As the U.S. government develops the GFA global strategy, it will be applying the SAR framework to develop political strategies for selected countries. In practice, though, what does stabilization “success” look like as conceptualized by the SAR approach? How is “strategy” defined and what should it consist of? The U.S. government does not have guidance on these issues.
Here, we argue that the best political strategy to help stabilize fragile states is one of “strategic empowerment.” This means supporting local actors with the legitimacy required to govern as well as the interests and values that align with ours.
Defining Strategy, Politics, and Stabilization
Developing a “political strategy” suggests a shift away from resource-intensive responses such as counterinsurgency and nation-building. But what does it really mean to have a political strategy?
We define strategy as a theory of success. A theory is an explanation of how and why proposed actions will cause desired outcomes. Therefore, a strategy must include a clear statement of goals (what you want to cause), the specific proposed actions to achieve those goals, and the causal logic that connects actions to outcomes. Politics is the competition for power. Some countries have highly institutionalized, stable, and peaceful systems of competition for power; other countries are characterized by chaotic, violent competition. The path to stabilization involves shifting the incentives toward nonviolent competition and, in the near term, empowering actors who can peaceably manage conflict.