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U.S. Post-Conflict Operations: Preparing our Military for the Future

Author: Major General William L. Nash, U.S. Army (Ret.)
November 9, 2005

Thank you for inviting me to this panel of the House Armed Services Committee Defense Review. I am honored and look forward to the opportunity to help identify the best U.S. military force structure and capabilities needed to respond to peacekeeping, stabilization, and reconstruction operations. Along with this statement, I ask that the full text of the U.S. Post-Conflict Capabilities Independent Task Force report, In the Wake of War, be entered into the record, and would like to note that the report is available at the Council on Foreign Relations’ website, cfr.org. Unless otherwise noted, the report reflects the consensus views of all task force members.

There are four points that I would like to make. First, the importance of recognizing stabilization and reconstruction operations as critical national security priorities; second, the need for leadership within the U.S. government for building and coordinating U.S. post-conflict capabilities; third, the importance of fully funding our nation-building capacities; and fourth, the recommendations made by the Council on Foreign Relations’ Independent Task Force on ways the U.S. government in general and the Department of Defense in this specific case can better address post-conflict challenges.

I will start by emphasizing that stabilization and reconstruction operations are critical national security priorities. Dozens of countries are on the brink of collapse. These failing and failed states create vacuums of power that are often filled by terrorism, crime, civil conflict, corruption, and trafficking—all issues which affect the United States’ national security or our conscience. We must accept that these failed states are national security priorities and build our capabilities, both military and civilian, to conduct stabilization and reconstruction operations. This requires acknowledging that war-fighting has two dimensions: winning wars and winning the peace.

The second major issue is leadership. Improved responsiveness to post-conflict challenges can not be accomplished without high-level attention and support in the U.S. executive and legislative branches. Throughout the 1990s, including my time in the Balkans, the U.S. government began to understand the complex nature of post-war operations and codified lessons learned, as well as improved planning for subsequent operations. In more recent times, this learning was disregarded, with devastating consequences. Only now are we beginning to return to the learning curve begun in the 1990s. The President’s FY 2006 budget requests for the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), Active Response Corps, and Defense Transfer Authority, took a step toward reconsolidating lessons learned and building the United States’ ability to institutionalize these lessons. Congress, specifically this Committee, should exert similar leadership by acknowledging that building post-conflict capabilities is an essential task in its upcoming Committee Defense Review report and its defense authorizations.

My third point then is the importance of fully funding the Administration’s budget requests related to U.S. post-conflict capabilities. The President’s FY 2006 budget request, which proposed $124.1 million for S/CRS operations ($24 million in the State Operations and $100 million in the Foreign Operations appropriations), has not fared well. The proposed one-year authority for the Secretary of Defense to provide the State Department up to $200 million in Defense Department resources has not been approved. This is self-defeating and unwise. If we are to get our house in order, appropriations for defense, state, and foreign operations for FY 2006 and 2007 must reflect the right priorities.

The final point I want to share with you is a summary of the recommendations by the Council’s Independent Task Force. We concluded that the president and secretary of defense should establish that stability operations are a strategic priority for our armed forces, to be understood and treated as missions as important to America’s security as high-intensity combat operations. The Quadrennial Defense Review, Strategic Planning Guidance, and National Military Strategy should be used to reinforce such operations as essential tasks.

Acknowledging the complexity of stabilization missions, troop deployments should be “right-sized” and contain a mix of skill sets and training, including civilian police, regional/cultural knowledge, language skills, intelligence and counterintelligence expertise, as well as engineering, logistical, and communications personnel. With respect to “right-sizing” forces, I would draw your attention to James Dobbins book, America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq. He demonstrates the inverse relationship between troop level and casualty level in nation-building operations. The highest levels of casualties have occurred in the operations with the lowest levels of U.S. troops, while post-conflict operations undertaken with adequate force levels have triggered much less resistance. This is a lesson for every future operation.

To prepare future generations to meet these challenges, the Defense Department should make several adjustments. A general purpose force, trained, prepared, and equipped for high-intensity combat and stabilization and reconstruction is best-suited to navigate the gray-zone between conflict and post-conflict operations. The Department should use existing and emerging technologies in stability operations; examples include broadband wireless and encrypted satellite-support cell phones, vehicle ID tracking systems, nonlethal weaponry, stand-off explosive detection equipments, lightweight armor, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). War and staff colleges should develop appropriate educational programs and doctrine to institutionalize stabilization as a core mission, not just an adjunct to combat. Additionally, the Department of Defense should establish senior positions within the Office of the Secretary and the Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff dedicated to supporting stabilization operations.

On a personal note, I want to emphasize to the Panel and the Armed Services Committee that the civilian implementation parts of stabilization missions are the most complex and the most difficult. As one of few Americans who has been a leader in both military and civilian peacekeeping missions, I can tell you without reservation, that the civilian half needs far more study, leadership, resources, and prioritization. Therefore, it is important for all members of this Committee collectively to work with their counterparts on other committees—in both the Senate and the House, and the authorizations and appropriations committees especially—because the scope of these issues is much larger than the Defense Department alone.

Again, I thank the Committee for giving me an opportunity to speak with you today and, more particularly, for your interest in improving our nation’s ability to address one of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century. I again refer members of the Committee and others to the In the Wake of War report, which assesses the progress of the United States in developing a civilian and military capacity to meet the complex demands of stabilization and reconstruction operations and makes concrete recommendations for improving the U.S. government’s ability to plan, coordinate, and execute these operations.

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