The Role of Civilian-Military Partnerships in Building Economic Stability

13612203_10206155636603188_4130233331516496311_n Gavin Davies

The large increase of refugees has been a formative moment in EU history. It has tested the capacity of states to meet the ideals held in human rights law, reconcile security with openness, and put a spotlight on the causes of terrorism. There have been measures to try to manage the flow of people, and an increased resolve to directly confront ISIS and Al Qaeda, who are responsible for much of the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa that drives people out of their homelands. But although there has been much discussion about how to best manage these conflicts, there has been less public reflection on the factors that led to the current situation.

A significant part of the problem grew out of the lack of follow through in creating stable economies and governance during the War on Terror, or the fact that there was an invasion at all, depending on your perspective. But regardless of your view, it has now become clear that the basic economic systems and infrastructure required for a functioning state have been severely depleted, risking that any military success may be a hollow victory. So even though it is undoubtedly important to come up with a short term solution to the conflict, there must also be greater engagement with the underlying factors as well. But what can be done to learn from the mistakes of the past, and build long-term stability in these troubled regions?

Fortunately, there is a way of building the trust and channels necessary to better put some of the broken pieces back together again: the comprehensive approach to civilian-military relations. Though it has no set definition, it was first explicitly mentioned in 2001, when the UN security council proposed the idea of a higher degree of integration for joint missions: “peace requires comprehensive, concentrated and determined approach which addresses root causes of conflict, including its economic and social dimension…which has to include all relevant actors in this area”.[1] It arose in importance after the failure for effective cooperation in Rwanda and the Balkans, where even minor amounts of miscommunication or unreliable data created exponentially damaging effects on project outcomes due to the amount of actors.[2] Issues were magnified by each country seeking to make its mark on the mission while operating through their own bureaucracies and contacts. This system continued on through the War on Terror, so that during the mission in Afghanistan, the UN, NATO, and NGOs each set up their own informal networks with local actors, which quickly resulted in a wide array of problems.[3] This ineffectual system led to a desire to streamline procedures, and in a 2006 EU forum on military cooperation in Afghanistan, it was recognized that there was the need for “a comprehensive approach which acknowledges close ties among various sectors and between military and civilian efforts”.[4]

The method of how to do this was to begin by breaking down inter-country and agency communication into four main areas of concern, which are still the operating procedures today: diplomatic, informational, military, and economic (DIME).[5] The only issue with this is that not all aspects are given equal weight, as operations often leave the civil-society run aspects tacked on at the end, rather than being an integral part of the intervention equation. This means that in practice, civil society actors only come into play once the initial military planning has been done, and are either directed by military personnel or act independently of them.[6]

On the ground, this has led to situations where Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has had their hospitals bombed, aid convoys have been destroyed, and civilians are continually caught in the crossfire.[7] Some may argue that such attacks would still occur if civilian organizations were involved in operations, but it has been proven that there are improved outcomes if there is civilian integration into all sides of the conflict.[8] Therefore, a truly comprehensive approach would have civilian groups involved in aspects of military planning and diplomacy efforts.[9] Though it is too late to meet this standard for the current conflicts, there is still much to be gained from bringing civilians into what was once a singularly military endeavour.


Building Civ-Mil Relations

So what is the best means for civilians and militaries to cooperate? The current method has been to use Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) to enhance security measures by being a security force and a reconstruction facilitation team.[10] In theory, this is an excellent way of understanding and fixing humans security issues. However, because when this was used in Afghanistan each coalition country was allowed to set its own methods and goals for their PRTs, there were very different approaches by each nation. The US had only a handful of civilians in 80 person teams, and were oriented towards working in hostile environments. The UK provided a capacity building in both hostile and permissive areas, and had 30 civilians working in 100 person teams. The Germans had 400 person teams working on long term development, with only 20 civilians per group.[11] Based upon the standard of human security and net economic development, Germany was most effective, the UK teams had success but lacked funding, and the Americans did not deal well with civilian actors.[12] There is much more nuance on this topic to be taken into account, with Williams’ book The Good War: NATO and the Liberal Conscience in Afghanistan being an excellent resource.

That being said, the reasons for the variance in success were based in how the teams met these four main points: funding, mission requirements that suited the current state of affairs on the ground, clear roles for each part of the group and between groups, and the coordination of civilian-military governance.[13] Most groups lacked funding, did not have the autonomy to react to real-time changes, and could not agree on governance, as some advocated for a separation of civilian-military powers, while others supported a “united governance” approach.[14] Fortunately, the UK government at least seems to have learned the error of its ways, and stated in The Strategic Defense and Security Review that the best way to deal with conflict is to address the core issues, which mirror those at the heart of human security: safety, political rights, economics, food security, justice, health, and community integrity.[15] In essence, the root issue underlying any military engagement and consequential restructuring is the lack of funding, a singular agreed upon goal, and transparency.

Therefore, the best way to ensure a stable Middle East, and especially areas like Afghanistan or Northern Africa which are not in all-out civil war but have low scale on-going conflict, is to emphasize the creation of networks with local actors who utilize funding mechanisms that support the comprehensive approach and PRTs. This will provide the best means of meeting the main failures of its previous implementation, where it did not have the funding, appropriate mission requirements, or goals. The findings point to the need for creating funding mechanisms that are flexible to local context, and quickly dispersible. This provides the basis by which economic security can be built upon international funding pools, joint program funds, and multi-donor sectoral funds, which helps maintain oversight while being more responsive than government allocated hand-outs.[16] This would reduce fiscal fragmentation, provide a means for measuring the degrees of progress and success, and would “provide finance for important large-scale infrastructure projects, rebuild state capacity, and give some predictability for national planning”.[17]

The expertise to manage these complex systems would come from long term civilian-military training programs that are sensitive to institutional prejudices and cultural contexts. As such programs develop, regional and global partners would be able to access the reports and progress through non-governmental, political, and military channels, which would help increase cross-agency communication, hold local leaders to account, and to assess which methods best suit the desired human security initiatives.[18]


Although there is never a direct one-to-one correlation of theory into practice, being aware of the possibilities and lessons to be learned from past mistakes is undoubtedly a path towards increased success. The funding pools for ground-up PRTs would be key in meeting the challenges of building infrastructure in hostile environments, while also keeping up to international regulations. It also creates an incentive for people to go back to their homeland, and ease tensions across multiple borders at a time of heightened pressure.



 HM Government. (2010) Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review. London: UK Government.

Jakobsen, P. (2014) ‘Danish Lessons Learned: The Comprehensive/Integrated Approach After Iraq and Afghanistan.’ Military Studies Magazine 1(2): pp. 2-5.

Kamp, K-H. (2011) ‘NATO’s New Strategic Concept: An Integration of Civil and Military Approaches’ in Christopher M. Schnaubelt (ed.) Towards a Comprehensive Approach: Integrating Civilian and Military Concepts of Strategy. Rome: NATO Defense College, Research Division.

McNerney, J. (2005) ‘Stabilization and Reconstruction in Afghanistan: Are PRTs a Model or a Muddle?’ Parameters Winter 2005–06.

Miščević, T. (2013) ‘Philosophy of the Comprehensive Approach to Security’. The New Century. [online], p. 20. Available from:ščević_NEW_CENTURY_3_eng.pdf

Runge, P. (2009) ‘The Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan: Role Model for Civil-Military Relations?’, Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), Occasional Paper IV, pp. 6-30.

Schanaubelt, C. (2009) ‘Introduction’ in Schanaubelt, C., (ed.) Operationalizing a Comprehensive Approach in Semi-Permissive Environments. NDC Forum Paper, Rome June 2009.

Security Council Addresses Comprehensive Approach to Peace-Building Press Release 20 December 2001 (SC/7014). Available from:

Williams, M. J. (2011) The Good War: NATO and the Liberal Conscience in Afghanistan. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zeyad, A. (2016) Saudi-Led Coalition Says It Regrets MSF Decision to Evacuate Staff from Yemen [online]. Available from: (Accessed 2 October 2016).

[1] UNSC (2001)

[2] Kamp, K-H. (2011), p. 52.

[3] Williams, M. J. (2011), p. 139.

[4] Schanaubelt, C. (2009), p. 6.

[5] Miščević, T. (2013), p. 20.ščević_NEW_CENTURY_3_eng.pdf

[6] Ibid, p. 19.

[7] Zeyad, A. (2016),

[8] Jakobsen, P. (2014), pp. 2-5.

[9] Miščević, p. 19.

[10] Williams, M.J. (2011), p. 106.

[11] Ibid. pp. 106-107.

[12] Ibid. pp. 107-114.

[13] McNerney, J. (2005), p. 36.

[14] Runge, P. (2008), p.13.

[15] HM Government, (2010), p. 45.

[16] Rintakoski, K. and Autti, M. (2008), p. 32.

[17] Ibid. p. 33.

[18] Ibid. pp. 33-34.

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