Small Wars Journal

Rethinking Stability

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 2:38pm

Rethinking Stability

Inge Fryklund

Stability has long been a pillar of U.S. foreign policy and is a newer thread - stabilization - in civil-military operations.

Writ large, it has usually meant that we prop up dictators whom we think will be loyal to us and tough enough to control their populations, to preserve the status quo and prevent any change that might negatively impact our interests. Mubarak in Egypt is only one of the more recent. The Shah of Iran was another. We also supported Saddam in his war with Iran. Aid is predominantly military. (Let’s make sure the guys with the guns are on our side.) Obviously, this does not take into account the interests of the local citizens, whose needs and aspirations are given considerable lip service, but are otherwise largely shunted aside (or trampled) in favor of stability that supposedly advances U.S. interests. Egypt’s military has received at least $1.3 billion per year since 1979—while the literacy rate for Egyptian women is still only around 60%.

Stability for us has too often meant stasis for the local citizens. With tight control from the top, nothing changes, perhaps for a generation or more, while under the surface, citizens seethe with no outlet. Our support helps keep the lid on, but does nothing to deal with the pressures that continue to build underneath. Indeed, large amounts of money supplied to the military, without transparency or accountability, only reinforces corruption and autocracy, widening the gap between our rhetoric of democracy and the reality of dictatorship. Underlying tensions (reflecting ethnic divides, corruption, lack of economic opportunity, joblessness, etc.) are not addressed; the population is in suspended animation, with no means to address concerns in the ordinary course of electoral business. At some level, we must be aware of these festering problems. Otherwise why would we conclude that dictatorship was necessary to contain them?

Nevertheless, we are always surprised when it blows, and unprepared for the pendulum swings that result. Consider, for example, Iran. In 1953 the CIA engineered a plot to overthrow the elected Prime Minister, Mosaddegh (to protect our interests in Iranian oil), which consolidated the Shah’s dictatorship. Why were we surprised at the convulsion in 1979 when the Shah was finally overthrown? Now, when we talk about Iranian nuclear ambitions, we act as though history began in 1979 and Iran is inexplicably anti-American.

Analysis by analogy is always risky, but the physics of pendulum motion are very suggestive. When a pendulum is restrained at one end of its swing and then released, the ball does not stop at neutral; kinetic energy sends it over to the opposite pole. Only over time do the successive swings decrease in amplitude and reach neutrality. The Bush Administration, after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, apparently thought that the repression of the Saddam years, with a minority Sunni faction subjugating a majority Shi’a population, would be replaced not by a pendulum swing to Shi’a dominance, but by an immediate settling at neutrality - with Sunni and Shi’a suddenly seeing the virtues of democracy with checks and balances, and spontaneously cooperating to create a peaceful Iraq. Instead, we saw the normal pendulum swing to “our turn now!” and the settling of old scores.

Pendulum swings are more the rule than the exception. The Westernized Shah was an oppressor. Let’s try something dramatically different - the fundamentalist Islamic and anti-Western Ayatollahs. Mubarak bad? Let’s try the Muslim Brotherhood. This might be termed the Monty Python approach to regime change: “Now for something completely different!”

A similar pattern played out in the Balkans after Tito’s death in 1980. None of the ethnic conflicts had disappeared under Tito; they were merely submerged. The eventual result was the emergence of rampant nationalism, the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991, and the ethnic atrocities of Srebrenica, Kosovo and Mostar, among others.

Without experience in the give and take of democratic elected government, it may be impossible to go directly from one extreme to a peaceful middle ground. It is much easier - and a more familiar dynamic - to go to another variety of black and white certainty with no shades of grey. The experience of stasis also leads to an identification with one’s group - victims or oppressors - solidifying us vs. them, and an intense attachment to one’s own group’s point of view. Acknowledging that the other faction may have some good points or productive ideas is being a traitor to the group. (Such acknowledgement is hard enough for today’s U.S. Democratic and Republican parties.)

During the years of stasis that preclude political participation, the population acquires no skills or experience in non-violent political means of sharing resources and reconciling conflict. In fact, old grievances become further solidified when there is no way to address and resolve them. Instead of a wrong done a few years in the past and amenable to resolution by those who were personally involved, new generations grow up trained to remember - and avenge - the insults to parents or remote ancestors, which may have taken on mythic proportions. I remember working in Kosovo in 2001 and being startled when, in conversation over coffee someone complained that, “The Turks took our property.” Really??!! When?? (My naïve question.) Turns out the reference was to the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. The past is always present when there is no mechanism for creating new futures.

Not only is there no experience with practical politics and strategies of compromise, rhetoric becomes a substitute for proven ability to govern. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was apparently rather good at organizing dissent, but did an incompetent job of governing - a fact that might have been discovered (or they might have learned from) years ago had they had a chance to contest local elections. Their first attempt at governance was at the national level and was, not surprisingly, inept. Hamas in 2006 won the most free and fair election in the Middle East, but the U.S. - demanding a particular result rather than the democratic process we claimed to support - immediately boycotted the new Palestinian government. We let Hamas become martyrs to U.S. intransigence rather than allowing them the chance to succeed or fail at governance on their own merits.

For all these reasons, our stability efforts implemented on a national scale, in someone else’s nation, invariably - sometimes sooner, sometimes later - have been a spectacular failure. In the long run, coerced stability always comes back to haunt us.

Despite this track record, stability on a small scale has recently become a staple goal of civil-military operations. USAID’s OTI (Office of Transition Initiatives) similarly has “stabilization” as an explicit goal. Examples of stability operations (digging wells, forming community councils, cleaning canals) abound from Iraq and Afghanistan. The theory is that stability bridges the gap (whether or not there is a gap is unexamined) between immediate humanitarian assistance and development. Again, the goal seems to be stasis for the local population; please don’t shoot at us or at each other at least while we are here. Why people are shooting, and whether they will resume shooting as soon as we leave, is not considered. Projects appear to be aimed at buying people off for our immediate benefit, not at addressing underlying problems or supporting local government decision-making that might manage canals or schools sustainably into the future. Temporary outside support for or provision of (e.g.) girls’ education or health care or road paving is no substitute for—and often simply delays—a people’s ability to work out their own operational and funding priorities. Not surprisingly, millions in CERP (Commander’s Emergency Response Program) money has not made Afghanistan or Iraq notably more secure. The slogan “money as a weapons system” was inadvertently prescient; we shot ourselves in the foot.

The next time someone suggests a need for “stability” operations, ask why we want the local population to be locked in stasis with underlying conflict unaddressed until we decide to withdraw. At that point, the local population is back to square one, with the opportunity for gradual give and take and adjustment having been squandered.

About the Author(s)

Over the period 2004-2012, Ms Inge Fryklund, JD, PhD, has spent more than four years in Afghanistan, including work with USAID, UNDP and the Army and Marine Corps. Her views are her own. She is recently returned from Helmand Province.


Robert C. Jones

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 10:41am

In reply to by G Martin


One needs to think "stability" as in riding a bicycle; not stability as in some rigid, unchanging thing. Any government that either stops working to balance all things with some sense of forward progress, or that becomes overly set in its ways immediately begins to become less "stable."


Sun, 02/23/2014 - 2:51pm

In reply to by G Martin

Stability could be substituted with the word chaos and one could get at the meaning in our doctrine. I think the underlying assumption is chaos is bad and order is good. I have always found this questionable. If one looks at Iran, if talks fail, chaos could be a goal. That is, if we had imagination. If one could remove the WMD capability and leave the society in chaos, there is at least a chance that something more positive for US national security interests would develop. Societies are dynamic and I am unsure how Iranian society would react to a "large raid" that removes the ability to produce nuclear weapons. Put in a UW campaign in the Kurdish, Arab, Balouch areas and one could destabilize the country and produce a weaker state. That would reduce the underlying threat to the US, no matter how the society came to terms with the event. In the case of Iran, going in and trying to control the outcome by "stability", simply maximizes cost without a real increase in the possibility of a positive outcome of US security.

If we are going to think about stability, we should also think about phrase IV and V. It is nothing but a cookie cutter. We should treat each security problem in its own context. One may want to nation build. One may not want to. The problem you are facing should determine the path. The solution should not determine the problem.


Mon, 02/24/2014 - 4:36pm

In reply to by G Martin

You an I are clearly not going to find common ground so I will only address one issue. I think, as counterpoint to Beibhocker's ideas, you consider Greenfeld's "The Spirit of Capitalism" in conjunction with McCloskey's "Bourgeois Dignity". Just a thought.

Perhaps I missed what you were trying to say. If you are saying that social systems are complex, adaptive systems that are never in a state of equilibrium, then I would largely agree. But as others have pointed out, Stability is not about holding a society in stasis (the gist of the authors argument). Societies have to change over time. Stability is about limiting the human carnage that can result from some more radical methods of change.

But that is not Beinhocker's theory. He did not invent complexity theory. He simply tries to adapt it to economics as well as using some ideas associated with biological evolution. It is similar to Dawkins attempt to adapt evolutionary principles to social change. Exchange “Knowledge” for “Memes” and you see the similarity. The right bits of knowledge combine to create the ideal business plan that crushes all lesser business plans as superior social structures destroy inferior ones. That is what I have an issue with. Hence my reference to McCloskey and her ideas that economics cannot explain social change. They are a product of the change, not a driver of it. For McCloskey changes in social value systems that occurred during the Renaissance - a shift from communal values that inhibited profits from trade (i.e. usury laws) to indiviualistic values that endorsed them - led to the rapid expansion in business enterprise Beinhocker associates with an increase of knowledge. So perhaps I misunderstood where you were going, but I still dislike any attempt to equate social change with biological evolution as they tend to produce the idea that Westerners have reached the epitome of the evolution and, therefore, should be the system that all others attempt to emulate.


Sun, 02/23/2014 - 8:07pm

In reply to by G Martin

Please delete this post, it was a repeat of the last on.

G Martin

Sun, 02/23/2014 - 5:17pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

<em>"Nation Building is not "maintaining or reestablishing a safe and secure environment and providing essential governmental services."</em>

I say it is. Other than providing security and essential government services- I am unsure of what a nation is supposed to do- and if it isn't doing it, building one that can takes... building one!

<em>"If anything, Nation Building comes closer to your advocation of Eric Beinhocker. It is an attempt to take a failed state and remake it in our own image."</em>

Maybe you have never read Beinhocker. His theory does not advocate building anything- but, rather, observing what emerges naturally and reinforcing that. Maybe you could call it "nation support"- but not "building." And it definitely has nothing to do with remaking anything in our image. Emergent theory is the exact opposite of that.

<em>"...Metaphors of Economic Evolution"...</em>- no, metaphors of biological evolution... <em> "...will not yield a different result"...</em>- who says? I referenced a theory that says it will- why don't you back up your broad statement with something--- <em>..."We will still be trying to alter the system"...</em>- again, you must not understand Beinhocker's concept as that is 180 degrees out from what he states- nowhere does he advocate altering the system- he advocates understanding the natural propensity of the system and then piling on.

<em>...instead of trying to simply provide the necessary security and humanitarian aid necessary to allow the local population time and space to solve their own problems.</em>- really? Sounds hubristic to me. What is the "necessary" security and humanitarian aid? Who figures that out? Does aid always allow them "time and space" to solve their own problems- or are problems worked out in spite of aid and external help? Sounds like to me you've bought off on the terribly unscientific 3-24 "religion" of the COINdinistas.

<em>"That need to fix everything based on ideas foriegn </em>[sic]<em> to the local population has been our downfall in nearly every instance."</em>- so why advocate us providing them space? Maybe that space is also foreign- not only to locals, but also to how social "problems" are "fixed"...

<em>"Either way, we get in trouble when we try to make decisions for the local population based on our limited understanding of social development."</em>- and we get into trouble when we try to give them "space" based on our limited understanding of social development...


Sun, 02/23/2014 - 11:57am

In reply to by G Martin


1. Nation Building is not "maintaining or reestablishing a safe and secure environment and providing essential governmental services." If anything, Nation Building comes closer to your advocation of Eric Beinhocker. It is an attempt to take a failed state and remake it in our own image.

... that said,

2. Stability Operations as described in the FM do have a lot in common with Nation Building because of our bias towards democracy and free market economics.

... however,

3. Substituting one idea about what a proper transition to a perfect system should look like (ala Modernization Theory) for another version of what a proper transition should look like (Metaphors of Economic Evolution) will not yield a different result. We will still be trying to alter the system instead of trying to simply provide the necessary security and humanitarian aid necessary to allow the local population time and space to solve their own problems.

That need to fix everything based on ideas foriegn to the local population has been our downfall in nearly every instance. Sometimes it was based on our own security considerations (maintaining a dictator rather than letting the population try communism), sometimes it was based on our own hubris (democratizing the middle east because everyone wants to live in a democracy). Either way, we get in trouble when we try to make decisions for the local population based on our limited understanding of social development.

Bill C.

Sun, 02/23/2014 - 2:35pm

In reply to by G Martin

First we must understand and accept that "stability," per se, is not -- and never has been -- what we seek to achieve and, therefore, it (stability) cannot be the phenomenon that we seek to understand and explain.

Consider Japan in the mid-19th Century. It is relatively stable. But the different way of life, and the different values, attitudes and beliefs upon which this different way of life was based, these stood in the way of where America/the West wanted to go and how it wanted to get there. So we ultimately had to send out Admiral Perry and his black ships to convince/coerce/compel Japan to "transform" so as to better meet our needs.

Consider the American South in this same period. It is relatively stable. But the different way of life -- and the different values, attitudes and beliefs upon which this different way of life was based -- these stood in the way of where the North wanted to go and how it wanted to get there. So the North ultimately had to send out General Grant and his Union Army in an effort to convince/coerce/compel the South to "transform" so as to better meet our nation's (or should we say the North's?) needs.

Consider the communist states and societies of the 20th Century. These, one might suggest, were relatively stable. But the different way of life represented by communism -- and the different values, attitudes and beliefs upon which this different way of life was based -- these stood in the way of and threatened the way of life of the United States/the West. So the United States/the West utilized all its instruments of power in an effort to convince/coerce/compel the communist nations to "transform" more along western political, economic and social lines.

This same general trend and explanation, as outlined in my examples above, applies to our recent transformational efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East overall.

In each of these examples, "stability," to one degree or another, was (a) already present and, therefore, (b) was clearly not our objective.

Rather, as each of the examples provided above illustrate, the effort made was to (a) compromise/risk/eliminate stability in order to (b) achieve favorable state and societal transformation.

Thus the ontology we seek, I suggest, must be one that looks to understand and explain the phenomenon of convinced/coerced/compelled state and societal transformation and not, as it were, "stability."

Such concepts as "Village Stability Operations?" These concepts must likewise be viewed in terms -- not of "stability" -- but, rather, in terms of convinced/coerced/compelled state and societal transformations; specifically, those which would be favorable to the West.

G Martin

Sat, 02/22/2014 - 11:53pm

I think it is high time we questioned the entire theory behind stability operations and our ontological understanding of how societies "stabilize" (or if they even do).

I assert:

1- Societies do not "stabilize"- we need a better word. Societies instead are dynamic.
2- We say in our manuals that stability entails (for purposes of this article I will limit this to): <em>maintaining or reestablishing a safe and secure environment and providing essential governmental services</em>. Therefore, we should rename stability to be nation-building - and stop doing it.
3- Although we mention we must be part of a larger governmental effort, we assume implicitly that the military always plays a role. Today it would seem the military is the only entity really able to do much anyway- so it is a de facto military-run operation (not to mention State and others don't follow our ontology or methodology).
4- It would be better to adopt a different ontology. This ontology would assert that societies do not deliberately or deterministically go about maintaining or establishing safe and secure environments or providing essential governmental services. Instead, societies are constantly morphing and solutions emerge from the society- as opposed to deliberately coming from deterministic efforts.

Thus, we could change this manual to be called "Support to Emergent Operations." We could adopt a methodology based on evolutionary biological mechanistic theory a la Eric Beinhocker. In short we would try different efforts to spark spontaneous change- gauge the changes- then shift resources (constantly learning- a la a learning organization)- but everything would be extremely localized, decentralized, and not lots of deliberate planning or deterministic direction from on-high going on.

If, instead- we continue to believe in the ontology that societies can deliberately build governance and security- then we must be honest with ourselves and call it "nation-building"- because that is what it is. And we must be honest and state our methodology as one of deterministic and centralized planning. I would still avoid calling anything "stability". I don't even know what that means- is the U.S. stable right now?

"Stability Operations," as relates to lesser states and societies, seem to be designed to:

a. Prevent unfavorable state and societal change (for example, toward a communist or Islamist political, economic and social order) and/or to

b. Achieve favorable state and societal change (toward a more-western political, economic and social order).

(Here it is important to note that while at "a" above the goal may be to maintain the status quo, at "b" above the goal is to destroy it.)

In both instances, the wants, needs and desires of the populations of the targeted states and societies would not seem to matter (except as relates to how these wants, needs and desires may tend to support or stand in the way of our objective noted at "a" and/or "b" above).

What matters, it would seem, are the wants, needs and desires of the states and societies of the West.

Thus, the pendulem swing, that the author points to, to best be understood from the standpoint of:

a. The Cold War -- where our emphasis was placed on preventing or containing (unfavorable) state and societal change -- and

b. The Post-Cold War -- where our emphasis came to placed more on achieving (favorable) state and societal change.

Herein the United States and its allies post-the Cold War (much like the populations of the targeted states and societies) having to do a complete 180 degree shift.

And the US and its allies, likewise, having little, if any, knowledge, skills, ability and/or experience re: what they were, now post-the Cold War, attempting to do.

And this lack of aptitude being evidenced by the successive swings, one way then another (now for something entirely different--diplomacy, development and defense!), in our foreign policy approaches.


Fri, 02/21/2014 - 12:18pm

As stated by others, common lexicon is critical informed discussion. The US government, let alone the myriad state and non-state actors talk past each other by their belief that everyone is looking through the same prism that they are using...words, meanings, visuals, non-verbals, etc. Rarely have I seen anyone take the time to go around the table (figurative) to set the baseline.

I will make my comments based on my experiences in southern Afghanistan and central Iraq, at the operational and country-strategic level as well as in SO/LIC in the run up to both wars.

In that context and from where I sat, we did not have a coherent plan for stabilizing either country and instead relied on anecdotal evidence, less-than-reputable international political figures, and hubris to define our environment and chart the way forward. In both cases, we backed into Stability Operations as adherence to outdated Field Manuals and professional development in DOD, DOS, USAID and other Executive branch elements proven ineffective with dealing the challenges at hand. One of the results was that, in true American fashion, senior leaders (military and civilian alike) decided that we could spend or fight our way out of an insurgency...a word that was banded from use in any official correspondence for many years of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress played heavily in this entire process by agreeing to and, in some cases, adding to, funding levels...Money as a Weapon System was a direct result of this as everyone struggled with expending obligated monies driven by the inviolable bureaucratic tenet that no money can be turned back to the Treasury once dispensed.

All of this to say that the debate of whether the US should or should not be engaged in Stability Operations in the future is much more complex than blaming various Executive Branch entities for their seeming ineptitude. This is as much an internal political debate as it is a debate on the true capacities and capabilities of all actors to actually understand the challenges they are confronted with and in dealing with them in a contextually appropriate where money and bombs will not and have never worked.

Bill M.

Sat, 02/22/2014 - 3:07pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Many military members have made similar comments throughout the SWJ over the years and in other professional forums; however, with the prevailing COINdista political correctness anyone who questioned the merits of using CERP and other economic development in our multibillion dollar failed attempts to create stability based on the false assumption that instability was due to economic conditions instead of historical narratives was labeled as someone who didn't get it. Our COIN doctrine has failed us in two conflicts, so maybe it takes someone from outside DOD to point out the obvious and hopefully reconsider our desired ends and ways.

I agree there are many types of stability operations as pointed out in other posts such as a recovery effort after a major natural disaster where economic development may in fact be decisive in stabilizing a region, but that clearly isn't what the author is talking about.


Sun, 02/23/2014 - 4:40pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

But I think largely because military leadership lacks the imagination to envision anything else in a case like Iraq. You have to think of something else before you can enter into a dialogue with civil leadership. Something else would have been a much better option, given the force structure Rumsfeld wanted. Moreover, if the primary objective was removing WMD, then it makes a lot of sense.


Sun, 02/23/2014 - 4:07pm

In reply to by Bwilliams

Yes, I can think of several. But that was not the case, at least in Iraq. Regime change, by its nature, involves displacing the current government which makes you, the occupying military, the defacto government.

We certainly could have not gotten as involved in Afghanistan as there was a alternative in the Northern Alliance waiting in the wings. But the mission changed from punishing the Taliban and destroying AQ to creating a stable democracy that could not, at some future date, be a safe haven for terrorists. At that point the option of limited military engagement was off the table.

I have noticed that people seem to have forgotten the changing nature of the missions over the years. The blending of memories has lead to a number of inaccurate assumptions about what Stability is, COIN is, Nation Building is, and the distinction between Inter-national War and Intra-national conflict (not to be confused with civil war).


Sun, 02/23/2014 - 3:00pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Why is "Post-conflict stability is a necessity." Can you not imagine any situation where we would not simply want to leave a state destabilized and weaker? We did not try another alternative in Iraq. We tried to half-ass stability.


Sun, 02/23/2014 - 8:42pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

The US interest is simple. 1. They have well developed asymmetric capabilities. 2. It will cause Saudi Arabia and other states to gain the weapon. That creates many nuclear armed states in a region of political instability.


Sun, 02/23/2014 - 7:51pm

In reply to by Bwilliams

Lets suppose, for the sake of argument, that Iran does gain a nuclear capability. It would be small scale and no direct threat to the US. They have no traditional military delivery system to reach us. So, what is our national security interest in Iran having nuclear weapons? Oil in the gulf? Perhaps. A nuclear arms race with the Saudis, probably. But again, why do WE want to involve our blood and treasure? And if we did, I am sure we have the capability.

Again, if sanctions do not work and they acquire a bomb, what good is it to them? They can threaten regional neighbors. They already do that. I don't see that as being a game changer for the US.

Israel is another story. They clearly would have to act. But even then, to what extent.

We cannot keep the nuclear Gennie in the bottle forever. So we better start thinking of ways to deal with it on a grander scale.

But all this is off topic.


Sun, 02/23/2014 - 4:31pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

It could also turn out that one could remove oneself from the country and the Iran has a few problems to deal with. One, would would hope that we would use the opportunity, for lack of a better word, to degrade their asymmetric capabilities. They would hopefully lack many of these options. Second, a conventional land attack to destroy WMD capability will offer plenty of opportunities to degrade their capabilities, especially their Republican Guard. The Republican Guard is very important to the current state. One could leave a state much weaker. Third, Iran is a vary diverse state. One could also easily leave them problems with their Kurdish, Arab, and Baloch population. All those groups have historical problems. The Azeri population, properly not. Their connection to the Iranian state is much stronger. But that population base is sitting right across the boarder from Azerbaijan. US forces leaving Iran could leave it a chaotic mess, but it would be a mess for Iran to clean up and without WMD.

How does the Persian population react to that? Could it lead to a new government? Maybe. You mentioned the risk of attacking ships. What option will that not be a risk? Removing that capability, while important,would have to take place with any option. Moreover, it isn't like they can follow us. Once we leave, they have one option, terrorism. But that is an option in any course of action.

In ten years after whichever option happens, can you tell me that the option that involves 10 years of "stability" by US forces is better for the United States (or for the Iranian people). Perhaps there is some chance of it. However, it is a guess. If I am going to bet the best way for a society to work out its problems, I will put my faith in that society. Not an outside force. Keep a focus on US national security interests. Right now, that is a weaker Iran with no WMD.

Well, that is if talks fail. Here is hoping for success.


Sun, 02/23/2014 - 3:54pm

In reply to by Bwilliams

True, it is possible to conduct limited military operations with a specific objective. That was the thought process in Syria had Assad not agreed to give up his chemical weapons. Once you invade, displace the current government, and become an occupying force international law "requires" that, as the defacto government, you are now responsible for the population.

However, a limited military operation can lead to all out war. In the case of Iran, it would depend on their reaction. They are certainly capable of attacking our ships in the Gulf or, in an attempt to create regional sympathy, fire rockets at Israel and create a real mess.


Sun, 02/23/2014 - 3:05pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

That would be a choice. One could go in, remove uncertainty concerning WMD, and leave. Nothing about that would be against international law. One only HAS to do something once you claim the government is no longer in charge and you take control. Once does not have to take control One could follow the same logic in Iran.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 02/22/2014 - 2:11am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

1. But we did have a next to the US military a DoS run US civilian government which was designed as you correctly allude "to keep the military out of nation building---but nevertheless Bremer could have not existed without military power---via the escalation in violence from 2004/2005 it was forced to start instituting a shift to Iraq civilian control and if one reads between the Bremer lines he would have keep the US civilian control in place for a longer period and did in fact attempt to drag the transition out.

2. Some would argue that by placing a representative of the same tribe which in fact was creating the violence in AFG into the AFG national leadership we in fact signed and sealed our failure in AFG---it just took 13 years to see the failure of that decision.

I will argue as does the author that we the military have constantly failed to heed historical signs along the way which would have hindered us having lost over 8K KIA, over 200K wounded, and wasted 4T of the taxpayers hard earned money since 2001. I would not call the loss of 8K, 200K wounded and the loss of 4T a "victory" as in the end AQ is still just as potent if not more so since 9/11.

Seriously doubt that you will ever see from a leading senior US military officer the stated fact that we actually failed and calling into doubt just why we "followed" a civilian leader over the cliff and never asked WHY? Something along these lines is truly needed if the military is to work through the double failures---not yet a single question of WHY.

Or have you seen anyone from the senior military leadership voice doubt?---it is mainly the civilian side who is voicing that doubt.

Look at Kilcullen as an example---boy is he distancing himself from his own COIN theories.

IE the Bosnian conflict---anyone with a solid historical background of the Balkans knew the break up would be brutal after Tito---as was the Soviet breakup in the stans---ever ask the question why was it a surprise for our civilian and military leadership.

Take now Kiev---where in the heck was US strategy---outside of the FU comment against the EU which by the way has played elegant power politics via direct sit down in your face diplomacy and selective economic threats all the while with shooting, firebombs, mayhem, and killing going on outside their door. And one wonders why the EU currently has gone standoffish to the US--they simply after the NSA and FU comments no longer "trust" the US.

Where is there an example of our DoS ever doing all night negotiations and shuttling between the fronts in order to drive an acceptable solution based on compromise?

Again if one understood the historical development of this particular area one should have seen this coming---again we blew it.

Guess the FU comment was wrong---wonder what happened to that particular DoS employee? Is she still the President's European advisor?---or better yet how does she speak to Europeans after they pulled Kiev back from the brink.


Fri, 02/21/2014 - 7:04pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I am stating that the conclusions drawn from the stated facts are wrong.

By April of 2003 we have occupied Baghdad. But rather than follow historical president and international law we did not take control of the civilian population and institute a military government. We did not get involved in stopping rioting or looting. We took no responsibility for the political situation. This was a conscious decision made by Rumsfeld and others not to repeat the Nation Building of the Bosnian conflict. So the country fell into chaos until we decided to create a transitional government. Even that took too much time and should have been ready long before the military success. Compare that with how we dealt with Germany after WWII. We were fully prepared to take over all the normal instruments of government and to run them until a responsible civil system could be established. That is the way I see the historical facts. Feel free to interpret them otherwise.

However, that has nothing to do with the conclusion that military stability creates a stasis in a society that is trying to transition. Neither of our "stability" operations in Iraq or Afghanistan had an objective of maintaining the status quo. Both had the expressed intention of creating a democracy where none had existed before -- of bringing the population into the modern era. It is that conclusion that I disagree with.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 02/21/2014 - 5:31pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Are you implying the stated historical facts are actually wrong?

Not sure what kind of stability operations in Iraq you are referring to as by 2005 we were in the middle of a fast moving guerrilla war and stability was the least of our problems----things like IDF, IEDs, and swarm attacks were the daily routine.

Saw way to many duffel bags full of 350K USDs in 100s being carried by Army CA personnel from the State of CA into Iraq in 2006---never was really sure where the doctrinal term "money is a weapons system" came from.

Anyone know?


Fri, 02/21/2014 - 10:59am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I am going to have to disagree with you. This is not a great article. It makes too many generalizations. As others have pointed out there are many different types of stability operations. Post-conflict stability is a necessity. We tried the alternative in Iraq in 2003-2004 and things degenerated quickly. Further, I have to question the thinking of anyone who believes that what we were trying to do in Afghanistan was to keep the population in a steady state. We were trying to radically modernize the population. We did not fail there because we were trying to hold the population back from making change, we failed because the population did not want to change and we refused to understand that reality.

In addition to post-conflict situations there will be other times where natural or man-made disasters have overwhelmed the local government’s ability to deal with the situation. In those cases we have little interest in changing anything. Stability is truly the goal and you could argue that we are pursuing social stasis but we are not.

It is also true that societies will go through their own gestations on their own time. Sometiems those changes lead to conditions that will cause outsiders to believe that intervention is necessary to stop genocide or mass starvation. In those cases we are not trying to keep the society in stasis, we are trying to stabilize the situation so that the society can continue its transition without undue death -- without the pendulum of revenge swinging the other way.

In both the later two situations we will have some interest in resolving the situation that may include a political interest in pushing the country towards either closer relations or democratic transitions. Those security interests may appear to do exactly what the author is saying, but that is a risk that someone other than the military needs to assume. Which is probably why this article was written by a civilian.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/20/2014 - 10:39am

This is in fact an excellent article and it would have been a great article if written by a member of the Services not a civilian.

Why is it that a civilian can "see" the reality but the military ie DoD/DoS cannot?

It is almost like the subject history is something never studied by the DoD or even DoS.

Was finally great to see the comment "money as a weapon system" questioned as it was through 2012 constantly a term being thrown around by every unit deployment prep.

It would be interesting to finally see a summation of just how much CERP money was "wasted" in Iraq and where we are with CERP in AFG.

Wonder what the US taxpayer would say especially when the streets he drives on are literally falling apart due to the lack of budget funding.

Wonder what 4Tillion USDs could have done for US citizens during the last ten years---?

Interesting that UBL's AQ strategy has worked fantastically---drain us dry economically-the strategy was out there since 2001 wonder who in government ever took the time to read it?

Again the question of history comes back to haunt us.

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 02/20/2014 - 10:05am

I believe the first thing we need to recognize is that there are two broad types of "stability" - Natural and Artificial.

Military Stability operations are primarily about creating or providing artificial stability. Sometimes this is as the prerequisite step to allow some host nation the time and space to get to more natural stability. Too often it is just to extend artifical suppression of those who act to "destabilize" some place.

How does one know if one is dealing with artificial or natural stability? For me the primary test is to assess what the primary function of the security forces is. If it is to protect the government from the people, then one is looking at an artifically stable situation (or an unstable situation hoping to get to artificial stability). Such systems are very brittle and require a constant input of energy to sustain.

Natural stability is much as the name implies. The key factor is "Trust." In my study and experience one cannot get to natrual stability until one can get to trust. So the question becomes "How does one get to trust?"

I see four approaches, each requiring a greater degree of concession by the current system of governance:
1. Enforce the rule of law. Simply bring those outside the law into line with what the current government sees as legal. Always the Sovereign right of Legitimate government. Operations in Helmand fall under this category, unfortunatlely this is not a region where the people broadly recognize sovereginty or legitmacy of either their own government or those foreign governments there who created and support of the same.
2. Expand the circle of trust. Sometimes current laws and policy are flawed, as in the US during the civil rights movement. Government must evolve to change law and policy to better include that segment of the population who perceive themselves to be outside the circle of trust.
3. Build a lesser, included circle. Sometimes the promise of governmental reform is not enough to get to trust, one must give the aggrieved population something tangible. The Kurdish zone in Iraq is a classic current example of this approach.
4. Make more circles. Sometimes one just needs to keep letting the territory break down into new systems of governance built around more homogenous populations who are then able to trust each other. The modern example of this is how Yugoslavia became what I believe is now 9 separate, sovereign systems of govenance, each perceived as legitmate by the people who live within them. This has allowed a highly unstable, untrusting region to begin to find a new normal of natural stability.

All of this must be shaped by those who live in the place. Foreign ideas of drawing lines or imposing solutions are hubris and will most likely be wrong - and even if "right" will be perceived as illegitimate by those affected.



Wed, 02/19/2014 - 7:16pm

Some good points about the effects of pent-up demand in a political sense in authoritarian states, but short-term (post-conflict) stability operations should not be confused with multilateral geopolitical stability. Moreover, elections have been a feature of coalition institution building (albeit with lackluster results) in both Iraq and Afghanistan, a manifestation of civil, interactive society the author argues is needed for participative governance.

For yet another jargon-laden topic, definitions matter. Post-conflict stability operations (which address grievances of influential groups), of a certain term and with clear goals, provide military and civilian actors -- of both supporting and host nations -- a way of minimizing conflict while a political solution is discussed. A DoD directive in 2009 made it a core US military mission and ushered in an office of Partnership Strategy and Stability Operations.

Policy toward Tito, Mubarak, and Iran -- all State Department bailiwicks -- have little in common with well-digging.