The Road Ahead: Lessons in Nation Building from Japan, Germany, and Afghanistan for Postwar Iraq

Peaceworks No. 49
By: 
Ray Salvatore Jennings

With the war in Iraq has come the responsibility to win the peace. In military campaigns, enormous resources may be marshaled at a moment's notice, including professionally trained soldiers supported by the latest technology and an intricate and elaborate global infrastructure specifically designed to fight and win wars.

Summary

With the war in Iraq has come the responsibility to win the peace. In military campaigns, enormous resources may be marshaled at a moment's notice, including professionally trained soldiers supported by the latest technology and an intricate and elaborate global infrastructure specifically designed to fight and win wars. There is no analogous infrastructure or clarity of mission for contending with the aftermath of war. Indeed, the U.S.approach to post-conflict reconstruction abroad is low-tech, inconsistent, improvised, and too often undone by a preoccupation with domestic politics and an instinctual aversion to nation building. "We have done our part," military commanders are heard to say to aid workers and other post-conflict professionals. "Now you do yours." Despite soaring rhetoric committing the United States as strongly to postwar peace-building as to military intervention, the track record of U.S. follow-through is disappointing.

The inadequacy of postwar interventions does not necessarily result from a lack of expertise. Much has been learned from previous post-conflict engagements about what is required to get the job done in such environments. What has been missing is not knowledge but perceived self-interest, political will, and an adequate attention span--elements of commitment that will mark or frustrate success in postwar Iraq. Military occupation of a defeated foe is more complex and far more difficult than the commitments that have so tested the United States in places such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, and Haiti. Is the United States prepared to stay the course to secure, govern, rebuild, and democratize war-torn Iraq?

The United States has fundamentally reshaped its doctrine of military engagement without similarly reforming its commitment and capacity to stabilize and transform post-conflict environments. In this dissonance between an overdeveloped ability to wage and win war and an anemic facility for winning peace is the potential for a reversal of war gains, a subverting of the country's long-term security goals, and a deflating of ambitions to reform the norms of international order and recast the U. S. role in the world. Losing a peace in Iraq could damage the image and reputation of the United States for years to come and make it more difficult for the United States to leverage its unprecedented power in the future. The United States must carefully consider what it takes to get the job done, brace for the unexpected, and go the distance in post-conflict Iraq, mindful of its successes and failures in such endeavors in the past.

The last military occupations of comparable scope and complexity were the post- World War II military governments in Germany and Japan. The ongoing postwar intervention in Afghanistan demonstrates the latest postwar engagement in an environment that most resembles what the United States may encounter in Iraq. Afghanistan is an Islamic nation fractured by factional violence and riddled with insecurity and crime while playing host to a simultaneous hot war on terror and a postwar reconstruction effort. Germany, Japan, and Afghanistan offer several positive and negative lessons on appropriate policy and behavior during a period of military governance in Iraq.

  1. In the immediate postwar period, security and rule of law are essential to the success of humanitarian and reconstruction initiatives as well as political reform. It is not sufficient to separate and contain warring factions--security that counts also requires a constabulary capacity, civilian policing, and the ability to arrest, detain, and try offenders in a fair manner.
  2. Recognize the political implications of each decision, minimize arrogance, and avoid the establishment of a postwar caste system. Inconsistencies between U. S. democratization rhetoric and U. S. support for factional proxies have undermined U. S. credibility in Afghanistan. The incongruence between rhetoric and action in both post-World War II occupations carried consequences in each instance. Attitudes of superiority, informal caste systems, and perceived disparity between words and behavior may prove disastrous in Iraq, where every move will carry political significance and where international legitimacy for occupation is in short supply.
  3. Avoid demonstrating suspicion of all Iraqis, while isolating and defining Ba'athists and other Saddam loyalists as a criminal class who have betrayed the trust of the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athists are widely regarded as criminals, not as national benefactors. Treating all Iraqis as collectively guilty of the regime's crimes not only would be inappropriate but also would confirm suspicions about U. S. ethnocentrism and imperial ambition. The United States should instead expand civil liberties, promote public participation in political decision making and community affairs, and purge Ba'athists from high-ranking civil and military positions. Such an approach will help to make popular forces less likely to undermine assistance initiatives and more likely to embrace reconstruction and to recognize that reform will be a long-term process.
  4. Near-term participatory "peace dividend" reconstruction initiatives will prove beneficial in managing rising expectations, avoiding dependency, contributing to pluralism, and drawing public support away from possible spoilers. In Iraq, large, highly visible projects to repair transportation, water, health, and telecommunications systems will certainly be necessary;however, the United States must also not neglect the contributions that can be made by Iraq's social capital (its indigenous capacities) not only to large-scale projects but also to smaller, community-based relief and reconstruction endeavors.
  5. During the very first weeks of post-conflict operations establish clear policies for civil- military interaction regarding relief and development initiatives. The distribution of humanitarian aid and the implementation of development projects will occur simultaneously during the first weeks of post-conflict operations. Such tasks call for significant civil-military interaction, which in turn requires clear policies to ensure that U. S. military contingents and nongovernmental organizations understand each other's role and can collaborate effectively. Too often, policies are unclear or fashioned on the spot, creating confusion and mutual hostility between the military and the NGOs. If the military and NGOs, as well as the Iraqi people, are not to lose valuable time and important opportunities, guidelines for civil-military interaction must be clearly established early on.
  6. Form national advisory bodies composed of Iraqis not associated with the past regime at the earliest possible moment. These bodies should be succeeded by a variety of supervised participatory selection processes at local and regional levels to choose delegates to a broadly representative national transitional council--a council that will be advisory in its first months but will slowly assume greater responsibility.
  7. Do not underestimate the needs, challenges, and time required for post-conflict reconstruction and nation building. The United States should brace for a long-term commitment in Iraq--perhaps even longer than the seven years required for the occupations in Japan and Germany. The anticipated six-month commitment currently being described by Pentagon planners will be too short a period to consolidate the most volatile threats to the peace process and to return significant accountable governing authority to Iraqi institutions.
  8. Ensure the prompt and thorough political decontamination and de-Ba'athification of Iraq. The processes of purging the military and purging civilian institutions often proceed differently, with clear lines of authority and command responsibility often making it easier to remove military officers than to purge their civilian counterparts. In addition, there are differences between "vetting in" individuals (judging them clean enough to take up their duties) and "vetting out" individuals (dismissing or charging them with crimes or activities unbecoming to their position). Typically, a deep process of vetting out occurs first and is best performed with speed. Personnel, intelligence, and military service files--once they have been interpreted and evaluated--are invaluable to the vetting process. What remains of these files should be secured without delay.

Success in postwar Iraq may be even more difficult to achieve than winning the peace in Germany and Japan proved to be--and the attempt will certainly be far more complicated than the limited U. S. engagement in Afghanistan. The German and Japanese occupations came at the end of long wars with large numbers of troops and a considerable logistics capacity deployed across the theater and available to pivot toward postwar initiatives. There was ample planning and legitimacy, and little anti-Americanism or regional instability to be concerned with. The United States had prevailed in a global war and was not, as it is today, in a continuing "war on terror"with an indeterminate foe. The country was not in a fishbowl surrounded by nations and cultures eager to find fault with its actions. Domestically, Americans who had sacrificed in the war years saw the occupations as the obligatory closure of a terrible but necessary episode. U. S. intentions were rarely questioned at home or abroad.

In Iraq, the United States will be held to unfamiliar standards in difficult circumstances. Is the United States ready? Postwar interventions in Germany, Japan, and Afghanistan offer examples of occupation environments and the character of commitment that post-conflict environments routinely require.

 
About the Author

Ray Salvatore Jennings is a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace. He has directed and advised overseas programs for the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, and many nongovernmental organizations in Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, Peru, and Afghanistan.

May 1, 2003