1.0 Context

Terrorists, transnational organized crime syndicates, local warring factions, warlords, and petty thieves have all found common cause in states and regions in conflict. This nexus of interests has grown in sophistication over the past decade, aided by money and technology and fueled by greed and fanaticism. Civilians have increasingly become the victims of violence fostered by this nexus. The required response is a comprehensive1 one that brings together specialized organizations to stabilize extremely dangerous and hostile environments while laying the foundations for a sustainable peace. This journey is a continuum that nests stabilization2 within conflict-sensitive development. Stabilization aims to prevent the renewal of violent conflict; conflict-sensitive development seeks to enable a long-lasting peace.

While some progress has been made over the years, the U.S. capability and those of its partners to leverage and coordinate adequate civilian and military assets for this journey still lags behind the current adaptive abilities of the enemies of peace. To address the capacity challenge in the United States, the Clinton administration issued Presidential Decision Directive 56 (PDD/NSC-56) in 1997, the first U.S. directive to provide for whole-of-government planning and execution.3 Eight years later, the Bush administration issued National Security Presidential Directive 44 (NSPD-44), another executive decision to bolster a whole-of-government response.4

Against this backdrop, thousands of U.S. government personnel from more than a dozen civilian agencies have deployed to more than a dozen stabilization and reconstruction (S&R) missions during the past two decades.5 But the U.S. government does not engage in this business alone. It is but one player in a complex maze of peacebuilders working in increasingly harsh places like Afghanistan, the Congo, Somalia, Sudan, and Haiti. Indeed, sixty operations have been conducted under the auspices of the United Nations since 1948.6 UN-led operations in 2009 have surged once again to an all-time high. Another signal is the doubling of operations mounted by regional organizations in the past decade.7

As global trends indicate, instability is likely to pose greater, and perhaps more numerous, challenges in the years to come.

Statistical modeling shows that economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one- to two-year period. Besides increased economic nationalism, the most likely political fallout for US interests will involve allies and friends not being able to fully meet their defense and humanitarian obligations.8​​​​​​​

Dennis C. Blair, Director of National Intelligence

Learning how to succeed in these missions is one of the greatest challenges of the century.

1.1 Purpose

For the sake of comparison, the U.S. military is equipped with doctrine that guides its decisions and actions. This guidance is the basis for decision-making, planning, education, training, and implementation on the ground. Yet more than a decade after U.S. troops crossed the River Sava to help build peace in Bosnia and years after entering Afghanistan, civilian agencies of the U.S. government still lack any comprehensive strategic guidance. No guidance exists to inform decision makers, planners, or practitioners who deploy from civilian agencies to understand exactly what these missions are all about. In cloakrooms and conference rooms, in forward operating bases and humanitarian compounds, those who are engaged in these operations ask: what are we trying to achieve? The Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction is an attempt to fill this gap.

Each S&R mission is quite unique depending on the local context. There are, however, general “rules of the road” or “principles” that have emerged from decades of experience in these missions. These principles serve as a handrail for decision makers, planners and practitioners as they attempt to navigate through these challenging environments. For the first time, the Guiding Principles manual seeks to present strategic principles for all major activities in S&R missions in one place. It seeks to provide a foundation for decision makers, planners, and practitioners—both international and host nation—to construct priorities for specific missions.

1.2 Caveats

  • The Guiding Principles manual bears no government stamp, nor has the U.S. government adopted it officially. It is offered as a strategic tool.
  • The manual is not intended to replace any single agency’s “doctrine,” strategic guidance, or mission statements. It is intended to incorporate the major principles embedded in them.
  • This document should be treated as a living document and should be revised as new lessons emerge, learning advances, new strategies are tested, and the multiple gaps are filled.
  • The manual is not intended to prescribe priorities, but rather a comprehensive view of complex S&R missions.
  • The Guiding Principles is not a panacea for the extreme political complexities and financial constraints of these missions. These constraints may force difficult trade-offs in implementation.

1.3 Methodology

The manual rests on a comprehensive review of major strategic policy documents from state ministries of defense, foreign affairs, and development, along with major intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) that toil in war-shattered landscapes around the globe. The collection of documents9 was built through consultations with dozens of major institutions and reviewed by a team of researchers over the course of a year and a half. It is extensive, but not exhaustive.

Many U.S. agencies, UN organizations, regional institutions and major foreign state partners and their respective agencies involved in these operations have had an opportunity to vet this manual.10 It has been reviewed by a number of NGOs that are present before most missions deploy, during the mission, and after the peace is largely in the hands of the host nation.

1.4 Scope

The manual focuses on host nation outcomes, not programmatic inputs or outputs. It is focused primarily on what the host nation and international actors are trying to achieve, not how they are trying to achieve it at the tactical level. It is not about how to conduct an election or disarm warring parties—it is about the outcomes that these activities support.

Excellent “how-to” guides already exist across the U.S. government and partner institutions. These should be accessed regularly and used diligently in the conduct of these missions.

1.4.1 Audience

The primary audience for the manual is U.S. government agencies engaged in S&R missions—principally their decision makers, planners, and practitioners. At the time of this writing, these agencies’ contributions are coordinated under the leadership of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at the U.S. Department of State (S/CRS).11 Though not written specifically for U.S. partners and others who labor in these difficult environments, the manual may be of value to them as well since it is based in part on their good work. In the final analysis, it is intended to help host nations and victims of conflict rebuild shattered societies.

1.4.2 Boundaries

  • Type of Mission. This manual deals with missions that involve helping a country move from violent conflict to peace. It is a mission requiring the presence of peacekeeping and peace enforcement forces and other peacebuilding institutions. The mission will have some international leadership governing the institutions deployed.12 Finally, the mission should be guided by a mandate, preferably from the United Nations.
  • Temporal Dimension. Many institutions align their objectives according to particular phases or time spans of a mission. For the purposes of this manual, the principles apply from the moment the need for an intervention is first recognized through the time when the host nation can sustainably provide security and basic services to its population. Local conditions in the host country will determine the type and length of international engagement. Based on the last few decades of experience, it takes at least ten years to achieve this. A stroke of good fortune and diligent action can deliver the result in less time.
  • Focus. Due to these deliberate boundaries, the manual does not attempt to address the development challenges that take generations to overcome. The focus here is on that unique, perilous stage where everything must be viewed through the lens of conflict. A focus on short-term objectives is essential to help the host nation get off life support and on a sustainable path to recovery. But to ensure coherence, these objectives must be nested within longer-term development goals.

1.5 Comprehensive Review of Frameworks: A Snapshot

In seeking to offer a common set of guidelines, the writers performed a canvas of major institutional frameworks for this document.13 This comprehensive review hopes to act as a Rosetta stone for S&R missions by extracting and building upon what is common and highlighting, for the future, areas of divergence.

One area of divergence worth mentioning is the fine separation—both cultural and intellectual—between guidance focused on stabilization and peacekeeping and that written for long-term development. Ironically, the vetting process reveals that stabilizers need to understand principles for sustainable development, while the development community needs to understand how to apply conflict-sensitive approaches to S&R environments. The literature in both communities of practice is now slowly reflecting these imperatives. Another area of divergence involves terminology and definitions. The multiple institutions working side by side in S&R missions do not share either of these.

Perhaps the strongest point of convergence involves the major components of these missions, or what the U.S. government calls “technical sectors.”14 Almost all frameworks address security, political, economic, social and justice dimensions. That important agreement is the starting point for this document.15

To elevate this shared construct to the level of strategic guidance, the Guiding Principles manual translates these shared components into purpose-based end states:16 a safe and secure environment, the rule of law, stable governance, a sustainable economy, and social well-being. End states represent the ultimate goals of a society emerging from conflict.17 These conform to the technical sectors currently used by the U.S. government: security, justice and reconciliation, governance and participation, economic stabilization and infrastructure, and humanitarian assistance and social well-being.

Guiding Principles End States U.S. Government Technical Sectors
Safe and Secure Environment Security
Rule of Law Justice and Reconciliation
Stable Governance Governance and Participation
Sustainable Economy Economic Stabilization and Infrastructure
Social Well-Being Humanitarian Assistance and Social Well-Being

1.6 A Note to Readers

This is a relatively short document to describe a massive challenge. A comprehensive understanding of what the mission is trying to achieve is required for success. In order to appreciate the interdependence and linkages among all actors and all actions—host nation and international—this manual should be read in its entirety. It represents a step toward professionalization for those engaged in the complex art of stabilization and reconstruction.