Playing Nice: Integrating Civilian Agencies into Military Operations Remains Difficult

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Breaking things is easy. Putting them back together is much harder.

The ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have proven that stability operations, or "winning the peace," after major combat has ended can take years and require skills in areas where the military doesn't have a great deal of expertise.

To solve this, the U.S. government has demanded that other departments add their personnel and knowledge to these nation-building efforts.

The U.S. Agency for International Development can lend a hand with poverty alleviation projects, the Department of Justice can help build legal institutions, the Department of Treasury can assist in jumpstarting broken economies, and so on.

But civilian agencies and the military don't always "play well together."

This interagency friction was laid bare by recent comments by Army Lt. Gem Mark Hertling, who served two tours of duty in Iraq.

He spoke of having to "force the State Department" to bend to the military's will.

"You do have to sometimes be heavy handed and say, 'This is what you're going to do or we're going to stop the convoy support for you. What do you say about that, Mr. Ambassador?'" he said at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting.

"Those are the sorts of things that military guys have to do," he added.

The "whole government" approach to rebuilding war-torn nations is nevertheless moving forward. USMD is in the process of building a Civilian Response Corps, which will comprise nonmilitary personnel from nine agencies who can deploy to areas in need of assistance with only a few day's notice (see related story). And after years of declining budgets and personnel losses, the State Department and USAID are being given more funds to rebuild their staffs.

While there is consensus that the rest of the federal government needs to lend a helping hand, and that the military can't be expected to bear all the burdens of nation building, there are plenty of skeptics and many unanswered questions.

"What's missing? How do we pull it together? How do we have an integrated structure? How will we communicate and interact with each other?" asked retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni at a National Defense Industrial Association stability, security, transition and reconstruction operations conference.

"We're very good at building defensive alliances, military alliances. Have we ever really truly built an alliance that dealt with development? That dealt with collective diplomacy? That dealt with all the issues that now come part and parcel to the conflict that go beyond just the application of military force?" he asked.

Part of the problem stems from a lack of planning, he said. Commanders are renowned for creating detailed plans for military operations. There are probably 11 such war scenarios for conflict on the Korean peninsula, he said.

"Do you think there is a plan for reconstruction equal in scope? It's not the case," he said.

William Schneider, former chairman of the Defense Science Board, said in the aftermath of World War II, there were detailed plans for the reconstruction of war-torn nations. But by the time Vietnam came around, he observed that battlefield victories were not followed by effective stability operations and reconstruction efforts.

The Defense Science Board under his tenure wrote three reports on stability operations and interagency coordination. Stabilization and reconstruction capabilities need "to be a core competency of the government," he said at the NDIA conference.

"There is a very substantial capacity to promote economic and political reform within U.S. government agencies, but they are poorly coordinated due to a lack of planning mechanisms," he said.

The Defense Department has the most effective planning processes, but the State Department is poorly resourced and staffed, he added. …