SysAdmin Force comes of Age

Stephen DeAngelis

October 7, 2008

Quick on the heels of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ talk about the need to rebalance the military (see my post Shocked and Awed), the Department of Defense has released a new field manual on Stability Operations [“Standard Warfare May Be Eclipsed By Nation-Building,” by Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, 5 October 2008]. The new manual takes its place beside the field manual on Counterinsurgency Operations. The change in doctrine has been a long time coming. Eleven years ago Bradd Hayes, Enterra Solutions’ Senior Director of Communications and Research — who was then working as a professor at the U.S. Naval War College — and his colleague Jeffrey Sands, wrote a book titled Doing Windows: Non-Traditional Military Responses to Complex Emergencies, in which they encouraged the military to pay more attention to nation-building missions. They wrote:

“When a military operation fails to understand the connection between its activities, humanitarian assistance actions, and future requirements, it ultimately fails to achieve its objectives. By focusing on long-term objectives, the military has a better chance of ‘getting it right’ when it must intervene. If the military wants to help win the peace, it must prepare for peace.”

Seven years later, Tom Barnett, Enterra Solutions’ Senior Managing Director, who was then also working at the Naval War College, wrote his New York Times’ best seller The Pentagon’s New Map in which he recommended creation of a System Administrator (SysAdmin) force to conduct nation-building and help secure the peace. Tom wrote:

“America’s gift to the world is not military empire but economic globalization and the collective security it both engenders and demands. Kant’s world is expanding, while Hobbes’s world is ever shrinking. War and peace as we have known them across the twentieth century will not survive long into the twenty-first century. A new American Way of War emerges, remaking the world in its image much as the American Way of Peace provided the template for globalization’s rebirth following World War II and its expansion ever since. Our side is not just winning, it is growing.”

That new American Way of War is much more like the combined doctrines found in the new Army field manuals than in the doctrine aimed at the Soviets during the Cold War. Ann Scott Tyson reports that the Stability Operations manual unveils “an unprecedented doctrine that declares nation-building missions will probably become more important than conventional warfare and defines ‘fragile states’ that breed crime, terrorism and religious and ethnic strife as the greatest threat to U.S. national security.” She goes on to report that not everyone is thrilled with the new doctrine.

“The doctrine, which has generated intense debate in the U.S. military establishment and government, holds that in coming years, American troops are not likely to engage in major ground combat against hostile states as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but instead will frequently be called upon to operate in lawless areas to safeguard populations and rebuild countries. Such ‘stability operations’ will last longer and ultimately contribute more to the military’s success than ‘traditional combat operations,’ according to the Army’s new Stability Operations Field Manual. … Yet the concept has drawn fire from all sides: Military critics say it will weaken heavy war-fighting skills — using tanks and artillery — that have already atrophied during years of counterinsurgency campaigns. For their part, civilian officials and nongovernmental groups with scarce resources say armed forces are filling the gap, but at the cost of encroaching upon their traditional overseas missions.”

Tom discusses unstable scenarios using a sports analogy. He talks about the first half involving a Leviathan force that wins the war and the second half involving the SysAdmin force that secures the peace. The military has finally come to terms with challenge involved in the halftime transition between war and peace.

“‘This is the document that bridges from conflict to peace,’ said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where the manual was drafted over the past 10 months. The U.S. military ‘will never secure the peace until we can conduct stability operations in a collaborative manner’ with civilian government and private entities at home and abroad, he said. The stability operations doctrine is an engine that will drive Army resources, organization and training for years to come, Caldwell said, and Army officials already have detailed plans to execute it. The operations directive underpinning the manual ‘elevated stability operations to a status equal to that of the offense and defense,’ the manual reads, describing the move as a ‘fundamental change in emphasis’ for the Army.”

It is no surprise that proponents of large weapons systems aimed at fighting a near-peer adversary are opposed to this change in doctrine. The opposition of NGOs is also understandable — they fear that an encroachment by military forces into areas normally reserved for NGOs will result in greater risks to their personnel. But the Army counters that its new approach simply reflects new realities.

“Military advocates argue that the Army has long been called upon for peacekeeping and rebuilding in unstable areas, but that it has conducted those operations an ad hoc fashion because of an excessive focus on combat. ‘Contrary to popular belief, the military history of the United States is characterized by stability operations, interrupted by distinct episodes of major combat,’ states the manual, saying that, out of hundreds of U.S. military operations since the American Revolution, only 11 were conventional wars. From Panama in 1989 to Haiti to the 1991 Persian Gulf War to Iraq in 2003, Caldwell said he has seen the Army ‘confronted with having to conduct stability operations woefully unprepared.’ In 1989, for example, Caldwell was the chief of a military planning team preparing for the 82nd Airborne Division’s role in the invasion of Panama. ‘We never once talked about once we took down [Gen. Manuel] Noriega, what then,’ he said. ‘We only thought about the clenched fist, and someone else would get the trash picked up and get the water plants working.’ After Noriega’s power structure fell, Caldwell’s superiors ordered him to put police back on the streets. ‘We all panicked,’ Caldwell recalled.”

Hayes and Sands wrote, “Critics aside, all indications are that the military — including and perhaps especially the U.S. military — will continue to find itself involved in complex emergencies in the future. This belief is based in part on the fact that there is no convincing evidence that the United States, or any other international actor, is ready to invest heavily in preventive action. When the military does get involved, it should do its best to be part of a long-term solution.” Those words ring as true today as they did over a decade ago. One thing that has changed is an appreciation for why promoting sustainable development is important. Tyson reports:

“Today, such fragile states, if neglected, will pose mounting risks for the United States, according to Lt. Col. Steve Leonard, the manual’s lead author. Weak states ‘create vast ungoverned areas that are breeding grounds for the threats that we fear the most, criminal networks, international terrorists, ethnic strife, genocide,’ he said. ‘The argument against it is: Forget all that; you still
have … near peer competitors who are on the verge of closing the superpower gap.’ The new manual aims to orchestrate and plan for a range of military tasks to stabilize ungoverned nations: protecting the people; aiding reconstruction; providing aid and public services; building institutions and security forces; and, in severe cases, forming transitional U.S. military-led governments. In doing so, the manual adds to a growing body of doctrine focused on the military’s nontraditional skills, most notably the Army’s 2006 counterinsurgency manual, overseen by Gen. David H. Petraeus, Caldwell’s predecessor at the Fort Leavenworth command. ‘It’s certainly going to shape how we will allocate resources and how we direct training,’ said Col. Mike Redmond, director of the Army’s stability operations division, who is executing an action plan to implement the doctrine with 157 different initiatives, such as directing the Army’s medical command to develop plans advising foreign health ministries.”

As noted above, the “big war” crowd is unhappy with this new direction. Tyson lists their concerns:

“As the Army struggles to define its long-term future beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, some critics within the military warn that the new emphasis on nation-building is a dangerous distraction from what they believe should be the Army’s focus: strengthening its core war-fighting skills to prepare for large-scale ground combat. The critics challenge the assumption that major wars are unlikely in the future, pointing to the risk of high-intensity conflict that could require sizable Army deployments to North Korea, Iran, Pakistan or elsewhere. ‘All we need to do is look at Russia and Georgia a few months ago. That suggests the description … of future war is too narrow,’ said Col. Gian P. Gentile, an Iraq war veteran with a doctorate in history who is a leading thinker in the Army camp opposed to the new doctrine. ‘I don’t think the Army should transform itself into a light-infantry-based constabulary force,’ Gentile said. Instead, he said, ‘the organizing principle for the U.S. Army should be the Army’s capability to fight on all levels of war.'”

Tyson also details some of the concerns voiced by NGOs.

“Civilian officials and nongovernmental groups voice a different concern: that the military’s push to expand its exercise of ‘soft power,’ while perhaps inevitable, given the dearth of civilian resources, marks a growing militarization of U.S. foreign policy. ‘When the military is handed the task of stabilizing an area, that means doing everything. That’s not really what we want to have happen,’ said Beth Ellen Cole, a senior program officer at the Center for Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations of the U.S. Institute of Peace who worked on the manual. However, she said, ‘we are in an unfortunate situation where the civilian side is not resourced or equipped to do these things.’ Some nongovernmental organizations raised concerns about the potential blurring of roles when the military carries out relief operations, saying it could compromise their independence and impartiality in the eyes of local citizens, and make relief workers targets of attack. The organizations also objected to early drafts of the manual that suggested the military had an obligation or right to intervene in fragile states. ‘They referred to humanitarian NGOs as partners of the military,’ said James Bishop, vice president of Humanitarian Policy at InterAction, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations. ‘We said we did not want to be described as such.'”

In Tom’s discussions of his SysAdmin force, he stresses that the force is best hosted outside the Pentagon. He recommends the establishment a new cabinet-level department whose objectives are to secure the peace and foster development. For want of a better term, he calls this department the Department of Everything Else. Without such a department, the mission of securing the peace will likely remain in the Pentagon. Much to its credit, the military has included NGO participation in exercises and even in the writing of the field manual.

“Civilian government officials and NGO representatives including Cole and Bishop credit the Army for inviting them to take part from the beginning in shaping the doctrine, and for incorporating their suggestions. ‘They left the pen up to us for key sections,’ said Matthew A. Cordova, deputy director for civil-military affairs at the State Department’s reconstruction and stabilization office. Michael Hess, assistant head of the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said, ‘The military understands and we understand that if we don’t work together, your chances of achieving success are diminished.’ Still, bureaucratic unrest surrounded the writing of the Army stability manual, Leonard said, pointing to disputes over questions such as whether to the document should enshrine ‘democracy’ as a goal of stability operations, a move that was ultimately rejected. ‘It was constant debate and argument,’ he said.”

On this latter point, Hayes and Sands noted that it was the perception that citizens interests were being addressed by government that mattered most, not the form of government. They wrote:

“Trust and legitimacy can flow from the results of free and fair elections, but participants [in study workshops] felt that elections were not necessarily required. … Many workshop participants feared that intervention forces often believed that only Western notions of governance were acceptable — which simply may not be true. … Regardless of what governance system is adopted … the most important factor for long-term stability was a population’s perception that it needs were being represented in the halls of power.”

If the objective of securing the peace is to be achieved, the new field manual on Stability Operations is a step in the right direction. I agree with Tom Barnett that an even larger step needs to be taken, however, and that is creating a mostly civilian force whose roles and missions include securing the peace. As the military likes to say, establishing such a force is “beyond their paygrade” and they are trying to do the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt.