European Affairs

The special value of this report is that it relies on first-hand testimony about lessons learned in the field by troops and by aid workers, who provide case studies of past operations in Bosnia and Afghanistan. The authors set out to explore and explain the views of what “people who have actually been involved in operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan have learned about getting the job done.”

An important sub-theme in the book is the need for future U.S. administrations – beginning in 2009 – to foster a much more constructive and collaborative relationship between the United States and other nations in the international community. This shift has already been discussed in Washington in terms of the need to move away from the “unilateralism” practiced by the Bush administration in its first term. The need for change has become increasingly vital, the book says, because the United States while still the sole superpower, is finding itself immersed in multiple end-phase conflicts at the same time and therefore requires more outside help.

This study was commissioned in 2006 by the RAND Corporation with funding support from the American Council for Diplomacy. Led by a panel comprised of senior military and civilian officials, representing both sides of the Atlantic, the report produced compelling data about the need for change. It demonstrates how recent U.S. policies of relying primarily on one-sided military solutions have resulted in costly consequences in terms of getting the job done.

This view has been endorsed from the top. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pointed out in a widely-noticed address in November of last year; the current U.S. spending ratio on military versus non-military aid is 17:1. While this system works well in traditional conflicts where one country is fighting another country, it does not find much success when the invading country is trying to rebuild and reorganize a nation after the targeted regime has been dismantled.

The correctness of the report’s analysis is reiterated in a recent article by Francis Fukuyama, who says, “In short, we face a world in which we need a very different set of skills. We need to be able to deploy and use hard power, but there are a lot of other aspects of projecting American values and institutions that need to underlie a continuing leadership role for the U.S. in the world. The Clinton administration’s efforts in the Balkans, Somalia and Haiti to do nation building were criticized as ‘social work.’ The critique was that real men and real foreign policy professionals don’t do this kind of nation building or deploy soft power, but rather deal with hard power with military force. But, in fact, American foreign policy has to be preoccupied with a certain kind of social work today.”

Furthermore, with the growing economic crisis making headlines, both domestically and internationally, people are becoming more aware of how the United States is spending money. It is likely that budgetary constraints will require the new administration to tighten its purse strings when developing the next defense budget. This is another reason why international support is so important.

As the report highlights, U.S. forces are already spread too thinly across too many fronts and may face more challenges. What if a conflict breaks out elsewhere involving Russia or China? Would the U.S. have the resources available to handle yet another military campaign? The book says no. Therefore, the United States needs to cooperate with its allies now to achieve the result of a safer and more stable Iraq and Afghanistan – and to guard against the possible insurgencies of tomorrow.

To accomplish the task and help the United States transition into a more globally collaborative nation, the authors have developed 18 basic principles of success. These principles include preparing in advance, obtaining adequate funds, training constantly and passing on what is learned.

Leadership, the authors say, is the first and most important principle. “Achieving even part of the many recommendations in this report requires effective and sustained political leadership from the top, beginning with the U.S. President and carried on down the line in departments and agencies, civilian and military, in particular to change bureaucratic cultures, attitudes and turf protecting.” These principles sound straightforward, but putting them into practice is easier said than done, and it becomes much more the complex if the U.S. is organizing efforts bilaterally or multilaterally in a crisis.

Previous U.S. Presidents started down this road. “In Bosnia from 1995 onward, NATO-led Implementation and Stabilization Forces worked closely with civilian agencies, the United Nations, the European Union and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs),” and “this experience was repeated following the 1999 Kosovo War.” In Kosovo, even without a UN mandate, Washington was able to force the Belgrade regime to withdraw Serbian forces from Kosovo because the United States was able to gain the support it needed from its NATO allies.

That approach was abandoned by the Bush administration in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the RAND report advises the United States to again engage the international community, in particular Europe. However, the authors point out European allies should recognize “the degree of their influence will depend in part on their willingness to contribute resources, military and non-military.” In other words, if the European community wants a voice in influencing the policy of the U.S. administration in regard to conflict resolution, it will need to give more than just its word. The nations of Europe will have to commit more European civilian aid workers and governmental assistance, including troops for a truly united effort.

This united effort will only be possible if, according to the report, the United States and the European Union develop a central chain of command using what it calls “a bottom-up approach.” By a bottom-up approach, the authors mean country leaders should delegate the decision-making power to the people on the ground with knowledge of the day-to-day situations in the region and who have a rapport with the civilians. On the U.S. side, this person would most naturally be the American ambassador; European governments often have separate ministries handling foreign affairs and development, so the right person would have to be chosen – perhaps from the development side – on a case-by-case basis.

To achieve this “bottom-up” approach to organizing a central chain of command, the transatlantic community needs to do three things. One, it must make structural changes that allow for the person who knows best to have the power to make quick decisions. Two, it needs to resolve the unclear lines of authority that exist not only intra-nation but also across international borders, because “if nations cannot resolve lines of authority within their own local representations, it is unrealistic to think that an international agreement on who calls the tune can be reached.” The book offers a simple solution to resolve these two impediments – appoint a “high-level person of ministerial rank” to head the operations taking place during the “nation-building” phase.

Thirdly, the book says, “NATO lacks the personnel, experience or mandate for promoting economic development and the UN and EU have no capacity or willingness to assume coordination of military and developmental tasks, [so] there also need to be functional arrangements for combining the two sets of activities into as coherent a whole as possible.” For this, the U.S. and the EU must cooperate, so NATO and other developmental agencies can obtain “sufficient staff to manage these enhanced coordination responsibilities.”

Even though the RAND study can sound radical, opinion seems to be ready for such changes. Polls indicate that European support for NATO has increased four percentage points since 2007 and the election of Barack Obama has renewed hope in Europe that the U.S. will work harder at fostering multilateralism. The need for change is urgent as budgetary constraints are likely to reduce the margin for maneuver in Iraq and in Afghanistan in 2009.

Courtney Meyers is an Editorial Assistant for European Affairs. '

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 10, Issue number 1-2 in the Winter/Spring of 2009.