Building Expeditionary Economics: Understanding the Field and Setting Forth a Research Agenda

20 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2010

Date Written: November 2010


In the continuing debates over the future of the United States military, it has become common to note that the conflicts for which our armed forces are nominally prepared - large-scale, interstate wars on the order of World War II - actually constitute a fraction of the conflicts in which they have historically been engaged. Indeed, over the past century, the U.S. military has frequently found itself in the business of what is called, accurately or not, nation-building. This can occur subsequent to a conflict, as with the Marshall Plan or peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, or contemporaneously with fighting, as in the Philippines, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Less frequently, but of perhaps rising relevance, civilians and the military engage in efforts to prevent conflict. In each case, the importance of economic development to creating security and sustaining peace has been recognized. Yet the level of effort devoted to economic development and the quality of these efforts has been uneven, with some celebrated as great successes and others derided as wasteful and peripheral to American interests. In many ways, in fact, the United States has yet to develop a coherent or effective approach to economic development.

The environment for such efforts is often a dizzying mosaic of organizations and countries plagued by misaligned - or even contrarily aligned - incentives, both among themselves and with the host nation. Familiar problems with foreign aid include lack of transparency and accountability as well as disjointed interests among donors and recipients. Within the American aid community, bureaucratic constraints hamper reconstruction and development. Over the past few years, moreover, the “whole-of-government” approach touted by the United States has usually meant an increase of bureaucracy as well as a focus on what can be measured: namely, the rate at which budgeted funds can be spent, irrespective of outcomes. The military, which assumed a leading development role in Iraq and Afghanistan, has (understandably) approached the task through the oppositional lens of conflict, seeing “money as a weapon system” and dollars as tools to purchase “hearts and minds.” Indeed, a recent neologism in the post-conflict community is “opposed development" - development activities undertaken in the presence of armed opposition.

The emerging field of Expeditionary Economics addresses itself to these challenges. Regarding the military, for example, soldiers have consistently found themselves forced to rebuild economies without proper doctrinal or institutional support. For example, the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization has promulgated a “useful framework” for development in the form of an “Essential Task Matrix,” which lists specific tasks within five “technical sectors.” Tasks included in “Economic Stabilization and Infrastructure” include such helpful specifics as “employment generation,” “general economic policy,” and “market economy.” While the field manuals published by the U.S. Army offer more detail in terms of sectors and important objectives (including “enterprise creation”), there is little sense of how to implement such efforts or how to prioritize different tasks. An individual on the ground is left to his or her own devices in deciding what to do and how to do it. Moreover, few personnel and little institutional memory carry over from one situation to the next, forcing the relearning of the same lessons. Expeditionary Economics thus encompasses the frequent instances in which military and civilian expeditions must implicitly rebuild an economy. Fostering economic success - the third leg in the proverbial stool of diplomacy, defense, and development - must be made a more effective dimension of American expeditionary capacity.

More broadly, Expeditionary Economics (ExpECON) can also be seen as informing larger ideas about national security, strategy, and the exercise of power. In particular, economic growth must play an essential role in these three areas. The juxtaposition of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the recession and financial crisis of 2008-09, and the steadily rising influence of other nations marks the beginning of a new era facing the United States. Economic growth - at home and abroad - can no longer be divorced from strategy and security. It is a well-accepted adage that military success without strategic success is not success, and sustainable peace after conflict has been a much more elusive goal than military victory over the past two decades. Part of the premise of ExpECON is that making economic growth part of the overall strategy when conducting military operations can help achieve strategic success. This does not mean charity or conventional aid projects or large infrastructure reconstruction. It means helping to develop an indigenous private business sector that will create jobs, give citizens a stake in the outcome, and provide an income stream for the host nation government. In this way, economic success, however modest, should help bring along the other objectives of post-conflict efforts, including rule of law, governance, legitimacy, and reducing corruption.

This paper is a brief overview of some of the key ideas behind Expeditionary Economics, followed by a proposed research agenda. Those seeking a laundry list of what steps to follow in any given country will not (yet) be satisfied. This document is intended to open a dialogue and invite participation. International security depends on economic growth: We must create the space in which to develop new ideas and approaches.

This is the first paper in the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Research Series on Expeditionary Economics.

Keywords: expeditionary economics, military, entrepreneurship, economic development, expecon

Suggested Citation

Patterson, Rebecca and Stangler, Dane, Building Expeditionary Economics: Understanding the Field and Setting Forth a Research Agenda (November 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Rebecca Patterson

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation ( email )

4801 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, MO 64110-2046
United States
816-932-1000 (Phone)


Dane Stangler (Contact Author)

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation ( email )

4801 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, MO 64110-2046
United States
816-932-1044 (Phone)

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