The Role of the Military in Reconstruction: Examining Expeditionary Economics and Provisional Reconstruction Teams

by Jomana Amara

A new term has entered the economic reconstruction lexicon: “expeditionary economics.” While there is some disagreement over the exact meaning of the term and the objectives of the concept, a consensus definition could be summarized as the use of military personnel to rebuild the economy in post-conflict and post-disaster nations in situations where the environment is too dangerous for civilian personnel and aid agencies. The evolution of expeditionary economics is the result of the recognition of the substantial financial and logistical resources possessed by the military and the understanding that economic development is essential for the long-term success of military interventions. In addition, the military is uniquely positioned to operate in unstable, dangerous, and remote environments and to mobilize at short notice. However, the expansion of the role of the military beyond war fighting to economic reconstruction is an acknowledgement that military operations alone will not achieve stabilization in conflict or disaster areas. But, expeditionary economics does not advocate deploying the military for economic reconstruction functions. It is utilizing military already engaged at a location to enhance stability. While several countries were actively engaged in rebuilding the economy in Afghanistan and Iraq, the term appears to have gained the most traction in the United States. This reflects a change in foreign policy outlook and the role of the United States in engaging in nation building and its associated tasks. The role of the forces in reconstruction is time limited and is a sequencing issue. It involves reconstruction activities after conflict and before civilian control of reconstruction.

The concept of military involvement in post-conflict economic reconstruction is not new for the United States. In fact, the United States was involved in major reconstruction efforts directly following World War II. The efforts were deliberate, and preparations for training personnel for administering an occupation government started before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II. In 1942, the United States Army established a School of Military Government to train officers for the many tasks associated with governing occupied territories. The officers were slated for future detail to military government and civil affairs activities. The school was established because there were too few civilian experts available for the army to recruit to its ranks. The school trained personnel to serve as administrative and advisory assistants in occupation governments. The curriculum was broad and covered topics needed for public administration including legal affairs, public works, utilities, transportation systems, communications, public health, sanitation, public safety, education, and public welfare. The curriculum instruction also included skills to plan for economic development such as management of natural resources, finance, banking, industrial development, labor issues, commerce, and trade. As involvement in the war expanded, the program grew from one military-run school in Virginia to ten universities around the country, and graduated over one thousand students between 1942 and 1946.

Photo from Creative Commons.
Photo from Creative Commons.

The United States military’s recent foray into post-conflict reconstruction is in the form of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and originated in Afghanistan in early 2002. The services provided by PRTs employed in Afghanistan and Iraq mirror the idea behind and the work of the military administrators of the post-World War II era. In contrast to the graduates of the School of Military Government, PRT members are assigned out of necessity and without a uniform concept or coherent predefined planning. PRTs are civil-military units that more or less act in an independent manner and are controlled by the Departments/Ministries of Defense of their nations. The initial PRTs were made up of civil affairs officers whose mission was to assess humanitarian needs and implement small-scale reconstruction projects as an extension of security and stability operations. The manning of the PRTs evolved and expanded to include security forces and representatives of various government departments. PRTs are designed to improve stability in Afghanistan and Iraq by increasing the host nation’s capacity to govern, enhancing economic viability, and strengthening local governments’ ability to deliver public services such as security and health care.

Initially, PRTs were funded and directed by the Unites States. However, over time, the PRT program expanded and other coalition countries created their own PRTs in various provinces in Afghanistan.  PRTs’ missions and measures of effectiveness varied depending on the lead nation maintaining responsibility. This created inconsistencies and coordination dilemmas. The allies disagreed over many critical aspects of the PRTs, such as the role the military should play and whether civilian International Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations (IO and NGOs) could work in coordination with the military.  PRTs are also subject to national limitations enforced by the host nation’s government. In addition, some lead coalition nations imposed restrictions on their PRTs’ operational capabilities.  For example, some lead nations have restricted their PRTs from venturing beyond certain distances from their bases and others forbid operating after dark.

Depending on the lead nation, PRTs also vary in size, structure, and the manning of the teams. The American PRTs are led by a military officer, usually a lieutenant colonel, and are relatively large with the staff size ranging from 50 to 100 people. The PRT stresses force protection and small, quick impact reconstruction and assistance operations. The PRT is staffed by military and civilian staff including specialists from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Justice, and other civilian agencies. The United States defines the PRT mission as providing security through development and reconstruction and serving to extend the reach and influence of the forces and the national government. The British PRT model is similar to the American model in personnel size, but stresses Afghan security sector reform and the resolution of conflicts between competing warlords. The British PRTs are also focused on security issues and on enabling and facilitating reconstruction projects and institution building. The German PRT approach is characterized by the idea of a comprehensive stabilization and reconstruction plan. One of the German PRTs’ specialties is the equal integration of the civilian and military elements in its ranks with a strict separation of the military and civilian functions. The Dutch PRT mission is to assist local authorities to create a safe and secure environment in order to enable the government as well as international and nongovernmental organizations to carry out reconstruction activities. Depending on the type of mission, a team may be complemented by reserve personnel with specific civil expertise and specialties.

In stark contrast to the preparation and training of personnel for reconstruction during World War II, there is little indication that coalition nations engaged in the same deliberate effort while preparing for the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is clear that from the perspective of the coalition forces, PRTs were perceived as a quick solution to escalating security, economic, and humanitarian crises. The outcome of the objectives of the PRTs to contribute to the establishment of credible and self-sustaining governments in Afghanistan and Iraq is somewhat uncertain. The PRTs were intended to be an offer of support for a limited period of time. However, almost ten years after the initial PRTs were established, it has become obvious that their success is limited and a fierce debate is ensuing about the feasibility and the time line of continuing the PRTs’ work. For better or worse, expeditionary economics is now a vital and critical aspect of development economics and has led to the rethinking of the approach to nation building after conflict. Expeditionary economics has also changed the role of the armed forces in economic reconstruction and has expanded it in the short and medium term as evidenced by the formation of PRTs. However, the United States and coalition forces will need to be deliberate and focus the mission if the PRTs are to be key in expeditionary economics.

Jomana Amara, Ph.D., P.E., is assistant professor of economics at the Defense Resources Management Institute at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and a Fulbright Scholar. Dr. Amara worked with Shell Oil before joining the Naval Postgraduate School. She currently researches and publishes on international economics, defense economics, health economics, and the economics of the public sector. Dr. Amara has provided assessments of required technical assistance to various Ministries of Defense and Interior in the area of public finance, budget systems development for long-range defense plans, accountable financial planning, and defense reform issues. Dr. Amara is the author of the forthcoming book Economic Development and Post Conflict Reconstruction and co-editor of Military Medicine: From Pre-Deployment to Post-Separation. Dr. Amara is a member of the American Economic Association (AEA) and the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).

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