A very long read with a unique look at two cases.
This article explores the security and political effects of militia forces in Afghanistan and Mexico. From these case studies, it draws lessons for how to engage with militia forces more effectively and presents broader implications for U.S. foreign policy. In Afghanistan, building up militia forces has long been an important element of U.S security policy. In Mexico, anti-crime militias emerged spontaneously. Eventually, the behavior and visibility of the militias forced the government of Mexico to react to them, but the United States has not been involved with them in any way. Along many dimensions, the two cases are very different, and that is one reason why I chose such a compare-and-contrast pairing. Mexico is a middle-power country with a relatively strong economy, even though the state has been historically weak or absent in large areas, including those where militias are currently strong. In contrast, for several decades, Afghanistan has been a failed state or hovered on the verge of failure. For decades, Afghanistan has been caught up in insurgencies, civil wars, and foreign interventions. Only over the past decade has Mexico experienced highly violent crime. In Afghanistan, the United States and the Afghan government at least assumed that they could control some of the militias, such as those they actively recruited, including the Afghan Local Police, and steer some of the others that had existed, metamorphosed, and sometimes outright metastasized in Afghanistan since the late 1970s. At the same time, the Afghan government, the United Nations, and the United States have sought to disarm and dismantle other militia forces that came to be seen as particularly problematic. In Mexico, the anti-crime self-defense forces emerged spontaneously without a direct and formal state effort to recruit them and without any nominal state control. Historically, of course, the Mexican government and military often recruited militias to fight insurgencies such as in Guerrero and Chiapas.
I would like to thank the author for saying this. I would hope these two paragraphs could be committed to policy makers' and strategists' brain housing groups.
The key assumptions of U.S. external assistance for such internal defense policies is that there is a sufficiently strong overlap between U.S. interests and those of the selected external partners to design and conduct anti-militancy efforts in a way that is consistent with U.S. objectives, and that such an overlap of interests can be sustained for a sufficient period. In other words, through internal defense assistance, the United States hopes to motivate external actors to deliver U.S. objectives without the United States being extensively sucked into difficult internal conflicts abroad and without having to sacrifice U.S. blood and treasure on a large scale.Building partner capacity and assisting in internal defense are concepts much broader than simply standing up militia or proxy forces. Indeed, ideally, internal defense or partner-capacity-building efforts would focus on state military and police forces only and be fully integrated into an official strategy of the host country to undertake security sector reform (SSR). The ideal conditions and design for such an undertaking include a post-conflict setting, without the presence of low-intensity conflict still simmering or increasing, and with U.S. security-aid programming focused on creating a legitimate monopoly of force for the state. Such an assistance program would be a comprehensive systematic effort easily lasting a decade or more.
Paper | July 21, 2015
The dubious joys of standing up militias and building partner capacity: Lessons from Afghanistan and Mexico for prosecuting security policy through proxies
research/papers/2015/07/21- afghanistan-mexico-security- policy-felbabbrown?rssid=u+s+ military+affairs
After a decade and half of being involved in large-scale military operations in the Middle East and South Asia, the United States is increasingly looking for ways to prosecute its security interests with minimal involvement. The number and complexity of military conflicts burning in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia make large-scale military involvement prohibitive and potentially disastrous. Nor are desirable outcomes easy to achieve even when the United States is willing to devote large blood and treasure resources to such interventions. Yet allowing for large territories around the world to disintegrate into brutal conflicts or be dominated by terrorist and militant groups threatening the United States and its assets and allies may also be highly detrimental to U.S. interests. Increasingly, the United States has there embraced a strategy of building up the capacities of partners in such conflicts—preferably, those of national governments. But when national forces prove unable or unwilling to defeat the threat, such as in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, and Somalia, the United States increasingly faces decisions whether to support (or establish) local militia and other irregular forces. Indeed, militias are back in vogue as a tool of U.S. security policy.
Building partner capacity and standing up militias may at times turn out to be the least bad of available policy options, and chosen as a last resort. The two approaches are not identical: Building up the official forces of a country allows for greater levels of accountability of the host nation to the donor and of the forces to their population than standing up irregular forces. Building up official partner capacity is thus clearly a preferable policy than embracing militias.
Nonetheless, both policies need to be adopted with a clear understanding of how limited their contribution will be to the prosecution of U.S. interests. Despite the seductiveness of the belief that in situations of limited U.S. engagement and resource transfers others will do for the United States what it is not willing to do for itself, a robust alignment of U.S. interests with those of its presumed partners will often be lacking. Instead, after a momentary intersection of interests, the United States could find its partners unreliable, having divergent interests, and prosecuting policies directly contradictory to those of the United States. Even when militias seem to be defeating the enemy du jour, they will have a tendency to go rogue and themselves become the source of long-term and deep-seated drivers of conflict. Partner governments may well pocket U.S. assistance and have a tendency to conduct policies to satisfy U.S. objectives only minimally while they use the U.S. resources for their own political objectives, including perhaps marginalizing or eliminating political rivals. Nor will the United States find it easy to extricate itself from such indirect interventions. Consequently, when relying on such proxies, U.S. long-term engagement, monitoring, and rollback capacities will often be necessary for securing U.S. interests.
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