Monday, April 27, 2009

Who Should Engage in Post-Conflict Reconstruction -- Civilians or Military?

Last week, President Barack Obama announced that although he hoped to send 300 civilians to Afghanistan, he was unable to find the economists, lawyers, and political scientists he had hoped to send. Therefore, he announced, he would instead engage soldiers and the military to do the post-conflict reconstruction programmatic work.
Post-conflict reconstruction is a relatively new field, if it can even be said to be a field, in which internationals and locals work to normalize and build sustainable institutions and infrastructure following war. Aspects of post-conflict reconstruction can include legal drafting, democratization, human rights institution building, gender mainstreaming (often sorely missing, as I have written in my article Lessons from Arizona Market: the Impact of Neoliberlism and the Free Market Mindset on Women in the Post Conflict Reconstruction Process).
The entire enterprise is highly susceptible to critique for a mulitude of reasons, many of which I have written in my article Deconstructing the Reconstruction: Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Post War Bosnia and Herzegovina. The enterprise smacks of colonialism, in particular when internationals are put in positions akin to governors of a colonial outpost, as was arguably the case in Kosovo and, for some of the postwar period, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This engenders fears of western imperialism, particularly when programs which work in the United States or Europe are imposed or superimposed onto other legal, cultural, political, and economic systems. It is particularly sensitive to the often whimsical and fleeting interests of donors (at the nation-state, organizational, and private level) that would often prefer to see their money used on "sexier" issues than those that have been carefully assessed to be real priorities.
The possibility, then, that military personnel would become the de facto internationals to engage in these operations still in a nascent phase of normative development, and already fraught with legitimate critiques from virtually every scholarly disclipline, is frightening. This is not to say that military personnel are not inherently capable -- or also are, in fact, economists, lawyers, and political scientists, although most are not. But military are on the ground to maintain and foster security, which is a different objective than having the skill and priority of creating sustainable rights regimes.
When I heard that President Obama was planning to send military personnel to do post-conflict reconstruction work because he could not find 300 U.S. civilians to do the job, I wanted to tell him that, in fact, although not well publicized, there are many divisions within federal agencies and private organizations that have produced thousands of U.S. civilian professionals and scholars who have already engaged in post conflict reconstruction work. For instance:
► A division within the Department of State sent hundreds of American lawyers to Bosnia and Herzegovina to assist with the first and second round of elections, and then seconded several hundred to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe as experts in human rights, elections, governance, democratization, media, education and gender.
► A different division of the Department of State has sent hundreds of American lawyers as Junior Professional Officers to the United Nations.
► The American Bar Association's CEELI program regularly sends lawyers and judges abroad to work in developing legal systems.
► A multitude of agencies of the United Nations employs Americans on a contract basis at any give time.
It is high time that the United States developed databases of expert Americans with international experiences and kept these people at the ready as potential surge teams. We exist in the thousands at any given time. Rather than turn these crucial tasks over to the military, already stretched to and beyond its capacity, the United States must begin to recognize its existing -- albeit informal -- core of civilians trained in aspects of post-conflict reconstruction. And it must find a way to make it feasible to call up and send these civilians, rather than to engage the military to become responsible for post-conflict reconstruction work.

1 comment:

Diane Marie Amann said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post, Dina.
Also of interest in this regard: efforts to establish a Civilian Response Corps of U.S. civil service officials, from throughout the bureaucracy, capable of working in reconstruction efforts. You can read more on page 5 of the American Society of International Law newsletter available at