Academic journal article Military Review

Redefining the Foreign Area Officer's Role

Academic journal article Military Review

Redefining the Foreign Area Officer's Role

Article excerpt

LONG BEFORE 11 September 2001 brought the reality of asymmetric warfare to the American homeland, statesmen, military theorists, and others were grappling with what the end of the Cold War would mean for U.S. security interests around the world. New theories of external threats to the United States (such as wars of civilizations, resurgent Chinese or Russian nationalism, rogue or failed states, and international crime) were postulated. (1) President George H.W. Bush called this state of affairs "a New World Order."

A firm belief was that America's containment strategy, backed by forward-deployed, heavily armored and mechanized forces poised to fight and win a future East-West confrontation in Europe and, to a lesser extent, a conflict in Korea, was obsolete. Operations in Kuwait, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, with their immature infrastructures, exposed U.S. forces' limitations in deployability and sustainment. Technologically sophisticated nonstate threats with asymmetric capabilities further exposed U.S. vulnerabilities and heightened a sense of urgency.

Believing that the United States would face no global or regional peer competitors for 20 years, the George W. Bush Administration seized this window of opportunity to initiate a transformation effort throughout the Department of Defense (DOD). (2) Army Transformation calls for institutional and operational change across all doctrine, organizations, training, materiel, leader development, people, and facilities domains. (3)

Although technology is important to Transformation, soldiers remain the centerpiece of the future force. (4) Transforming the way the Army recruits, trains, and fields soldiers is vital to achieving this vision. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld summed this up best: "All the high-tech weapons in the world won't transform our Armed Forces unless we also transform the way we think, train, exercise, and fight." (5)

In The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman argues that globalization is the new dominant international system whose defining feature is the interaction between politics, culture, finance, national security, technology, and ecology. (6) He believes that to understand international relations, foreign-policy practitioners must think globally and traverse all six areas seamlessly. He states, "Unfortunately, ... there is a deeply ingrained tendency to think in terms of highly segmented, narrow areas of expertise, which ignores the fact that the real world is not divided up into such neat little beats, and that the boundaries between domestic, international, political and technological affairs are collapsing." (7)

The foreign area officer (FAO) career field must also adapt to the new paradigms. Officer Professional Management 3 provided this opportunity by establishing a separate career field with its own promotion-and school-selection process. However, several changes must be made in FAO career development, assignment, and utilization to ensure FAO provides the necessary capabilities and skills to meet the Nation's current and future needs.

The Army needs to address strategic studies as a core skill. Language, while important, must be viewed as an enabler. The Army should enforce a broader assignment set and change its FAO personnel policy to overcome its Cold War bias and address new regional priorities. The central question facing the FAO career field over the next few years is whether FAO can overcome its own Cold War paradigm to become a more effective instrument of national policy during the 21st Century.

Adapting to Change

In the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, U.S. military engagements intensified across a wide operational spectrum, including humanitarian assistance, nationbuilding, and major theaters of war. (8) Globalization; the reduction of time-distance factors brought on by advances in transport and information technology; and the spread of nongovernmental organizations and other transnational players forced the United States to operate in a more complex security environment. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.