Civil Affairs Redefined
by Dennis J. Cahill
Photo by 1st Lt Samuel Otto, of U.S. Army Master Sgt. Daniel Gilliss, noncommissioned officer in charge, Civil-Military Assistance and Advisory Team, Security Force Assistance and Advisory Team 7, Company A, 486th Civil Affairs Battalion, Oklahoma Army National Guard, based out of Tulsa, Okla., introduces himself to Laghman provincial line directors at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam, May 18, 2013. Pnina Levermore, (sitting at the head of the table) sub-national governance adviser, United States Agency for International Aid.
The U.S. military definition of civil affairs, found in Joint and Army doctrinal publications, has long been problematic for those trying to understand the term. The published definition used in the latter part of the twentieth century was wordy and complex, focusing on “activities of a commander,” how that commander manages “relations between military forces and civil authorities,” and how, when, and by whom these activities, which include “functions normally the responsibility of local government,”1 are conducted. The current published definition is poorly written, has a circular error problem, and fails to provide a meaning that is useful. This version essentially says that civil affairs are military forces that conduct civil affairs operations.
One would think that, at the very least, the definition would reflect a combination of the two words that make up the term - the plural noun, affairs, and its modifying adjective, civil - ending up with something that describes the interest or activities of civilians encountered in a military operation. If one consults the online Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, one would find a definition, most likely developed during or immediately after World War II, that comes closer this common sense approach: affairs and operations of the civil population of a territory that are supervised and directed by a friendly occupying power.2
In 2016, the civil affairs proponent began the process of re-evaluating the roles, functions, and capabilities needed for the civil affairs branch to remain relevant in future operations. Two years later, in a published white paper, titled “Civil Affairs: 2025 and Beyond,”3 designed to gain U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) support for a full-blown assessment of the tasks, capabilities, gaps, and solutions required to transform the civil affairs force for future multi-domain operations,4 the proponent’s Force Modernization Directorate proposed the following, two-part definition for consideration by the Army:
Civil affairs - (1) the interests, functions, capabilities, and vulnerabilities of populations, civilian institutions, and interorganizational partners that exist at all levels and phases of military operations; (2) the forces specifically organized, trained, and resourced to address civil affairs and to incorporate civil considerations and resources into military operational requirements before, during, and after military operations.5