Forced to Govern
The U.S. military is asked to perform statebuilding operations far more often than it engages in conventional warfare against opposing uniformed state militaries. The U.S. military has engaged in 13 major armed statebuilding operations during and since WWII, along with numerous smaller operations throughout the world, and the most optimistic measures of success are less than 50 percent. Why, despite statebuilding being the most common task it is asked to perform, is U.S. military performance in statebuilding operations still so poor. This puzzle cannot be answered by current research on military effectiveness since this body of research focuses exclusively either on a military’s effectiveness in conventional combat, or on a military’s effectiveness in the conventional combat aspects of non-conventional operations. This gap is detrimental since militaries are frequently asked to perform a wide range of missions far beyond conventional operations. The U.S. military consistently resists statebuilding operational tasks when conducting such operations and consistently dismantles what little statebuilding capacity it does build following the statebuilding operation. This dissertation takes a novel approach by disaggregating between the three statebuilding tasks the U.S. military identifies as tasks it should be able to perform in statebuilding operations, building infrastructure, building and training local security forces, and building and supporting local governance. It finds that the military actually performs well in some statebuilding tasks and poorly in others. This dissertation presents the Primary Mission Theory to explain this divergence in effectiveness, which argues that militaries will preference those tasks that contribute to what they consider to be their primary mission, which is almost always conventional combat. Thus, statebuilding tasks will be preferenced only if they can also contribute to conventional combat capabilities. I trace the historical development statebuilding institutions within the U.S. military and conduct case studies on operations in Afghanistan and Vietnam in support of the presented theory.