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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2006, Vol, 6 No. 1 .

Engineering Peace: The Military Role in Post-conflict Reconstruction
Colonel Garland H. Williams

Washington D.C.: United States Institute for Peace Press, 2005,
pp. 317 ISBN: 1-929223-57-9

Colonel Williams? book Engineering Peace is a timely contribution to the debate on the deployment and utility of international military forces in areas emerging from conflict. This is very much a ?soldier?s eye? perspective, and for that reason alone it serves to redress a comparative dearth in publications by military practitioners of post-conflict intervention. The central thesis is that there exists a manifest gap in reconstruction activity between the deployment of troops tasked with ensuring stability and security, and the later arrival of civilian agencies tasked with post-conflict reconstruction of the society, and that this delay hinders economic recovery and risks a return to violence.

The book, divided into five chapters, focuses initially on the contemporary international context, and is sensitive to the complexities of multi-agency funding and cooperation (more frequently its absence) and geo-political as well as domestic imperatives, such as the frequent desire by contributing nations to extract troops as early as possible. The self-imposed limitation on US military engineers not to engage in projects beyond specific military needs such as nation-building is questioned, given that the military are in the best position ? and best equipped ? to undertake those tasks. Williams then outlines three case studies, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, which serve to illustrate the existence of a lag time in commitment which, the author contends, retards economic rejuvenation and leaves the newly secured peace vulnerable to regression into violence. Using copious examples, Williams builds a strong case in arguing that the early reconstruction of infrastructure can create a markedly improved context for removing the threat of a return to violence by warring factions. US military experience in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, while differing on specifics, demonstrates that civilian agencies presently appear to lack the capacity to deploy rapidly into a ceasefire zone in order to repair and rebuild civil infrastructure ? and thereby jump start post-war economies. Drawing on these examples, Williams offers a template to reduce this through better coordinated inter-agency organisation generally and, in particular, the pro-active use of military engineering assets ordinarily employed to facilitate only the military aspect of the peace-building mission. In terms of operational control, he proposes that the military would assume this role in the initial stages after the cessation of hostilities with a phased-in lead role for civilian agencies, and latterly its transference to local agents as reconstruction gathers pace.

The three case studies are replete with salient examples of military engineering projects, which were ostensibly undertaken solely for military purposes, but which also contributed significantly, if inadvertently, toward the normalisation of localities within the host country. They bear testimony to the central importance of intervening forces and how they are utilised, as well as the need to plan their use properly.

Engineering Peace has certainly identified a practical problem and has gone a considerable distance toward offering a viable solution. While having no illusions that the measures he proposes amount to a silver bullet, Williams is persuasive in asserting that:

?[T]he absence of a viable infrastructure places a burden upon a fledgling government and people that cannot be internally overcome, and it will prevent any chance of long term peace from developing to its full potential? (268).

Throughout, Williams is at pains to point out the need for local agencies and municipal leaders to be integrated into the reconstruction process at the earliest stage, and their need to claim ? and be allowed to claim ? ownership of it, and this is a laudable point.

Though Engineering Peace is primarily aimed at policy formulators who are responsible for post-conflict reconstruction, it is also a useful insight into the practical problems faced by both the affected populations and intervention/inter-positional forces deployed to begin the process of normalisation. Students can augment their analysis of ethnic conflict by gaining an insight into the aftermath of such events, and the effects on the populace of a devastated physical infrastructure. The template offered in chapter five is certainly worthy of consideration, even by those not involved in policy formulation, if only to gain an insight into the complexities of coordinating a multi-agency response to a conflict environment.

While Col. Williams? book is normative in perspective and though it identifies the need to coordinate the ability of various international and non-governmental agencies in responding constructively, the premise of US superiority in strategic lift and engineering capability inadvertently opens the question of US willingness to assume a vanguard role in this regard. Although beyond the scope of this book, an extended discussion and analysis on this, particularly from the view point of US military leaders, is warranted. The absence of this discussion, however, does not detract from a worthy contribution to the subject.

Kenneth Houston, University of Ulster, PhD Candidate, Politics and International Studies, INCORE Associate

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