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An Evolving Role for the Army

Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2008/10/army2.jpgSoldier as policeman may be the infantry man's next mission. (Army.mil)

The U.S. Army on Monday unveiled a new field manual for stability operations — the panoply of activities to secure a government’s control over its populace and keep the peace — taking yet another step beyond the military’s traditional role of preparing to fight and win the nation’s wars.

Formally known as FM 3-07, the Stability Operations field manual is a 200-page attempt to develop doctrine for mid-career to senior officers who must implement a wide range of tasks — from building irrigation systems to supporting district-level elections — previously thought outside the Army’s scope. It instructs commanders to work not only with civilian U.S. government agencies but with non-traditional allies, like non-governmental organizations.

The manual predicts that conflicts in the next 10 to 25 years will not be like Iraq or Afghanistan — where the U.S. military overthrows a foreign government and attempts to create a new governing structure — but instead envisions indirect U.S. support to foreign governments that battle their own insurgencies. At the same time, the manual uses practical lessons from both wars.


Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

“As the nation continues into this era of uncertainty and persistent conflict, the lines separating war and peace, enemy and friend, have blurred,” writes Lt. Gen. William Caldwell in the manual’s preface. Caldwell commands the Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, considered the Army’s intellectual center.

Marking the manual’s step into the future, the Combined Arms Center released FM 3-07, for Field Manual 3-07, on its Website Monday morning, shortly before a lunchtime presentation by Caldwell’s commander, Gen. William Wallace of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, as part of a major Army conference that is held annually.

The manual reflects a movement within the Army that is propelling the service away from its traditional role of battling a hostile state’s military. Accelerated in part by the Iraq and Afghanistan experience, this movement — led by the defense theorist-practitioners called the counterinsurgents, who assert that the U.S. military must prepare for a future of asymmetric conflict — has recently scored a string of institutional accomplishments in the area of doctrine.

In 2006, the Army and Marine Corps released FM 3-24, the counterinsurgency field manual spearheaded by Army Gen. David Petraeus and Marine Gen. James Mattis. Earlier this year, the Army revised its field manual on basic operations, known as FM 3-0, to elevate stability operations to an essential core competency — as important as defeating foreign enemies and protecting the U.S. from attack.

Speaking on a bloggers’ conference call Monday, Caldwell said the stability operations field manual derived from the revision to FM 3-0. “This is a significant mind-shift,” Caldwell said. He pointed out, “We have always conducted stability operations in our Army’s history” and the manual’s first section subtly reinterprets Army history to be “characterized by stability operations, interrupted by distinct episodes of major combat” — but never before has that history been “codified into doctrine.”

This doctrine recognizes a mission for the Army that is far less clear than in major combat. It may be the first time the Army considers one of its central tasks to be a subordinate role to other agencies or partners.

“Through stability operations, military forces help to set the conditions that enable the actions of the other instruments of national power to succeed in achieving the broad goals of conflict transformation,” the manual states. “By quickly dictating the terms of action and driving positive change in the environment, military forces improve the security situation and create opportunities for civilian agencies and organizations to contribute.”

The manual specifically states that a State Dept. office known as the Office of the Coordinator of Post-Conflict Reconstruction is “designated to coordinate” stability operations across the entire U.S. government.

Like with the counterinsurgency manual, FM 3-07 emphasizes that the real battle in stability operations takes place in the minds of a foreign populace. It places great emphasis on the “legitimacy” of a host government.

The manual offers advice on “managing expectations and informing the people about friendly intentions and actions.” It points to the need for military force to allow civilian forces — indigenous and foreign — to provide for such needs as economic opportunity, impartial justice, health care and infrastructure development.

To that end, the manual repeatedly refers to the need for the Army to work collaboratively — with allied military forces; with a host nation’s indigenous security forces, and with civilian government and non-government agencies — to strengthen weak states.

Lt. Col. Steve Leonard, the lead author of the manual, said on Monday’s conference call that portions of FM 3-07 were developed “hand-in-hand with our partners in the UK,” and that early drafts were shared with military counterparts in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Greece, Italy and Spain. “Virtually every country in Europe and a lot of them throughout the Pacific” were able to contribute, Leonard said. “There’s a huge international flavor to this.”

The manual often focuses more on shaping the way commanders think about stability operations than instructing about specific actions. To some degree, that is due to the manual’s potential readership.

FM 3-07 is written for officers “preparing themselves for command,” said Janine Davidson, a former Pentagon official who specialized on stability operations and who contributed to FM 3-07. “It’s about knowing what questions to ask and where to get the answers when you find yourself in charge of one of these complex operations — each one of which will be different. These are different skill sets than traditional war-fighting stuff, [like] how to fly an airplane.”

But the manual’s lack of operational specificity is also due to the difficulty today in knowing where the military role ends and a civilian one begins in a stability operation. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the relative paucity of civilian diplomats, aid workers and government experts has meant the military has had to shoulder many traditional civilian tasks.

Leonard said that sorting out who played what role was “probably the biggest challenge we had to face.” His approach — something Davidson helped with — was to open the drafting process to civilian agencies across the U.S. government.

“We needed to have a doctrine that really laid out roles and missions across the board,” Leonard said, “because, again, if you’re just writing a doctrine that just deals with what the Army does, it’s not going to be good enough.”

But not everyone is enthusiastic about the Army’s elevation of stability operations to a core function.

Christopher Preble, a retired Navy officer who directs foreign-policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, argued that the manual represented a step to committing the U.S. to “these missions on, I think, the completely erroneous assumption they advance our security.”

Years ago, Preble, along with a former Cato analyst Justin Logan, warned that creating a State Dept. office for post-conflict reconstruction would lead future administrations to view nation-building as a central national-security concern, even in cases without a clear relationship to the national interest. “What’s puzzling is that the American public, in poll after poll, says it doesn’t want to be the world’s policeman,” Preble said. “I see this manual as of a piece [with a policy] where we are doing it alone and will continue to do so.”

But retired Army officer John Nagl, who helped write the Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual, welcomed the stability operations manual as an important step away from traditional state-on-state warfare.

“This is part of the Army’s increasing understanding of the fact that the nature of conflict in the 21st century is going to be different,” said Nagl, now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “The greatest threats we face, arguably, will no longer be from states that are too strong, but from states that are too weak.”

Despite their differences, both Nagl and Preble said they would be looking to see how the manual drives future Army budgets, program acquisitions and force structures. Preble said he was unsure if the manual’s authors believed the U.S. “required a vastly larger ground force or a conventional force than we have today.” Nagl wanted to see if the manual would lead to changes in how the Army trains and advises host-nation security forces.

Caldwell and Leonard said on the conference call that most changes envisioned by the manual — some already in place — involve training U.S. forces to conduct stability operations before they perform them in theaters of conflict. “There will be some budgetary impact,” Caldwell said. But he specified only that there might be a larger exchange program to embed Army officers in civilian agencies and vice versa — which would be a fraction of the half-trillion annual defense budget.

Nonetheless, Nagl said the manual heralds a change for an Army, which has clung to traditional views of state-on-state conflict despite nearly 15 years of asymmetric warfare and counterinsurgency experience.

“There appears to be evidence that the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the leadership of the Army recognize that there’s more we can do to prepare for the wars we’re actually fighting, and realization these are the kind of wars we will be continuing to fight for a number of years,” Nagl said.

“It’s part of the process of turning the aircraft carrier around,” he said. He then extended the metaphor through a reference to a swift, new Navy vessel, embraced by advocates of irregular warfare, “It may be that we don’t need aircraft carriers so much as Littoral Combat Ships.”

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