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The Army’s Next Mission: Stability is the Best Offense
M. Shands Pickett and Annie Best
U.S. Army units have been continuously deployed to active theaters of war since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan nearly thirteen years ago. With OEF drawing to a formal close later this year, the Army will be largely garrisoned. This begs the question: What is the Army’s place in U.S. foreign policy now that the wars of the last decade are over? We argue that the Army should play a vital role in an increasingly urban world filled with violence and instability. Instability is everywhere, from Mali and Syria to the Ukraine. It threatens global commerce and U.S. national security. Stability is the best offense in countering these threats, and the Army is the most appropriate (and truly only) instrument of U.S. national power capable of conducting global stability operations.
The Challenge: Urbanization as a Source of Instability
Rapidly growing cities in developing countries increase instability by creating ungoverned but globally-connected spaces. By 2050, the population of these cities will have increased by more than the world’s entire population in 1950 of 3.2 billion people. Driven by influxes of rural residents and high birthrates, this population growth outstrips basic government services as municipal and national taxation bases fail to produce enough revenue to meet the demand for services. Ineffective governance compounds these problems by allowing, in some regions, up to 40-percent of gross domestic product to be produced untaxed via black and gray market activity.[i]
These factors also exacerbate tribal or ethnic tensions and incite popular grievances, straining local security services. As a result, whole swaths of those cities are ungoverned, creating spaces for new threats to U.S. national security to incubate in the form of terrorists, pirates, gangs, and other transnational criminal elements. Today, this description can be applied to an increasing number of cities, from Mogadishu to Lahore.
Cities like Mogadishu to Lahore are connected globally to information and influence on an informal, grassroots basis through cellular technology and social media but are often disconnected culturally and economically on the collective scale.[ii] Many of these cities are emerging as sub-national actors as transnational urban networks reach across borders. Consequently, unchecked malign actors in ungoverned urban spaces can coordinate their activities and organize as never before. Terrorists don’t need far-flung desert training camps in the hinterlands of Yemen or Afghanistan when they can have whole neighborhoods in Nairobi or slums in Mumbai to themselves.
The Status Quo: Flying Blind into the Next Century
To create long-term peace and sustainable global stability, U.S. foreign policy must actively work to address and solve the problems of ungoverned but globally-connected urban spaces. Creating and bolstering the economic and social ecosystems that allow cities and their citizens to respond to crises and the day-to-day demands of globalization will mitigate threats to our security. Right now, the U.S. is blind to these problems as its well-funded intelligence community focuses on the symptoms of instability (e.g. the existence of a terrorist network in a city) with no real understanding of the factors that allow those threats to exist in the first place (the root causes of instability) or what it can do to address those root causes – and prevent a terrorist network from even forming.
Usually operated through the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID), the U.S. government does have programs to help countries address sources of urban instability.[iii] However, these programs are stove-piped at the country level, dramatically underfunded, implemented by contractors, and focused on broader development goals – not narrower, shorter-term stability targets. And USAID’s programs aren’t managed through any overarching global framework, aren’t measured in a comprehensive way, and don’t bring to bear the full resources of a whole-of-government approach. So, if USAID can’t be the answer, who’s left?
The Army has been conducting non-stop, non-lethal stability operations for the past thirteen years. According to Army doctrine, stability missions constitute one-third of all Army operations.[iv] The Army can provide the funding and infrastructure to safely put experienced personnel into unstable environments. With the resources of the Department of Defense, the Army can coordinate, design, execute, and manage stability programs on a global scale. It can control its personnel with far more efficiency than civilian organizations. With the Army’s global logistics network and with State Department support, the Army can rapidly deploy and sustain personnel anywhere. Right now, that national security asset is garaged while relying on other branches of the government to execute initiatives critical to shaping the world over the coming decades.
The Solution: Building a Global Stability Framework
What would an Army-led, urban-focused approach to global stability look like? The Army would be given the mission of creating a global stability framework, to measure and increase municipal capacities in order to decrease ungoverned urban spaces. Unlike the huge troop requirements demanded by Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army does not need to “just put boots on the ground” but can instead establish a highly-selective process to get the right soldiers for the job.[v] Stability teams may even be supplemented by the host nation or multinational partner forces.
Each city will require stability missions and programs tailored to local conditions. And soldiers conducting stability missions will have to deploy in small teams, not large brigade-sized elements. These small teams of soldiers may have outsized effects on urban stability by:
- Gathering local data;
- Producing analyses to identify sources of instability;
- Developing programs with host nations to target those sources of instability; and
- Monitoring and evaluating the effects of their programs.[vi]
Soldiers will gather critical data from a variety of local, non-military sources to produce analyses vetted with city government officials. Each stability team’s data and analyses will remain unclassified and will be shared with the host nation, non-governmental organizations, and inter-agency entities with expertise in urban development.
Partnered with municipal officials in developing cities, soldiers will develop programs aimed at mitigating the sources of instability that drive violent conflict. They will act as a coordination hub for existing U.S. government stability programs, working with the State Department and USAID to help them better focus and tailor existing programs. By operating in city offices, they will gain critical knowledge of local issues and be able to see stability problem sets from a host nation perspective.
The Army will be able to aggregate the data and analyses collected by these stability teams to identify regional and global trends and recognize future flashpoints for violence long before they happen. That higher Army headquarters can also identify best practices in stability programming and disseminate those lessons learned. It will maintain and operate a U.S. government global stability framework, working to bring governance to at-risk urban environments.
With lessons learned over the last thirteen years of war, the Army has built a doctrinal foundation in stability missions that can be used to execute operations designed to increase stability and foster resiliencies in fragile cities. It’s clear that ungoverned, rapidly-growing urban centers will produce the greatest security challenges of the coming decades. Surveying the tools of U.S. national power to meet this challenge, the Army stands out. The Army has the funding, risk tolerance, expeditionary capabilities, and experienced personnel. Creating urban stability teams and deploying them to at-risk cities through inter-agency channels gives the U.S. the opportunity to change global dynamics, build the future of foreign policy relationships, and provide the U.S. government with a new organizing principle for its international affairs in an increasingly unstable world.
[i] Anoop Singh, “Out of the Shadows,” IMF Finance and Development, June 2012.
[ii] These cities exhibit similar characteristics to the “Non-Integrating Gap” countries Thomas P.M. Barnett identifies in The Pentagon’s New Map. See Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century (New York: Penguin, 2005).
[iii] These USAID programs typically fall under the umbrella of the “Countering Violence Extremism” initiatives referenced in the National Security Strategy (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010).
[iv] U.S. Army, Stability, Army Doctrine Publication 3-07 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2013).
[v] Existing Military Occupational Specialties can be used to fill the stability team billets. Examples include: Civil Affairs, Intelligence, Public Affairs, Combat Engineer, Military Police, and Information Operations.
[vi] Adapted from the District Stability Framework (DSF) developed for USAID by Dr. James Derleth.