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This book explores the natures of recent stabilisation efforts and global upstream threats. As prevention is always cheaper than the crisis of state collapse or civil war, the future character of conflict will increasingly involve upstream stabilisation operations. However, the unpredictability and variability of state instability requires governments and militaries to adopt a diversity of approach, conceptualisation and vocabulary. Offering perspectives from theory and practice, the chapters in this collection provide crucial insight into military roles and capabilities, opportunities, risks and limitations, doctrine, strategy and tactics, and measures of effect relevant to operations in upstream environments. This volume will appeal to researchers and practitioners seeking to understand historical and current conflict.



Chapter 1. Introduction: Anticipating Future Stabilisation

Preventing conflict is better than intervening in one once it is underway, but stabilisation is inherently difficult, not least because few agree on its extent, timing, limits and definition. This introduction indicates the scope of the volume, its examples of stabilisation, navigation through the theoretical literature, and the critiques of the existing policies and doctrines. Johnson and Clack draw out the practical guidance on stabilisation and conflict prevention, while seeking to highlight the key emergent issues. They explain the military roles are training and mentoring, making stand-off interventions, building capacity, and creating ‘investments’ for future stability.
Robert Johnson, Timothy Clack

Chapter 2. The Discreet Indispensability of Unpiloted Assistance? Remote Aerial Capabilities in Upstream Preventative Stabilisation Interventions

This article assesses the significance of remotely piloted air systems (RPAS), a salient new form of air power, in the earliest, most promising, interventionary scenarios addressing the intractable dilemmas of low-intensity conflict in failing or failed states. There are good reasons to suppose that RPASs are valuable, beyond their growing support functions for all military operations, in numerous aspects of interventions aimed at mitigating stability, especially in determinedly discreet concert with Special Forces (SF) and local allies.
Paul Schulte

Chapter 3. The Dilemmas of Security Assistance to a Failed State: Lessons from Somalia

Reno shows that Somalia illustrates the difficulty of supporting and assisting the right people in stabilisation. In contrast to the official narrative of stabilisation, efforts in Somalia exposed the flawed assumptions of security sector reform and security force assistance, not least because of insurgent infiltration, corruption and collusion. Reno argues that a pragmatic solution is needed, and he sets out the key steps to take in upstream planning.
William Reno

Chapter 4. ‘Fighting Out Its Own Complex and Fatal Destiny’? On the Limitations on the Use of Force in Yemen

The civil war that broke out in Yemen in 2015 has grown more complex and precarious. What started as a Saudi-led military intervention against the Houthi insurgency has mutated into something far more difficult to resolve. This chapter analyses the intervention through a strategic lens, arguing that it should be viewed more scientifically in terms of why Riyadh has found it difficult to balance the means with its stated ends. Far more important a concern is the lingering persistence of the view held by international state actors that the military instrument holds the promise of bringing a swift and decisive end to complex disputes. If the Saudi intervention tells us anything it is that launching a military campaign without an appreciation of the dynamics of the society which state actors seek to modify is likely to make matters worse. Edwards argues that if intervention is chosen as a course of action, the intervening party must have a more thorough understanding of the context within which force is deployed and employed in service of stated end goals. It suggests that, ultimately, diplomacy and not force is more likely to yield long-term stability in Yemen.
Aaron Edwards

Chapter 5. Crisis and Intervention: Combating Terrorism in the Sahel

France gained worldwide acclaim for its swift military response to the advance of Islamist extremists in northern Mali. Malians celebrated the French arrival and the resulting retreat of multiple armed groups. The honeymoon was short lived, however, as the French failed to secure peace in Mali. This paper analyses counterterrorist activity in the Sahel. While many would consider Operation Serval an immediate success, the steady rise in violence in southern Mali and throughout the region belies this fact. This paper examines how the crisis in Mali and the narrow focus of counterterrorism in the Sahel relate to governance and insecurity in the region.
Susanna D. Wing

Chapter 6. Improving Responses to Protracted Conflict: Why Borderlands Matter for Upstream Engagement

How do borderlands matter for upstream engagement, aiming to reduce threats to global stability and security that arise from the world’s increasing interconnectedness? I show that border areas in vulnerable regions are hubs of protracted conflict that undermine security not just locally, but across the globe. Violent non-state groups take advantage of these spaces to engage in cross-border operations through which they strengthen transnational networks. They also benefit from deficient state capacities in these zones to impose illicit governance structure. Borderlands thus host long-term drivers of instability: They are strategic corridors for transnational organised crime, sites of retreat for conflict actors and safe havens of terrorists. Employing a transnational borderland perspective, I conclude that upstream operations currently follow an approach that is ill-equipped to address the security threats that emanate from such regions: First, they are guided by state-centric concepts of security that focus on borderlines rather than borderlands; and second, they prioritise governance functions provided by the state, thereby neglecting how governance functions are taken over by violent non-state actors. The chapter draws on empirical data from a seven-year study including over a year of fieldwork in and on Colombia’s borderlands.
Annette Idler

Chapter 7. Future Stabilisation Strategy and the Changing Upstream Environment

Recent Western military efforts to stabilise failed or failing states have received substantial attention over the last two decades, but much of it is considered in isolation of civilian stabilisation efforts, which tend to be executed over a much more extended period compared with preferred military timeframes. The difficulty the armed forces faced in finding rapid solutions in conflicts in the early 2000s gave rise to a degree of frustration amongst Western military professionals, and they have found the degree of criticism levelled at their efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan problematic. It is unsurprising then that a search for ‘upstream’ and preventative approaches would be the result. This chapter considers what the future ‘upstream environment’ might look like and what factors military planners, and their civilian counterparts, would need to incorporate to achieve their ‘rational calculus’ of ends, ways and means. In essence, if Western militaries have learned how to conduct stabilisation missions more effectively for the early 2000s, Johnson questions whether these plans and principles will still be fit for purpose in 2035, and beyond.
Robert Johnson

Chapter 8. The Apocalyptic and the Sectarian: Identity, ‘Bare Life’ and the Rise of Da’ish

Within the context of upstream operations, one must engage with events within particular boundaries of space and time. Understanding processes within these areas can also result in awareness of the emergence of particular groups and ideas. The emergence of Da’ish in 2014, was the result of the fragmentation of Iraq and the increasingly sectarian attempts to fill the post-Saddam vacuum. Mabon considers political organisation in Iraq across the 20th century, focussing upon the rise and fall of the sovereign state, and suggests that by considering events through the lens of sovereignty, we are better equipped to understand events. Mabon analyses the Iraqi state, before turning to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, considering the process of deba’athification and the establishment of Shi’a government in Baghdad, mass unemployment, and sectarian violence. The penetration of the Iraqi state by external actors, namely Saudi Arabia and Iran, whose geopolitical agendas—framed as support for sectarian kin—fed into the continued fragmentation of the state. From this, it is possible to see how Sunni communities became marginalised and securitised, resulting in what Giorgio Agamben (Homo sacer: Sovereign power and bare life. Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1995) has termed ‘bare life’. It is these conditions that gave rise to the emergence of Da’ish.
Simon Mabon

Chapter 9. The Unintended Consequences of Upstreaming: Western Engagement in Iraq

Since 2014, Western countries have been engaged in Iraq, principally by assisting the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the Kurdistan Region’s peshmerga forces in the struggle against the Islamic State. The engagement is of a far more cautious nature than before, perhaps, because of the recognition that ‘upstream’ intervention or intervention that involves working closely with local forces and dominant actors, has created downstream problems. Stansfield focuses upon the rise of the Islamic State, and ISIS before it, as being, partly, a product of Western intervention and upstream strategies, or, more accurately, the failure to see these strategies through to their conclusion. Western operations privileged short-term solutions that proved to have long-term consequences: The dissatisfaction of Sunni Arab expectations gave Islamic State the opportunity to posture itself in a social and political environment that was conducive both to its survival and to its expansion. Islamic State also adapted to Western counter-insurgency practices. Equally, Stansfield argues the strategy of working with Kurdish peshmerga and ISF to enhance security may also have downstream consequences, as Kurdish secession or the further break-up of Iraq.
Gareth Stansfield


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