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The new Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) mandates that “future warriors will be as proficient in irregular operations, including counterinsurgency and stabilization operations, as they are today in high-intensity combat.” Thus the Pentagon appears to be serious about its announcement in December that military forces would treat “nation building” as an equal priority alongside combat operations. One conjures up scenes of bronzed Navy Seabees building roads through impoverished neighborhoods while handing out candy to indigenous waifs. Liberals might consider this progress. Not only have they dragged George Bush into nation building, but our troops aren’t going to be hurting people any more, except perhaps for some really bad guys who deserve it anyway.
In this post-Soviet era, the most straightforward way to refocus the Defense Department would be to stand down some of our conventional combat forces and replace them with civil engineers and other specialists in reconstruction. Rather than make these choices, disruptive as they might be in the short run, Mr. Rumsfeld is going to order everybody to learn to do another job. Jeffrey Nadaner, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations, described it as “they need to rapidly be able to jump back and forth.”
What will happen if we try to implement this policy is severe damage to our fighting forces, while not producing much in the way of nation building.
A policy that simply adds nation building as an equal priority, cannot but weaken skills for combat, since it takes three to four years to fully train a recruit as a member of a first-class military organization, and growing in the profession of arms remains a full-time job for the rest of that person’s career. Neither Mr. Nadaner nor the QDR indicated what our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and the Marines are going to stop doing so they can train for “stability operations.”
It is going to take a lot of training, since “stability” professions are also full-time occupations, not hobbies. For example, some of the skills called out in the December directive are: “revive or build the private sector, including encouraging citizen-driven, bottom-up economic activity and constructing necessary infrastructure” and “develop representative governmental institutions.”
And it is going to be frustrating for our troops, since the dirty little secret about nation building is that no one knows how to do it. The example proponents usually cite is the former Yugoslavia. But although the war in Bosnia has been over for 10 years and the war against Serbia for six,
The Economist recently concluded in a survey that:
In Albania and much of ex-Yugoslavia, the forces ranged against the state-crime syndicates and armed nationalists-are often more than a match for legitimate business and politics. Government, in so far as its writ runs at all, is frequently worse than useless: customs barriers and regulations simply obstruct legal business, offer bribe opportunities for bureaucrats and abet crime the region is a big net exporter of crime.
The Economist was not describing deep sub-Saharan Africa but a small region in Europe surrounded by six members of NATO. It’s probably best not to bring up Haiti.
An argument is sometimes made that while nation building is difficult, with enough troops on the ground even if less than professionally trained for that job stability can be maintained and reconstruction even if not up to world-class standards can begin. How many troops would even this take? A study by the RAND Corporation in 2003 concluded that no force smaller than 2 percent of the occupied population would accomplish “stability,” much less reconstruction. Quick math shows that 500,000 coalition troops would have been required for Iraq. Unfortunately, the 2 percent figure was based on the assumption that Bosnia and Kosovo were success stories, and when you factor in the religious and cultural differences between regions like ex-Yugoslavia and Iraq, even 5 percent (1,250,000 troops) might not have achieved “stability.”
When a solution starts looking worse the more you add to it, then it is time to question the whole approach. With regard to Iraq, for instance, such a large number of Christian, Western troops in a largely Muslim country would catalyze more resentment and insurgency. A force of, say, 500,000 troops would need three or four times the current amount of logistics and bases, have three or four times the amount of spending money to flash around, and, of course, provide three or four times the number of targets.
Putting all this together suggests that often our invade-and-stabilize paradigm will replace brutal but somewhat efficient dictatorships with an even more savage assortment of thugs, gangs, religious fanatics, drug traffickers, guerrillas, and pimps. These hardened criminal and insurgent groups will run rings around our amateur stability operators. In pursuit of the directive’s admirable goals of “a viable market economy, rule of law, democratic institutions, and a robust civil society,” we don’t need to make life in the Third World even worse. Perhaps candidate Bush should have stuck to his instincts when he told Al Gore that our country’s soldiers “don’t do nation building.”
CHET RICHARDS writes for the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. He is a retired colonel in the US Air Force Reserve and the author of Certain to Win: The Strategy of John Boyd Applied to Business.