Stability Operations

Stability operations, which “involve establishing or re-establishing order in a fragile state or territory,” [DoDD 3000.07 (2014)] are perhaps the best starting point for a discussion of the core activities of irregular warfare. This is because, of all the activities undertaken by military forces, stability operations 1) generally place the military in the most direct, prolonged contact with civilian populations and 2) generally involve the intentional restructuring or resetting of the civilian population’s relationship with their government. In this respect, stability operations get quickly to the heart of irregular warfare: the pursuit of legitimacy in the eyes of the population. This is especially true when there are spoilers attempting to undermine the government, whether for political purposes or for personal gain. However, in many cases, stability operations may not involve a clear opposition, but be undertaken as, for example, a prophylactic measure following a natural disaster, or in the face of rampant but unorganized crime.

The purpose of stability operations

Whether opposed or not, the basic goal of stability operations is to maintain or reestablish public order and safety of the civilian population, and if necessary return the state to its legitimate government. As the US military has learned over the last decade and a half, this requires in the short term, the establishment of a safe and secure environment, provision of essential government services, and the responsible delivery of aid. Each of these closely intertwined activities is enormously complex, and while we briefly take each in turn, doing any of them complete justice will necessarily be beyond the scope of this blog. In the longer term, stabilization of a post conflict state also requires transfer of these responsibilities to a host nation government that is legitimate, effective, and has the capacity to manage the activities transitioned to it. These longer-term issues are vital to consider in planning any phase of stability operations, but due to their complexity, will primarily be dealt with in later posts on transition and the interagency role in stabilization and stability operations.

It is important to be clear that this view of stability operations is specific to the point of view of a state conducting stability operations abroad. The view is substantially different for those attempting to stabilize their own state. According to the strategic framework developed by USIP and PKSOI, from the point of view of the host nation population there are five “end states” that must be sought, whom they rightly describe as the “final arbiters of whether peace has been achieved.” These end states are a safe and secure environment, rule of law, stable governance, a sustainable economy, and social well-being.

Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction

End States:

• Safe and Secure Environment: Ability of the people to conduct their daily lives without fear of systematic or large-scale violence.

• Rule of Law: Ability of the people to have equal access to just laws and a trusted system of justice that holds all persons accountable, protects their human rights and ensures their safety and security.

• Stable Governance: Ability of the people to share, access or compete for power through nonviolent political processes and to enjoy the collective bene ts and services of the state.

• Sustainable Economy: Ability of the people to pursue opportunities for livelihoods within a system of economic governance bound by law.

• Social Well-Being: Ability of the people to be free from want of basic needs and to coexist peacefully in communities with opportunities for advancement.

However, from the perspective of an irregular warfare force provider, these end states are developed primarily through securing the environment, assisting with essential governmental services, and provision of aid. In the short run, these activities may have to be led by the supporting state, but in all cases the host nation government must as soon as feasible step up to bear the full weight of achieving each of the five end states identified in the Guiding Principles.

Safe and secure environment

It is not difficult to see that lawlessness and armed violence impede economic growth, destroy human and physical capital, and redirect resources from productive use. More perniciously, they also create an environment in which existing intercommunal conflicts can be deepened or activated. This can have the effect of crystallizing conflict within the culture, so that even if active conflict is eventually quelled, cultural cleavages can be reopened by spoilers, bad actors, and misguided nationalists generations later. Thus, delay in securing the environment, or lapses in attention that allow lawlessness or violence to return, can have compounding effects that continue to reverberate through the cultural landscape.

In addition, as the US has found in its recent efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the creation of a reasonably safe and secure environment, even if artificial at the start, is a necessary precondition to making gains in governance and the economy. It should not be terribly surprising that citizens from developing countries (which account for more than half of all armed conflict) have ranked safety, security and justice as primary concerns.  According to USAID, “escalating crime in these already fragile states further impedes their emergence from poverty and instability. At the same time, poverty creates fertile conditions for crime, terrorism, and trafficking.” Conversely, “security-sector reform and the post-conflict reintegration of ex-combatants help create conditions that will enable these states to chart a positive path towards peace so that recovery and development can begin.”

However, while most military planners have focused on the immediate concern of reducing the manifestation of violence and lapses in public order, too often this comes at the expense of planning for the long term, including such systemic issues as police and judicial corruption, alignment with cultural norms and expectations, sustainability of security force assistance, and security sector governance. Again, according to USAID, “promoting effective and responsible governance of the security sector in all its manifestations is a critical element of any program designed to help societies evolve in more secure, democratic and prosperous ways.”

Essential government services

Provision of essential government services, such as water, sanitation, and dispute resolution, is required to generate stability once the environment is secure enough to conduct those services. This is because, in the short run, a population that does not have access to government-provided services will necessarily turn to any source that can provide them. The population will always have a preference for some providers over others, so lack of government services will not necessarily lead to reliance on insurgent groups, but does in most cases weaken the bonds between the government and the people, which will have long-term deleterious effects on security and stability.

The precise services that are required will vary from one country to another, and possibly from one province to another, based on the expectations of the people. These expectations are informed by the history and culture of that state, from minimalist (almost anarchist), in which little more than basic police and hospital services are expected, to maximalist, in which the people expect government involvement in nearly every aspect of their lives. In any case, there are some fundamental services that every government must provide to ensure a stable environment, without which basic human needs will be unmet and this deprivation will quickly induce instability. These include such essentials as water, food, shelter, health services, education, and sanitation. Again, not all societies expect the government to be the primary provider of these services, but all generally expect the government to act as the final guarantor.

Responsible delivery of aid

In cases where the government is not fully capable of securing its population and providing essential services, the international community will likely have to step in to fill the gap. Donor states will likely also be required to assist the government to develop the capability and capacity to provide security and essential services. In the short run, this will in most cases involve the provision of humanitarian relief and emergency infrastructure reconstruction (such as rebuilding of dams and hospitals). In the longer run, aid for stability operations runs the gamut from provision of food, medicine or other supplies; to training government officials and civil society leaders; to foreign military sales; to directly subsidizing the host nation’s budget.

However, not all help is helpful. There are many pitfalls that can beset a country attempting to stabilize a partner nation through foreign aid. While most of these issues are beyond the scope of this blog, a few warrant mention here.

First and foremost is the issue of sustainability. Aid that is not of a type and scale that can be adequately maintained by the host nation after transition (or at least by its permanent donor states) should be recognized as surge effort. In these cases, the transition planning must account for a declining level of effort following the drawdown of aid. If this decline is not manageable, then a more sustainable aid package should be considered, along with a reassessment of the strategic goals for stabilization.

Related to sustainability, but on a shorter timeline, is the issue of absorptive capacity. A state emerging from instability will likely not be able to take on all of the responsibilities of maintaining stability in part because it does not have the resources or the technical and bureaucratic capability to fully absorb the aid that is provided to it. Much like teaching a child mathematical concepts, a graduated approach may be necessary to build the capacity for different skills and responsibilities. In many cases, advanced functions may not be feasible in a reasonable time horizon.

In addition, some attempts at aid may even prove counterproductive to stability. For example, sudden and sustained influx of aid can cause economic shocks and inflation, which may exacerbate resource competition and provide additional impetus to corruption and criminality. As bad as these effects may be, the subsequent and inevitable withdrawal of aid will likely generate the mirror image shocks of stagnation and deflation may be worse.

Ironically, the worst scenario may be the one in which the aid is most effective. Aid which is effective and targeted to the neediest populations may actually exacerbate the very same tensions that lead to the instability in the first place, further cementing ethnic, regional, or other rivalries. Thus, aid to states that may exhibit such cleavages should be intentionally designed to provide something of clear value to all parties, even if the particular type of aid is not identical. For example, job training and medical aid may be given to a village composed primarily of a repressed majority ethnic group, while civic engagement training is given to a formerly empowered minority stronghold nearby.

Competing characterizations of stability operations

While the characterization of stability operations outlined above does not map precisely to the doctrinal model used by the US military, this is in part intentional. More than merely an attempt to improve upon the model used in JP 3-07, Stability Operations, the foregoing is offered (as with much of the material in this blog) as a counterpoint to improve understanding of the issues that each model attempts to address. These alternate frameworks need not be seen as competitors for primary, but as approaching the same subject from two different angles. Each angle bringing with it a different perspective and possibly resulting, therefore, in different analytic outcomes. However, neither is the ultimate truth, as that is something none of us will ever know.

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