Nation Building - Squaring the Circle?

Posted in Iraq | 19-Jun-03 | Author: Dieter Farwick

The “hot war” in Iraq did not last longer than four weeks. All relevant parameters – i.e. collateral damages and own casualties – might lead to the perception of an easy win. That is by no means true concerning the process of “nation building” in the framework of “post-conflict-operations”.

To switch from war fighting to “nation building” is a very difficult mission – especially for the soldiers. They suddenly have to run a country they had fought against. The enemy soldiers who refrained from fighting are still there – with their weapons and their hatred.

In the very first phase there are no civil servants and no NGOs, who can support the soldiers. The highest priority must be given to meet the basic requirements of the people who suffer from pre-war and war operations. They do not ask for democracy but for water, energy, food, medical care and security for their families, shops and homes. The post-conflict-operations must be prepared prior to the “hot war”. Soldiers have to be trained and learn about their rights and duties. They need clear “rules of engagement”. In addition to training soldiers a civil team of experts from all walks of life has to be selected and prepared.

The crucial problem is selecting the right people, who are willing and capable to do a very demanding job. They have to learn as much as possible about the country they want to run. In their preparatory phase they rely on information from state and non-state institutions as well as from people of the respective country. But who are the people of the country – living in exile or in underground – you can trust? What are the aim and objectives of the various groups? Is there a hidden agenda behind the respective advice? Prior to the entry into the country the political leadership has to define the “desired end state” with clear “criteria for success”.

Deficits and mistakes in that preparatory phase will cost a lot “the day after”. From day 1 all activities of “nation building” must be orchestrated through a sophisticated “Operations Information Campaign.” The first phase might be titled “Confidence building”. That must be the guideline and must be the yardstick for all activities from the top to the bottom. That guideline must determine the behaviour towards the indigenous people.

Part of that policy is the integration of indigenous people in the process. But again – whom can you trust and rely on? It’s a fact of life that even under dictatorship many of the most talented and ambitious people arrange themselves with the regime in order to get a well-paid job, feed the family and send the children to the university. As members of the ruling party and the right clan they make their carrier in the military, police, administration etc.

Not all partisans of the regime were criminals – but some or even many. People will lie and cheat to get a good job under new circumstances. In Germany we went through that process twice within the last fifty years – after World War II and after the reunification. In this respect it might be worth remembering that Germany – including the armed forces – has been built-up and transformed into a solid democracy with people who had served a dictatorship before. German generals and admirals became highly respected Commanders –in-Chief in NATO – ten years after World War II.

The process to get the right people to the right place in due course will show a lot of set-backs. ”Old boy networks”, corruption and deception will eat up a lot of time and efforts of good faith. All those setbacks and negative incidents will be welcomed by those people – especially certain media – who have been against the war in Iraq. They want to prove that USA are neither willing nor able to rebuild the country. They will feed old prejudices.

A crucial question is under discussion: How long should the coalition stay in charge of Iraq? It is wrong to answer that question looking to the calendar. That answer can only be decided looking at the “desired end state” with the “criteria for success”? In other words: the job must have been finished. The overriding question remains: What should Iraq look like? Is it a federal state, a centralised state or three states instead of one? There might be a temptation to go the easy way of cutting Iraq into three pieces following the religious, cultural and ethnic realities. That might lead to a “quick fix” but not to a long lasting solution. This “quick fix” would create heavy repercussions for the whole region – especially for Turkey and Iran. In the long run these mini-states are not viable. The next conflict would start immediately. Only a federal state with a solid balance of power between the centre and the – three? – states will have success and will serve as a case-model of stability for the whole region. Winning the peace in Iraq is the prerequisite for any future success in that volatile region of the world. The whole process will take a long time, but the “desired end state” deserves all efforts.