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Divided partners: the challenges of NATO-NGO cooperation in peacebuilding operations.

In this article, I examine the challenges associated with the cooperation between NATO and nongovernmental organizations in peacebuilding operations. I argue that those challenges need to be understood as part of a process of contestation and competition over the redefinition of the "rules of the game" in the changing domain of peacebuilding. This process of contestation, I suggest, can significantly undermine NATO's ability to contribute to sustainable peacebuilding in war-torn countries. KEYWORDS: peacebuilding, NATO, reconstruction, humanitarianism, norms, contestation.

IN RECENT YEARS, AS PART OF A PROCESS OF REDEFINING ITS IDENTITY AND purpose, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has become deeply involved in complex operations aimed at stabilizing and rebuilding countries emerging from conflict. One of the key assumptions underpinning those operations is that their success depends crucially on systematic coordination between military and civilian actors--governmental and nongovernmental, domestic and international. The official discourse articulated by NATO (often echoing the UN discourse on peacebuilding) assumes that the alliance and a plethora of civilian organizations will mobilize their respective resources and cooperate closely in reconstructing war-torn countries. In practice, however, cooperation between NATO and civilian agencies engaged in reconstruction has been limited and, in some instances, virtually nonexistent. (1) As noted in Alexandra Gheciu's and Roland Paris's introduction to the special focus section, this tends to be portrayed as just one aspect of a larger challenge of coordination among the myriad of actors involved in reconstruction. By contrast, some scholars have highlighted the dangers of focusing too much on procedural efforts to improve coordination, to the detriment of substantive issues and challenges of peacebuilding. Roland Paris, for instance, has noted that the heavy emphasis on the question of coordination tends to conceal deeper disagreements among those actors over the desirable means and ends of reconstruction. (2)

Against the background of those debates, this article seeks to shed light on some of the deeper issues that can help explain the inadequate cooperation between NATO forces and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in peacebuilding operations. (3) The relationship between NATO and NGOs is one of the most interesting aspects of the changing sub-field of peacebuilding, not least because these are institutions with very different cultures and mandates that now find themselves in a situation in which they need to collaborate in unprecedented ways. Yet this relationship remains comparatively undertheorized in the--otherwise rich--international relations literature on peacebuilding.

I suggest that problems of cooperation between NATO and NGOs need to be understood as part of a process of contestation and competition over the redefinition of the "rules of the game" in the changing domain (or subfield) of peacebuilding. Rapid transformations in peacebuilding since the 1990s have blurred the boundaries between activities performed by military and civilian actors, and have destabilized existing norms governing the roles of various actors involved in postconflict reconstruction. In the context of these broad changes, a variety of actors (local and international, civilian and military, governmental and nongovernmental) have mobilized various forms of material and symbolic capital in an effort to cast themselves--and secure recognition--as expert, leading actors in peacebuilding operations. Simultaneously, they have tried to reshape the norms and rules of peacebuilding according to their particular worldviews. Although this article focuses specifically on relations between NATO and the NGO community, it is reasonable to argue that this is part of a larger process of change, which involves practices of contestation and competition among multiple players engaged in postconflict reconstruction.

For NATO, efforts to adapt to, and in turn help transform, the subfield of peacebuilding are part of a deeper process of reinvention, through which the alliance has tried to portray itself as a complex security institution that can do much more than perform only the defensive functions of the Cold War era. NATO's effort to redefine itself as an actor that can make effective contributions to peacebuilding has triggered significant opposition by a series of humanitarian agencies (particularly NGOs), many of which often regard the alliance's actions as an unacceptable intrusion into their conventional domain of activity. This intrusion represents, in the eyes of many NGOs, not only a challenge to their raison d'etre, but also a more fundamental attack on the category of humanitarian space--as the space in which impartial actors seek to enhance the welfare of individuals and communities without any attention to, much less effort to promote, particular political agendas.

In examining the relationship between NATO and the NGO community, I am aware of the danger of overlooking the differences among various NGOs present in war-torn territories. Those differences are often significant. Indeed--although a full analysis of differences and debates within the NGO community is well beyond the scope of this article--I note below that in some instances NGOs had diverging views of the role of NATO in conflict or post conflict situations. Nevertheless, there are significant common themes and concerns that increasingly unite large numbers of NGOs in their discourse visa-vis--and their interactions with--NATO. This was revealed, for instance, in the joint reports issued by a large collection of NGOs present in Afghanistan in preparation for the 2009 and 2010 NATO summits. (4) For our purposes, those shared concerns are particularly significant.

In the past decade, influential voices within the NGO community have argued that NATO's involvement in civilian activities is inherently problematic and even counterproductive. From their perspective, this is not due to some minor procedural problems; rather, it is its very identity (as a Western military organization) and the specific forms of capital it possesses that render NATO unsuited for civilian aspects of reconstruction. Consequently, many NGOs have sought to distance themselves from NATO's activities, and some have publicly called on the alliance to put an end to some of its peacebuilding activities. For their part, NATO officials have often criticized NGO practices, questioning their ability to provide effective assistance to civilians in war-torn territories. In my view, this ongoing process of contestation and competition risks to undermine the prospects for sustainable peacebuilding. Again, however, this is a problem that cannot be understood, much less addressed, unless one places it within the deeply political transformations that are occurring in the subfield (or domain) of peacebuilding.

Contemporary Changes in the Domain of Peacebuilding

I suggest that it is helpful to conceptualize the domain of peacebuilding as a subfield of security. I employ the concept of field in a Bourdieuan sense, as analogous to a game in that it is a socially constructed, historically specific domain of activity that is governed by a specific set of rules. (5) The social space of a field is in important ways shaped by the distribution of capital among its players. Capital consists of the resources that actors can mobilize in order to act successfully in a given field, and in particular to exercise symbolic power. Thus, according to Pierre Bourdieu, fields are loci of symbolic power: "the power to constitute the given by stating it, to act upon the world by acting upon the representation of the world." (6) Each field is characterized and shaped by particular forms of capital: a field, in short, is a structured space of positions, in which the positions and their interrelations are determined by the distribution of different kinds of resources or capital. It might be tempting to think that the notion of capital refers exclusively to economic resources. But in Bourdieu's view, the concept needs to be understood in a broader sense, involving different forms of capital endowed with various degrees of value. Thus, "there are many different forms of capital: not only 'economic capital' in the strict sense [i.e., material wealth in the form of money, stocks and shares] but also 'cultural capital' [i.e., knowledge, skill, and other cultural acquisitions, as exemplified by educational or technical qualifications], 'symbolic capital' [i.e., accumulated prestige or honour], and so on." (7)

The field of international security is the domain where authoritative definitions of the culture of security--that is, a common system of intersubjective, socially constructed meanings about "what frightens" in international politics, or the "face of the enemy"--are shared by a given community of agents. (8) In the field of security, only a limited number of actors have the necessary authority to participate in the social construction of threats and enemies. As explained by Barry Buzan, Ole Waever, and Jaap de Wilde, international security "is thus very much a structured field in which some actors are placed in positions of power by virtue of being generally accepted voices of security, by having the power to define security." (9) In the post-Cold War environment. Western states (represented by their security elites, particularly top government officials and diplomats) and security-related international organizations that define their identities around Western norms (particularly NATO and the European Union [EU]) have played a particularly prominent role in the field of international security. (10) As such, they have been able to speak authoritatively about international threats, and they have done so in a way that departed from conventional wisdom about inimical states and geostrategic rivalries.

As a subfield, peacebuilding is affected by broader changes in the field of security (e.g., the growing power of nonstate actors, coupled with a partial de-valorization of certain types of material capital--particularly military technology--associated with the Cold War). (11) At the same time, the subfield of peacebuilding has its specific norms and rules (e.g., norms concerning legitimate means of postconflict reconstruction), and valorizes specific forms of capital (e.g., particular bodies of knowledge and forms of expertise are recognized as authoritative in the reconstruction of war-torn territories).

As noted in the introduction to this special section, the domain of peacebuilding has undergone significant transformations in recent years. In particular, the proliferation--and broadening of the mandates--of postconflict reconstruction missions has resulted in the arrival in this domain of new actors, and has challenged existing understandings regarding the appropriate roles of some of those actors (e.g., roles associated with conventional peacekeeping). In the new security environment, NATO has become deeply involved in peacebuilding activities as part of a broader effort to redefine its identity and secure continued recognition as a relevant security institution in the post-Cold War era.

The problem for NATO is that this process of identity redefinition has generated significant contestation among many other international actors. I focus in this article on interaction with--and contestation coming from--NGOs, with whom the alliance is expected and, indeed, claims to be able to cooperate in peace support operations. This, however, can be seen as only one aspect of a far more complex and complicated process of normative contestation in the domain of peacebuilding. (12) It is only by taking into account these complex processes of contestation and competition over the definition of the norms and rules of peacebuilding that we can understand that disagreements--which may first appear as the reflection of inadequate coordination between NATO and NGOs--are, in fact, the expression of far more profound and deeply political processes.

The Kosovo Case

NATO's intervention in Kosovo in 1999, and the resulting effort to assist the fleeing communities and then to help reconstruct the province, has often been described as a key moment in the redefinition of civil-military relations in the context of peacebuilding. The political leaders who launched NATO's military campaign heralded it as the first humanitarian war, prompted by the international community's revulsion at the grave human rights violations taking place. In the aftermath of NATO's intervention, the Security Council passed Resolution 1244 authorizing the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to begin the long process of building peace, democracy, stability, and self-government in the shattered province. That administration consisted of a web of international institutions, including the EU, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (13)

In carrying out its functions, UNMIK was expected to work in close cooperation with the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR). The legal relationship between KFOR and UNMIK was never clearly defined, leaving the former significant room to maneuver, subject only to the broadly defined role of coordination attributed to the head of UNMIK. In other words, the peacebuilding machinery established under UN auspices took the form of a network of institutions with no clear, hierarchical command structure for the system as a whole.

Given the complexity of the multipillar peacebuilding machinery, and the absence of clear command structures, questions of coordination and coherence between civil and military responses to peacebuilding challenges were put forcefully on the agenda. According to NATO officials, the alliance's contribution to the Kosovo mission reflected its successful transformation into a complex security institution, in which its cultural and symbolic capital (including knowledge and expertise in the area of protecting human rights and promoting democratic norms and institutions of governance) was as important as its military capital. (14)

The idea at the heart of NATO's discourse was that, by virtue of its unique material (particularly military) capabilities, combined with knowledge and skills acquired in previous peace support operations as well as the vast knowledge possessed by its members in the area of establishing democratic institutions and protecting human rights, NATO was in a uniquely privileged position to assume a key role in peacebuilding operations. Thus,
 the Kosovo conflict demonstrated that our military capabilities are
 still useful, and sometimes absolutely vital in responding to
 humanitarian crises. No other international institution can match
 NATO in this area. But NATO can do so much more than just use its
 military might. When you see KFOR at work in rebuilding the
 province's devastated infrastructure and protecting its traumatized
 population, you understand that we are really making difference in
 this situation. So, you see, NATO is very much alive, and it is, as
 we speak, doing a lot to protect Kosovars and prevent a return to war
 there. (15)

In short, NATO officials and leaders of key allied states repeatedly invoked the alliance's material as well as symbolic capital in an effort to justify--in the eyes of their own publics and the international community as well as the eyes of Kosovars--NATO's growing role in peacebuilding, including in areas traditionally seen as falling within the purview of humanitarian organizations. (16)

NATO's involvement in humanitarian relief and reconstruction activities, portrayed by allied officials as such an important part in the alliance's new role, was greeted by many NGOs with suspicion and, in some cases, even open hostility. In the eyes of many of those organizations, the alliance's involvement in direct assistance to civilians in reconstruction activities undermined the NGOs' position and made it virtually impossible to establish an impartial humanitarian space, which is seen as vital to the effective provision of humanitarian assistance. (17) The NGO community repeatedly expressed serious concern about "an extreme politicization and militarization of aid." involving the delivery of aid to the local population for particular political objectives and by the same actors who had been directly involved in war. (18)

The humanitarian community--including the nongovernmental branch of that community--defines its identity around three key principles: impartiality, independence, and neutrality. (19) Its raison d'etre is the provision of aid to the civilian population in need, in abstraction from any kind of military or political objectives. The problem, from the NGOs' perspective, is that NATO's involvement in direct aid to the civilian population, often without consultation with relevant NGOs, can make it impossible to sustain the locals' trust in the idea of impartial action by international institutions. Some NGO members have even gone so far as to argue that it has become impossible for NGOs to protect an impartial humanitarian space, and to persuade the locals that there are such things as independent, politically neutral NGOs. One NGO worker reports that Serb villagers asked, "Why should we trust you if you were just bombing us and working with NATO?" For their part, the worker continued, "Albanians think that if we cleared the territory for them, why should we want any Serbs here?" (20)

To be sure, it would be incorrect to portray the NGOs' reaction to KFOR's engagement in Kosovo as uniform. Some NGOs, particularly US-based ones, were quite supportive of NATO's military action and, after the war, continued to advocate a significant role for NATO-led KFOR. In April 1999, several US NGO executives met with President William J. Clinton to express their concerns about the plight of Kosovars and to reiterate their call for intervention. (21) Those NGO officials welcomed NATO's focus on humanitarian action and supported the assistance provided by NATO in Kosovo. (22) Yet for the most part, NATO's growing role in peacebuilding activities that involved direct assistance to civilians was seen as a threat to the category of humanitarian space, and a danger to the NGO community traditionally involved in humanitarian assistance and development activities. Some NGOs, most notably Medecins Sans Frontieres, went so far in their effort to differentiate themselves from NATO as to refuse to accept funding and other forms of support from NATO countries. (23)

The NGOs' suspicion of--and opposition to--KFOR direct involvement in assistance to the civilian population also translated into contestation and competition over the production of truth about the nature of problems faced by peacebuilders. For instance, significant disagreements occurred in the course of efforts to obtain data about the human rights situation in Kosovo. From the perspective of NATO officials, the fact that the alliance had been on the ground right from the start, and had enough personnel to be able to monitor the situation, meant that NATO was in a uniquely privileged position to provide accurate reports regarding instances of human rights violations following the war. (24) That argument, however, was challenged by several NGOs that claimed that NATO's political stakes in the conflict meant that it could not be trusted to provide impartial information regarding the status of human rights. (25)

It is only fair to note that a series of steps were taken to improve civil-military coordination and cooperation in Kosovo. For example, based on lessons learned from previous international peacebuilding missions, the frequent use of liaison officers, a practice initiated in Bosnia but more thoroughly institutionalized in Kosovo, apparently contributed to efforts to bridge the divide between KFOR and humanitarian organizations. (26) Liaison officers sought to promote better understanding between NGOs and KFOR. Reportedly, they did make some progress in facilitating communication between NATO officers and various humanitarian agencies. Nevertheless, they were not always effective in translating that success into concrete instances of coordination. Moreover, NATO was already taking steps to include NGO personnel in courses offered at the NATO Defense College, and in various other seminars and meetings. (27) This seems to have made a difference, at least in some instances, in breaking down some of the prejudices and mutual mistrust between individual NATO and KFOR officers and NGO staff members. Progress, however, seems to have occurred primarily at the level of personal interactions, and has not necessarily resulted in consistently improved cooperation at the institutional level. As one NATO officer put it, relations between NATO and NGOs were informal and even based on the personality of individuals involved in interactions. (28)

Because NATO sought to secure recognition as a key player in the domain of peacebuilding, it also attempted to contribute to the redefinition of the rules of the game in accordance to its worldview, and in ways that would privilege particular forms of capital. In doing so, it came into conflict with the NGO community, which was anchored in a very different culture and trying to protect the subfield of peacebuilding from what it perceived as the dangers of politicization and militarization. The military culture of NATO-led KFOR places high value on clear lines of authority, top-down organizational structures, discipline, and the achievement of clearly defined objectives. In a study based on interviews with more than 200 military officers and humanitarian aid officials, Larry Minear and his colleagues note that military officers often have little patience for actors who do not embrace that culture. (29) By contrast, NGOs are generally more participatory and less hierarchical in their decisionmaking processes and in their operations. They attach more importance to broad long-term development and tend to pay less attention to structured lessons learning processes. While military organizations are clearly taking sides and act in support of a particular political agenda, humanitarian institutions, as noted above, define their identity and their missions around principles of neutrality and impartiality.

It was on the basis of those different cultural perspectives that NATO-led KFOR on the one hand and NGOs on the other hand sought to help reshape the norms and rules of peacebuilding. In this manner they attempted to valorize particular forms of capital, and to present themselves as actors with the right identity and resources to play a leading role in peacebuilding. Thus, while both KFOR and the NGOs recognized that they needed to cooperate with each other, they disagreed--sometime passionately--over the boundaries of their respective roles, and often over the question of what peacebuilding meant. NATO sought to mobilize and invoke its own particular form of cultural capital (including a culture of efficiency, with norms aimed at ensuring discipline, precise tasks, and a clear chain of command) in an effort to persuade not only Western constituencies, but also Kosovars and the NGO community that it was in a particularly strong position to protect civilians in the war-torn province and to play a leading role in identifying and addressing the needs of peacebuilding.

NATO officers often complained--to the international community as well as to NGOs themselves--that their ability to effectively perform the tasks at hand was undermined by the inefficient, unfocused approach often embraced by humanitarian actors. (30) From their perspective, peacebuilding operations would be more effective if NATO personnel were allowed to make more use of their expertise and culture. For their part, NGOs often regarded the military culture of KFOR as excessively rigid and inappropriate in the context of peace building. The following reported exchange at a briefing for a senior KFOR officer succinctly illustrates the tensions between NGOs and KFOR in the context of identifying peacebuilding priorities and identifying solutions for addressing those priorities. "Gentlemen," complained a senior NGO official, "I'm not in your chain of command." "Then you are out of control," shot back one of the officers. "No, I'm a humanitarian professional," countered the NGO official. Later, a KFOR official lamented that "nobody can tell an NGO what to do, whereas in a military operation the highest needs would have the highest priority and would be addressed first." (31)

NATO's argument that its cultural capital, when combined with its material resources, placed it in a strong position in the subfield of peacebuilding was systematically disputed by the NGO community. From the NGOs' perspective, the military culture was inappropriate, and NATO's lack of experience and expertise in this area meant that its superior material resources were often wasted or inadequately used. Furthermore, its very identity--as a Western security institution--rendered NATO weak in the domain of peacebuilding because it meant that its actions were a priori seen as illegitimate by a particular set of local actors (in this case, the Serb community). In essence, according to the NGO discourse, the problem with NATO's involvement in relief and reconstruction activities is that, by virtue of its identity, the alliance uses the wrong kind of capital and projects into the domain of peacebuilding inappropriate norms of interaction between local and international actors, particularly by weakening norms of democratic consultation with the relevant communities in the name of military efficiency. Thus, it undermines the international community's efforts to promote durable peace in war-torn territories.

By contrast, NGO officials often argued that it was their unique cultural and symbolic capital--the knowledge and expertise they had acquired over time, together with their commitment to principles of impartiality, neutrality, and independence--that was particularly valuable in peacebuilding operations. While recognizing that their material capital was not as strong as that of NATO-led KFOR, NGOs nevertheless insisted that they were in a position to achieve more with fewer material resources, by employing those resources in a much more efficient manner. As Olga Oliker notes, many NGOs viewed military efforts in the humanitarian sphere as inordinately expensive and believed that the resources would have been better spent on their own, more experienced personnel and cheaper programs. Some NGO workers even suspected that KFOR's motivation was merely to "show the flag," driven by domestic political imperatives to justify for citizens back home why KFOR was there. (32) In other words, in their discourse, NGO representatives tended to set up a normative dichotomy casting KFOR's peacebuilding as a "performance" approach ("showing the flag") in stark opposition to the activities of the humanitarian community, cast as genuine peacebuilding efforts.

Several NGOs further argued that KFOR's lack of expertise in the area of assistance to civilians, and its pursuit of a particular (Western) political agenda meant that it often focused on the wrong priorities. In particular, according to them, NATO was placing a special emphasis on high-visibility projects, rather than projects that would have made a greater difference for local communities. (33) Humanitarian groups complained that, if one took into account the massive concentration of NATO troops and resources in Kosovo, KFOR had actually achieved little in the area of humanitarian assistance and reconstruction. (34) In a similar vein, several NGO officials expressed a concern that KFOR had an inadequate understanding of what peacebuilding was all about. With its rigid culture, obvious partiality, lack of expertise in postconflict reconstruction, and insufficient attention to long-term development, NATO was not--contrary to its claims--in a strong position to contribute to sustainable peacebuilding. (35) In fact, from this perspective, the norms and rules that NATO sought to inject into peacebuilding were simply inappropriate. By contrast, NGOs were portrayed as being the actors with the right identities and required cultural and symbolic capital to carry out sustainable peacebuilding. According to this discourse, NGOs have the knowledge, ability, and will to focus on long-term development, improving lives both immediately and in the future, and diminishing poverty--all that while refraining from pursuing particular political agendas. (36) In other words, the disagreement between these actors stems from profound tensions in their views of what constitutes legitimate international involvement in peacebuilding and, on this basis, who are the actors who should and could (by virtue of their symbolic and material capital) play leading roles in peacebuilding missions.

The Case of Afghanistan

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is portrayed in NATO's official discourse as a mission where the importance of systematic civil-military cooperation has been understood, and where such cooperation is a concrete, everyday reality--albeit an imperfect one. The debate on civil-military relations in Afghanistan has tended to focus on the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). These consist of teams of civilian and military personnel whose explicit mandate is to work together to help extend the authority of the Afghan government throughout the country by providing security and supporting the reconstruction and development activities of Afghan and international actors in the provinces.

In documents and statements issued by NATO, the creation of PRTs and their involvement in a multitude of tasks in Afghanistan represents clear evidence that the alliance has learned to respond to the new realities in the domain of peacebuilding and has developed the skills, expertise, institutional structures, and resources needed to carry out complex civil-military practices. In the words of a senior ISAF official, "In Afghanistan, particularly through PRTs, NATO is carrying out far more functions than we ever thought possible. This is so different from the limited military-civil cooperation that we were seeing in places like Bosnia, soon after the end of the Cold War." (37)

According to NATO's discourse, the PRTs' achievements are numerous and highly significant. Thus, for instance, NATO claims that "in addition to providing area security, PRTs also use their diplomatic and economic capabilities in supporting security sector reform, encouraging good governance and enabling reconstruction and development." (38) According to an influential NATO report on Afghanistan, PRTs "facilitate effective linkages between the development community and Afghan authorities." (39) And they "play a pivotal role" in supporting the implementation of the Afghan national development strategy on a countrywide scale. (40)

According to allied officials, PRTs are an illustration of the fact that the allies have created the tools that enable NATO to play a key role in sustainable peacebuilding--not only by eliminating existing conflicts, but also by creating conditions for a durable peace. The argument is that NATO has achieved that capacity by learning to combine in ever more effective ways its significant material capital (particularly its military strength) and its cultural and symbolic material (including the knowledge, expertise, and prestige gained in previous stabilization missions). In the words of a senior NATO officer,
 the missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan serve as a powerful reminder
 that military power is necessary, even in the context of
 peacebuilding missions. No other international organization can be as
 effective in that area as NATO. But our alliance is not just about
 military capabilities. Today, we are demonstrating in Afghanistan--as
 we already demonstrated in the Balkans--that we can also provide
 substantial assistance to civilians who are trying to rebuild those
 war-torn countries. (41)

Yet NATO's claims regarding its ability to contribute to sustainable peacebuilding have been repeatedly disputed by academics and practitioners. Similar to the critiques concerning the Kosovo case, criticisms of NATO's role in Afghanistan often involve direct contestation of the alliance's argument that it does have the material resources as well as the expertise and knowledge required in peacebuilding missions. Critics have argued that NATO's lack of a culture of consultation has come to shape the PRTs' approaches to peacebuilding, leading to a situation in which PRTs often fail to consult or coordinate their efforts with government structures or strategies. For them, the experience of poorly planned interventions, such as clinics that were not envisaged in the Ministry of Public Health plans and therefore not supplied with personnel, underline the risks of PRT projects losing more hearts and minds than they win. Some local government informants felt that the PRTs' control of funding highlighted their own relative lack of power, influence, and effectiveness as leaders. (42) The situation became so serious that in 2003 the World Bank recommended that PRTs withdraw from relatively secure provinces because of the undermining effect that they had on local government structures. And even in 2009 several NATO officials privately expressed concern that there was little communication--much less cooperation--among the twenty-six PRTs operating in the country or between those PRTs and the Afghan authorities. (43)

Even more interesting, for the purposes of this article, is the systematic contestation and opposition mounted by the NGO community in response to some of ISAF's practices, including in the area of civil-military relations. In several instances and various forums, a series of NGOs have criticized PRTs by suggesting that, far from contributing to sustainable peacebuilding, some of the PRT activities have had significant adverse implications for development and reconstruction activities. Those concerns were at the heart of a briefing paper produced by ten NGOs operating in Afghanistan and delivered at the NATO summit in April 2009. The signatories of that briefing paper indicated that they not only were opposed to particular actions taken by PRTs, but to their entire philosophy and modus operandi in peacebuilding. Thus,
 PRT engagement in development activities is neither effective nor
 sustainable for the following reasons: (1) Being military-led, PRTs
 are an inherently unsuitable means to promote development. (2) Given
 the particular cultural and social mores of Afghanistan, and mistrust
 of foreign forces, Western military-led institutions are unable to
 achieve a sufficient level of local engagement and ownership
 necessary for effective long-term development. (3) PRTs divert funds
 away from Afghan civilian development processes and institutions,
 whose weaknesses ultimately prolong the military presence. (44)

In a similar vein, in their joint briefing paper for the November 2010 NATO summit, 29 leading NGOs criticized the ISAF's failure to adequately protect the civilian population and carry out sustainable peacebuilding, and called on the lead nations of PRTs to implement a plan to "gradually phase out PRT-provided assistance and other militarized forms of aid." (45)

In essence, some of the most prominent NGOs operating in Afghanistan have contested NATO-led ISAF's claims that the PRTs demonstrate the alliance's ability to draw on unique military and cultural and symbolic capital, and in so doing to play an effective role in promoting sustainable peace. As noted above, when NATO tried to invoke its unique material capital to argue that no other agency could perform the kinds of functions that its PRTs can perform, NGOs countered that the way in which ISAF uses its material capital is counterproductive because it diverts funds away from Afghan institutions. Worse, NATO's military capital--and the way in which military might has been employed in Afghanistan--is inconsistent with humanitarian principles.

In a similar vein, in response to NATO-led ISAF's claims to possess unique cultural and symbolic capital, NGOs replied that, tar from being a prestigious institution, in the eyes of the local population NATO and ISAF (and their creations, the PRTs) are inherently incapable of securing the kind of local trust needed in order to foster long-term development. Indeed, NGOs have been extremely critical of what they perceive as PRT efforts to exploit the cultural and symbolic capital of the humanitarian community. Thus, in their April 2009 report, the NGOs sharply criticize particular NATO contingents for violations of the Civil-Military Guidelines adopted in 2008 under UN auspices. Particularly problematic, they argue, was the use by military personnel of certain contingents (apparently including the United States, France, and Spain) of unmarked, white vehicles conventionally used by humanitarian organizations. (46) The NGO's charge is that this practice undermines their ability to secure the trust of the local population, making it difficult for humanitarian organizations to be recognized as independent, impartial actors and, on this basis, to deliver genuine and effective relief and reconstruction aid.

The discourse articulated in the NGOs' report portrays the humanitarian community as the community that can contribute to long-lasting peace because of its indisputable expertise in the areas of humanitarian assistance and reconstruction, its knowledge of and respect for the local culture, its focus on long-term development, and its commitment to principles of impartiality and political neutrality. From this perspective, NATO's material and symbolic capital is irrelevant and potentially counterproductive; by contrast, it is the NGO community that has the skills, knowledge, and norms needed for effective reconstruction. As a corollary to that, NGO reports argue that, instead of channeling funding through NATO-led PRTs, the international community would obtain far more sustainable peacebuilding results by working directly through NGOs. According to the 2009 briefing paper,
 there is a need for a truly comprehensive strategy for the long-term
 reconstruction and stabilisation of Afghanistan. However, NATO and
 other international military actors should acknowledge the limits to
 the scope of activities which are suitable and legitimate for their
 engagement. The military should focus on providing security, while
 civilian actors must determine and implement policies that address
 the wide range of reconstruction, development and humanitarian
 challenges currently facing the country. (47)

What we see here, then, is far more than a criticism of particular actions carried out by ISAF; the critique targets the alliance's effort to play an unprecedented role in peacebuilding and thereby change the norms of this domain.

Against the background of that critique, it is not surprising that some prominent NGOs have advocated the phasing out of PRTs--at least out of the development sector. For instance, in one of its recent reports, World Vision argues that a failure to remove PRTs from the development sector would amount to the perpetuation of a problematic approach to peacebuilding--an approach that subordinates humanitarian needs to military objectives, relies on excessive use of force, and marginalizes local communities and national power structures. (48) Such an approach, World Vision posits, might lead to the accomplishment of particular short-term tasks suitable for military organizations, but will not generate the kinds of arrangements and institutions that can sustain a durable peace. Thus, "in the same way that non-governmental organizations are not expected to take the lead in the security sector, the military should not have a role in development, as this is not their core competency." (49)

From NATO's point of view, the contemporary blurring of boundaries between civilian and military actions in peacebuilding operations can be seen as an opportunity to bring into the sphere of humanitarian activity some of the advantages of the military culture of efficiency. But from the perspective of many NGOs, the existing blurring of boundaries is a deeply problematic development that should be contained and, as much as possible, reversed. What is needed, according to this logic, is a clear separation between the military and humanitarian norms and activities, and an affirmation of the leading role of humanitarian organizations in the definition of the rules of the game in activities that involve assistance to civilians in war-torn countries.

As heads of state were gathering in London in January 2010 for a major conference on Afghanistan, leading NGOs again warned that, by militarizing aid, ISAF made it extremely difficult to promote good governance in the war-torn country. NGOs insisted that the military lacked the skills and expertise needed to conduct development, and that ISAF's preferred "quick impact" projects could not provide sustainable development. In their view, "military-led development activities are driven by donors' political interests and short-term security objectives, and are often ineffective, wasteful and potentially harmful to Afghans." (50)

In essence, a close reading of the exchanges between NATO-led ISAF and the NGO community reveals that, as in the case of Kosovo, their cooperation problem cannot be explained simply by reference to imperfect information or inadequate coordination procedures. Rather, what is involved is a systematic contestation and competition between actors anchored in different cultures, who seek to invoke various forms of (material and symbolic) capital in order to reshape the norms and rules of peacebuilding, and to protect their own positions in postconflict reconstruction operations.


In light of persisting tensions between NATO-led military forces and the plethora of NGOs involved in peacebuilding, several proposals have been put forward in an effort to transcend these tensions and improve civil-military cooperation. For instance, military staff from NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and representatives of large NGOs have agreed on extended visits to each other's headquarters to familiarize themselves with the working methods of their counterparts. (51) Similarly, NATO has revised its peacekeeping training programs provided by the NATO School in Germany to improve civilian and military knowledge of each other's policies and practices. The alliance has also recognized the utility of involving civilian actors in the planning process.

Such initiatives are important as they may improve the chances for collaboration, and may dispel some of the misperceptions and mistrust that have characterized relations between NATO-led forces and humanitarian agencies involved in reconstruction. At the same time, however, as noted above, the problems of civil-military coordination and cooperation in the context of peacebuilding cannot be reduced to imperfect communication or lack of understanding. To focus exclusively on these problems means to leave out the political dynamic of this story: the fact that actors with different cultures, constituencies, objectives, and resources are engaged in efforts to reshape the norms and rules in the fluid domain of peacebuilding. If these civil-military tensions are to be resolved, this political dynamic needs to be recognized and addressed.

The outline of a potential solution is beyond the scope of this article, but I would like to advance some preliminary thoughts on a possible way forward. To begin with, it is clear in light of the complex interaction between humanitarian actors and NATO-led troops in recent peacebuilding operations that ad hoc cooperation among these actors is no longer enough, and that some mechanism of systematic consultation and joint planning is needed. This could easily be read as yet another call for the creation of a strong centralized body to define the rules of the game of civil-military cooperation. For instance, Thomas Weiss argues that "rather than the extant feudal arrangements, a single body is necessary to set priorities, to raise and distribute resources, and to co-ordinate the emergency inputs." (52) Yet I do not subscribe to that particular school of thought. Above all, the creation of such a centralized mechanism would not be a mere technical exercise. On the contrary, it would be a deeply controversial and highly political process. Even leaving aside the question of whether or not such a move would be desirable--and some reservations would have to be expressed here (53)--it is not likely that an effective centralized peacebuilding authority can emerge in the near future. (54)

Under these circumstances, the international community probably should focus on efforts to create a better arrangement for the systematic involvement of civilian agencies (including some key NGOs) in advance NATO planning in the area of peacebuilding. For instance, civilian organizations should be able to have greater input into decisions that relate to the priorities accorded to military humanitarian support tasks. The aim should be not simply to communicate each other's actions in advance, but also to shed light on the deeper disagreements over the basic norms and rules that guide peacebuilding. Such an arrangement for advance planning should bring together senior NGO and NATO officials. Ideally, those officials would reach agreement (or at least compromise) on a broad set of rules of the game and division of labor, which would inform their broad courses of action not just in a particular instance, but throughout the entire mission. Some flexibility would also need to be built into that arrangement to allow for potential changes in the rules of the game should the evolving situation on the ground require that kind of adaptation. Those rules would have to be agreed on and subsequently implemented by all the relevant parties, which certainly would not be easy. Indeed, it is reasonable to suspect that some serious disagreements would occur both at the level of rule formulation and at the level of implementation.

This leads me to think that it would be desirable to have a mechanism with authority to adjudicate between competing claims in this area; that mechanism could be established either within or outside of the UN framework. There is, of course, no guarantee that the international community can summon the will to set up such a mechanism, but the alternative seems to be even more unpalatable. It is hard to see how a sustained effort to build peace could be maintained--and how that effort could actually lead to a durable peace--as long as actors that need to coordinate and cooperate with each other constantly contest each other's claims and compete over the redefinition of norms and rides in this area. Should this situation continue, we are more likely to see yet more incoherent responses to problems, wasted resources, and a growing disenchantment--both in the territories undergoing postconflict reconstruction and in the international community--with international peacebuilding operations.


Alexandra Gheciu is associate professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and associate director of the Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa. Her recent publications include NATO in the New Europe (2005) and Securing Civilization? (2008).

An earlier version of this article was presented at the workshop on "NATO and the Challenge of Sustainable Peacebuilding," jointly sponsored by the Centre for International Policy Studies (University of Ottawa) and the Royal United Services Institute (UK), held in London on 2 July 2009. I would like to thank the participants in that workshop for their very helpful comments.

(1.) See, for example, Damian Lilly, The Peacebuilding Dimension of Civil-Military Relations in Complex Emergencies, Briefing Paper, International Alert, August 2002,$file/ia-cimic-sep02.pdf?openelement; Olga Oliker et al., Aid During Conflict Interaction Between Military and Civilian Assistance Providers in Afghanistan, September 2001-June 2002 (Washington, DC: RAND, 2004).

(2.) Roland Paris, "Understanding the 'Coordination Problem' in Postwar State-building," in Roland Paris and Timothy Sisk, eds., The Dilemmas of Statebuilding (London: Routledge, 2009), p. 58.

(3.) Due to space constraints, I have confined my analysis to the relationship between NATO and NGOs, and am unable to include an examination of the ways in which the local population in war-torn countries has interacted both with NATO and with the NGO community.

(4.) See Action Aid, Afghanaid, CARE, Christian Aid, Cordaid, Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) International Rescue Committee, Marie Stopes international, Oxfam International, Save the Children UK, and Caught in the Conflict: Civilians and International Security Strategy in Afghanistan, briefing paper prepared for NATO summit, April 2009, See also the joint Briefing Paper by 29 aid organizations working in Afghanistan for the NATO Heads of Government Summit, Lisbon, 19 November 2010. The paper is entitled Nowhere to Run: The Failure to Protect Civilians in Afghanistan,

(5.) Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, trans. R. Nice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990). For a helpful analysis of Bourdieu's work, see also Michael Williams, Culture and Security (London: Routledge, 2007); and Frederic Merand and Vincent Pouliot, "The World of Pierre Bourdieu: Elements for a Social Theory of International Relations," Canadian Journal of Political Science 41, no. 3 (2008): 603-625.

(6.) Pierre Bourdieu and Loic J. D. Wacquant, "The Purpose of Reflexive Sociology (The Chicago Workshop)." in Pierre Bourdieu and Loic J. D. Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p. 116.

(7.) John Thompson, "Introduction," in Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), p. 14; also quoted by Williams, Culture and Security, p. 32.

(8.) See Vincent Pouliot, "La Russie et la communaute atlantique: Vers une culture commune de securite?" Etudes Internationales 34, no. 1 (2003): 25-51.

(9.) Barry Buzan, Ole Waever, and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1998), p. 31.

(10.) See Alexandra Gheciu, Securing Civilization? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

(11.) See, in particular, Williams, Culture and Security.

(12.) In addressing the contestation between NATO and NGOs, I bracket, due to space constraints, the question of how NATO comes to adopt specific peacebuilding policies and how those policies may reflect the uneven influence of particular member states.

(13.) UN Security Council Res. S/RES/1244 (10 June 1999), par. 10, reprinted in Ivo Daalder and Michael O'Hanlon, Winning Ugly: NATO's War to Save Kosovo (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2000), Appendix C.

(14.) See Alexandra Gheciu, NATO in the New Europe (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2005).

(15.) Senior NATO official, interviewed by the author, Brussels, 27 May 2000.

(16.) See, for example, Larry Minear, Ted van Baarda, and Marc Sommers, NATO and Humanitarian Action in the Kosovo Crisis, Occasional Paper No. 36, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, Providence, 2000.

(17.) International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) official, personal communication with the author, Oxford, September 2003.

(18.) Senior staff members, Christian Aid, personal communication with the author, Oxford, 23 November 2004.

(19.) ICRC official, personal communication with the author, Oxford, 20 May 2004; senior staff members, Christian Aid, personal communication, London, 22 May 2004.

(20.) Larry Minear et al., NATO and Humanitarian Action, p. 52.

(21.) Ibid.

(22.) Ibid.

(23.) Senior NATO official, interviewed by the author, London, 12 October 2002. This is also confirmed by Minear et al., NATO and Humanitarian Action.

(24.) More than twenty NATO officials involved in peacebuilding, interviewed by the author, Brussels, Mons, London, and Ottawa, 15 September 1999-27 November 2002.

(25.) ICRC official personal communication, Oxford, 20 May 2004. In fact, many NGOs reportedly refused to take seriously reports issued by the OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM), simply because of their KVM origin. See Minear et al, NATO and Humanitarian Action, p. 51.

(26.) More than a dozen senior NATO officials based at NATO headquarters as well as more than a dozen officers who were directly involved in NATO's peacebuilding operations, interviewed by the author, Brussels, Mons, Ottawa, and London, 15 September 1999-27 November 2002. See also Minear et al., NATO and Humanitarian Action, p. 70.

(27.) Minear et al., NATO and Humanitarian Action, p. 70.

(28.) John W. Rollins, "Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) in Crisis Response Operations: The Implications for NATO," International Peacekeeping 8, no. 1 (2001): 122-129.

(29.) Minear et al., NATO and Humanitarian Action, p. 57. This was confirmed in the author's interviews with NATO representatives (see note 24 here); and more than a dozen NGO representatives, interviewed by the author, London, Brussels, Ottawa, Mons, and Oxford, 15 September 1999-27 November 2002.

(30.) NATO officers involved in peacebuilding operations interviews, 1999-2002.

(31.) Quoted in Minear et al., NATO and Humanitarian Action, p. 59.

(32.) Olga Oliker, Richard Kauzlarich, James Dobbins, Kurt Basseuner, Donald Sampler, John G. McGinn, Michael J.Dziedzic, Adam Grissom, Bruce Pirnie, Nora Bensahel, and Istar Guven, Aid During Conflict Interaction Between Military and Civilian Assistance Providers in Afghanistan, September 2001-June 2002, RAND Corporation, 2004, p. 17,

(33.) Personal communication with ICRC official, 20 May 2004; senior staff member, Christian Aid, personal communication, London, 22 May 2004.

(34.) See Minear et al., NATO and Humanitarian Action, p. 58; and Volker Franke, "The Peacebuilding Dilemma: Civil-Military Cooperation in Stability Operations," International Journal of Peace Studies 11, no. 2 (2006): 5-25.

(35.) Personal communication with Save the Children, Oxfam, and Doctors Without Borders officials, London, 12-15 April 2004.

(36.) ICRC official personal communication, 20 May 2004 two former volunteers with NGOs in Kosovo, interviewed by the author, Oxford, 20 May 2004.

(37.) NATO official, interviewed by the author, Brussels, 18 April 2008.

(38.) NATO, "NATO's Role in Afghanistan," (accessed 15 October 2010).

(39.) NATO Public Diplomacy Division, Afghanistan Report 2009, p. 18,

(40.) Ibid., p. 34.

(41.) Senior NATO officer, interviewed by the author, Brussels, 17 April 2008.

(42.) Ibid.

(43.) More than a dozen NATO civilian officials and military officers, interviewed by the author, Brussels, London, and Ottawa, 7 January-30 June 2009.

(44.) Action Aid, Afghanaid, CARE, Christian Aid, Cordaid, Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) International Rescue Committee, Marie Stopes International, Oxfam International, Save the Children UK, and Caught in the Conflict: Civilians and International Security Strategy in Afghanistan, briefing paper prepared for NATO summit, April 2009,

(45.) Nowhere to Turn, p. 8.

(46.) Ibid.

(47.) Ibid, p. 7.

(48.) See Dave Pugliese, "World Vision Aid Agency: Get Rid of PRTs in Afghanistan," Ottawa Citizen, 30 March 2009,

(49.) Ibid.

(50.) Oxfam, Quick Impact, Quick Collapse, 2010, The report was signed by eight leading NGOs present in Afghanistan. The report echoes points raised by Stephen Cornish, "No Room for Humanitarianism in 3D Policies," Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 10, no. 1 (2007): 1-48.

(51.) More than a dozen NATO civilian officials and military officers interviews, Brussels, London, and Ottowa, 7 January-30 June 2009.

(52.) Thomas Weiss, Military-Civil Interactions: Intervening in Humanitarian Crises (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), p. 201.

(53.) See Roland Paris, "Understanding the 'Coordination Problem.'"

(54.) Consider, for example, the problems that emerged in the course of efforts to create the Peacebuilding Commission which, in the end, emerged as a far weaker mechanism than many of its supporters would have wanted.
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Publication:Global Governance
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Date:Jan 1, 2011
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