[…] Recent U.S. military engagements abroad remind us that there are limits to the uses of various levers of power and influence in many places and circumstances. Only so much can be accomplished by outsiders in any intervention, regardless of how welcome their presence may be at the outset and even when their engagement is perceived as productive and benevolent.
In particular, many years’ experience regarding efforts to shape other societies (much less remake them) has demonstrated that the capacity of outsiders to transform societies is almost always limited, even when there is a high level of human and financial capital, a sophisticated knowledge of the nature of the society in question, and a high degree of cultural and political sensitivity. Political change is almost always a lengthy process, social change even more so, and cultural change (if it can be effected at all) a matter of decades, if not centuries. Such considerations argue for a high degree of selectivity before any intervention takes place. Among the key considerations: Is the outcome worth the investment? Are we willing to stay the course? Are U.S. interests so compelling that the intervention will be politically sustainable at home over time?
The supposed precedents of Germany and Japan in the late 1940s must be seen for what they really were: the refashioning of highly homogeneous societies that were already technologically advanced and in which the overwhelming mass of the population was committed to rejecting the previous regime and to achieving social balance and freedom from conflict. Few, if any, of these factors apply in the cases being considered here. Nor did they apply in most earlier efforts to undertake nation-building in non-Westernized societies, whether by European colonial powers or by the United States, from the Philippine Insurrection of 1899–1902 through the Balkans to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Indeed, the widespread use of the term nation-building in the United States (as opposed to the more accurate British term state-building) illustrates a fundamental lack of sensitivity to the nature and perhaps even intractability of the challenges we face. In parts of the world where intervention is most likely, the term nation has not lost its 19th-century connotation of “tribe” or “distinct people.” Attitudes toward other “nations” within the same country are likely to be hostile and marked by zero-sum thinking. One need only look at Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan for confirmation. In all of them, the international community’s goal has not been to reinforce one ethnic group at the expense of all the others. Rather, the goal of any intervention should be to help build a viable state in which the people, whatever their sense of nationhood, can feel at home.
Finally, a reasoned and pragmatic perspective about transforming societies outside our own. I don't know about you but I feel like the adults have finally spoken here, don't you? This study was started in 2006, two years late but its timely release hopefully would be useful to the incoming administration. I can't complain too much about timing, I just hope that the entire report gets a good reading by folks who actually do read.
“Some modesty is in order,” the report says. Indeed. Bring it on.
The excerpt above came from the report, "Integrating Instruments of Power and Influence: Lessons Learned and Best Practices," prepared by a high-level panel of 67 U.S. and European senior practitioners from both civilian and military posts. The report draws lessons both for the U.S. government and NATO from experience in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Backgrounder: The report reflects a joint effort of the American Academy of Diplomacy and the RAND Corporation, growing out of a decade's worth of experience, principally gained by the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the European Union, in military interventions abroad and their aftermath. The project brought together senior practitioners from a wide variety of institutions and disciplines (including U.S., allied, coalition, and United Nations military leaders, U.S. and European diplomats, and representatives of private-sector and nongovernmental organizations) to determine what people who were actually involved in operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan have learned about “getting the job done.” This report is a compilation, a synthesis, and an analysis of lessons learned and best practices regarding the integration of civilian and military intervention across the full spectrum of activities from the time before military intervention takes place through to post-conflict nation-building. It provides guidance for the U.S. and international institutions regarding critical areas of foreign policy and national security in the 21st century.
A bit long but a must read.