Soldiers and State-Building

DIIS Report

I was introduced to, and first wrote about, civilian – military interactions at Strong Angel III and in particular on a series of meetings between (largely US) military actors and humanitarian actors during the event. My interest in SSTR continued after SA III and led to in particular my involvement as an author of Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction: Observations and Recommendations from the Field.

As I noted here:

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.

In this light, from the PCR Blog comes a new and invaluable resource in this regard in the form of a research report by Anja Dalgaard-Nielsen, head of the Research Unit, Political Violence, Terrorism and Radicalization, at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) on the Danish military and its approach to state-building.

Although the topic is narrow, this paper offers some valuable insights into the operational culture, field realities and the potential for more cohesive, holistic, collaborative approaches to state-building by the military (esp. with regard to peacekeeping operations).

In state-building missions, success hinges on whether local populations eventually turn their expectations and ultimately their loyalty towards the new democratic political structures, instead of towards sectarian militias, insurgent movements, or local warlords.

However, as we note in the report on civ-mil interactions at Strong Angel III:

One important aspect to consider about closer cooperation between NGOs and the military is managing the perception that both are one and the same – for instance, the perception that in Iraq, UNAMI and the American military are both under the same operational mandate and follow the same operational procedures. This conflation is arguably more detrimental to NGOs. However, certain initiatives of NGOs with sections of the community can be problematic for the military (say for instance, communities affected by the disaster who are armed). In both instances, effective, culturally appropriate communications strategies need to be developed so as to strengthen the ability of the military to do what it does best (power, lift capacities) and to strengthen NGOs to utilize these resources to do what they do best – long term reconstruction.

Almost in response, Anja Dalgaard-Nielsen speaks extensively about the cultural shift necessary to facilitate better civilian – military collaboration and interactions – a shift of far greater importance than the introduction of ICT to facilitate information flows within and between military and civilian actors.

For me, one of the most important observations in this report comes right at the end in a footnote (pg. 50):

Of course, there is also the possibility that waves of violence against the international forces in Iraq and Afghanistan might be largely independent of the actions of the deployed units. It is possible that they simply refl ect that the longer an operation runs, the higher the level of local disillusionment with the international presence. Th is would call for a rethinking of the 1990s peacekeeping paradigm, which emphasised the importance of a long-term military presence to ensure time for reconciliation and for new local governance structures to take root. If indeed a long-term presence is not just part of the solution, but also of the problem, it is even more critical that training and capacity-building take centre stage.

Invited to lecture at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in May on SSTR, this is a report that could not have come at a better time for me, and for the students in the course.

Also read:

SSTR – Observations and Recommendations from the Field

Strong Angel III – Final Observations

Our Common Humanity in the Information Age: Principles and Values for Development

Civil-Military Discussions at Strong Angel III

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