Sunday, March 28, 2010

Post-Conflict Reconstruction Tools

Post-Conflict Reconstruction Tools: The Interconnectedness of the Political, Economic, and Military

    In the book Contemporary Conflict Resolution, Oliver Ramsbotham et al point out that (2005), "Conflict is an intrinsic and inevitable aspect of social change" (p. 13). This statement is hard to dispute. Throughout the course of human history states have risen and fallen. Some are more successful than others (The failed state index, 2009). The disparity of successes and failures, contradiction of cultures, demand for strength and power are only a few of the many reasons states conflict with each other. Given that conflict is such a part of the global landscape, mechanisms have emerged over time to deal with those conflicts. The study and practice of conflict resolution is no less intricate and complicated than the diversity of the conflicts themselves.

    Today's policy makers employ certain tools to reshape and reconstruct those conflicted landscapes. States use their political, economic and military arms as tools to engage in the reconstruction of war-torn or crisis-torn states. The question is, to what extent are these tools interconnected? Are they unilaterally sufficient, or are they mutually dependent on each other to achieve certain effects in crisis regions? Also, given that the global landscape is inevitably conflicted, as Ramsbotham et al suggest, how much more challenging is it to implement the triune of tools today than prior to the end of the Cold War?

    John Hamre and Gordon Sullivan point out that post-conflict reconstruction entails four separate functions: security, justice and reconciliation, social and economic well-being, and governance and participation (Hamre & Sullivan, 2002). This four pronged approach is similar to the longstanding military principle of national strategy known as DIME: diplomatic, information, military, and economic. Whichever way the terms are defined, these pillars are influenced by the political, economic and military tools to balance a nation's foundation. When a conflict or crisis arises, a state becomes out of balance because one of those factors is exaggerated or neglected. One of the political, economic or military tools must be strengthened to support the foundational pillars.

    It is helpful to view this relationship in the form of a three-legged table on which rests the foundational pillars (Fig. 1). The legs represent the effort of political, economic and military tools balancing the table. From this illustration it becomes clear that any element either a leg or a pillar that is uneven could tip the table in any direction. In terms of reconstruction, it stands to reason that to achieve a solid reconstruction result, a strategy should employ all three tools concurrently.

Fig. 1

    There exists, then, an interconnected relationship not only with the political, economic and military, but also with a state's foundational pillars. The topside and the underside of the table must work together to keep the table steady. This relationship is consistent with present day thinking regarding reconstruction. Hamre and Sullivan reference the former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, who said (2002), "'All these tasks - humanitarian, military, political, social, and economic - are interconnected...We cannot expect lasting success in any of them unless we pursue all of them at once as part of a single coherent strategy'" (p. 92). Using this illustration along with any foundational pillars such as those Hamre and Sullivan suggest as a framework for discussion, we can determine the extent to which these elements are in fact interconnected.

    The Israeli-Palestinian conflict offers one example of the impact from imbalance in the application of the political tool. In 2006 Hamas, a labeled terrorist organization, won Palestinian legislative elections. This was a shock to many in the Arab region and to the West. What could be considered a diplomatic blunder, was a political miscalculation of the Palestinian situation. This led to what Glen Kessler points out in his Washington Quarterly piece (2008), "Hamas's (sic) eventual seizure of the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants" (p. 137).

    The political imbalance was evident from two angles. First, a terrorist organization legitimately assumed Palestinian control. After Hamas won the election, the region was left to deal with a previously illegitimate organization. Second, the U.S. and others, prior to the election, were possibly too focused on the political election process. Again Kessler points out (2008), "Its victory [Hamas]…is the direct result of the U.S. fixation with elections as a pathway to democracy" (p. 138). In other words applying too much energy on the political leg of the Palestinian situation caused that leg to be overextended.

    This has tipped the foundational table in the region making further peace settlements potentially more difficult. Coincidentally, Kessler explains a similar balancing act in which he illustrates (2008), "The rise of Hamas means that a viable peace has become a three-legged stool - Israel, Fatah, and Hamas. The stool will not stand if one leg is missing." (p. 139).

    Whichever element of the legs and pillars one chooses as most important, it cannot alone act to reconstruct a state. All elements should be considered simultaneously. Also, the process of reconstruction is neither sequential nor linear. Each tool should be applied in sync with the others. One leg cannot be constructed without support from the other two. Seth Kaplan offers a case in point approach to helping Somalia recover from years of internal and external struggles. In his Washington Quarterly essay he explains:

A four-pronged approach might be most productive: One, provide military, financial, and political support...Two, spur the establishment of new regional governments...Three, encourage moderate Islamic groups to participate in this plan...Four, help establish a modest national superstructure of governance. (p. 92)

     An important point to note about comprehensive, multi-faceted integration of tools is that interconnectedness may allow for more complex problem solving. One thing aiding states should consider is that every situation is not exactly the same. Each crisis requires a different application of each tool to achieve the greatest level of reconstruction success. As Kaplan concluded (2010), "The international community needs to look beyond the one-size-fits-all state-building formula if it hopes to fix fragile states" (p. 95). By attacking problems with a comprehensive strategy of political, economic and military tools, the pillars of a state's foundation can be reconstructed together minimizing lopsided results.    

    Mapping out a strategy for reconstruction in a given crises area is no easy task. There are myriad data points to consider when evaluating a state. The magazine, Foreign Policy, publishes an annual Failed States Index. The recent index includes 12 measures of failure ranging from security to development. Each measure of failure is representative of the political, economic, and military tools either working or not working well. Failed states in which none of the three work well, such as Somalia, are clearly evident. Others, such as China, which are supported more favorably in the economic realm, but less so in the political are not as obviously "failed" (The failed state index, 2009). In terms of reconstruction, then, it would be necessary to fully analyze those elements of a state that require a boost. Doing so would, in essence, determine the right amount of influence in the right area to shift the imbalance.

    Historically, applying the political, economic, and military tools has never been free of challenge. But, implementing those tools for reconstruction in some respects offers new and more complicated challenges today. Prior to the end of the Cold War, conflicts were relatively symmetrical. Conflicts began. Fighting ensued. Conflicts ended. The international community intervened, and the process of reconstruction moved on. Ramsbotham et al note that (2005), "In 1945 the political conflicts were decided on the battlefield and were emphatically over before reconstruction began. This is not the situation in most 1989-2004 cases" (p. 191).

    Since the end of the Cold War, a more correct description of conflicts is that they are more asymmetrical. Terrorism is an additional dimension added to the global landscape. Ramsbotham et al note that terrorism is not a new phenomenon (Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, & Miall, 2005). But, the latter half of the 20th century has arguably seen a greater proliferation of terrorist influences. The threat of terrorism may be more profound after the Cold War in so far as the outcome of terrorist acts are more dramatic. Ramsbotham et al point out that (2005), "the greatest number of terrorist atrocities in the past century has been perpetrated by what Walter Laquer calls 'terrorism from above'. According to some estimates, well over 160 million of their own citizens were 'intentionally killed' by repressive governments" (p. 71). Because terrorism is a loose term that includes criminal, tyrannical and ideological realms, it is therefore very widely spread.

    This author submits that the complexity terrorism injects into the global scene adds a dimension that was previously unrecognized or only mildly scrutinized. It is interesting that empirically there has been a decline in the number of conflicts since 1989 (Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, & Miall, 2005). But, the decline in overall conflicts may have been eclipsed by the global involvement of much of the international community to combat the threat of terrorism in its many forms. In other words, the world is joined in a fight against terrorism. This post-Cold War is unique because the diversity of terrorism is as vast as the number of states affected by terrorism. This means that every conflict situation is different and requires a specific strategy. As Ramsbotham et al point out (2005), "no one operating model can fit the needs and complexities of each country's situation" (p. 192).

    For that reason, applying the political, economic and military tools in post-conflict reconstruction is potentially more challenging than before. The stakes still remain as high as they were prior to the end of the Cold War. But now, the added dimension of terrorism means that reconstruction models should be tailored rather than store bought. Post-conflict reconstruction requires even more careful analysis of the multifaceted dimensions of a situation to maintain balance. More so, applying a combination of political, economic and military tools to each situation also requires careful analysis so as not to exaggerate one element or neglect another.


Hamre, J. J., & Sullivan, G. R. (2002, Autumn). Toward postconflict reconstruction. The     Washington Quarterly
, 25 (4), pp. 85-96.

Kaplan, S. (2010). Rethinking state-building in a failed state. The Washington Quarterly
, 33     (1), 81-97.

Kessler, G. (2008, Autumn). Fix this middle eastern mess. The Washington Quarterly
, 31     (4), pp. 135-142.

Ramsbotham, O., Woodhouse, T., & Miall, H. (2005). Contemporary conflict resolution     (Second Edition ed.). Malden, MA: Polity.

The failed state index. (2009, July/August). Foreign Policy , pp. 80-83.

1 comment:

  1. Fig. 1 is supposed to a picture of a three-legged table with four cylindrical pillars on it. The illustration represents the relationship between the political, economic and military and whatever elements of a foundation make up a particular state.


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