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World Review
 february 2005


Germany, Japan, Bosnia, Kosovo

Lessons Learned

An excerpt from “America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq” by James Dobbins, John G. McGinn, Keith Crane, Seth G. Jones, Rollie Lal, Andrew Rathmell, Rachel Swanger, and Anga Timilsina (Rand Corporation )

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An examination of Allied reconstruction efforts in Germany highlights a number of important lessons regarding democratization, civil administration, security, and economics:

• Democracy can be transferred, and societies can, in some situations, be encouraged to change.

• Defeated populations can sometimes be more cooperative and malleable than anticipated.

• Enforced accountability for past injustices, through such forums as war crimes tribunals, can facilitate transformation.

• Dismembered and divided countries can be difficult to put back together.

• Reparations immediately after the end of the conflict are counterproductive.

The economy must grow before a country can compensate the victims of the conflict.

• Permitting more than one power to determine economic policy can significantly delay economic recovery.

The most important lesson from the U.S. occupation of Germany is that military force and political capital can, at least in some circumstances, be successfully employed to underpin democratic and societal transformation. Furthermore, such a transformation can be enduring. U.S., French, and British efforts to help build democratic institutions in Germany and to encourage the establishment of political parties were incremental and began in 1945. Over the next several years, these powers oversaw local and national elections; the establishment of a constitution and a bicameral parliament; and, in September 1949, the election of Konrad Adenauer as the first postwar chancellor of the newly formed West German state. While U.S. and allied efforts were important in ensuring this outcome, the West German population obviously played a critical role. Indeed, by the late 1940s, Western allies increasingly gave sovereignty of political institutions to the German people, who continued to deepen the democratization process.

U.S. officials anticipated and planned to deal with significant residual German resistance following the surrender of its armed forces. Yet no resistance of consequence emerged then or at any time thereafter, much as in Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy (see Chapter Five). The large number of U.S. and allied military forces in West Germany and the establishment of a strong constabulary force preempted most resistance. Indeed, the constabulary force was specifically created to respond to incidents of civil unrest, conduct mounted and dismounted police patrols, interdict smuggling operations, and aid in intelligence gathering. This contrasts starkly with nation-building efforts in such countries as Bosnia, which were marred by organized crime and civil unrest.

The institution of war crimes tribunals and the thorough purging from public life of those associated with the Nazi regime was messy, controversial, and occasionally unfair. However, it consolidated the democratization process by removing a potential threat to a nascent democratic political system. Furthermore, denazification eliminated virtually all support for the return of the Nazi regime and caused a thorough repudiation of Nazi policies in Germany society. In short, justice and retribution in postwar Germany facilitated the population’s reconciliation with its history and its neighbors.

The division of Germany into four occupation zones with independent political, economic, and military authority took 45 years to overcome. This was largely because the German question became tangled in the Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. As historian John Lewis Gaddis notes:

What each superpower most feared was that [Germany] might align itself with its Cold War adversary: if that were to happen, the resulting concentration of military, industrial, and economic power could be too great to overcome.

Even reassembling the three Western zones took nearly half a decade, lengthening the occupation and slowing many reforms. Consequently, it is clear that divided countries can be very difficult to put back together—even among allies.

The economic policies General Clay and the U.S. Army personnel under his command pursued were key to the economic recovery of West Germany. In the U.S. zone, Clay and his subordinates rapidly and efficiently organized the provision of humanitarian assistance and restarted government services and economic activity. The U.S. Army’s focus on “getting things moving” was key to minimizing humanitarian suffering and accelerating economic recovery in its zone in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Similar efforts in the British zone were also constructive. The American and British zones were large net recipients of assistance in the first few years after World War II. These inflows were needed to cover the cost of government services and to provide minimum levels of food and other goods. They played a crucial role in jump-starting economic activity in West Germany.


The reconstruction efforts the United States undertook in Japan were remarkably successful. In comparison to the German case, Japan’s transformation was quicker; smoother; and, in many ways, easier than Germany’s, although in the end Japan was less integrated with its neighbors. The experience yielded a number of important lessons:

• Democracy can be transferred to non-Western societies.

• How responsibility for the war is assigned can affect internal political dynamics and external relations for years to come.

• Co-opting existing institutions can facilitate nation-building better than building new ones from scratch.

• Unilateral nation-building can be easier than multilateral efforts.

• Concentrating the power to make economic policy decisions in the hands of a single authority can facilitate economic recovery.

• Delegating implementation of economic policy decisions to local governing elites, with their own priorities, can significantly dilute the effectiveness of changes.

• Idealistic reforms designed for the long-term improvement of the recipient nation must sometimes give way to the immediate, global concerns of the occupying power.

Germany’s post–World War II democratization was facilitated by the fact that Germans already had significant experience with democracy, were surrounded on at least three sides by well-established democracies, and were soon integrated into a dense network of democratically based international institutions, such as NATO and the European Coal and Steel Community. These opportunities did not emerge for Japan. Despite the absence of a long democratic history and the existence of an authoritarian culture, nation-building in Japan was successful. The speed and relative ease of the Japanese transformation had two primary causes: the U.S. decision to co-opt Japanese institutions and the unilateral process of nation-building.

First, the U.S. occupation authorities retained and adapted existing Japanese institutions. The paucity of U.S. personnel with both language and technical capabilities led MacArthur and his SCAP staff to retain the existing Japanese government and give the occupation authorities a supervisory role. Indeed, U.S. authorities made use of the existing political and bureaucratic apparatus rather than rebuild Japanese institutions from scratch, although they did engineer the drafting of a new Japanese constitution, reorganize the police, and purge some in leadership and key administrative positions. The occupation was managed through a fully articulated Japanese government, ranging from the emperor to the prime minister, ministries, parliament, and courts. This starkly contrasted with Germany, where most such institutions were abolished and then rebuilt from scratch.

Second, occupation authority was centered in one nation and, indeed, one man: Douglas MacArthur. This made the reconstruction process less troublesome than in Germany, since neither MacArthur nor SCAP were obligated to consult with other countries. The two most important international bodies for oversight and consultation, the Far Eastern Commission and the ACJ, had little power. Unilateralism allowed U.S. authorities to spend more time and energy overseeing reconstruction and less effort forging a consensus among partners. At the same time, however, the failure to involve any of Japan’s neighbors and former enemies in its transformation contributed to a lack of regional reconciliation. None of these nations was involved in the reconstruction process and none has yet been fully reconciled to the reemergence of a prosperous and powerful postwar Japan. Indeed, the Japanese were not forced to break with their recent past as thoroughly as were the Germans. In addition, the decision to absolve the emperor in whose name the war was fought of all responsibility leaves the Japanese today somewhat less reconciled with their history, less ready to admit their war guilt, and consequently less reconciled with their neighbors than are the Germans.

The concentration of power in a single authority, SCAP, permitted more-consistent and -dramatic economic policy changes than in Germany, where economic policymaking authority was divided across the four zones the occupying powers ruled. In Japan, SCAP pushed through a land reform that destroyed the power of the landholding classes and made the peasantry property owners. SCAP also greatly expanded workers’ rights and forced through the dissolution of the large business combines (zaibatsu) that had dominated the economy.

From the beginning, there was some tension between the U.S. policymakers who advocated the democratization of economic opportunity and those who favored working with existing economic elites to bring about a quick economic recovery. Many of the actions SCAP initially took—breaking up the large land holdings, granting workers more rights and powers, and dismantling the largest industrial conglomerates —seemed designed to impede rather than foster economic reconstruction. Eventually, U.S. global interests trumped the desires of SCAP reformers. The fall of the Chinese nationalists and the growing recognition that Japan could be a good ally in the fight against communism led to a shift in emphasis within the U.S. government toward policies that would promote Japanese economic self-sufficiency and contributed to the consolidation of political and economic power in Japan by the conservatives.


Nation-building efforts in Bosnia have had mixed success. NATO was well organized and effective, but adopted a limited view of its responsibilities. On the civil side, international responsibilities were more dispersed and slower to take hold. Bosnia has made political and economic progress but more than seven years after the Dayton Accord, it is not yet a self-sustaining political or economic entity.

Important lessons include the following:

• Unity of command can be as important for the civil aspects of peace operations as for the military.

• Elections are an important benchmark in progress toward democracy. Held too early, they can strengthen rejectionist forces rather than promote further transformation.

• Organized crime can emerge as the greatest obstacle to transformation.

• It is difficult to put a nation back together if its neighbors are pulling it apart.

• Successful reconstruction in poor and divided countries requires substantial long-term commitment from donors.

• Foreign donors need to take an active role in economic policy in countries with stalemated or ineffective governments.

NATO was effective in ensuring broad participation, unity of command, and U.S. leadership on the military side of the Bosnia operation.

On the civil side, however, the United States took the opposite approach. In a misguided effort, it sought to advance NATO authority at the expense of the EU, and U.S. influence at the expense of the Europeans. For example, there was no contact and little coordination between NATO and OHR at the beginning of the operation. The result has been endemic conflict among competing international agencies, indecisive leadership of the transformational effort, and unnecessary prolongation of the international military presence.

The Clinton administration originally set an arbitrary one-year deadline for the Bosnia mission. In an effort to meet that deadline, it pressed successfully for early and frequent elections at each level of governance. In most cases, the elections returned to office the nationalist parties that had helped spark the civil war and strengthened those resisting the creation of a democratic and multiethnic state. Holding elections before viable democratic political institutions were built created a number of problems that made democratization more—rather than less—difficult. Over time, however, OHR and the OSCE helped remove candidates suspected of war crimes and who attempted to obstruct implementation of the Dayton peace process.

As in other postcommunist societies, the emergence of organized crime accompanied Bosnia’s transition to market economy. In the immediate aftermath of a conflict, governments have virtually no tax revenues because of the collapse in economic activity. However, foreign pressure to raise taxes to cover government expenditures can have unproductive side effects. In the case of Bosnia, the continued use of customs tariffs resulted in widespread smuggling, which provided the economic basis for the continued operation of criminal gangs and paramilitary groups. Bosnia now has free-trade agreements with all its major trading partners. The country would have been better off if it had immediately abolished tariffs and had donors temporarily funding the budgetary shortfall.

In the aftermath of the Dayton Accord, both the Serbian and Croatian governments continued to pursue their divisive and irredentist objectives in Bosnia through nonmilitary means. Only after replacement of the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes with democratic successors did Bosnia’s neighbors begin to work with the rest of the international community to push it together rather than pull it apart.

The international community’s long-term financial commitment has been crucial for economic growth in Bosnia. Economic growth was very rapid in the years immediately following the Dayton Accord, driven by the peace and by foreign assistance. In 2002, the Bosnian economy first showed signs that growth would be sustained as economic assistance is reduced. OHR and international financial institutions continue to play a key, positive role in economic policymaking in Bosnia.

Because of Bosnia’s acrimonious interethnic politics and the weak constitutional authority of the national government, decisions to reform the economy were made very slowly, if at all. The logjam was broken only after the authority of OHR was significantly expanded.

Key decisions on the national currency, taxation, budget, and privatization have only been made because of OHR. More than seven years after the Dayton Accord, OHR still plays a key role in economic policymaking in Bosnia. Moreover, like the Haitian government, Bosnia’s governments have resisted privatization for political and personal reasons. Only with steady pressure from donors, international financial institutions, and OHR has privatization made progress in Bosnia. The process has still not been completed.


Kosovo has been the best managed of the U.S. post–Cold War ventures in nation-building. U.S. and European forces demilitarized the KLA; local and national elections took place two years after the conflict ended; and economic growth has been strong.

Indeed, the experience yielded a number of important lessons regarding civil administration, democratization, and economic growth:

Broad participation, extensive burden-sharing, unity of command, and effective U.S. leadership can be compatible.

• A slow mobilization of civil elements in peace operations can be costly.

• Uncertainty over final international status can hinder democratic transition.

• When countries lack effective governmental institutions, placing expatriate staff in positions of authority can facilitate economic policymaking and implementation.

• Large-scale assistance can rapidly restore economic growth in conjunction with effective economic institutions.

One of the most significant aspects of the reconstruction effort in Kosovo was the degree of collaboration and burden-sharing among participant countries and international organizations. Military unity of command was achieved through NATO, although U.S. troops represented only 16 percent of the force. While there were some disagreements among NATO countries over such issues as target sets and operational goals during the military campaign, postwar military cooperation was much smoother. KFOR acted swiftly to demilitarize the KLA, some of whose members were integrated into the newly established TMK. Civil unity of command was established under UN auspices. Responsibility for economic reconstruction was assigned to the EU, acting under UN oversight. Again, U.S. economic assistance represented only 16 percent of the total. In sum, while Kosovo has been the best organized and best resourced of the post–Cold War operations, it has also been the one with the lowest U.S. contribution, in proportion to that of other participants.

Despite its comparative success, the Kosovo operation was plagued by slow start-ups in most aspects of civil implementation, such as CIVPOL. Italy, France, Spain, and other countries offered police contingents to perform such tasks as border patrol, law enforcement, and the general maintenance of public security. SPUs were established for more-difficult functions, such as crowd control, and included separate units from single countries, such as the Spanish Guardia Civil and the French Gendarmerie. It unnecessarily took several months for these units to become fully established. Fortunately, the international mandate contained in UNSCR 1244 explicitly gave responsibility for the maintenance of law and order to KFOR, pending UNMIK’s capacity to assume the responsibility. Yet, too much time was wasted for one of the operation’s most important tasks.

Furthermore, Kosovo’s final status was unresolved—and is still in limbo today. This postponement, essential for purposes of regional stability, has nevertheless retarded the process of ethnic reconciliation and democratic transformation in Kosovo. Bernard Kouchner, the UN administrator in Kosovo, has argued that, without greater clarity about Kosovo’s status—including Belgrade’s authority over the territory—it was difficult to administer the territory effectively.

As a province of Serbia, Kosovo had no independent governmental budgetary or economic institutions. After the intervention, the international community helped Kosovo set up a central bank, treasury, and finance ministry within a few months. It also adopted a new currency for Kosovo, the euro. Reforming commercial law has proceeded more slowly. Competent expatriates initially staffed the new financial institutions. These individuals introduced systems and practices that have made the institutions function much more effectively than their counterparts in Haiti or even Bosnia. Early on, expatriate staff were paired with locals. This process enabled the expatriates to transfer their knowledge and management skills to nationals.

It also enabled them to judge the competency of their eventual replacements and to recommend staffing changes, when appropriate.

With the exception of Germany, Kosovo enjoyed the most rapid economic recovery among the cases studied. Foreign assistance was also the highest as a share of GDP. The large per capita and absolute inflows of assistance to Kosovo, public and private, have been crucial to the rapid initial rates of recovery. The EU was largely responsible for economic reconstruction, and states and international organizations provided over $671 million during the last six months of 1999 and $704 million in 2000.

Copyright © 1994-2005 RAND Corporation

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