Consider A Constabulary — U.S. Paratroopers Should Not Be Police Officers

By Doug Bereuter

A look at other post-Cold War operations, particularly the peace enforcement efforts in the Balkans, reveals that our allies have specialized forces that can help secure and stabilize a country after a war. The United States could use these units in its reconstruction efforts — or even emulate them.

Pursuing regime change means destroying dangerous dictatorships, but also creating their democratic replacements. The first step, creating a secure and stable environment, requires military operations that lie somewhere between high-intensity combat and routine civilian policing.

In criticizing the nation-building efforts in the Balkans, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice famously noted, “We don’t need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten.” Her point is fair.

There is good reason to believe that a paratroop division is not the outfit for that job. But in the absence of trained and equipped peace-enforcement units, the 82nd and other U.S. combat forces are getting the call — and getting worn down by repeated overseas deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.

“The inability to pass responsibility from elite combat forces to paramilitary or constabulary units and ultimately to indigenous police forces saddles elite American troops with the full spectrum of tasks,” Olin senior fellow Rachel Bronson wrote last year in Foreign Affairs magazine. “This over-commitment has been running U.S. forces ragged.”

So where would the U.S. find “paramilitary or constabulary units”? How are they organized and equipped? And how do they do their jobs?

Our European allies know. While many of our NATO allies need to improve their ability to fight alongside American troops in full-intensity conflicts, they also have a peace enforcement capability that we lack.

Constabulary forces like the Italian Carabinieri, French Gendarmerie or Spanish Guardia Civil combine law-enforcement expertise, which is often the primary post-conflict need, with military training, a military structure and more firepower than police.

Compared to heavy combat troops, forces like the Carabinieri are better suited to keeping the peace.

The experiences in the Balkans in the 1990s should have taught us lessons about how to stabilize a country after the fighting stops.

In Bosnia and Kosovo, NATO combined constabulary forces from seven countries into highly effective Multinational Specialized Units. They proved they have the capabilities and the experience needed to take on tough postwar operations like those in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We should encourage our allies, particularly the incoming members of NATO, to make constabulary forces one of the niche capabilities that they provide the alliance.

Likewise, the Pentagon should give serious consideration to developing forces that have both military and law enforcement training. They could reduce the deployment demands on combat units. They also might attract additional recruits by providing a new way for more young men and women to serve their country, augmenting America’s ability to win the multifaceted war on terrorism.

This may or may not be the proper course. However, if we’re going to ask our allies to improve their warfighting capabilities, it may be that we also should improve our peace enforcement capabilities.

We owe it to our troops and to our taxpayers to examine whether creating more of these units, whether drawn from allies’ forces or our own, could help ensure that our victories are lasting.

U.S. Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., is chairman of the House International Relations Committee’s subcommittee on Europe, and president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

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