Ten Lessons for Nation-Building

After tours  in Afghanistan and Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad will return stateside to replace John Bolton as America's ambassador to the United Nations. Here's what he had to say on nation building in 2005.

Editor's note: After tours  in Afghanistan and Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad will return stateside to replace John Bolton as America's ambassador to the United Nations. Khalilzad wrote the following piece in 2005, based on a longer article in the Summer 2005 issue of The National Interest titled:"How to Nation Build."

  1. Any effort to build the post-war order must be based on a fundamental understanding of the aspirations or political center of gravity of a newly liberated society and must be implemented by civilian and military leaders who know how to align the United States with those goals. 
  2. If U.S. military forces are used to effect regime change or are deployed to stabilize a country after a regime has been toppled by internal forces, it is vital for the United States to position itself as an ally, not a conqueror or occupier, and to ensure that indigenous leaders take ownership of the new order.
  3. Intensive political and diplomatic engagement with national leaders is needed to craft a national compact among competing groups and to form a partnership to execute a mutually agreed strategy for reconstruction.
  4. The United States must size and configure its footprint to avoid creating unnecessary friction or over-reliance on any one instrument of policy.
  5. Post-Conflict reconstruction involves the reconstitution of a country's political elite. Success depends on the emergence of an elite that has roots in the society and the vision and capability to build a new and better political order.
  6. Effective communication is vital to the success of any reconstruction program.
  7. In post-conflict settings, the United States should utilize a flexible, multilateral model backed up by an energetic and robust American policy and program.
  8. If neighboring countries can help or harm our effort, the United States should engage them and shape their conduct to the extent possible, even if we have deep differences with those countries.
  9. A closely integrated civil-military structure and set of policies and programs are the best way to achieve success.
  10. Success requires the U.S. government to provide adequate resources and to find more efficient ways to operate.