April 25, 2003

Civil Reconstruction

Phil Carter of Intel Dump asks, Does the Army need more military police? He gives a reasoned analysis.

So many of the missions the Army has today are to do things that MPs are good at: nation-building, peacekeeping, anti-terrorism/force protection, and other police-style missions. In the Balkans, we've succeeded by hammering square infantry units into round MP holes for a long time, with significant training and institutional costs. I've thought for some time that the right answer would be to create larger, rapidly-deployable MP units that could be used for these kinds of missions. Current practice is to give peacekeeping missions to a large combat unit (e.g. an infantry brigade) with 1-3 MP companies attached in support. The MPs just get used for specialized missions, like riot control, while the infantry do the bulk of the MP-style missions like running checkpoints, patrols, etc. It might make more sense to invert this relationship, and build more MP brigades capable of managing peacekeeping missions with an infantry company as a quick-response force.

Furthermore, moving units from the reserves to the active force isn't that simple either. It costs money to do so, and it would require an adjustment in the military's end strength (or cutting of personnel from other areas). Privatizing law enforcement on military bases sounds good, but it would have a real impact on MP training. The reason MPs are so good is because they practice their peacekeeping skills every day they're doing law enforcement. Granted, there's a big difference between patrolling Fort Hood and patrolling Baghdad. But there's a lot of similarity too, especially in the abilities to work within restrictive rules of engagement and employ forceful interpersonal communication skills. So it's not clear this is the answer either.


It is clear that the UN model of civil reconstruction has failed. UN humanitarian assistance is generally welcomed, but frequently stolen or embargoed by power forces in the areas the UN is trying to serve (witness Iraq, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia). UN peacekeeping, in order to secure the humanitarian aid, only works when at least the largest of the factions fighting decide to stop fighting (witness Lebanon, Sinai, Cambodia, Congo). When the factions don't want to stop fighting, you have to make them (witness Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia). It so happens that the only nation capable of doing this anywhere in the world is the United States, though some nations are capable of doing so in their region. (Note that the examples given include both positives and negatives.)

So, when it comes time to stop the fighting, it is generally the US that is called on. This call is begun with admonitions that the US isn't doing enough to secure world peace, and ended with accusations of imperialism and "trying to be the world's policeman." The exact point of criticism on the imperialism scale is inversely proportional to how interested the US is in actually expending blood and treasure to secure an area. The more we want to be involved, the more imperialistic we are, and the less we want to be involved, the more isolationist and arrogant we are. Either way, we are to be called stupid, jingoistic and unilateralist.

When fighting is ended, the UN wants to be in charge of the aftermath (none of the blame if it went badly, all of the credit if it went well), in order to bring in aid and reconstruct a working society. The UN is generally good at providing aid, though it is massively inefficient. However, it is manifestly incompetent at constituting an efficient, responsive, representative and tolerant government (witness Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan (too early to call - and the US might step back in more), Cambodia, Rwanda, Haiti). The record, as the list of countries just given demonstrates, is uniformly pathetic. At best, the UN is no help. At worst (and usually), it actively prevents such a government forming. Here's an interesting bit about Cambodia, just as an example. (If blogspot's archives are broken, it's the article from April 25 titled DEMOLISHING THE OLD CANARD OF " MORAL EQUIVALENCE ".)

So given that the UN model depends at its base on US power, and given that the points where the UN takes over almost always result in a breakdown (are there counterexamples that don't involve the US?), and given that the UN is going to continue to actively oppose the US attempt to lift the Middle East out of its self-imposed medievalism, the question needs to be, "How will the US rebuild failed states when it intervenes?" To answer that question requires a broader answer than Phil Carter gave, and turns his assumption a little on its head.

First, it is a given, I think, that the US military will be the primary instrument creating the conditions for recreating the state, whether that be toppling a tyrannical government, or imposing order on anarchy. In the wake of that military intervention, however, we have a few viable options. Phil Carter's argument, to create company-sized units of MPs specifically for the purpose, using civilian contractors or some other means to take over current non-combat MP duties, is one of those options. I think that there is a better answer.

In the aftermath of war, in most of the situations I've ever studied, there are several situations overlayed on each other simultaneously. First, there is active combat going on in some places, frequently against small bands of guerillas. Second, there is civil anarchy in most areas that are not in the immediate zone of control of the armed forces. Third, some areas have a spontaneous arising of civil leadership, and relatively quick return to peaceful conditions, even without outside assistance. Fourth, there is massive infrastructure damage. Fifth, food, water and medical care are in short supply. Sixth, the range of reactions to the situation spans the range from joy through relief to unease to outright animosity. Seventh, there are criminals, agents of other nations, agents of the deposed faction(s) and agents of formerly-repressed factions all trying to grab as much power as they can as quickly as they can.

The military is good at the combat aspects of this. For the non-combat aspects, there are combat engineers and civil affairs and military police units, as well as the special forces, which are good at much of rest, but they are in short supply and have combat-support missions in most cases. There are generally not any units skilled in building civil governments at any levels other than the very local. I believe, given these factors and how much we will (at least for the next generation) be having to rebuild failed states, that we should create a specialist organization specifically for that purpose.

While this organization could be placed in the State Department or as a stand-alone agency, I contend that its best place to be is as part of the Defense Department, as a branch of service co-equal with the Army, Navy or Air Force. This would allow the combat commander direct control over and call on the organization, so that they would be integrated into the combat plan; would allow separate but integrated equipment acquisition, training and doctrine; and would place the organization in a position to operate as a matter of course in warzones (which would be very handy, and which the State Department for example couldn't provide). As a side benefit, it would also avoid the problems caused by career civil-service protections, particularly of ossification of ideas. Finally, it would make it easier to beef up security patrols, when needed, with soldiers or Marines, than if the organization were not part of the Defense Department.

Such an organization would need engineers of all kinds to rebuild infrastructure; security forces to impose and maintain order; huge amounts of translators to facilitate communications; administrators to quickly set up a functioning government; lawyers and courts to establish and maintain the rule of law; constitutional scholars and historians to advise the newly-liberated on how to set up an Enlightenment-based state within their local customs and traditions; doctors and nurses and medics to establish health care; and a host of other skills. Basically, what we would be creating would be the nucleus of a functioning state, which can be put rapidly in place just behind the front lines - when an area is secure but not necessarily completely in our control.

If we were to do this, I believe that the amount, severity and duration of anarchy in the wake of our military operations would be minimized. In addition, factional fighting not directed at our military would also be reduced. Because of these, the prospects for a successful state rapidly arising in the wake of our military action would be dramatically improved, and the reception we get from the local population would also be improved.

This kind of organization would have been invaluable in Kosovo, Panama and Iraq, and will be invaluable in the future. I think it's a better solution than the narrower one of increasing the amount and role of MPs, though obviously it incorporates that idea within it.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention funding. We pay $2.4billion or so to the UN every year, and billions more to other agencies that would be undertaking activities made redundant by having a US agency for civil reconstruction. The net cost would be small, really.

Posted by Jeff at April 25, 2003 08:07 PM | Link Cosmos
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