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Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction

Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction by the US Institute of Peace and the US Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute. US Institute of Peace Press, 2009, 244 pp.

A particular genre of military guides related to low intensity conflict, stabilization, reconstruction, and counterinsurgency operations has become extremely popular in the media and military circles recently due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Various authors, commentators, academics, and strategists have discussed the changing, volatile nature of the world and the possibility of further and future conflict. The book Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction describes the setting: “As global trends indicate, instability is likely to pose greater, and perhaps more numerous, challenges in the years to come” (p. 1-2). The United States Institute of Peace, in coordination with the United States Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, brings its extensive experience to bear in developing a manual that offers a framework for managing effective stabilization and reconstruction operations.

Beth Cole, of the United States Institute of Peace, who served as project director and one of the book’s two lead writers, is dean of institutional affairs at the United States Institute of Peace Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding. Prior to her employment at the institute, she worked at the State Department and with George Mason University’s Program on Peacekeeping Policy.

The manual seeks to develop strategic-level guidelines for US civilian government employees, in particular those who may deploy in support of establishing and meeting short-term objectives during stability and reconstruction operations. The principles combine best practices from government and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and the fruits of a thorough literature review of various military, academic, and private-sector publications. Given the absence of a stability and recovery operations manual—in part because of religious, ethnic, political, and cultural factors, as well as a myriad of others—Guiding Principles makes a valiant effort, in a scant 244 pages, to supply the first strategic-level guidelines for complex stability and reconstruction operations. For this accomplishment alone, Beth Cole and the entire staff deserve the gratitude and attention of students, scholars, and experts in security studies and humanitarian operations.

The guide is organized into easy-to-understand sections, including scope, purpose, principles, fundamentals, and various topical areas (safe and secure environment, rule of law, stable governance, sustainable economy, and social well-being). Additionally, the volume offers several well-sourced appendices. A number of “cross-cutting principles” that can apply to all the various topical areas (called “end states” in the text) include host nation ownership and capacity, political primacy, legitimacy, unity of effort, security, conflict transformation, and regional engagement (p. 2-9). As the book makes apparent, stability and reconstruction operations are not rooted solely in military operations. Rather, operations require intergovernmental coordination that, according to the text, has been lacking, causing people to ask, “What are we trying to achieve?” (p. 1-3). Overall, Guiding Principles blends each of the various topical areas into a central thesis in an attempt to answer the previous question as well as “How can we do it?”

Though designed as a guide for civilians who plan for and respond to stability and reconstruction operations, the book does not include a historical overview of civilian leadership and resources during such operations, which would have proved helpful. Moreover, several guidelines seem little more than commonsense anecdotal statements—for example, “act only with an understanding of the local context” (p. 6-39) and “anticipate obstructionists and understand their motivations” (p. 6-43). Additionally, the sole mention of intelligence occurs in the vague statement that “intelligence is not a formal or acknowledged part of S&R [stability and reconstruction] missions. Doctrinal guidance and cooperation on this function is sorely needed to ensure that critical information is collected and appropriately shared” (p. 6-60). In a strategic-level guide to operations, this brief mention of intelligence is disappointing and naive. Although the text seems to narrowly define intelligence only as military intelligence in a security environment, it has typically been defined more broadly because planners and specialists need to know information regarding logistics, supplies, transportation routes, locations, political leaders, and facilities.

Readers find curiously little mention of successful operations in the Balkans, Iraq, or Afghanistan and only a limited number of successful case studies that include examples of provincial reconstruction teams (PRT) or the State Department’s Civilian Response Corps. However, the appendices offer guidelines and lessons learned for PRTs and other stability operations. The book remains an excellent strategic overview of resources, anecdotes, and basic guidelines, but it lacks the tactical “on the ground” focus needed for NGOs or civilians entering conflict zones who are preparing to assist in a plethora of operations ranging from rebuilding educational institutions to developing and improving fragile economies.

Planning specialists, academics, and practitioners will find the guidelines useful. However, experienced military and diplomatic personnel may consider the work filled with too many commonsense anecdotes. Guiding Principles would serve as a good desk reference for civilians deploying to conflict zones or members of military planning staffs. Furthermore, professors might recommend it as an excellent handbook for a graduate-level course on security studies or peacekeeping. The book fulfills its purpose of “provid[ing] a foundation for decision makers, planners, and practitioners—both international and host nation—to construct priorities for specific missions” (p. 1-3). I intend to keep Guiding Principles on my shelf and will continue to read and review it during America’s next ventures into stability and reconstruction operations across the globe.

Bradley Martin

McDonough, Georgia

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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