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Europe’s Role in Nation-Building: From the Balkans to the Congo

Europe’s Role in Nation-Building: From the Balkans to the Congo by James Dobbins et al. RAND Corporation, 2008, 297 pp.

Over the last 20 years, the capability to engage in nation-building activities has become more and more important to national governments and international alliances. Europe’s Role in Nation-Building is the third in a series comparing the effectiveness of nation-building endeavors, following America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq and The United Nations’ Role in Nation-Building: From the Congo to Iraq. The lead author, a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation, has experience as (among other positions) ambassador to the European Community, assistant secretary of state for Europe, and special advisor to the president and the secretary of state on the Balkans.

Europe’s governments, both singularly and as part of the European Union (EU), have advantages and disadvantages regarding nation building when compared to the United States and the United Nations. The advantages may better serve a war-torn country in certain situations, such as the ability to act without a UN Security Council resolution or access to a greater civilian reconstruction infrastructure than NATO. The authors provide case studies of the European role during postconflict actions in Albania, Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Bosnia. They also discuss Australian actions in the Solomon Islands, which although controversial in some aspects, appeared to apply prior nation-building lessons learned to achieve success.

Background information is provided regarding specific challenges, the European and international roles, timelines of action, and lessons learned. Timelines and role definitions are important, as often there was extensive participation and leadership provided by NATO and the United States in conflict areas such as Bosnia. Issues such as financing, rules of engagement, domestic political support, and host nation participation have major effects on the development and success of postconflict situations.

The Solomon Islands intervention by Australia is offered as an effective example in a postscript to this volume. The authors attribute its relative success to the early establishment of long-term operational financial support by the Australian government, a host nation invitation to intervene, and the Australian officials’ direct cooperation with the Solomon Islands government. This last step created (as expected) resentment by local nationals and will with future use lend more fodder to those critiquing nation-building operations as, in reality, extensions of imperialism. Regardless of the ability to place assisting-nation civilian or military experts in host-government positions, this case is useful for military planners and establishes the importance of early and adequate financial support. The point must not be lost that this success also relates the importance of a lead nation with the power to act, financially and otherwise. The authors state that European entities have generally succeeded when pursuing nation building or state building. This success is often because the missions in which they participate are compatible with their talents, resources, and constraints. Sierra Leone is regarded as a successful postconflict operation, both despite ineffective UK-led United Nations action early on and because of effective UK efforts as the conflict continued.

When considering appropriate entities for postconflict reconstruction, a major disadvantage of EU–led operations is noted: “Like NATO, the EU’s decision-making process requires consensus among all of its member governments. Unlike NATO, there is no single dominant member whose views tend to drive this process. The EU can consequently be slow to respond to new developments and changed circumstances” (p. 171). European intervention is not the solution for every nation-building opportunity, but it can be the most appropriate solution based on circumstances.

Europe’s Role in Nation-Building gives a useful overview of the specific postconflict situations in which European entities participated in a leadership role. There is also objective data comparing measurements such as refugee return timelines and combat casualties against all major conflicts since World War II. It provides extensive references for further study of each case necessary for in-depth review. It is most useful when paired with the prior volumes on US and UN nation building, especially due to frequent references to other conflicts covered in those editions. It is still effective as a stand-alone analysis of the operations discussed, and its objective data in the conclusions section does contain data from the previous volumes. Policymakers and commanders will find this volume useful for understanding our own national capabilities and limitations while evaluating where others may be able to assist. European-led operations may provide a better solution to certain postconflict areas and do have a history of success, however, the United States, NATO, or the United Nations could possibly be better equipped for success. In any case, the current situation must be assessed, and lessons learned must be applied.

Maj Benjamin T. McKenzie, USAF

Eindhoven, The Netherlands

"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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