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The past week has been a good one for nation-building, and not just because of Iraq’s successful election. Less noticed but also important was the creation of a UN Peacebuilding Commission and a new directive from President Bush on interagency coordination of U.S. reconstruction and stabilization efforts

The Peacebuilding Commission, approved Tuesday by the Security Council and the General Assembly, is meant to keep war-torn countries from reverting to hostilities by following up on the work of peacekeeping missions that bring fighting to an end and monitor cease-fires.
As explained in The New York Times (U.N. Creates Commission to Assist Nations Recovering from Wars , login required)

...while many parts of the United Nations had traditionally been involved in helping countries in longer-term recovery after protracted conflicts, there had never been an entity to coordinate those activities, develop expertise and strategy and focus on reconstruction and the building of institutions.

The Commission will help keep the Security Council focused on the recovery of war-torn countries even after the urgent crisis phase passes. This is critical, since nearly half of all post-conflict countries revert to violence within five years. The body will also draw on the technical expertise of the World Bank and IMF, which should ensure that development concerns are integrated into reconstruction planning.
The Peacebuilding Commission nicely complements a similar institutional innovation made public by the Bush Administration a week ago: The release of a National Security Presidential Directive on the Management of Interagency Efforts Concerning Reconstruction and Stabilization (NSPD-44), which declares that the U.S. has a significant stake in post-conflict reconstruction.
The directive is consistent with the recommendations of CGD’s Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security. It lays out for the first time a comprehensive approach to building U.S. capacities -- particularly in the civilian agencies -- to anticipate, prevent, and respond to state failure. This represents a sea change for an administration that came to office disdaining nation-building. Indeed, for most of the first term, the Defense Department and the office of the Vice President rebuffed any hint of contingency planning of the sort that the Clinton Administration institutionalized in Presidential Decision Directive-56.
After the disaster of non-planning for postwar Iraq, and under pressure from Senators Lugar and Biden, the Bush administration finally bit the bullet in summer of 2004, creating in the State Department an Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization.
Until now, however, the practical authority of the new office over the interagency was unclear. The new directive seeks to dispel this ambiguity, by placing in the hands of the Secretary of State authority for coordinating the planning and execution of efforts to stabilize and reconstruct failing and post-conflict states.
Some ambiguity remains. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld recently released a directive of his own on Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations which declares stability operations a core mission of the Defense Department. It is not clear how civilian agencies and military civil affairs teams will divide responsibilities in volatile post-conflict settings where U.S. troops are deployed, nor how State and Defense will determine which is the “supported” or “supporting” entity.
But overall this is a good news story. The interagency battle royale over whether to get involved in nation building – and who should do it -- that marked the first term of the Bush administration is giving way to a recognition of the need for the civilian and military worlds to work together -- and with the United Nations -- on the Herculean challenges of post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.