Peacekeeping and Stability: Essential, Not Marginal, Military Missions

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Written by Stephen J. Cimbala

The Secretary of the Army apparently wants to get rid of the Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) because “the service is composed of warriors, not peacekeepers.” This is a short-sighted perspective. Post-conflict stability operations are an important part of the Army tool kit for a number of reasons.

First, Army missions include advising and training foreign militaries in dealing with insurgencies and terrorism. These training and advising missions require expertise in things other than trigger pulling (important as that is), including capacity building of indigenous governments, restoration of village safety and security, establishment of rapport with local political notables and warlords, providing timely medical assistance to endangered populations, and other measures that will assist the country in winning the support of the general population as opposed to alienating that support to terrorists or insurgents.

Second, the track record of the past 25 years or so demonstrates that wars seemingly won on the battlefield can be lost in the post-conflict phase. Ironically, when the under-resourcing of our post-conflict stability and reconstruction operations leads to disaster, the blame often falls on the military even though these operations require a “whole of government” approach. Nevertheless, the military part of these operations is indispensable for success.

Third, the military-to-military professional contacts and camaraderie that grows from post-conflict stability operations adds to American “soft power” and to the willingness of governments and populations to provide the U.S. with valuable intelligence contributory to our global efforts against terrorism, nuclear proliferation and other anti-systemic behaviors.

Fourth, the experience gained from participation in post-conflict stability operations will be valuable for military officers at later stages of their careers. Officers who aspire to general or flag rank will need to understand and appreciate the complexity of political-military relationships that can take place within, as well as between, nation-states and their armed forces. If you find yourself, as an admiral, coordinating maritime counter-piracy or “accident avoidance” exercises with Chinese participants, or as a general working with Indonesian armed forces on counter-terror missions, you will probably draw upon the intellectual capital you acquired during your participation in post-conflict stability operations in other times and places.

Doubters on this point should read Tony Zinni’s book on his experiences in this regard, Admiral Stavridis’ book on Sea Power, or talk to any of the participants in NATO peace and security operations in the Balkans in the 1990s. For example, during Operation Joint Endeavor, NATO’s Special Operations planning cell was fortunately populated by a multinational group of outstanding officers and enlisted personnel who grasped the significance of facts “on the ground” and the first importance of societal, cultural and political factors that drove the restoration of peace and security in Bosnia.  (I was privileged to eyewitness some of this).

Fifth, national strategy is the servant of politics, or policy: per Clausewitz. Post-Cold War presidents have repeatedly called upon our ground forces to conduct missions in various countries, including some failed or failing states or “ungoverned spaces,” in order to support friendly governments, to reduce the “active surface” for the planning and conduct of terrorism, to build cooperative relationships with foreign militaries, and to provide the essential security element in post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction (a necessary, although not sufficient, condition for success).

Sixth, as others have also pointed out, the current U.S. National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy assume the availability of the kinds of insights, experience and tools developed with the support of PKSOI. For example, consider the size and overseas deployments of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) on a variety of missions with allies, partners or others, compared to the SOF presence at the turn of the century. Today U.S. SOF number almost 70,000 and their cultural awareness and sensitivity to the nuances of policy, in addition to their kinetic skill sets, enable the U.S. to leverage soft power for global influence. This keeps partners more aware of their environments and better trained to cope with security threats themselves. This option is preferable to repeats of past large-scale U.S. military interventions with stalemate DNA written all over them.

The world of the twenty-first century is guaranteed to challenge the U.S. across the various domains of land, sea, air, space and cyberspace. Challenges will require land warriors who can demonstrate adaptive learning and resilience in the face of unexpected contingencies driven by complex social, political and cultural forces. Resilience means creating an immune system that can react to the unexpected, because the unexpected will become the norm, not the exception. The alternative to smart and resilient U.S. ground forces will be a freer ride for miscreants of all types to take down governments, find safe havens in ungoverned spaces, and create trans-national networks posing additional threats to Americans at home and abroad (think: Syria; Yemen; Somalia). To paraphrase Trotsky:  you may not be interested in post-conflict peacekeeping and stability operations, but the makers of post-conflict chaos are interested in you.