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Waging War, Building States

Friday, October 1, 2010

Nation building is here to stay. No longer derided as “foreign policy as social work,” it is now recognized that what can be won on the battlefield can be lost if stability and reconstruction operations are botched. The 2010 “National Security Strategy of the United States” makes this clear:

The United States and the international community cannot shy away from the difficult task of pursuing stabilization in conflict and post-conflict environments . . . building the capacity necessary for security, economic growth, and good governance is the only path to long term peace and security.

This places weak states at the forefront of U.S. national security concerns — or, as the 2002 “National Security Strategy” issued by the Bush administration put it, the United States is “threatened more by failing states than by conquering states.”

Failed states emerged as a key national security challenge for the United States during the 1990s (what constitutes a failing or weak state is subject to interpretation, but Foreign Policy magazine’s Failed States Index provides a useful set of metrics). However, negative experiences in Somalia, Haiti, and Yugoslavia moderated the desire on the part of the U.S. government, particularly the military, to engage in humanitarian interventions. In the 1990s, stabilization and humanitarian missions were outsourced to the United Nations, nato, or the military’s own National Guard or reserve component. After the 9/11 attacks, however, attitudes changed in the active duty forces, driven in part by the realization that al Qaeda had been able to organize an assault on the U.S. homeland because of its bases in weak states like Sudan and Afghanistan.

Suddenly, instead of focusing on possible peer competitors like China or Russia, the American defense establishment began to take notice of countries once deemed too small and too weak to be of interest. By the end of 2010, the United States had security assistance programs with about 150 countries. States like Pakistan, Djibouti, Mali, and Yemen are now seen as critical to U.S. national security — not because they can challenge the U.S. military, but out of concern that state weakness might provide opportunities for terrorist organizations to find safe haven. After all, failed states create opportunities for terrorists, who do not seek strong states but weak ones.

The Christmas 2009 attempted terrorist attack is illustrative: A London-based Nigerian national trained in Yemen transited through the Netherlands and attempted to detonate a bomb in an airplane over Detroit, Michigan. The attack profile is instructive both for the nature of transnational threats and for the approach to combat those threats. U.S. national security is linked to the counterterrorist capabilities of the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Yemen, and the Netherlands.

If the judicious application of military force can defeat conquering states, failing states need to be rehabilitated, not vanquished. While military action might be necessary to root out entrenched (and armed) extremists, that would be only a first step — a point stressed by former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. To reconstruct effective institutions, the provision of security is only one mission, which requires capabilities to promote political reconciliation and socioeconomic development. Alongside military personnel, a whole host of civilian professions — among them agronomists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and teachers — would need to be deployed with military units.

The old assumption was that there was an easy division of labor — the Marine Corps would eliminate armed resistance and then provide security, while some type of “peace corps” would dig the wells, build the clinics, and staff the schools. The war-fighter and the humanitarian each would bring complementary but distinctive skill sets to the table. Al Shimkus, a retired U.S. Navy captain who commanded the Medical Treatment Facility on board the usns Comfort and has significant experience with humanitarian missions, told us that the civilian personnel were indispensable to the success of these humanitarian missions: “The civilian volunteers are often more familiar with the area of operation than their military counterparts, as they have often practiced in that host nation previously, can often speak the local language, and have established a professional network associated with the parent ngo.” This created a new civil-military symbiosis in which the military could provide ngos the access they needed to denied areas and ngos could deliver the services the military sees as important to reduce the underlying conditions that fuel violent extremism.

Yet the civil-military partnership epitomized by the deployments of the usns Comfort have been the exception rather than the rule. There has been a noticeable gap; there is no “peace corps” of sufficient capacity to meet the demand. Even with the combined efforts of the U.S. government and the nongovernmental organization community, there was never a large pool of civilians ready and able to be deployed. For instance, the ratio of Foreign Service Officers (fsos) to uniformed military personnel is 1:1600. Often noted: There are more band members in the U.S. military than there are diplomats for the United States. And the Navy has more construction personnel and civil engineers than the U.S. Agency for International Development. Moreover, in a number of locales — especially in Afghanistan and in Iraq — there was no definitive end to combat operations — no postwar peace in which civilians could work in relative safety.

In a number of failing states, the problems of armed insurgencies, extremists, and organized crime created unsafe environments for reconstruction efforts.1 This made it difficult both to retain civilian specialists and to recruit new volunteers. Indeed, a commonly heard mantra among civilians asked to work in dangerous areas in support of reconstruction missions is that they did not sign up “to go get killed in the war zone.”2 The unfortunate murder of the un envoy to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, in 2003 simultaneously prevented any transfer of the administration of Iraq from the U.S. military to a broader, un-led initiative and also signaled to other civilian organizations that Iraq was too dangerous a place to operate, leading to an exodus of civilian relief and reconstruction workers. In August of this year, Taliban forces threatened civilian aid workers assisting in disaster relief after the devastating floods in Pakistan, and the head of usaid, Rajiv Shah, was forced to cut short his inspection of refugee camps due to the presence of “suspicious individuals” in the vicinity.

As a result, Chris Homan, who served as the director for Iraq Programs at the National Democratic Institute of International Affairs, noted in 2007 that many reconstruction programs have had “tremendous trouble staffing them with civilians.” The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq was undermanned; at its height, only 56 percent of its positions were filled. Even though federal employees, including fsos and civilians working for the Department of Defense, can, in theory, be ordered to take assignments, “as a practical matter, whatever her legal authorities, the secretary [of state] has not been able to order people to any of these environments, neither has usaid, nor has any other civilian agency.”3 Consequently, those civilians that did deploy to Iraq remained in the relatively safe confines of the Green Zone. With this and the rapid turnover of staff, civilian attempts to assist Iraqis regain their sovereignty were largely ineffective.

But the expectation that reconstruction and stabilization efforts can occur only after security has been established is not realistic. There are no clear divisions between war and peace. U.S. personnel will have to become accustomed to working in “an ever-more-chaotic world in which we face a multiplicity of relatively small-scale threats, all of which require a multifaceted and integrated response from the United States.”4 As a career fso noted, there must be a willingness to embrace “extreme diplomacy” on the part of the civilian agencies of the U.S. government. The Long War, which is the current characterization of U.S. military operations around the world, is better thought of as a series of three-block wars where peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and fighting occur simultaneously.5

But change is slow in coming. After reviewing the experience in Iraq, a Department of the Army official concluded:

employees who accepted a tour often opted to leave after a very short period because they changed their minds. . . . Unfortunately, missions suffered, strategic objectives were not met, and conditions rapidly deteriorated as a result of rapid turnover of staff. In addition, military personnel were forced to perform missions for which they were not trained because civilians were not available.

The military fills the void

As the gap has become more apparent, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military has been increasingly called upon to be both fighters and peacemakers. The Defense Department directed that “U.S. military forces shall be prepared to perform all tasks necessary to establish or maintain order when civilians cannot do so.” This 2005 directive — which elevated stabilization and reconstruction missions to equal footing with war-fighting — made it clear that such efforts were equally a national security priority for the military along with high-intensity combat operations.

As a result, the military services are changing their strategies and doctrines to be more proactive in the world. For instance, in 2007, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard released “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.” In it, the three services acknowledged their traditional war-fighting competencies (such as deterrence, power projection, and forward presence). However, for the first time, the maritime services embraced humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as one of six core competencies. While the Navy and Coast Guard have always responded to ships in distress or natural disasters, it was always done adjunct to an operational deployment or exercise. Today, however, the strategy directs “we will now be more proactive and purposeful in our training, missions, and resourcing of those capabilities associated with them.” In other words, “good works” are the mission, rather than being a fringe benefit of, say, a combat deployment.

This builds on the experiences with disaster relief in South Asia following the 2004 tsunami. During peak operations, 21 participating nations provided more than 100 ships and hundreds of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft. Landing craft designed to deliver Marines ashore were reconfigured to deliver relief supplies to devastated coastal communities in Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Given annual exercises among the United States and regional navies, command and control was relatively simple. The U.S. chief of naval operations at the time, Admiral Mike Mullen, commented, “We literally built a city at sea for no other purpose than to serve the needs of other people.” The “Cooperative Strategy” extends this by proclaiming, “Human suffering moves us to act, and the expeditionary character of maritime forces uniquely positions them to provide assistance.”

What this has meant, over the past several years, is that the U.S. Navy has been retooling its assets — deploying its hospital ships, auxiliaries, and (most significantly) warships that have been reconfigured for medical diplomacy and disaster relief. Previously, the Navy was sent to distant ports of call to secure vital sea-lanes or provide a show of American strength; now, in the words of George W. Bush, U.S. naval forces are in the field because there “are people that might not otherwise get the basic health care they need to realize a better tomorrow.” Recent examples of this includes deployment of the Comfort to Latin America and the Caribbean, where 100,000 patients were treated by providing dental care, minor surgery, immunizations, and dispensing glasses. In West Africa, similar deployments have occurred beginning with the Emory S. Land in 2007 and the Comfort, Swift, and Fort McHenry in 2008. Similar deployments occurred in 2009. And 2010 was marked by the Navy’s response to the Haitian earthquake. Traditional warships delivered food, water, and medical supplies. On amphibious ships, the large flight decks designed to move Marines ashore via helicopters were used as temporary airports for search and rescue teams; medical facilities designed to treat wounded infantry became floating clinics for sick and injured civilians. An aircraft carrier designed to launch combat aircraft produced a million gallons of water a day and used its aircraft to ferry the water ashore.

These missions, in turn, change the perception of what the Navy’s role ought to be. As Shimkus commented:

The deployment of the Navy’s two hospital ships and other type ships engaging in humanitarian assistance missions have become routine. The crews of these vessels (along with temporary duty military and the civilian volunteers) all rate these experiences some of the very best in their professional lives. They believe as a group that they “have made a positive difference,” done something very important for the individual patients, the host nation, and the United States. Many of these individuals view these kinds of missions as the “reason” they joined the Navy.

Some have argued that such humanitarian missions have a national security benefit — creating goodwill that can become a defense against anti-Americanism and extremism. Poll data confirms that approval ratings of the United States tend to increase after these events.6 But using the military to help others in distress certainly has its costs. With every humanitarian deployment there are costs to crew combat readiness and the material condition of ships. While these activities are seen as noncontroversial, good missions to conduct, they may threaten future readiness. Congress may be willing to appropriate money to convert existing vessels (or construct new ones) for humanitarian missions but then balk at appropriating additional funds for new combat capabilities. This jeopardizes the Navy’s ability to establish sea supremacy in the future and fulfill its unique national security role.

Yet events over the past several years have demonstrated that traditional security concerns on the waters and coastal regions of the globe have not disappeared. A spike in pirate and terrorist attacks in key shipping lanes (in the Gulf of Guinea, the Indian Ocean, the Malacca Strait, and the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia); the threat by Iran to close the Straits of Hormuz; China’s modernization of its naval forces and rising tension over the disputed islands of the South China Sea; and the resurgence of Russia as a naval power making claims in the Arctic and returning to “active duty” in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean are but a few of the “hard power” challenges that have been thrust back into the headlines. As Russia’s and China’s real military resurgence illustrates, it takes years to build ships and decades to field crews capable of operating outside their territorial waters.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has argued that the U.S. military needs to find the proper mix of missions, capabilities, and assets. Noting that the national defense establishment is being asked to pursue both combat and humanitarian tasks, he said in a speech at the National Defense University that “The defining principle driving our strategy is balance. I note at the outset that balance is not the same as treating all challenges as having equal priority. We cannot expect to eliminate risk through higher defense budgets, to, in effect ‘do everything, buy everything.’” So, the shift in thinking and planning has profound implications for getting the force right both in size and scope. Nontraditional missions have a decidedly different character than traditional warfare — and it is difficult to shift personnel and equipment seamlessly from one to the other. This can result in Marines reducing amphibious operations training in order to learn the intricacies of tribal culture. If pilots are leading reconstruction teams, they trade their flight hours for courses in public administration. This is not an abstract concern; this tradeoff was very visible during the 2010 response to flooding in Pakistan. U.S. military aircrews that had been engaged in ongoing counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan were diverted to conduct search and rescue missions in the Indus River Valley.

Not surprisingly, Gates has long been a major proponent of shifting back more of the stabilization and reconstruction mission from the shoulders of the military to civilian organizations. During the Bush administration, he was already warning that the entire panoply of national security challenges, especially those dealing with weak and failing states, could not be laid on the shoulders of the military. “If we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power, both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad,” he observed in 2008. This concern has carried over into the Obama administration, during which he has argued that the “Pentagon must be able to relinquish some of the nation-building and other international development duties it has taken on by default.” He made this point quite clear in an April 21, 2010, letter to Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad:

I strongly believe that a robust civilian foreign affairs capability, coupled with a strong defense capability, is essential to preserving U.S. national security interests around the world . . . Our military and civilian missions are integrated, and we depend upon our civilian counterparts to help stabilize and rebuild after the fight. As U.S. forces transition out of war zones, the U.S. government needs our civilian agencies to be able to assume critical functions . . . In other parts of the world, the work performed by diplomatic and development professionals helps build the foundation for more stable, democratic, and prosperous societies . . . thereby lowering the likely need for deployment of U.S. military assets.

And it is not just speeches: Gates transferred $100 million to the Department of State for use in addressing underlying conditions throughout the developing world. Yet, civilian efforts cannot stand alone.

The military in general and the Navy in particular are filling a national capabilities void. With U.S. strategy focused on promoting stability and aiding those in need, the only ready tool available today is the military. Indeed, there is a growing sentiment in many quarters in the United States that the military is the only organization with the necessary organization and discipline to carry out effective humanitarian and disaster relief operations — an impression dramatically reinforced in domestic eyes by the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Ike and more recently by the response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a massive operation that involved some 22,000 personnel.

Yet, there are also concerns about whether military units will have the necessary training and resources to execute effectively medium- and long-term reconstruction and nation-building projects. There is an emerging consensus that “the military must take the initial lead as the execution agent to provide an immediate reconstruction Band-Aid ‘to stop the bleeding’ and start the road to recovery”; however, the subsequent success (or failure) of a nation-building exercise is “based on the ability of the civilian aid agencies to deploy and assume the mission.” 7 A United Nations report recently concluded that the military should be used only as a “last resort” if civilian agencies are absolutely unable to work in a given area. Moreover, it noted, “Resources provided by the military are often only temporarily available and when higher priority military missions emerge, such support may be recalled at short notice and without any substitute support.” To be sure, when conditions exist to hand off humanitarian operations to its nonmilitary partners, the military willingly does so. However, in areas that are too dangerous and nonpermissive, the military finds itself continuing humanitarian activities. Even in Haiti, having terminated its initial relief efforts, the U.S. military will continue to engage in reconstruction and nation-building operations via the Continuing Presence and New Horizons operations.

So can the military, despite the wishes of Secretary Gates, really disengage from these missions? Retired General Anthony Zinni argued in September 2009 that simply increasing the budgets and personnel of the civilian agencies would compound the problem, and proposed instead the creation of a military command that would organize, structure, and deploy in support of humanitarian and reconstruction efforts. Should policy makers, as Nadia Schadlow advised in 2003, simply accept “the historical lesson that reconstruction is an integral part of war” and plan for the armed forces to take the lead in undertaking these operations? Henry Ensher, a senior Foreign Service officer, worries about what may happen if the status quo continues — and the civilian component of humanitarian and reconstruction missions remains undermanned. In that case, Ensher believes, “the military will take one or both of the following actions. It will either contract these services out, so that field foreign policy companies will take their place alongside the private security contractors . . . Or the military will simply create its own policy service.”

But is this a desirable long-term outcome?

Signing up the civilians

At present, no one wants to see the military becoming America’s humanitarian, stabilization, and reconstruction arm. There are still traditional allies like South Korea and Japan and new friends like Iraq that depend on the U.S. military for its war-fighting ability. Yet, getting more civilians into the field has now become a national priority. The Obama administration adopted “smart power” as its rubric to convey the need for balance. It also undertook the first government-wide “Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review” to provide national blueprints for the effective integration of defense, development, and diplomacy — and to shift the planning and execution burden away from the Department of Defense.

One proposal is to increase the number of civilian volunteers — asking professionals with the relevant backgrounds to volunteer their time and services in such missions. However, the “corps of volunteers” idea presupposes that missions will be of short duration. As Shimkus pointed out, “Almost without exception the civilian volunteers . . . were committed, highly qualified, eager to engage with providing direct medical or nursing care but able to give only a certain amount of time (a few weeks to at most a month) to any specific mission.” But, in reality, successful operations can last for years. Indeed, one factor hampering progress in places like Afghanistan is the out-rotation of personnel and the sense that the wheel is constantly being reinvented. Military personnel on tours that range from four to twelve months cannot develop the depth of local knowledge or trust with local partners required to build sustainable capacity. Consequently, the current approach may be a first step but is far from an ideal or realistic solution. And if such efforts are not likely to generate large numbers of civilian specialists for stabilization and reconstruction missions, and if the resurgence of traditional security concerns pulls the military back towards a war-fighting posture, what then?

To fill the gap, the government has been turning to the private sector — to both nonprofit as well as commercial entities. Karen Guttieri’s study of reconstruction operations observed that “Non-governmental organizations (ngos) and, increasingly, corporate contractors are prominent participants in reconstruction operations.”8 Already, nearly half of all humanitarian and assistance funds provided by the United Nations are administered by ngos. But turning to private-sector providers to free up the military to focus on its core missions runs up against Secretary Gates’s push to transform a department that, in his words, has become “over-reliant on contractors and grown accustomed to operating with little consideration to cost.” For their part, ngo volunteers might be cost-effective, they but have no reason to implement a government’s agenda. There are a host of legal challenges too; partner governments do not necessarily want religious-affiliated relief organizations providing services and engaged in proselytizing among their citizens, and missionary activity undertaken by U.S. organizations might have the unintended consequence of complicating the situation on the ground for the military.

Several years ago, two former National Security Advisers proposed:

The State Department should focus on public security and rule of law programs and be prepared to deploy civilian “advance teams” as early as possible alongside the military . . . Our efforts to prepare a cadre of trained civilian government employees and volunteers or participation in stabilization operations have been inadequate. Therefore, we recommend the development of a civilian “Active Response Corps,” comprised of volunteers with relevant expertise, to provide manpower for an expanded civilian role. 9

Rechristened in the 2006 “National Security Strategy” and the 2007 State of the Union address as the “Civilian Reserve Corps,” this proposal was folded into the overall “Civilian Stabilization Initiative” unveiled by the State Department in 2008. The csi envisioned an Active Response Corps of trained civilian personnel who would be full-time employees of the State Department, usaid, and other federal agencies and who would be assigned to service with military units. There would be a Standby Reserve Corps made up of federal government employees who might be tasked to serve. What is now in place is a Civilian Response Corps with an active component available for immediate deployment and a larger reserve component made up of federal officials who can be activated and dispatched over time.

But the vaunted “surge” in civilian capacity (under the aegis of the State Department) is still quite small-scale. At the end of Fiscal Year 2010, there were approximately 264 crs stabilization experts “ready to deploy around the world on short notice.” In addition, there are about 1,000 people who are part of the standby Civilian Response Corps. This is why a 2008 Congressional Research Report raised the question as to “whether qualified experts will sign up in sufficient numbers to make the corps an effective replacement for military troops in s & r operations.” There remains a major gap between plans and reality; for example, thousands of military personnel provided assistance to flood victims in Pakistan in August of this year — in other words, more military personnel than the entire 2010 membership of the Civilian Response Corps.

Outside of a crisis, the government has not been able to develop the capacity to support routine activities. For example, the gargantuan tasks of assisting the reconstruction and stabilization of Iraq, once the domain of the U.S. military, is now being handed over to 300 government civilians — who will still require the assistance of some 7,000 private contractors to provide security and to run some of the programs, beginning with police training. If there are concerns that the face of U.S. diplomacy is increasingly a military one, then the State Department’s reliance on contractors being the face of U.S. diplomacy should be more worrisome.

Yet, as an August 2010 Reuters article noted, there are ongoing concerns that a number of the tasks being assigned to the State Department — “starting with the police training mission and including the complex developmental problems such as improving Iraq’s water system” — are not part of the department’s dna, a fear most recently raised by Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution. If the Department of Defense is not the proper venue for a civilian-led, nation-building mission, such a mission is not a natural fit for the State Department either. After all, the Department of State has its roots and expertise with routine diplomacy, not nation building. But there are other models to consider.

The decision made by the European Union to create the European Agency for Reconstruction (ear) in February 2000, to take charge of the civilian nation-building missions in Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, might provide a useful bureaucratic template for the U.S. government. The ear came into existence as a result of the experience in Bosnia, where competing national and eu agencies and overlapping and unclear lines of authority slowed down and complicated reconstruction efforts. Moreover, because of the unsettled security situation in the western Balkans, various eu nations could not dispatch development personnel to these missions with any assurances about peace and stability on the ground.

Headquartered in Thessaloniki, Greece, the ear bypassed some of the issues that had bedeviled previous missions. It was given the right to recruit its own dedicated staff and personnel who worked directly for the agency (as well as the right to hire its own local contractors). With full up-front knowledge that they were being posted to potentially dangerous areas, ear staffers never had the “this is not in my job description” attitude. A 2007 resolution of the European Parliament addressing the work of the ear thanked its staff for their efforts undertaken in “a very difficult environment.” In addition, civil servants from European national governments and from other eu agencies could become “seconded national experts” to the ear, but the terms of association made it clear that for the duration of their service at the ear, they would be considered the equivalent of ear staff, thus reducing the chances of any conflict of interest. As a result:

The 2001 report of the European Court of Auditors specifically cited the ear’s ability to directly recruit dedicated staff and expert personnel as a major reason for its “good performance.” A follow-on report prepared for the European Commission in 2004 noted that the Agency and its director had a “clear mandate and centralized responsibilities” which made its work “administratively sound and managerially responsive.” One of the reasons for the success of the ear was that the scope of its mission and activities remained limited and focused. It was not created to duplicate existing aid and development efforts, but, as the 2007 European Parliament report pointed out, to operate “in areas where traditional development assistance cannot be implemented.”10

There are some limits to the applicability of the ear model. For instance, it never deployed large numbers of civilians to blanket a country — the ear at its height comprised some 300 full-time staff (not counting additional, in-country contractors). Nevertheless, its ability to have a corps of dedicated staff, augmented by civil servants seconded from other agencies, might serve as a template to address a set of issues raised by a late-2007 Government Accountability Office report. The report concluded that federal agencies are often reluctant to release designated volunteers for service in “nation-building” missions for fear of leaving their “home units without sufficient staff.” As a result, the State Department and other units of the federal government “must weigh the value of deploying volunteers against the needs of their units.” From an individual’s perspective, there are disincentives for Foreign Service officers to spend tours in combat zones if they want to advance in an organization geared for diplomacy in a country’s capital. There is also significant resistance, particularly in the Foreign Service, to the notion that those who volunteer for such missions should receive priority status in terms of promotions and new assignments. Back in 2005, American Foreign Service Association State Vice President Steve Kashkett pointedly asked:

Giving special “promotion points” to those who serve in a few dangerous posts demeans the work being done by fs employees everywhere else. What about the person performing superbly at one of our many important hardship posts not quite as difficult or as high-profile as Iraq and Afghanistan? What about someone doing brilliant work on vital policy issues in Cairo, Port-au-Prince, Moscow, or even Washington, D.C.? Don’t these talented, dedicated fs employees deserve an equal shot at promotion?

Increasingly, as many have argued, a separate service within the U.S. government is needed, one that would be composed of professionals with training and experience in diplomacy, development, defense, and intelligence. This cadre would deploy with military units, be assigned to embassies, and embed with subnational groups. Dan Green notes, “By utilizing their unique skill sets, they would also be able to extend the reach of the central host government by facilitating reconstruction, development, good governance, and improved security.” 11 More importantly, as we have pointed out,

 . . . such a service would be up front about its conditions of employment — including deployment to failed states or areas with security risks — and so drastically reduce what has been a perennial problem in getting civilians into reconstruction missions in dangerous areas: the argument that “this is not what I signed up for.” It would also reduce the current attractiveness of using the military for such missions on the grounds that “soldiers obey orders.”

While there are proposals to make rapid deployment to anywhere in the world a condition of civilian employment in a number of federal agencies, none have yet been implemented — and they may continue to run up against bureaucratic obstacles.

While the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization is an important start, it is insufficient to achieving its stated tasks “to prevent or prepare for post-conflict situations, and to help stabilize and reconstruct societies in transition from conflict or civil strife, so they can reach a sustainable path toward peace, democracy and a market economy.” Unless we are resigned to having the U.S. military be the principal supplier of manpower, creating a separate “Reconstruction and Stabilization Service” might give this office more of an operational capacity.

While its performance during the 2010 wildfires has definitely tarnished its reputation, Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations (Emercom) offers a model of a hybrid military-civilian service. Created in 1994 from the agencies of the old Soviet civil defense apparatus, Emercom is most closely a counterpart to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but its charter does contain provisions for its involvement in international humanitarian relief and reconstruction efforts. In recent years, Emercom has taken part in missions ranging from providing humanitarian aid to Central Asian republics to sending a medical team to assist in treating the outbreak of dengue fever in Bolivia. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Emercom dispatched two of its il-76 cargo planes carrying the “Centrospas” mobile hospital, medical personnel, and supplies to Port-au-Prince.

Unlike the State Department’s Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization, which itself controls no assets, Emercom has its own dedicated aviation, engineering, transportation, and medical units, and it operates the Ramenskoye airbase outside of Moscow as its hub for rapid-reaction efforts. Emercom can quickly deploy its own personnel (23,000 civil defense troops and 16,000 civilian employees) because it is structured along military lines with companies, battalions, regiments, and brigades, with thirty rapid-reaction units ready to be deployed in the event of a disaster or crisis, structured around regional centers. And because Emercom teams function under a quasi-military structure, it means that they can be ordered to deploy wherever they are needed. Emercom teams, for instance, were dispatched to the conflict zones of northern Afghanistan in the winter of 2001–02 to deliver humanitarian assistance, engage in road and tunnel repairs, and take part in de-mining operations.

Emercom is not an “unarmed” agency: It does have armed units, although it does not possess any heavy-weapons capabilities and its weapons are intended for self-defense purposes. Although Emercom personnel are not considered to be soldiers per se, the military background of its “Civil Defense troops” has meant that Emercom has been able to work well with the armed forces when both have been deployed on peacekeeping or peacemaking missions. Emercom personnel have been dispatched to engage in rebuilding and reconstruction operations in conflict zones including in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the former Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan.

Military personnel who have been seconded to Emercom “maintained their rank and years in service,” meaning that there is a process in place for preserving the ranks and career advancement of career officers instead of having them start from scratch in a new organization.12 (The British, during the 19th century, did something similar in staffing their Colonial Office, allowing for serving military officers who had the “proper qualifications” to transfer, retaining their commissions but serving as civilians while attached to the Colonial Office.) This is an important thing to consider for any future U.S. Stabilization and Reconstruction Service. At present, the U.S. military is expending a good deal of effort and resources to recruit specialists and train officers to undertake humanitarian and reconstruction missions. While some may seek to return to combat or war-fighting operations, the existence of a separate service that would not necessarily require officers or specialists to abandon their military careers might be a way to safeguard their skills and expertise.

The United States will be engaged in stabilization missions for a long time — yet the military cannot set aside its core national security tasks to perform such stabilization missions. In 2004, James Dobbins, in testimony to the Senate, asked, “How can our nation perform these unavoidable and important tasks more effectively?” Despite the recent changes in the State Department and Obama administration’s emphasis on smart power, sufficient numbers of trained civilian experts are not going to be raised via an interagency process. If the gap is going to be filled outside the U.S. military, a new and distinct arm of the U.S. government will be needed to project America’s smart power.

1 Shimkus noted that standard operating procedures for the humanitarian missions he was engaged in were: “If there is a known local threat to the medical mission that mission is canceled, postponed, or the patients are transported to the hospital ship a few miles out to sea. The civilian volunteer’s expectation, almost without exception, is not to be in harm’s way.”

2 Farah Stockman, “Diplomats angry over forced posts in Baghdad; Say US plan puts them in danger,” Boston Globe (November 1, 2007).

3 Comments made by Gerald Hyman, director of usaid’s Global Democracy in Governance Program (2002–07). In theory, the Department of Defense, per dod Directive 1404.10, can be used for the “involuntary assignment of civilian employees” to positions that have been designated as “Emergency Essential”; this authority is never utilized, in large measure because civilians have the option of resigning.

4 Henry S. Ensher, “Staffing Baghdad: Time for Directed Assignments,” Foreign Service Journal (March 2006).

5 General Charles C. Krulak, “The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War,” Marines (January 1999).

6 The 2005 Pew Global Attitudes Survey found that 79 percent of Indonesians, for instance, had an improved view of the United States in the aftermath of U.S.-led disaster relief efforts. The report is available at http://pewglobal.org/2005/06/23/ us-image-up-slightly-but-still-negative/ (this and subsequent weblinks accessed August 30, 2010). Taking guidance from the 2006 “Quadrennial Defense Review,” the Navy sees these efforts as part of strategic communication, which, defined, is “focused United States Government processes and efforts to understand and engage key audiences to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable to advance national interests and objectives through the use of coordinated information, themes, plans, programs, and actions synchronized with other elements of national power.”

7 See the comments of Colonel Garland H. Williams in the debate, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, “Who Should Lead Post-Conflict Reconstruction?” (February 15, 2008), available at http://www.cfr.org/publication/15426 /who_should_lead_postconflict_reconstruction.html.

8 “Reconstruction Operations: Practical and Institutional Constraints,” in Jean Dufourcq and David S. Yost, eds., NATO-EU Cooperation in Post-Conflict Reconstruction (nato Defense College Research Branch, 2006), 29.

9. Brent Scowcroft and Samuel R. Berger, “In the Wake of War: Getting Serious about Nation-Building,” National Interest 81 (Fall 2005).

10 Derek Reveron and Nikolas K. Gvosdev, “Civil Defense,” National Interest (August 3, 2009), available at http://nationalinterest.org/article/civil-defense-3197.

11 Dan Green, “Harnessing the Islamist Revolution: A Strategy to Win the War against Religious Extremism,” Strategic Studies Quarterly (Fall 2008).

12 Timothy L. Thomas, “emercom: Russia’s Emergency Response Team,” Low Intensity Conflict and Law Enforcement 4:2 (Autumn 1995).