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Guide to Rebuilding Public Sector Services in Stability Operations: A Role for the Military

Authored by Mr. Derick W. Brinkerhoff, Mr. Ronald W. Johnson, Mr. Richard Hill. Edited by Professor Susan Merrill. | October 2009

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The Army's stability operations manual, Field Manual (FM) 3-07, identifies five sectors as components of an integrated approach to stability and reconstruction (S&R): security, justice and reconciliation, humanitarian assistance and social well-being, participatory governance, and economic recovery and stabilization.

FM 3-07 describes two categories of the range of activities in stability operations for achieving these end state conditions: reconstruction and stabilization.

Reconstruction is the process of rebuilding degraded, damaged, or destroyed political, socioeconomic, and physical infrastructure to create the foundation for long-term development. Stabilization is the process by which underlying tensions that might lead to resurgence in violence and a breakdown in law and order are managed and reduced, while efforts are made to support preconditions for successful long-term development.

This guide examines the role of restoration of public services within the broader context of stability operations. The extent to which public service reconstruction takes place depends on the mission, the level of resources, and the host country context.

This paper provides guidance helpful to U.S. peacekeeping personnel in planning and executing stability operations tasks related to restoration of public sector services and infrastructure. It is designed to supplement existing and emerging guidance, and is specifically relevant to addressing the needs of public sector rebuilding in a post-conflict situation by peacekeeping forces. The material presented here draws both from theory and analytic frameworks and from on-the-ground experience of practitioners.


Conflict and wars destroy basic infrastructure, disrupt the delivery of core services (e.g., health, education, electricity, water, and sanitation), and impede the day-to-day routines associated with making a living. The inability of fragile and post-conflict states to provide fundamental public goods and services has impacts on the immediate tasks facing stability operations. In permissive environments, humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) often take the lead in meeting citizens' basic needs in the absence of state capacity. In nonpermissive situations, military forces generally play a role in providing basic services directly and/or providing protection to NGOs, while also engaging in offensive and defensive kinetic operations. However, the danger in this combination of functions is that insurgent forces may then regard these military-provided services and the NGOs as legitimate targets for attack.

While reliance on external actors may be a necessity early in stability operations, ultimately the capacity of the public sector in the conflict-affected country must be rebuilt or created to take the lead in providing public goods and services. Effective service provision is associated with a functioning civil service, basic budgeting and management systems, control of corruption, adequate municipal infrastructure, availability of health care and schooling, provision of roads and transportation networks, and (eventually) attention to social safety nets. The following sections in this guide cover the “nuts and bolts” of these components.

The general point made here is that stability and reconstruction (S&R) actors need to look for ways to foster the capacity of the government earlier rather than later in stability operations. Stability actors and host country governments can cooperate on policy, resource allocation, and service planning, even when the majority of services are delivered by nonstate providers. S&R actors can constructively align their capacity-building support, whether at national or subnational levels, with public-sector agencies to:

  • Capitalize on existing sources of capacity (even if nascent or limited) as starting points to visibly demonstrate coordination,
  • Undertake joint planning and budgeting exercises with public officials to build their capacities in these areas, and
  • Structure service provision contracts with international NGOs and contractors to create incentives for local capacity building and partnership with government actors.

The hand-off from international NGOs and contractors to host country governments becomes harder the longer the two sets of actors proceed down parallel tracks. In most countries, effective basic services depend on more than government; the capacity of the private sector and civil society is also critical to rebuild. While a given failed state has very weak or no service delivery capacity at all, it is likely that even in dire situations some “pockets of productivity” exist that can serve as building blocks for interim governments and their international partners (see Box 1).1

Box 1. Restoring Services and Rebuilding Legitimacy.

Coalition forces in Al-Basrah were confronted with Iraqi citizens pressing them for the restoration of electricity, water, and sewerage. Post-conflict Iraq in 2003 had weak local administrative capacity, and extensive sabotage and looting following the war had incapacitated local service-delivery depart­ments and destroyed most of their assets. The military turned to civilian contractors with the USAID Local Governance Program (LGP) for assistance. LGP worked with local departments to assess needs, develop a list of necessary parts and equipment, and prepare an action plan for restoration of services. With rapid response grants, and the introduction of competitive tendering coupled with transparent oversight, LGP helped the Al-Basrah municipal service departments to make emergency repairs and restore basic operations. The engagement of local staff and reliance on local talent, coupled with the introduction of transparency and accountability, gave credibility to the municipal departments and strengthened the legitimacy of Al-Basrah officials. Community residents volunteered to protect the re­stored service delivery assets from sabotage. Neighboring provinces emulated the practices employed in Al-Basrah.

Beyond service provision, economic opportunity is a core public good, and getting the economy going following conflict is important for stability operations.3 Effectiveness here involves employment generation, sound macroeconomic and fiscal policymaking, efficient budgeting, promotion of equitably distributed wealth creating investment opportunities, and an adequate regulatory framework. Failing and failed states generally exhibit the opposite: policies that privilege powerful elites, few budget controls, a thriving black market, and rampant corruption and cronyism. Moreover, patronage arrangements often keep opportunity in the hands of elites and siphon off public assets for private gain while a combination of punitive use of existing regulations and exemptions benefit the favored few.

Service delivery and economic development are central elements to the “social contract” between the state and its citizens. They contribute directly to legitimacy in that citizens will cease to support governments that cannot or will not provide basic services, limit corrupt practices, and generate economic opportunity. Particularly when coupled with ethnic tensions, weak states' inability/unwillingness to do so can be an important contributing factor to ongoing fragility and the eruption of renewed conflict. This area of governance also connects to security. If youth are in school, job opportunities are available, families have hope that their well-being will improve, and citizens (including demobilized combatants) are less likely to engage in crime or be recruited into insurgency.


Rebuilding public sector services in stability operations takes place in a wide variety of settings ranging from emergency responses to catastrophic natural and/or manmade disruptions of service, and in societies with no functioning government to a government more or less accepted as the legitimate government. Stability operations as defined in Field Manual (FM) 3-07 are more likely in the extreme cases of severe disruption, either country-wide or an entire region within a country and weakly functioning government, at least in the affected region. Stability operations consist of two types—reconstruction and stabilization.

Reconstruction activities typically address the immediate issues. They involve the process of rebuilding degraded, damaged or destroyed infrastructure—both physical and political or socio-economic. Most measures initially taken in reconstruction are restorative, remedying immediate problems. Stabilization activities are aimed at underlying problems that are often linked to conflict, either the causes or the consequences of conflict. Stabilization operations aim to enhance the preconditions for longer-term development.

Both reconstruction and stabilization activities insofar as possible, once emergency issues have been addressed, should be carried out with a longer-term view of how the activities will affect future development of the system of governance and the economy. Public service restoration is carried out unavoidably in conjunction with the existing public authorities, except in the extreme case of complete collapse of the regime. Public service restoration, while focused on the technical tasks of getting public services delivered, has important implications for the legitimacy of public authorities. It is important as much as possible to credit public authority with successes in public services restoration. The task is not to win acclaim for stability operations personnel in the society, but to contribute to as rapid a restoration of public authority as is possible.

At the same time, as immediate service delivery issues are addressed, stability operations may move into more systemic improvement in the governance system, engaging with existing or new authority just assuming their responsibilities to develop participatory processes to gain the support of citizens. Similarly, introducing improved planning and budgeting processes, focusing on long-term capital budgeting and financing, and skills development of local authority personnel in operation and maintenance may be a focus of stabilization activities once immediate and emergency issues are resolved.

Finally, stability operations are a part of a longer-term spectrum in which in the ideal public order is restored, the conditions that may have given rise to conflict or may in the future are ameliorated, improved practices and skills are introduced to public authorities responsible for services, and the foundations are set for long-term, sustainable development of the society. Specific activities in public services restoration should take into account the impact they may have on the desired outcomes in this longer-term spectrum.


1. See David Leonard, Where are “Pockets” of Effective Agencies Likely in Weak Governance States and Why? A Propositional Inventory, Brighton, UK: University of Sussex, Institute of Development Studies and Centre for the Future State, Working Paper No. 306, 2008.

3. See A Guide to Economic Growth in Post Conflict Countries, Washington, DC: U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade, Economic Growth Office, draft, 2008.