SSTR – Observations and Recommendations from the Field

The US Department of Defense released late in 2005 Directive 3000.05 on Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations. It is a dense document I keep revisiting to better understand, since every reading brings with it both a genuine hope that the US military will be more responsive & sensitive to conditions on the ground and even within 3000.05, the significant challenges that lie ahead in such a process.

Not everyone, rightfully, stands convinced that the US military (or any military for that matter) should get involved in humanitarian aid and long term reconstruction. The concerns are not insignificant, and obvious to anyone with experience in the field as to how the military acts, is perceived and thinks about field operations – in a manner and language often a polar opposite to humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organisations also operational in the same areas.

These were some of the discussions I engaged with during Strong Angel III, held earlier this year in San Diego. Members of the military and other defense and intelligence agencies had several closed door discussions with NGO personnel and humanitarian aid workers, with the result that both sides identified and understood the reasons behind a certain way of working and acting. (A report of these discussions is available here). Both sides were hostage to policy, often a matter that was beyond their control. Often a matter beyond their comprehension. Policies governed how both sides approached humanitarian aid in particular, and what may be called a SSTR process in general. Given that progressive and genuinely helpful intentions, ideas and modes of engagement within the military were hitherto thwarted by a lack of attention given to the spirit and nature of cooperation and collaboration with outside agencies, 3000.05 brings with it a broad framework for such a constructive and mutually beneficial engagement to take place.

No doubt, this is a long term process itself. The distrust on both sides and the skepticism of each other’s capacities, skills, expertise and experience is not going to be diminished overnight by a mere Directive. Neither is it clear how, now that the Directive is in operation, how the significant re-alignment of financial and human resources, along with the necessary shifts in thinking and planning, will occur in the US military.

I was approached by the charismatic Dr. Eric Rasmussen to help write a document, with many others with far more experience in the field and in the US military, that would explore ways to bridge the divide between Directive and actual application mentioned above. My self-interest was in mainstreaming aspects of gender sensitivity, conflict transformation and peacebuilding into any process that sought to apply the tenets of 3000.05 anywhere in the world, but most importantly in socio-politically and economically unstable regions (failed states, failing states, regions with ethno-political conflict, religious conflict, caste / class / gender tensions etc). As most will recognise, SSTR operations in these areas are fraught with the danger of on the hand propping up illiberal, undemocratic, authoritarian regimes and on the other, run the risk of creating parallel architectures of relief and authority that can undermine State authority. Both can lead to serious instability, chaos, violence and often, the loss of lives.

While it is doubtful in my mind whether any SSTR operation, no matter how sophisticated the tools, planning and experienced the personnel, is going to avoid conflict, the goal of integrating core tenets of conflict transformation, peacebuilding and gender sensitivity was to give those centre and forward in such operations the conceptual and practical tools with which to better understand the choas that surrounds them, which in turn hopefully leads to better decisions to collaborate with, support and strengthen processes and actors on the ground. Conflict we cannot avoid, violence, we possibly can.

Below is the final report, titled Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction: Observations and Recommendations from the Field. It is in my mind, a significant and prescient work that I hope will be a powerful change agent in progressively shaping US policies of engagement with humanitarian disasters, humanitarian aid and long term reconstruction in the future. I am happy that in a very small way, the interests of peacebuilding, gender and conflict transformation are written into this work, as well as many other points I had made in the first draft that Eric has silently incorporated, without question or revision, into the final text, for which I am extremely grateful.

Strong Angel Recommendations In Sstr
The full report

Strong Angel Executive Summary In Sstr
The Executive Summary

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