Academic journal article Military Review

Navigating through the Challenge of Culture and Law in Postconflict Stability Operations

Academic journal article Military Review

Navigating through the Challenge of Culture and Law in Postconflict Stability Operations

Article excerpt

Long-term, postconflict stability operations will always be a challenge; complicate the situation with an insurgency and the difficulty of the challenge is further elevated. Critical to meeting this challenge during stability operations is promoting the development of legal institutions, particularly law enforcement, to establish rule of law. This will sound familiar for many who have been deployed over the last sixteen years. Still, there is cultural friction when attempting to understand what rule of law is, what it means, and how it should be applied. Consequently, it is imperative that we recognize understanding our own cultural perspectives and the cultural foundation from which they grow as a prerequisite for attempts to influence others in their perspectives regarding appropriate law enforcement.


There are many examples of short-term, mission-specific task forces manned by specialists that have established a track record for stability mission success in operations with limited and discrete objectives. Among these are the Ebola relief effort in West Africa, the earthquake relief effort in Haiti, and the counterpiracy efforts in East Africa. (1) However, long-term rebuilding of a conquered nation is an entirely different challenge.

During any stability operation, we (U.S. military members) make an honest attempt to learn all about the culture of the people in the affected region. Routinely, however, there is a lack of effort to gain greater understanding with regard to our own cultural perceptions. Consequently, without effective efforts to obtain introspective knowledge of ourselves and our own culture, we are ill prepared to anticipate the cultural friction points we will encounter when we try to influence, or impose, a law enforcement system on a very different culture.

In stability operations that include efforts to change law enforcement perceptions and methods, a key point of cultural concern is an understanding of the prevailing legal traditions of the occupied society, including how they police themselves. Without such understanding, the most important aspects that need to be changed may be overlooked. This may result in training that focuses on the comfortable and familiar routine of teaching and improving law enforcement skills and techniques rather than the more vital efforts to change attitudes and values. Such a circumstance presents the danger of reinforcing, or even empowering, the worst aspects of those segments of the military involved in internal security, and may simply be conducive to instituting a perpetual state of oppressive martial law once the training mission is complete.

In any case, changing cultural attitudes and values is no easy task, and it is well understood that within stability operations it will be tough to effectively establish normalcy ruled by law even backed by knowledge of institutions that need to be modified or newly established. However, prepared or not, the task will fall on the shoulders of the ground maneuver forces. A study by the U.S. Army's Strategic Studies Institute concluded that

Post-war planning cannot be separated from war planning. All phases of
the war need to be coordinated to work towards the same end... ground
forces need to be prepared to take on stabilization and reconstruction
tasks after the conflict. Only they are able to do it in the immediate
aftermath of the conflict because of the power vacuum. They must be
given the proper training to handle these tasks. (2)

Our recent history of organizing and training for stability in long-term, postconflict scenarios in Iraq and Afghanistan, both complicated by an insurgency, demonstrate mixed results at the tactical level. Moreover, with the downsizing of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, we seem to have given up on the separate advisor effort under its own authorities, such as Multi-National Security Transition Command--Iraq. …

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