James Dobbins Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Nation Building: Conversation with Ambassador James Dobbins; Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, Rand Corporation; February 28, 2005
by Harry Kreisler

Page 5 of 8

Comparing U.S. and UN Interventions

Your two volumes complement each other. In some ways, they compare entirely different cases, different situations on the ground, but when you put them together, they point in a direction of -- I don't know if we want to call it "division of labor," but [that's one] way to think about these interventions: in terms of timing, who gets the most efficient result, both in economic terms but also with the political consequences that you're seeking. Talk a little about that.

The first volume deals with the American experience, the second volume with the UN experience. We talk about U.S.-led interventions and UN-led interventions. It's artificial in a sense, because all of the UN-led interventions had a significant, although not a leading, American role; and all of the U.S. interventions had a significant, although not a leading, UN role.

The UN is playing very important roles, for instance, in Iraq and Afghanistan today. Similarly, the United States has supported the UN interventions in East Timor, or Sierra Leone, or El Salvador, or Cambodia, or the other places where the UN has been in the lead. Nevertheless, it does make a difference whether the American president or the secretary-general of the United Nations is ultimately in charge, is ultimately making the decisions to commit men and money to an enterprise.

The United States and the United Nations have developed different styles of nation building. book coverUbook coverN missions tend to be smaller, cheaper, quicker. American missions tend to be larger, more expensive; they take longer. UN missions have been quite successful. In fact, among the cases we looked at, they were more successful than the United States. But the U.S. missions tended to be the harder missions. In a number of cases, the U.S. took over missions in which the UN had failed, and therefore the U.S. in effect inherited these failures and tried to turn them around. In Somalia the U.S. failed as well, but in Bosnia, the U.S. turned around a mission that had failed as a UN mission.

In general, the dividing line between the two is that the UN doesn't do invasions. If you're going to have to force entry, if you're not going to be welcomed in, then the UN probably is not the right institution. Similarly, the UN has never really deployed more than 20,000 troops in a single operation. So, if the operation either requires an invasion or it requires a force larger than 20,000 men, it's probably going to have to be led by the United States or NATO, or perhaps someone of the European Union or some other major power. On the other hand, if it's an operation in which you're not going to have to invade the country to get there, you're going to be invited in, as is normally the case, and in which the force doesn't have to be over 20,000, then the UN is certainly going to be much cheaper than having the United States do it. It has a reasonably high level of success and it's probably going to be more politically acceptable to the region.

This is an important point, because if the Security Council agrees to intervene, you've got a consensus within that body which suggests that you have more legitimacy for what you're about to do, and it also suggests, as you point out, that you're more likely to have the cooperation of the neighboring countries in this operation.

That's true. It's worth remembering that in the post - Cold War era the only American intervention that did not have a Security Council mandate was Iraq. Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan - the U.S. had unified Security Council support for all of those operations. Many U.S. operations have also enjoyed strong international legitimacy, but there's no doubt that with the United Nations it's in effect automatic: if it's a UN operation, it must have had a Security Council mandate, and it's probably going to be less controversial in the region than an American-led intervention.

That's not always the case; there are places where the United States has more credibility than the United Nations might. There are instances where an American-led intervention is preferable, not just because it's too hard for the United Nations but [because] for one reason or other, the United Nations has become controversial. For instance, if one were going to put an international peacekeeping force in the Arab/Israeli context, in Palestine, for instance, a UN force would probably be unacceptable to the Israelis, and so it would have to be a NATO force.

Let's go back to the two studies and help our audience understand the kinds of variables that you look at that are measures of what you call input and output and which are part of the process by which you come to understand these different kinds of intervention.

We actually have three concepts: input, output and outcome. Input would be how much -- it would be basically men, money, and time. How big an intervention force is it? How much money, how much economic assistance are you putting into it? How long are you prepared to commit those resources, over how many years?

Outputs are measurable things, like how many refugees returned, how many police you're training, those kinds of things. And then outcomes, which is what you're really after, is: was the place enduringly peaceful, did it become democratic, did it become more prosperous? So you have inputs which you can measure, and you can compare them from one operation to the next, you have outputs which you can measure but which are interim results, and then you have outcomes, which you can also measure in terms of your overall success rate.

You are suggesting, as I recall, that Kosovo was a place where ultimately things came together and involved a more substantial division of labor with a unity of command, that there was a military side and a civilian side but there was agreement about who should do what and a unified notion about how to go into the future.

Kosovo was the last of the 1990s operation. It was organized by the Clinton administration in its last year of office, at which time the administration had had a substantial experience, as had most of our partners. And so, we were able to design a fairly robust structure in which NATO did the military tasks, United Nations did the political tasks, the European Union did the economic tasks. The United States was able to lead this while contributing only 16 percent of the money and the troops. So it was very broad burden sharing. Now, the Kosovo operation isn't over. It was an operation that was designed without an exit strategy. That's still to be designed, so I don't think you can call it an unqualified success at this point. But I do think it was the most robust structure and the one which had the best burden sharing elements of any of the nineties operations.

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