HuffPo How Stability Operations Can Fortify Fragile States: Part Two

CEO and president of Linking the World

As I discussed in the first part of this series, with a large number of fragile states around the world, the need to unite and enact stability operations is growing. The conflict occurring in many of these states is perpetuated by competition for finite resources. This is where nongovernmental organizations can engage directly and work to alleviate immediate suffering by providing water, food, shelter, emergency healthcare, and sanitation. However, an NGO with a stability operations background not only focuses on immediate relief, but also plans and executes sustainable access to these basic needs while helping to address the underlying causes.

Examining insurgent groups around the world shows how different they are; NGOs cannot go in with a “one size fits all” solution. For example, the Islamic State leadership is well-educated and technologically savvy. NGOs working in these areas have to understand the genesis and intent of these groups if they want to understand how to create stability and prevent such insurgencies from gaining footholds. NGOs providing aid in regions under threat from Boko Haram’s more lethal attacks, on the other hand, may have to utilize different tactics. 

Broadly, stability operations can be considered successful if the state in question sees a decrease in violence from initial kinetic intervention and then a move toward normalization as NGOs enter. The U.S. military bases all its stability operations on four guiding principles that, when combined and executed effectively, produce long-lasting stability.

The first of these principles is conflict transformation, or the process by which de-escalation occurs. This includes reducing sources of instability and developing viable, peaceful alternatives for dialogue and constructive resolution.

The second principle is a unity of effort and purpose. Uniting all the diverse actors into one purpose can be achieved only through an understanding of each actor’s strengths and weaknesses, then forging a cohesive operational unit regardless of the command structure.

The third principle has been proven time and again throughout history: legitimacy and host-nation ownership. Without trust and confidence in local operations’ legitimacy, their cornerstones are at risk. The people of the host nation must define what a stable state means, and their views must be respected by all involved.

The fourth and final principle guiding any stability operation is building up the capacity of local partners. A stable state must be self-sufficient, especially from a military and legal perspective. Every aspect of stability operations must include local actors from conception to execution.

By basing their efforts on these four principles, NGOs working in fragile states create five possible outcomes for stability, the third and fifth of which are the most significant opportunities for direct involvement on the part of NGOs.

  1. A safe and secure environment: Creation of a safe and secure environment is essential for stability. In many fragile states, power and security vacuums leave local actors ineffective, corrupt, or unprepared to deal with insurgent or terrorist groups.
  2. Established rule of law: To bolster the local population’s safety and security, it is imperative to establish a rule of law and then rigorously uphold it. This should include both a transfer of legal power from military actors to the host nation and the capture and subsequent punishment of those accused of war crimes. This punishment will reinforce that order has been restored.
  3. Social well-being: The immediate needs of a population are food, water, shelter, sanitation, and healthcare. Local and international organizations can quickly meet these needs once security is assured; then they can implement sustainable assistance programs and assist with any displaced civilians. This can be accomplished more quickly if NGOs take advantage of the logistical and operational capabilities of military assets.
  4.  Stable governance: To establish a stable government, a state needs legitimate systems of political representation at the national, regional, and local levels. This step is crucial to prevent issues with new governments such as Afghanistan’s troubled democracy. The host-nation population should regularly elect a representative legislature according to established rules and in a manner generally recognized as free and fair. Legislatures must be designed in accordance with a legal framework and legitimate constitution; officials must be trained; and rules and processes must be established.
  5. A sustainable economy: After a conflict or a disaster, economies typically suffer from considerable structural problems. Paradoxically, these situations create an environment in which rapid growth can be achieved and income inequality can be readily addressed. While international intervention can lead to short-term improvements, entrepreneurial locals should be the ones spurring economic growth for true resilience and sustainability. A holistic approach that includes regulatory reform, anti-corruption initiatives, sustainable environmental policies, and long-term planning is the only way to form a foundation for true economic stability.

The successful outcomes outlined above can be achieved only through continuous coordination and cooperation of all actors involved. As the U.S. National Security Strategy states, “Our Armed Forces will always be the cornerstone of our security, but they must be complemented. Our security also depends on diplomats who can act in every corner of the world, from grand capitals to dangerous outposts; development experts who can strengthen governance and support human dignity; and intelligence and law enforcement that can unravel plots, strengthen justice systems and work seamlessly with other countries.”

Uniting stability efforts helps leaders overcome a number of obstacles: internal discord, inadequate structures and procedures, incompatible or underdeveloped communications infrastructures, cultural differences, and bureaucratic limitations. While coordinating these efforts is challenging to everyone involved, whether foreign or domestic, the process can be made smoother. Agreeing ahead of time to authorities, assigning supportive roles and relationships, and planning the structure and mechanisms needed to execute stability operations together are all methods to ease collaborative efforts.

By ensuring that all actors are on the same page with the same goals, stability operations can be approached as unified efforts. Joint planning offers a better chance of achieving these goals and assisting those in fragile states.

Read part three to learn about the obstacles the acting agencies in stability operations face.

Mina Chang is CEO of Linking the World, a humanitarian organization that builds resilient communities in areas of instability and conflict. Mina also served as a fellow with the Center for the Study of Civil-Military Operations at West Point, where she developed community-focused academic programs in areas requiring humanitarian assistance.


Published Huffington Post