Sustainable Development as a Military Tool
Sustainable development is a catch phrase, found throughout our modern culture, which does not have a common definition. While these multiple meanings are acceptable within society, the military requires an unambiguous definition that can be used across services and government agencies. The proposed definition of sustainable development for the U.S. military and government: a project or action that increases the recipient’s self-reliance in order to eliminate the need for future support from another outside organization, allows for military planners to ask appropriate questions with regards to realistic operational timelines and goals while providing a solid foundation for commanders in the field to assess operations. Military operations, currently defined as Unified Action, are focused on achieving a unity of effort across services, agencies, and other entities towards an overarching goal. This unity of effort requires military leaders to understand the impacts of their decisions and integrate the corresponding actions taken into the long-term and strategic goals of the United States Government and other stakeholders. The implementation of sustainable development into stability operations doctrine will better create conditions for the military to succeed in modern conflicts by supporting and maintaining this unity of effort.
Stability operations are a core U.S. military mission that the Department of Defense shall be prepared to conduct and support. They shall be given priority comparable to combat operations and be explicitly addressed and integrated across all DOD activities including doctrine, organizations, training, education, exercises, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and planning. – Department of Defense (DOD) Directive 3000.051
The mission of the United States military can be encapsulated in that of the United States Army: to “fight and win our Nation’s wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict.”2 Unfortunately, too many service members believe that fighting is the only path to success. As evidenced by recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting is the easy part. The true test of the Army’s abilities comes during stability operations. In order to be successful in this function, the Army must learn to understand and promote sustainable development.
The U.S. military currently executes development under the doctrine of stability operations. According to Joint Publication 3-07: Stability Operations, the five main tasks of stability operations are: “Security, Humanitarian Assistance, Economic Stability and Infrastructure, Rule of Law, and Governance and Participation.”3 Any action taken during stability operations fall within these five tasks. In recent years the U.S. military has conducted stability operations in such different locations as Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Bosnia.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has answered the question of whether the U.S. military should conduct stability operations.4 While this type of operation is an integral part of military doctrine, incorporation of sustainable development into these actions may seem foreign to many military service members. Through the careful evaluation of any plans and projects with an eye on increasing self-reliance of the local population, the military has the ability to accomplish the required actions and reach the goals of any exit strategy.
Sustainable development is a malleable phrase with no common definition. The 1987 Brundtland Commission states the purpose of sustainable development is “to ensure [development] meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”5 While this phrase is widely used to describe sustainable development, it does not provide an actual definition. The United States Government (USG) also does not have a specified definition that is applied across its breadth.
This lack of a definition does not mean the U.S. military cannot execute sustainable development. The actions of Civil Affairs detachments, Human Terrain Teams, and individual commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate this ability.7 As a whole, the U.S. military does not have the tools to conduct sustainable development. The current environment of minimizing deployment length while maximizing dwell time also makes pursuing long-term sustainable development a politically tough endeavor. These facts, when coupled with the military’s institutional resistance to the full execution of stability operations, and the unrealistic expectation of full U.S. Department of State (DOS) support, mean the U.S. military currently has relatively little ability to create, and even less ability to maintain, sustainable development during deployed operations. Without a military-wide understanding and acceptance of sustainable development, this deficiency in its ability to conduct stability operations will not be corrected.
What Is Sustainable Development?
Sustainable development is a phrase for which each stakeholder applies a different definition. The term has been adopted by organizations as disparate as big business, environmental activists, international finance organizations, and professional engineer organizations, creating a myriad of definitions and meanings that have no standard to determine whether sustainable development is being achieved.6
A definition of sustainable development suitable for military operations must be broad enough to provide a guide to high-level planners while specific enough to be applied to small unit operations. The following question provided by Brinkerhoff and Goldsmith provides a foundation for such a definition: “[W]ill this help in the long-run to increase the recipients’ self-reliance?”8 Using this question, a proposed definition of sustainable development for the U.S. military is: a project or action that increases the recipient’s self-reliance in order to eliminate the need for future support from another outside organization. Such a definition allows for appropriate questions to be asked during planning while also providing a solid foundation for commanders in the field to evaluate operations. By focusing on long-term goals for a project and whether it will improve the self-reliance of those receiving the development support, the sustainability of any effort can be evaluated.
Sustainable Development as a Military Tool
Unified action, the current definition of military operations, “synchronizes, coordinates, and/or integrates joint, single-Service, and multinational operations with the operations of other USG departments and agencies, NGOs, IGOs (e.g., the United Nations [UN]), and the private sector to achieve unity of effort.”9 This unity of effort between governmental and nongovernmental entities requires military leaders to understand the impacts of their decisions and integrate the corresponding actions taken into the long-term and strategic goals of the United States Government. In order to attain unity of effort, a common definition of sustainable development is required. Such a definition will allow strategic planners to better forecast the time requirements for future operations while giving tactical commanders an opportunity to assess the status of their current and planned operations.
United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) provides an example where the immediate benefits of sustainable development could be seen. The concept of regionally aligned units provides an opportunity for Army leaders at the brigade-level and below to conduct proactive stability operations through military-to-military contact and interactions with local populations. By implementing sustainable development as defined above into training, mission planning, and execution, commanders at all levels of these units will improve their ability to accomplish their mission while supporting the diplomatic and development objectives within a country as defined by the U.S. Ambassador.
Sustainable development can also be applied to all levels of planning. Planners and commanders must understand the political environment behind the current focus on exit strategies and withdrawal timelines. This understanding should not be misconstrued as an excuse to avoid creating and executing long-term plans. On the contrary, this should be seen as a mandate to present realistic, long-range plans for any future operations. Given that future operations will include stability operations, implementing the concept of sustainable development into military planning is required to ensure an accurate time forecast is provided.
The flexibility of the U.S. military has been on display over the past 10 years during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ability of the institution to recognize pitfalls, evaluate their consequences, and change direction to avoid them in the future is well established. The need to reevaluate the doctrine of stability operations with a focus on sustainable development is apparent. The U.S. military has the opportunity to review these operations using the lessons learned during recent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, etc. Therefore, the following recommendations are advanced to increase the military’s ability to conduct stability operations:
- Define “sustainable development” as: a project or action that increases the recipient’s self-reliance in order to eliminate the need for future support from another outside organization. Incorporate this definition into Joint Publication 3-07: Stability Operations, Joint Publication 1-02: Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms and all associated individual service doctrine.
- Incorporate the concept of sustainable development into stability operations doctrine.
- Continually review and evaluate the performance of development organization throughout the world in order to gain lessons learned and insight into the successful implementation of sustainable development.
- Incorporate the lessons learned from previous stability operations conducted in Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, etc. into military doctrine along with those learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These recommendations represent a starting point in the discussion and effort to improve stability operations through the concept of sustainable development. The implementation of sustainable development during stability operations will improve the U.S. military in two ways: 1) improve the ability to successfully reach previously stated goals codified within an exit strategy; 2) any plans created for future combat or stability operations will include a realistic time estimate for success. Most importantly, sustainable development will provide a focus on the possible results or consequences from any action taken at any level of command during stability operations.
Sustainable development is a catch phrase that can be found throughout our modern culture without a common meaning or understanding. While these multiple meanings are acceptable within society, the military requires an unambiguous definition that can be used across services and government agencies. The proposed definition of sustainable development for the U.S. military and government: a project or action that increases the recipient’s self-reliance in order to eliminate the need for future support from another outside organization, allows for appropriate questions to be asked during planning while also providing a solid foundation for commanders in the field to evaluate operations on.
The implementation of sustainable development during stability operations will improve the U.S. military in many ways. Most importantly, sustainable development will provide a focus on the possible results or consequences of any action at any level of command during stability operations. When combined with the hard-won lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has the opportunity to improve its ability to fight and win the Nation’s wars, in whatever fashion they are found.
1. U.S. Department of Defense, "Department of Defense Instruction #3000.05" (Washington, D.C., Sep 16, 2009). This document requires DOD elements to plan, train, and execute stability operations with the same skill and effort as combat operations.
2. U.S. Army, U.S. Army Organizations (2012), http://www.army.mil/info/organization/ (accessed Apr 3, 2012).
3. Department of Defense, Joint Publication 3-07: Stability Operations (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, 2011), III-2.
4. "Department of Defense Instruction #3000.05."
5. World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, Commission Report, U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, U.N. Division for Sustainable Development (New York, NY: U.N. General Assembly, 1987), 24. Commonly referred to as the “Brundtland Commission,” this defintion of sustainability is often the default used by governmental and non-governmental organizations.
6. U.S. Green Building Council, What LEED Measures (2011), http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=1989 (accessed Apr 3, 2012); World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Members, http://www.wbcsd.org/about/members.aspx (accessed Mar 26, 2012); World Wildlife Federation, Macroeconomics for Sustainable Development Program Office, Development Futures, (2012), http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/how_we_work/policy/development_poverty/macro_economics/what_we_do/programs/rural_futures/ (accessed Apr 3, 2012).
7. LTC David Hodne, “After the Surge: Task Force Raider’s Experience in Iraq,” Operational Summer, Best Practices in Counter Insurgency: Report 3, Institute for the Study of War (October 2010).
8. Derick W. Brinkerhoff and Arthur A. Goldsmith, "Promoting the Sustainability of Development Institutions: A Framework for Strategy," World Development (Pergamon Press plc) 20, no. 3 (1992), 369.
9. U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Publication 1: Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States (Washington D.C., 2011), II-7.