The U.S. Army Looks to the UN

Things like nation-building, security sector reform, conflict stabilization, and peacekeeping have not traditionally been the primary focus of the United States military. Despite having the largest and most technologically advanced armed forces in the world, the United States, for example, contributes only 319 uniformed personnel (including just nine troops) to United Nations peacekeeping missions. Facing roiling insurgencies and state failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, though, the United States has gotten better at it — it’s had to.

The rise of the “Petraeus Doctrine” and the counterinsurgency manual that he helped write has led to a reorientation of America’s military strategy. Yesterday, no less a figure than the Commanding General of the U.S. Army at Ft. Leavenworth, attested to this shift in focus with the unveiling of a document that is equally revolutionary — despite its rather unimposing title, “Field Manual 3-07: Stability Operations.” The impact of this Field Manual comes in its recognition, for the first time in the Army’s history, that so-called “stability operations” — the somewhat less “sexy,” but perhaps even more important in the long-term, consideration of how to stabilize a situation after a war — should be given the same priority as traditional war-fighting capabilities.

Included in this reinvigorated emphasis on post-conflict operations is the need for the United States to interact with, contribute to, and learn from international organizations. Not surprisingly, the UN gets some serious love here. Check out these snippets from the Army’s new Field Manual:

Multilateral missions with the broad approval of the international community have a higher degree of legitimacy than unilateral missions. These might include missions conducted by a coalition under a United Nations’ mandate.

The UN brings high levels of legitimacy, unique capabilities provided by a broad mix of member states, and a capacity for sustaining large missions over long periods. It deploys many agencies capable of supporting [security sector reform] efforts across all three elements of the security sector.

Building close working relationships with international partner nations and organizations enhances the effectiveness of reconstruction and stabilization operations. These organizations range from the United Nations and European Union to partner countries like the United Kingdom and Canada.

The key, of course, will be implementing these recommendations. There are many concrete ways that the United States can increase its support to the United Nations — from contributing more resources and personnel to paying back its dues to recommitting to diplomacy with the rest of the world. It is a good sign that the far more lavishly funded Department of Defense is joining the State Department in retooling the U.S.-UN relationship. The proof, though, as they say, is in the pudding — and effective stability operations can be quite the pudding.