Civil-Military Coordination and the 1994 Intervention in Haiti — William K. Warriner


The 1994 U.S.-led intervention in Haiti occurred as a result of a 1991 coup by the Haitian military against the democratically elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The military coup forced Aristide to flee to the United States and ignited a refugee crisis. The U.N., the United States and the Organization of American States attempted to return Aristide to Haiti through a series of diplomatic missions and embargoes. The failure of these efforts became apparent when American and Canadian personnel aboard the USS Harlan County, who were to enter Haiti as part of the 1993 Governors Island Accord, were prevented from disembarking in Port-au-Prince by rioting supporters of the military government under the direction of General Raoul Cedras. Following this episode, the U.S. government began preparing for possible military action. In September 1994, while military planners were preparing Operation Uphold Democracy, the military intervention in Haiti, President Clinton deployed a team led by former President Jimmy Carter to make a final attempt at diplomacy. With U.S. forces airborne and en route to Haiti, the Carter mission succeeded in convincing Cedras to step down voluntarily. Thereafter, the U.S. military displayed immense flexibility in stopping the invasion and redeploying as a peacekeeping force. By the end of October, American forces and supporting agencies had established a secure environment and put Aristide back in control of Haiti. The force continued reconstruction and security efforts until the end of March 1995 when Haiti was declared sufficiently stable for the U.N. to take control of the peacekeeping mission.

Strategic planning for a possible intervention in Haiti was coordinated by NSC interagency working groups and resulted in the first ever political-military intervention plan. This strategy tasked the U.S. military with ensuring the security of multinational elements and assigned the job of economic and police force reconstruction to other agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Departments of State and Justice. Operational planning was conducted by individual agencies, but the lack of institutionalized avenues for sub-National Security Council interagency communication inhibited an integrated effort. Diplomatic initiatives and the desire for a surprise assault further complicated lower level interagency communication by requiring military planning to be done covertly. Operational and tactical coordination between military and civilian forces occurred only after U.S. forces had arrived in Haiti and as a result of significant efforts made by U.S. commanders and the U.S. Ambassador.

Incomplete operational planning negatively impacted the integration of civilian and military efforts during the initial phase of Operation Uphold Democracy. Compounding this problem was the lack of a clear chain of command between civilian and military forces throughout the intervention. However, the military was able to form impromptu working relations with civilian agencies after the initial confusion and managed to fill the gaps created by the weak planning and delayed deployment of some civilian agencies.

The shortage of resources, absence of experienced planners and complex contracting process faced by civilian agencies; constraints on communication between civilian and military planning groups caused by the need for secrecy; the lack of institutionalized mechanisms for lower level coordination and the compartmentalization of military planning; misunderstandings between civilian and military communities derived from divergent organizational cultures; delays in the initiation of planning and interagency coordination as a consequence of the policy debate within the Clinton administration; and insufficiently clear authorities contributed to the initial confusion and weakness of the Haiti operation. However, the eventual success of the mission can be explained by excellent military planning and flexibility, as well as adequate informal cooperation between American commanders, the U.S. ambassador, and civilian agencies after the initial phase of the intervention.

The failure of the Harlan County mission emboldened Cedras, signaled the collapse of the Governors Island Accords and initiated a series of events that ended with a United States intervention in Haiti. The initial dysfunctional cooperation among agencies contributed to a period of chaos following the immediate arrival of U.S. forces in Haiti. The disorder subsided when U.S. military forces assumed policing and institution building roles that allowed other U.S. government agencies additional time to organize and implement their missions. Eventually, civilian agencies increased their participation in and coordination of humanitarian, security and reconstruction efforts and, together with military forces, created the conditions required for the operation to be shifted successfully to U.N. control. Only one U.S. soldier was killed during the entire 18-month operation. U.S. spending on Haiti between 1992 and 1995 totaled approximately $1.6167 billion. However, it should be noted that the operation failed to bring long-term stability to the country.

Most analysts of the 1994 intervention argue that Operation Uphold Democracy was successful in achieving the goals identified by UNSCR 940. Furthermore, many authors agree that U.S. agencies interacted effectively despite the ad hoc nature of the coordinating mechanisms. Overall, Operation Uphold Democracy is an encouraging example of cooperation between the U.S. armed forces, civilian agencies and nongovernmental organizations in a nation-building mission that illustrates the significant benefits such cooperation can accrue.