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Disasters Tradition of Forgetting Article

Disasters Tradition of Forgetting Article

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Published by: Steven Alec Thomas Zyck on Sep 25, 2010
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 ‘A tradition of forgetting’: stabilisationand humanitarian action in historicalperspective
Sultan Barakat, Seán Deely and Steven A. Zyck
1
While subject to increasing articulation and institutionalisation, stabilisation is a long-standing concept and practice that has consistently engaged with and, at times, conficted with varied understandings o humanitarianism and humanitarian action. Reviewing selected historical experiences, including the Philippines ( 
1898 
 – 
1902
 ), Algeria ( 
1956 
 – 
62
 ), Vietnam ( 
1967 
 – 
75
 ) and El Salvador ( 
1980
 – 
92
 ), this paper argues that contemporary models o stabilisation build on and repeat mistakes o the past, particularly the overt securitisation o aid and the perception that humanitarian and development actors are able to purchase security eectively. Where current stabilisation diers rom its earlier incarnations, as in the introduction o the private sector and incorporation o humanitarian action into war-ghting strategies, the implications are shown tobe troubling i not outright disastrous. This examination o historical experience, which includesmany ailures and ew, i any, successes, raises the likelihood that it is not solely the design or implementation o individual stability operations that require modication but perhaps the entire concept o stabilisation itsel.
Keywords:
counter-insurgency, humanitarian action, pacication, post-confictreconstruction, stabilisation
Introduction
The perceived novelty of contemporary post-crisis stabilisation operations is in manyrespects rooted in a ‘tradition of forgetting’, as termed by James Jay Carafano (
2004
),more than the emergence of new and more effective modes of intervention. Historicalcases from throughout the twentieth century (and before) reveal an approach toinsecure environments that in many respects mirrors those implemented in recenttimes in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Whether termed counter-insurgency(COIN), pacication, stabilisation, peace-support operations or reconstruction, civil-ian and military actors have collaborated both to bring an end to small- and large-scale conicts and to promote durable dispensations in their aftermath. As this paper demonstrates, the conceptual model underlying their work has remained largelyconsistent, as, to a lesser extent, have the methods that they employed. Of course,such a degree of historical continuity does not necessarily suggest the efcacy or vir-tue of stability-orientated interventions. Indeed, the cyclical resurrection of previouslyproblematic paradigms may be viewed as a failure of institutional learning, especiallywhen historical assessments of past COIN and stabilisation campaigns have elucidatedtheir aws (see, for instance, Linn,
2000
; Nagl,
2002
; Yates,
2005
; Rabasa et al.,
2007
).
doi:
10.1111
/j.
0361
-
3666.2010.01207
.x
Disasters,
2010, 34(
S
3): S297S319.
©
2010
The Author(s). Journal compilation © Overseas Development Institute,
2010
Published by Blackwell Publishing,
9600
Garsington Road, Oxford, OX
4
 
2
DQ, UK
 
and
350
Main Street, Malden, MA
02148
, USA
 
Sultan Barakat, Seán Deely and Steven A. Zyck
S298
 
This paper does not seek—as do so many pieces on the subject— solely to cri-tique the implications of stabilisation for principles of humanitarian action. Rather,it addresses the following, fundamental question: what aspects of today’s stabilisationdiscourse and practice are novel in historical terms, and what represent the continu-ation or return of pre-existing models? In doing so, the paper presents a workingdenition and understanding of stabilisation before turning to four brief case studies:the Philippines (
1898
 – 
1902
), Algeria (
1954
 – 
62
), Vietnam (
1967
 – 
75
) and El Salvador (
1980
 – 
92
). Dissecting these case studies, a number of historical continuities andrecent innovations become apparent, including a deeply awed ‘logic of intervention’for stabilisation and the rebalancing of the political-economy of stabilisation in atroubling manner. The paper concludes by suggesting that, rather than its implemen-tation, the basic concept of stabilisation—and the presumption that the combinationof civil and military means enhances the effectiveness of each—requires revision andperhaps inversion.
Dening stabilisation
Despite the increase in scholarly research into stabilisation and several policy docu-ments that take this term as their starting point, the concept itself remains thesubject of explicit and implicit contestation. Indeed, this denitional undertaking hasbeen frequently sidestepped by those, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization(NATO)’s Stabilisation Force (SFOR) previously operating in Bosnia-Herzegovinaand the ongoing United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Insome ways stabilisation has become reminiscent of United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s (
1964
) oft-quoted statement concerning obscenity: ‘[P]erhapsI could never succeed in intelligibly [dening it] . . . But, I know it when I see it’.Alternatively, particularly in the case of governmental policy documents, denitionsof stabilisation have served public relations goals—suggesting aims of social justicebeyond the scope of their mandates—or are dened by whatever aid actors, diplo-mats and the military have decided to undertake in the name of stability. A degree of purposeful ambiguity (for instance, US Army references to ‘full-spectrum opera-tions’) appears to have served the interests of those who wish to broaden the mandateof stabilisation as circumstances develop rather than being tied to a more limitedset of means or objectives. Indeed, it may be argued that stabilisation itself hasemerged in recent years as a response to civilian and humanitarian opposition tothe military’s overt labelling of its work as ‘reconstruction’ or ‘development’. In thissense, stabilisation is as much a form of branding as it is a distinctive process.Not only are references to stabilisation ambiguous in many cases, they are alsocommonly ambitious in encapsulating a vision of peace, accountable governance andeconomic growth far beyond what the term ‘stability’ might imply. The UnitedKingdom government’s Stabilisation Unit has dened stabilisation as ‘the processof establishing peace and security in countries affected by conict and instability’ andas ‘the promotion of peaceful political settlement to produce a legitimate indigenousgovernment, which can better serve its people’ (Stabilisation Unit,
2010
). Noting
 
A tradition of forgetting’: stabilisation and humanitarian action in historical perspective
S299
that the goals of stabilisation are inherently political, aiming to facilitate a politicalsettlement to conict among local actors, it differentiates itself from what it viewsas politically neutral humanitarian aid and as military-centric COIN operations(Stabilisation Unit,
2008
). Similarly, the UK military’s treatise on the subject,
 Joint Doctrine Publication
 3
-
40
,
emphasises the pursuit of a political settlement while alsointroducing specic sectors of intervention and responsibilities related to infrastruc-ture, non-violent political processes and ‘sustainable social and economic development(Ministry of Defence,
2009
, p.
239
). Adopting an understandably military-centricapproach, the US Army and Marine Corps’
Counterinsurgency Field Manual 
 3
-
24
 identies stability operations as one of the three separate components of COIN along-side offence and defence. It denes stabilisation as encapsulating forms of engagementmore commonly associated with multilateral interventions, such as peace-supportoperations, reconstruction and nation-building (Sewall,
2007
, p. xxiii). A somewhatmore ambitious denition has been put forward by the US government in the Depart-ment of the Army’s
Stability Operations Field Manual 
 3
-
07 
,
which denes stabilisationas ‘the process by which underlying tensions that might lead to resurgence in violenceand a breakdown in law and order are managed and reduced, while efforts are madeto support preconditions for successful long-term development’ (Department of theArmy,
2008
, p.
1
 – 
12
). Finally, the Canadian government’s Stabilization and Recon-struction Task Force (START) has evaded denitional questions although it moreclosely aligns its work with ‘peace-building’ and the resolution of ‘underlying ten-sions’ (START,
2006
,
2010
).
Contention and consensus
These contemporary denitions reect a great deal of contention. Even the basicnotion of stability—the end result being sought—is conceptualised in differing terms.For the British, stabilisation involves peace and security but also requires some-thing of a peace deal (a ‘political settlement’) and an elite population, at least, that iswilling to forego the use of violence in the pursuit of power. A perhaps even moretransformative agenda of removing the underlying causes of conict—with theconcomitant suggestion of justice, equity or participatory politics—is included on theUS Army’s agenda for stabilisation and is implied on that put forward by START.Stabilisation is, hence, a form of ‘conict transformation’ (Miall,
2004
) and peace-building rather than the mere imposition of territorial control. In the US case,stabilisation is aimed not only at preventing conict but also at ensuring law andorder; consequently, stabilisation might be viewed as having failed if it brings con-ict to an end but does not deter the sort of looting, criminality and violence thaterupted following the recent intervention in Iraq.Despite such conceptual heterogeneity, a ‘core’ or shared denition may be ren-dered. First, each of the denitions above reects a minimum requirement in theform of the absence of conict, also referred to as a ‘negative peace’ (Galtung,
1969
).The prevention or cessation of conict is pursued by each of the organisations andinstitutions examined. As such, one may correspondingly view conict as a key pre-cursor for stabilisation to occur. It would not take place in a context that is at peace,

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