2017 Civil Affairs Roundtable Report: Regiment Must Come Together to Consolidate Gains

Updated: Feb 9, 2020


If one thing rang loud and clear at this spring’s Civil Affairs Roundtable, it was that the Civil Affairs Regiment needs to speak more with one voice, as a Joint as well as Army capability rather than in its own organizational stovepipes. But this now owes more to opportunities for Civil Affairs to consolidate significant gains in its strategic importance rather than bureaucratic impairments to its future. It also owes to the multipurpose nature of the Regiment – an advantage in today’s complex and uncertain security environment that includes Active and Reserve Component (AC/RC) and Special Operations and General Purpose Force (SOF/GPF) CA units and personnel in the Army and Marine Civil Affairs.

“We need to address the gaps among us, see our diversity as a strength and not a vulnerability, and pull the branch together to have a coherent Civil Affairs voice in larger Joint as well as Army force development discussions,” said keynote speaker Major General Hugh Van Roosen, currently Army Deputy G1. “CA has always been low on the order of Army priorities. That’s no different today, but now we’re more relevant than ever, for several reasons.”

As has happened before, threats to cut the Army CA force loom. Disbandment of the last two battalions of the 85th CA Brigade – the Joint Force’s only Active General Purpose Force CA units, critical to steady state, full-spectrum CA response to demand from Geographic, Service Component, and Joint Force Commands (GCCs, SCCs, and JFCs) – remains postponed from September 15th this year to March 15th 2018, pending finalization the Total Army Analysis (TAA) process. Meanwhile, Army Civil Affairs in general may see further losses, tangential to a possible 15% slice across certain Army structure.

Despite this, CA’s strategic importance continues to grow, as more in Washington realize the importance of the Regiment’s comparative capabilities – if not of CA itself. “Being the best warfighter in the world is not enough,” writes Center for Strategic and International Studies Strategy Chair Anthony H. Cordesman in the March edition of Military Review. “Neither is treating stability operations and civil-military affairs as a sideshow.” In addition to greater U.S. focus on “successful civil-military operations as being as important for success as combat,” he even calls for a “revolution in civil-military affairs if [the U.S.] is to be successful in fighting failed-state wars that involve major counterinsurgency campaigns and reliance on host-country forces.”

Even more than the “demand signal” for CA reflected in the Army’s assessment, CA figures prominently in the Chairman’s Joint Force Assessment and Defense Planning Guidance, explained members of the Roundtable’s afternoon panel. There may, in fact, be an opportunity in the new administration’s Defense Strategic Review (vice what has been called the National Defense Strategy) and National Military Strategy and National Security Strategy processes. Both retired Marine General James Mattis, now Secretary of Defense, and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, who spoke at the 2015 Civil Affairs Symposium and is now National Security Advisor, have talked consistently and repeatedly about the criticality of “consolidating gains” from military action to political outcomes.

Eminent Civil Affairs scholar Nadia Schadlow, whom McMaster has brought on to help write the next National Security Strategy, explains in her new book, War and the Art of Governance, how CA has been the Army’s under-resourced “neglected stepchildren,” as retired Major General Robert Scales put it in his Wall Street Journal review of the book posted after the DoD-approved conference.

“Civil Affairs,” the 2016 Symposium workshop report begins, “is increasingly understood as a na­tional strategic capability to consolidate military into political gains during and from decisive action and in transition from war to peace and from military to civilian lead, as well as to engage partners and other players in the ‘human geography’ to effectively con­tribute to national interests and policy objectives.”

At its strategic relevance grows, the Regiment’s institutional strength, cohesiveness, and connectivity is improving, especially at the Civil Affairs Branch Proponent at the U.S. Army JFK Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS). Elimination of the SOF/GPF and AC/RC divides in CA training, as the Association’s unofficial report recommends, is a high USAJFKSWCS priority, as are creation of a fuller branch proponent and its more forceful engagement of the Army staff in Washington. To overcome the incoherencies created by the Army’s diverse CA force, day-to-day contact between the proponent and CA commands as well as directly among them is improving, as members of the first panel noted. Marine CA Groups, at the same time, are now more fully regionally aligned.

Additionally, steady-state relations with interagency partners at especially the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are likewise improving, as for example in the large plurality of CA officers among military command and institution representatives at USAID’s Center for Civil-Military Cooperation.

Nearly 100 attended the National Defense University Center for Complex Operations event on April 4th to review the work captured in the freshly printed 2016-17 Civil Affairs Issue Papers. In addition to the five finalist papers on the core subject presented at the Civil Affairs Symposium in November 2016, this third volume – co-written by the International Peace & Security Institute – contains a detailed report capturing a rich discussion on “Leveraging Civil Affairs for Full-Range Operations by Theater and Service Commands in the Joint, Interorganizational, and Multinational Environment.”