A Military Guide to Accessing Research on Fragile States

Publication Year
War on the Rocks

As of 2011, 73 percent of active component soldiers in the U.S. Army had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, experiencing firsthand the complexity of getting things done in ungoverned and under-resourced places. A new breed of civil-military structures was born during the wars —including Provincial Reconstruction Teams, the Task Force for Business Stabilization Operations, and the Human Terrain System — to bring civilian knowledge and perspectives to bear on military operations. But as major ground operations wound down, these structures were mostly done away with. The armed forces are left with a paradoxical situation: a generation of service members who have an unprecedented appreciation of the need for civilian knowledge in fragile states, alongside an absence of structures to provide such knowledge at the tactical level. While such expertise is available within USAID and State, these institutions face personnel and budget constraints and focus their support at the strategic level. As natives of the research community, we’ve seen the military reach out to NGOs and academics again and again trying to establish formal liaisons or define universal best practices. But formal, top-down approaches are both high-risk and low-reward for most non-government researchers and practitioners. Effectively tapping into this body of knowledge requires a new strategy: The military should focus on building long-term but informal relationships with intermediaries in the non-governmental development and humanitarian communities who can act as guides to the civilian knowledge base.


War on the Rocks, June 26, 2016

Publication Topic
Civil War, Insurgency, and Terrorism
Economic Development
Political Development
Publication Type
Policy Article