Symposium Reaches for a New Narrative on “Leveraging Civil Affairs”

Updated: Feb 9


For two days in Mountain View, California, members and guests of the Civil Affairs Association came together to augur a universal narrative on what Civil Affairs’ most important customers should reasonably expect CA to contribute to their mission and thus what CA, in turn, should be ready to deliver, regardless of component, service, or level of action.

For much of the 17-18 November Symposium on “Leveraging Civil Affairs,” this exploration took place in a two-part workshop on “Identifying Core Civil Affairs Competencies for Full-Range Operations by Theater and Functional Commands in the Joint, Interorganizational, and Multinational Environment.”

Facilitated by the International Peace & Security Institute (IPSI), the workshop surveyed policy and doctrine, lessons, professional research, and professional testimonials from an active group of nearly 80 participants to identify the comparative advantages sought by the Joint and Service commands that implement national security strategy, day to day and in crises, in various regions around the world.

“Our task was to enable and capture this rich discussion, based on review and exploration of current research, best practices, and doctrinal thinking to-date on CA and the future of warfare,” noted IPSI Senior Advisor Kevin Melton, who steered the conversation with IPSI President Cameron Chisholm and with the added expertise of Dr. Karen Guttieri, Professor of National Security Studies at the Air University, among the top CA scholars, and Col. (ret.) Dennis, Deputy Director, Civil Affairs Force Modernization at the Army Special Warfare Center School at Ft. Bragg, NC.

After considering these comparative advantages, both within the military and with respect to “Civilian Unified Action Partners,” the group looked to identify key challenge areas related to building and leveraging CA competencies as well as potential solutions.

Rounding out what Guttieri called a “super constructive” discussion were lunchtime remarks from Maj. Gen. Daniel Ammerman. The Commander, U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) stressed the importance of a strong working relationship between CA Commands and their service component command with the Geographic Combatant Command structure. For both Marine and Army CA, these commands will have more to do with requesting, funding, and employing CA at any point along the range of operations than the Joint structure.

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, Commander, United States Forces Korea, made a similar point in his keynote remarks at the banquet dinner. This year’s recipient of the Association’s Eli Nobleman Award, the United Nations and ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Commander added that it is the service commands in-theater that execute theater missions, further urging CA commands to more creatively apply legal and policy frameworks to enable a more robust presence of especially Reserve CA to enhance planning, interoperability and training of both CA and general purpose forces.

Among the gaps identified was the low number of Civil Affairs planners at theater and operational commands as well as the paucity of civil-military operations directorates among the Army and Joint staff in the Pentagon (G9/J9). While the tactical capability of the CA force is robust, well established and understood, and well supported in policy, training, and doctrine, the same could not be said for CA at the operational and strategic levels.

Reinforcing many points of the workshop and panel discussions were the issue papers briefed that afternoon, with the winning papers being:

  • “There are More than Two Crayons in the Box,” by Captain John K. Karlsson and Captain Michael K. Karlson, whose exceptionally creative and poignant briefing won first prize;

  • “Supporting the Trickiest Task: How Civil Affairs Can Bring Essential and Missing Capabilities to Geographic Combatant Commands’ Mandate to Prevent Conflict,” Major Clay Daniels and Ms. Morgan G. Keay; whose engaging presentation won second prize;

  • “The Present and Emerging Spaces for Leveraging Civil Affairs: How Can Civil Affairs Most Important Customers Best leverage CA’s Full Range of Capabilities?” by Colonel John C. Hope, took third place.

Major Shafi Saiduddin and Sergeant First Class Robert Schafer’s “Changing the Business Model: Leveraging Civil Affairs as an Instrument of Defense Support to Diplomacy and Development” was given honorable mention for taking on an exceptionally difficult subject.

Copies of the workshop and Issue Paper presentations are posted on the Association website. The papers, along with a summary of the workshop discussion, will appear in the third volume of CA Issue Papers at the Civil Affairs Roundtable in the Washington, D.C. area in the March-April timeframe (to be announced in January).

Next year’s Symposium is intended to take place in Chicago.

“Now the real work begins,” noted Symposium organizer and Issue Papers co-editor Col. (ret.) Christopher Holshek. In addition to planning the Roundtable and the next Symposium, the Association and IPSO will draft a report that may become a separate “White Paper,” for publication at the same time of the Issue Papers. It will be drafted and posted for comment in December.

In any case, the Symposium’s findings will help shape policy and doctrine related to Civil Affairs, among them the Army Functional concept which sees CA as “the lead Department of Defense human geography capability to engage civil societies and agencies by applying unique knowledge, skills, and abilities that promote unified action.” CA forces, the draft went on, “are selected, trained, organized, and equipped to support, influence, compel, or control populations, governments, and other institutions in the future operational environment, to achieve national objectives.”

The latter description resonates with the general recognition of CA’s traditional role as an enduring national strategic capability to consolidate political-military gains and help post-conflict transition from war to peace and from military to civilian lead, as well as its emerging ability to engage partners to shap­e, influence, and stabilize the human environment, thus contributing to conflict prevention.

Equally importantly, however, CA can do so only when appropriately leveraged by commanders who understand its strategic as well as operational value. This is most important at the theater strategic level, where CA is most useful to political-military strategies in planning and conducting peace and stability operations, supporting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, countering violent extremism, and performing security cooperation and assistance.

Other important observations included the need for CA commands to more proactively network with civilian organizations and other partners in the “steady state,” to include sending CA teams to help these organizations learn more about how Civil Affairs can work with and help them especially in crises, as well as themselves learn more about these organizations to help other CA personnel better understand their capabilities.

“We will continue to facilitate and foster support for continuing dialogue and the development of new concepts and actions,” Association President Col. (ret.) Joe Kirlin concluded. “Our thanks go out in particular to IPSI and our many other partners in putting together this Symposium and the work that follows, and especially to the 351st Civil Affairs Command for hosting this event.”


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