from Strength Through Peace and Center for Preventive Action

Tool of Peace and War: Save the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute

U.S. service members take part in a helicopter Medevac exercise. Omar Sobhani/Reuters

The U.S. military is currently at war with itself, and a casualty may be a valuable Army institution that protects not only U.S. interests, but also the lives of U.S. service members.

July 31, 2018

U.S. service members take part in a helicopter Medevac exercise. Omar Sobhani/Reuters
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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Dr. Tammy S. Schultz is a professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Marine Corps War College. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of Defense, U.S. Marine Corps, or U.S. Marine Corps University. The author worked at the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI)from 2005-2007. 

[Note: This post was updated to reflect the publication of an open letter signed by current and former senior national security professionals against the elimination of PKSOI.]

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The U.S. military is currently at war with itself, and a casualty may be a valuable Army institution that protects not only U.S. interests, but also the lives of U.S. service members. Since its establishment in 1993, the Army War College’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) has led the development of capabilities across the U.S. government and international organizations to support peace and stability activities and missions. But, according to various sources in the Pentagon, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper recommended eliminating PKSOI, in spite of much of the Army Staff’s objections. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has to make a decision on or around August 15, 2018. Although there is not much time, PKSOI can yet be saved.

Secretary Esper’s reportedly objects to having an Army organization with “peacekeeping” in its title, as the Army is a place for warriors. The same fight occurred in 2002, when the Army decided to close the then-named Peacekeeping Institute (PKI) for similar reasons. After media reports were published lamenting the Army’s decision, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ultimately reversed the decision.

The battle over PKSOI illustrates a larger debate within the Pentagon. One camp is what I call the “Fulda Gap” camp (a reference to the German town that was a famous Cold War potential flashpoint), those who want or predict a return to peer competition using largely conventional ways and means, versus the “COINdinistas” (a nickname given for counterinsurgency, or COIN, experts and proponents in the mid-2000s), those who want or predict that future warfare will always include some form of irregular warfare. As with any complex endeavor like warfare, such binary thinking will prove to be the wrong approach—and could spell the end to a valuable Army institution.

PKSOI is just as critical today as it was in the 1990s, and will be central in shaping the future.

The Army established the PKSOI to better respond to the changing post–Cold War geopolitical situation. Its creation also reflected a greater awareness that operations considered as  “irregular warfare” were actually the type of operations the United States performed most often following the end of the Cold War, which “lifted the lid” off of many conflicts and turned simmering animosities into hot wars. The Soviets Union’s dissolution also meant a greater opportunity for the UN Security Council to pass resolutions without a Soviet veto, and, indeed, there was a spike in UN peacekeeping missions during the 1990s.

PKSOI is just as critical in today’s geostrategic environment as it was in the 1990s, and will be central in shaping the future. The PKSOI will help fulfill the objectives laid out in Secretary Mattis’ National Defense Strategy. From assisting allies as the approved North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Partnership Education Training Center (PTEC) to enabling counterparts like the State Department and USAID to carry out their peacekeeping and stability missions by providing a link into the vast U.S. military, PKSOI serves U.S. national security.

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Even if one assumes the world is entering a stage of great power rivalry and peer competition, the enemy still gets a vote. China and Russia will not meet the United States head on in conventional warfare—where the United States has an advantage. Indeed, Russia has already shown how it is willing to use other countries, destabilize them, and deny that their forces and weapons were even there. That is why the binary thinking of conventional major power war versus irregular warfare is less than helpful, and even harmful. The last time we truly faced peer competitors in a hot war, World War II, stability operations were not an afterthought. Two years before the war’s end, General Dwight Eisenhower began planning and creating new capabilities (a U.S. manned constabulary, for instance, called the Circle C Cowboys, and a special school in Europe to educate and train them) for post-war complex operations.

Eisenhower did this because he knew that true strength meant securing the peace to consolidate U.S. strategic gains. He knew that “peacekeeping” was not a dirty word (although that word did not exist and does not even appear in the UN Charter). Future admirals and generals who will array U.S. forces against the next near-peer or peer competitor who challenges the United States will not have the luxury of walking away once the war is over, just as General Eisenhower did not. PKSOI exists to make sure that they, and the president, have all options available to them to protect U.S. interests.

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