The Role of Civil Affairs in Stabilization Finds Definition

Updated: Feb 8, 2020


The Civil Affairs Regiment’s critical role in stabilizing conflict-affected areas received new definition, in addition to the past year’s discussion on the future of the Regiment around the theme of “Civil Affairs: A Force for Consolidating Gains,” under a revised interagency policy framework released just before the annual Civil Affairs Roundtable in Washington, D.C.

The Stabilization Assistance Review (SAR), produced by the Departments of State and Defense, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), provides a much-needed common conceptual framework for U.S. stabilization efforts and Civil Affairs Operations as well as looks to align authorities and funding streams. “We must consolidate security gains, reduce levels of local instability, and work with local partners to peaceably manage change and provide legitimate and responsive governance,” says the SAR’s foreword. “Our national experience over the past two decades has taught us that it is not enough to win the battle; we must help our local partners secure the peace by using every instrument of power.”

The 2017 Symposium in Chicago and 2017-18 Civil Affairs Issue Papers revealed a wide consensus among the community of practice that CA is the force of choice for consolidating gains in enabling the larger interagency stabilization effort while synchronizing it with related Joint Force and Army missions across the full range of operations. At the 17 April 2018 Roundtable at the Washington National Guard Armory, the community of policy affirmed the earlier finding of the Regiment’s criticality to this growing integrated enterprise across civil-military, interagency, and public-private lines – before, during, and after the outbreak of violent conflict. This began with keynote remarks from Mark Swayne, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs at OSD Policy Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC).

Swayne briefed the audience of more than 80 that, for the first time, the United States Government now has a unified definition of stabilization: “A political endeavor involving an integrated civilian-military process to create conditions where locally legitimate authorities and systems can manage conflict peacefully and prevent a resurgence of violence.”

This understanding resonates well with the Regiment’s dialogue over the past three Symposia and Issue Papers, infused in particular from a consistent narrative about the criticality of consolidating military and security gains into political and civil outcomes. Strategic leaders such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster (keynote at the 2015 Symposium), and Civil Affairs scholar Nadia Schadlow, author of War and the Art of Governance and much of the new National Security Strategy have shaped this narrative.

The SAR draws on lessons familiar to CA and their civilian partners on the ground in development, peacebuilding, and humanitarian assistance. Rather than wholesale top-down projects that have largely failed, the SAR emphasizes a retail bottom-up, community-based and adaptive process focused on nuanced local, national, and regional societal and governing dynamics, agents, and systems leading to civil dialogue and political accommodation versus violent extremism. “According multiple studies, targeted and smaller programs are better at the outset to achieve local outcomes and build momentum.” CA teams, which think strategically, act tactically, and constantly consider political imperatives, are ideal military enablers to this distributed approach.

As at the Peace & Stability Operations Training & Education Workshop (PSOTEW) the next day at the U.S. Army War College, Swayne advised a humbler attitude: “Instead of doing things in our own image, we should start with where they may want to go rather than where we think they should, adapt problems to capabilities rather than the other way around, focus more on the sustainable versus the ideal, and manage expectations by recognizing our own political blinders.”

Swayne’s next citation of the capstone policy made the significance of CA in stabilization more apparent: “Stabilization activities are necessary to consolidate military gains into lasting strategic success, and may include efforts to establish civil security, provide access to dispute resolution mechanisms, deliver targeted basic services, and establish a foundation for the voluntary return of displaced people.” These intended outcomes closely parallel the essential tasks and core functions of Civil Affairs outlined in the newly revised Army doctrine FM 3-57 (Civil Affairs Operations).

What will give even greater impetus to the re-emerging role that Civil Affairs has long played as a national strategic capability for civil-military transition and conflict management is the conceptual framework for DoD’s role and core responsibilities during U.S. stabilization efforts in DoD Directive 3000.05 (Stabilization), a revision and upgrade of DoD Instruction 3000.05 (Stability Operations), last published in 2009, which Swayne noted will be out later this year.

Among his requests, including the deployment of more CA personnel as civil-military advisors in Iraq to help consolidate gains in wake of the military defeat of ISIS, Swayne exhorted the Regiment to somehow find a replacement for the Policy Assistant for Civil Affairs at SO/LIC, a post discontinued under mandated military staff cuts at OSD.

As a follow-up to Swayne’s presentation, an interagency panel moderated by Kevin Melton, Senior Civil-Military Transition Assistance Specialist at USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), held an interactive discussion of the more granular implications of the SAR. Joining Melton were Peter J. Quaranto, the State Department’s Senior Advisor on Peace &