nation-building—from peace and security to humanitarian relief and reconstruction—the UN has undertaken forty-one missions since 1990. Authorization under Chapter VII of the UN Charter enhances local and international legitimacy, enshrines political and security arrangements, and gives nation-building a clear mandate.
A holistic approach includes humanitarian relief, transitional security, rule of law, infrastructure reconstruction, economic development, and the political transition. During the immediate post-conflict period, activities focus on humanitarian assistance and quick-impact projects to jump-start the economy. Once conditions have stabilized, reconstruction emphasizes rebuilding physical infrastructure and creating conditions for investment and long-term economic development. The political transition involves elections at the local and national levels, adopting a permanent constitution, building democratic institutions across the country, and restoring full sovereignty.
Coordination is essential. Agencies should focus on areas of expertise. For example, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is best suited to assist the return of displaced persons. The European Union (EU) is experienced in economic development. Bretton Woods institutions—the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—help broaden the donor base and contribute to economic restructuring. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has the skills needed to organize elections and promote civil society. Peacekeeping and police operations should provide protection to the field personnel of these various organizations.
Institutions must be adequately resourced to be effective. The political commitment and resources of G-8 and other countries can be leveraged through a Peace Implementation Council (PIC). The PIC encourages consensus among donors, concerned countries, and neighboring states. It also serves as a consultative framework to keep neighbors abreast of plans and to involve them in activities. For example, managing refugee flows requires a common approach to opening borders, as well as assistance and protection in accordance with international humanitarian law. Neighbors have legitimate concerns when a failed state exists on their borders, but they must not meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, nor must they unilaterally deploy troops across frontiers.
Burden-sharing is not a one-way street. If PIC members contribute to nation-building, they are also entitled to a reasonable share of the decision-making. It is also reasonable for them to expect a level playing field when it comes to reconstruction opportunities. The United States should not be concerned about losing control of the nation-building process. It retains influence by virtue of its leadership within the institutional hierarchies of international organizations. At the same time, U.S. interests are served by diffusing responsibility, thereby reducing costs and obligations. Efficiencies are to be encouraged, but nation-building cannot be done on the cheap. There is no such thing as “nation-building light.”
A fast-moving emergency necessitates a rapid response. Though lag time will inevitably result, it can be reduced by integrating lessons learned and best practices from previous nation-building experiences. A standby response corps, a database of nation-building experts, and a standing crisis-response fund can help prevent delays.
The United States needs to bridge the gap during the early stages of a crisis or when negotiations become bogged down at the UN Security Council. To create a secure environment for nation-building, the military needs a clear mission and adequate resources for addressing security and related challenges. The military must pivot quickly from combat operations to civilian administration. To this end, civilian planning and civil-military relations should be integrated into all phases of planning and post-conflict stability operations.
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