By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 25, 2013) -- In an ever-changing world, demand for U.S. involvement in humanitarian assistance and stability operations will increase, said the former Army chief of staff who founded the service's Peacekeeping Institute 20 years ago.
"My experience tells me the world has changed significantly since the end of the Cold War," said retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan. "[With] the fragmentation of the world, the globalization of the world, global climate change ... we have an increasing demand ... [for] humanitarian aid and assistance, and a need to be involved in stability operations."
Sullivan served as chief of staff of the Army from 1991 to 1995. Today he serves as the president and chief executive officer of the Association of the United States Army.
The retired general spoke Nov. 25, during an event recognizing the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Army Peacekeeping Institute, which he founded in 1993. The organization, which creates doctrine and conducts training, later changed its name to the Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, or PKSOI.
"Today's celebration, this celebration, is very significant in my mind," Sullivan said. "This is the most significant institutional legitimization of PKSOI, and I congratulate all who have been involved in this."
During a keynote presentation at AUSA headquarters in Arlington, Va., Sullivan discussed why, 20 years ago, he decided there was a need for something like PKSOI. Around that time the United States had become involved in providing humanitarian relief support in Somalia. The civil war in that country began in January 1991. The U.S. became involved in peacekeeping operations there in December 1992, as lead of the United Nation's "Unified Task Force."
Sullivan said the focus at the time was "primarily humanitarian assistance."
But he said that as operations continued "it became more apparent that we had not fully prepared ourselves for the challenges of Somalia, the complexities of the battlefield we found, with the humanitarian aid needs, as well as security needs."
He said the United States had done similar, "significant operations" in the past, but the Army had not codified what it had learned about operations such as in Turkey with the resettlement of the Kurdish after the first Gulf War, for instance.
"For some reason we didn't capture a lot of what we learned in what was a huge humanitarian crisis, and stability ... situation," Sullivan said.
The general also cited the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama to remove Manuel Noriega from power as an example of an initial military success that caught the U.S. off-guard in the aftermath with the necessary stability operations and humanitarian support that would be needed.
"That went off like clockwork," he said. "But the next day ... somebody called and said who's going to feed the Panamanians? We presumed they were going to feed themselves. Wrong answer."
Of Somalia, he said, "the fact of the matter is, we had not prepared ourselves ... we had not prepared the troops as well as we should have for what was a major event."
He said the Army was able to eventually figure out what was needed to operate in what he called a "very alien environment" insofar as humanitarian assistance was concerned.
Making that happen, he said, was also a learning curve. Providing that assistance in Somalia required working with both the United Nations and with non-governmental organizations, known as NGOs.
"The NGOs that were there were really a big 'aha' to all of us," he said.
He said the efforts there supporting the Somalis and working with the U.N. and the NGOs was a "trial-and-error effort" with "bruised egos" on both sides.
"We had to learn some lessons that we probably should have known," he said. "We clearly did not know the actors. We did not know all the U.N. people that were there. We fully didn't understand the complexity of that organization, and certainly some specialized NGOs from the U.S. as well as from around the world. That was a whole new landscape for us."
What was needed, Sullivan said, was guidance for conducting humanitarian, peacekeeping and stability operations.
"I believe and have always believed that doctrine is the engine of change," he said. "We really needed to write some doctrine about what we were doing in these faraway places."
He said there wasn't much doctrine available. There was in some cases, historical accounts, he said. An example involved efforts to support Hurricane Andrew relief in Southern Florida. The Army had been asked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to construct a "city" to house displaced persons. But the Army didn't have anything to look at on which to base their plans.
Eventually, Sullivan said, the Army turned to archived records of relief work that had been done in San Francisco after an earthquake there to build camps for those displaced by the hurricane in Florida.
"You can find stuff in the history of the Army, but it wasn't readily apparent to everybody on the ground at the time," he said. "I believe military organizations perform better if they have a doctrine ... and people have thought about it ... and [are] trained to do it."
Sullivan said that is why in 1993, he asked the commandant of U.S. Army War College to create the an organization that could capture lessons learned from peacekeeping operations and turn them into doctrine, and to additionally provide training. That organization was the Army Peacekeeping Institute.
"I just happened to be the guy at the top and felt we had to do something about it rather than just discuss it forever," Sullivan said. "Peacekeeping, stability ops, and humanitarian assistance was the issue then, and is the issue today"
As a young officer joining the Army, Sullivan said he hadn't considered that he'd be involved in humanitarian efforts and stability operations like he experienced with Panama, Hurricane Andrew, the resettlement of the Kurds after the first Gulf War, or Rwanda, for instance.
"The Balkans, Haiti multiple times, Afghanistan, Iraq: what have we learned in all those places?" he asked. "All of this work is starting to become codified in very important ways."
Sullivan said the world is changing dramatically now, and will continue to do so. He said with climate change, ethnic and religious conflicts, and international extremism, there is more chance for the United States to be involved in humanitarian relief efforts.