The 2022 Civil Affairs Roundtable on April 14 closed out the annual cycle of Civil Affairs intellectual readiness and capitalization, academic credentialing, and professional and force development on “Building a Global Civil-Military Network.” The online event involving over 300 participants from around the world served to help deepen and broaden the formal processes for CA force development, advance a more strategic, comprehensive, and integrative understanding of civil-military capacities and capabilities, and foster a learning organization that includes allied and counterpart civil-military organizations and interorganizational partners.
The 2021 Civil Affairs Symposium Report in Volume 8 of the Civil Affairs Issue Papers—which details the background to the discussion at the Roundtable—revealed critical observations for building a global civil-military network to strengthen alliances and attract new partners, as the war in Ukraine is validating. Among them is how networks help gain and maintain the access and influence that defines positional advantage in strategic competition and structure for success in combat and post-conflict through a wide and continuous feedback loop to enable more effective unified action and superior political-military and civil-military decision-making.
A more formal and deliberate global network of civil-military enterprises is long overdue. Whether for major combat operations, irregular warfare, gray zone encounters, or continuous competition with state and non-state actors, advantage falls to those that amass a superior learning network—institutionally as well as operationally.
CA’s greatest value-added, strategically and operationally, has always been its ability to grow and leverage civil networks, resulting from persistent civil reconnaissance and civil engagement and captured in civil knowledge integration—by, with, and through a vast array of military and civilian partners. This capacity is now more vital to “winning without fighting by leveraging all elements of national power,” as the Army Chief of Staff Paper on Army Multi-Domain Transformation explains.
The enjoining concept, reinforced by recent events in Eastern Europe, is an active rather than passive understanding of "readiness" in the forward presence of strategic enablers like CA that help increase situational understanding, provide early warning, and enable superior politico-military decision-making through continuous civil reconnaissance, engagement, and networking activities, as the Association explained in a Modern War Institute article posted just prior to the Roundtable. “Local relationships and context in the competition continuum matter deeply in contemporary warfare. Such specially selected, educated, trained, and steadily deployed personnel must constantly gain and maintain extensive learning networks by, with, and through an immense, well managed mix of host-nation, interagency, and interorganizational partners.”
When actively engaged in the regions, conducting collaborative planning with interagency and international partners, strategic civil reconnaissance and civil knowledge integration, and civil-military network building—explained in the new FM 3-57, Civil Affairs Operations, CA not only helps the U.S. and its allies and partners gain the upper hand to deter potential opponents. These positional advantages also help defeat adversaries more quickly, decisively, and optimizes the ability to consolidate and shape a more favorable post-war environment. As 2021 Roundtable keynote speaker Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Eric Wesley summed it: “You can’t compete if you’re not there.” Or, as the 308th Civil Affairs Brigade’s Colonel William Smith warned at the Symposium: “If we don’t get into the fight during competition, by the time we get to open conflict, the war is already lost.”
This is why the Army and joint force must see forces like CA as maneuver forces in the psycho-cultural spaces of war—i.e., as moral warriors who gain, maintain, and deny political, narrative, and perceptual positional advantages in the human domain, or what NATO calls “cognitive warfare,” instead of as merely “force multipliers” or “enablers,” the article argues. Within a whole-of-nation framework across the entire competition continuum, the Army and Joint Force must organize, manage, and resource such forces “with the same institutional as well as operational seriousness as combat forces” to build global and regional networks with allies and partners. At the same time, the CA Corps needs to understand itself in the same context.
Click here for the full report written by retired Colonel Christopher Holshek, US Army.