A New Role for Joint Civil-Military Interaction

A New Role for Joint Civil-Military Interaction

by Dr. Thomas Matyók and Srečko Zajc



Photo Courtesy of Rappresentanza Permanente d'Italia NATO


Global crises, such as the spreading of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), hybrid threats and asymmetric warfare require civil-military interaction responses guided by a unity-of-aim approach to build-up capacity for successful conflict transformation. No single activity has a monopoly on responses. All of society is required to act collaboratively in replying to demands placed on it by emerging threats.


We ask: What can civil and military leaders and operators responding to crises, hybrid threats, and asymmetric warfare learn from medical approaches to disease prevention and intervention? Like the drunk looking for lost keys under the streetlight because the light is better there irrespective of the fact that they were dropped in the dark lot across the street, we often fail to search for answers in places because of the dark. We seem content to continue doing what is comfortable, not what is required.


We also question what crisis response actors, medical experts, politicians, civil protection volunteers, etc.  can learn from military responses to confronting complex and potentially dangerous situations? And more generally, are we looking into the face of ignorance, lack of will, and hidden agendas supported by those who might profit the most from different crises or is it simply a lack of a systematic approach (we may call it comprehensive) at national and international levels (for example EU, NATO, UN)? Lastly, how do crisis management curricula and pre-crisis exercises fail at all levels of education?


Violent conflict is a disease, though, the disease is not violent conflict, per-se. Violence as a disease may develop into limited or wide-spreading violent conflict when gun cultures prevent governments and citizens from acting intelligently and crafting healthy public policy, for instance. Needed are creative responses to emerging threats; ones that recognize the need for comprehensive approaches in eliminating the many manifestations of violent conflict. We must develop new, proactive operational paradigms to address conflict and cease reacting to violence.


Clearly, to find the correct answers to complex problems it is necessary to ask the proper questions. A wrong hypothesis will only arrive at the wrong conclusion. Our goal in this paper is to focus on developing the right questions that will lead to theory-informed answers regarding new and emerging roles for military forces in responding to crises, hybrid threats and asymmetric warfare. In the end, conflict analysis and resolution theory must be integrated into higher education, professional development, training, exercises and useful apps for use by the general public in responding to emerging threats. To act in a concerted, unity-of-aim approach individuals and organizations must have access to timely research and education regarding crisis response.


Thinking outside-of-the-box has become a well-worn phrase meant to help individuals and organizations imagine new and innovative ways to build security and peace in a world subjected to increasing asymmetry. Blocking new ways forward, however, is that we often unthinkingly search for answers within a closed system. We assume a finite set of responses. We remain in-the-box while trying to think outside of it. This can result in our doing little more in crises than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic when what is required is a better ship.


If we choose to be guided by closed system thinking we must accept there is little reason to ask the military what their answer is to current and future national security and defense questions; nor should we only ask civilians. We will need to accept there is only a finite range of responses, and nothing more. We do not believe this should be the way forward. Our addition to the discussion of addressing crises, hybrid threats, and asymmetry is that we need to engage open systems thinking where the number of potential responses to threats is limited only by our imagination, knowledge, and intellectual curiosity.


In this paper, we question if military and non-military operators are educated and trained properly to address threats and engage in coordinated responses, as well as what might be the role of civil society, governments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), International Organizations (IOs), and Governmental Organizations (GOs) in meeting future crises? Are they educated, trained and able to work together collaboratively and cooperatively?  Can they interact positively in a constantly chaotic, fragile, and dynamic operational environment?


What is needed is a profound, as well as nuanced, understanding of security and the potential for the transformation of a health crisis, for example, as well as other hybrid threats into asymmetric warfare. Is asymmetric merely the opposite of symmetric warfare or is it different in kind? If asymmetric warfare is simply the reverse of symmetric than existing asymmetric responses should be enough, the opposite of symmetric. That has not proved the case. The number of special operating forces employing asymmetric methods now comes close to the number of conventional forces. Are we prepared to address asymmetry with asymmetric approaches to defense and security; thereby building an asymmetric fortress? How are resilient and anti-fragile systems forms of asymmetric offense and defense? Is it more useful to focus on the current state as continuous, a condition of permanent crisis and global chaos or look to the creation of future sustainable states able to battle against crises and hybrid threats in asymmetric environments? Is globalization a sustainable model of how we should run our Planet? Does globalization result in more, or fewer borders on the ground, between states, in governance systems and in understanding the living environment?


As for many phenomena today which we do not fully understand, crises, hybrid threats and asymmetrical warfare cannot escape our desire for certainty in searching for options, even conducting experiments, so we can write down the most comprehensive, simple, and understandable definition of threats. If we can't agree on a definition, how can we agree on solutions? And most frightening: are hybrid threats always the first stage of asymmetric warfare or only an announcement of it? Can hybrid threats later develop or transform into something different? Throughout this paper, we examine the relationship between hybrid and asymmetrical threats. Considering the fluid nature of hybrid threats and the need for asymmetric responses to ill-defined crises, is it more useful to replace end-state with an understanding of the current-state as continuous, a condition of permanent crisis and global chaos? Have we entered a state of conflict without a conclusion?


The era of classic, rigid industrial warfare is over. War and peace are not divided, they are the same side of the same coin.  The binary approach that viewed war and peace as two sides of the same coin, war on one side, flip the coin and ‘voila’, peace on the other is obsolete. The borders of war and peace are blurred, and we cannot think only in terms of ‘battles’. The Third Millennium military way of thinking and preparing no longer fits our needs. If there is no war, classically defined, and the battlefield is a permanent condition incorporating cooperation, competition, and conflict, there is nothing to ‘win’. Employing old intellectual paradigms, in this condition, we all lose.


Our experience teaching civil and military crisis preparedness at the university level and in professional military education settings, as well as working in civil-military interaction environments, suggests military thinking has atrophied. In the past, research for defense purposes invented and resulted in many side products useable later in civilian, non-military contexts (microwave for example), but today civilian companies are the most progressive and the military is using more-and-more civilian products as a part of its military toolset (Internet, AI, laser and so on). Public, private partnerships are the way forward as civil and military merge to fill a military intellectual gap that continues to widen.


Some military thinkers and politicians seem to suggest all that is needed is to push a button and the military way of thinking and operating will be reset. We do not think this is the case.  If we fail to change our thinking and move outside of the intellectual constraints imposed by an overwhelming bureaucracy whatever we reset will simply get us more of the same in a different order. It is better to think in a new way: we must recycle our way of thinking and operating even if the risk is that we do not know exactly what will come out. Needed is at least the courage of Alice when she stepped into the Looking Glass.


Crises with limited as well as global impacts and hybrid threats are daily, normal conditions. Threats short of conventional war are redefining its character. General Rupert Smith (2007) is unequivocal in his observation that “war no longer exists” (3). Today, war is not consigned to clearly demarcated battlefields where uniformed militaries engage in combat governed by agreed-upon rules of war. Smith further notes conflict now occurs amongst the people where the “dynamic of confrontation and conflict, rather than war and peace, (are) at the heart for war” (183). The hybrid battlefield is everywhere.


Traditionally war has been the province of the state as it held a monopoly on violence (Clark, 2015: 4). States today have lost their monopoly and a result is that military leaders must now develop new responses for addressing crises, hybrid threats, and asymmetric warfare. First, however, military leaders ought to understand the changes. Military leaders appear anchored to a Clausewitzian understanding of war where political and military are distinct spheres. A Westphalian Model is regularly employed to analyze and explain asymmetric warfare, a model that is proving to have limited utility as “fewer and fewer wars involve conventional clashes of opposing armies” (Levy & Thompson, 2010: 13). Outdated analysis tools are used to try and understand ill-defined, amorphous, virus-like hybrid, asymmetric threats. Military effectiveness has primarily been determined on how conventional forces fared in interstate conflicts (Cleveland, et al, 2018). Victory defined in this manner is antiquated.


Smith’s new battlefield can be seen in the refugee crisis confronting the European Union (EU). Beginning in 2015, massive numbers of refugees began to flow into the EU. The crisis has had the effect of disrupting the EU and some member states of the NATO alliance contributing to an escalation of internal disagreements to the point where some have begun to question the utility of the EU and NATO. What bad actors could not achieve through kinetic action they accomplished though the weaponization of refugee populations metaphorically expressed as biological weapons.


Refugees present the military with a new challenge, one that cannot be dealt with by kinetic means. The only available option is political. Refugees as a hybrid threat have left the military on the sidelines primarily providing policing activities.  Political and military leaders have been slow to recognize refugees as a hybrid threat. An overreliance on power as determinative can cause military leaders to struggle in attempting to understand the profound changes impacting responses to asymmetric, hybrid threats where we have entered an era of war without conclusion (Naim, 2013: 108). Military organizations’ conservative and risk-averse nature can lead them to resist necessary changes (Cleveland, et al, 2018).


Civilian and military actors are obliged to develop competency in recognizing and understanding the hybrid threats that now characterize a boundless operational environment. The battlefield is no longer hemmed in by geography. Technology has extended the physical fight into the cyber and space realms. Human and technological networks dominate. Networks, not military formations, are the new organizing structure for hybrid conflict (Ferguson, 2017). It is necessary to embrace this new paradigm; hybrid threats as network war where there is no immediate announcement or recognition of a military attack, conflicts manifest themselves without any sign or warning. We recognize hybrid threats as we are experiencing them. 


Hybrid threats carry the potential to become asymmetric conflicts; they behave as living organisms that replicate themselves throughout an unbounded battlefield demonstrating a fractal nature. Hybrid threat activities develop their own logic and move toward an internal congruence. The threat manifests itself at each level of the military structure – tactical, operational, strategic, and political – differently, yet the same. To understand a hybrid threat, it can be useful to think of broccoli. The smallest floret and the bunch replicate the same pattern at each level of analysis.  A “self-similarity” develops (Gadlin, et al, 2013: 476). To combat hybrid threats, it is necessary to detect, analyze and systematically disrupt the self-replicating pattern.


Unconventional warfare is no longer only a shadow activity. State and non-state actors conduct operations (cyber, media and fake news, classical propaganda, free-trading disruption, freedom of movement, small green-men, paramilitary organizations and many others) using hybrid means when power relationships are unequal, and the consequences of force-on-force engagements are too great. The cost-benefit analysis has tipped to the unconventional.


It is not obvious, nor is it necessary, hybrid threats will evolve into asymmetric warfare. As all adversaries are different the determining factor is their goals and competing agendas as well as human, technical, and economic resources.


Resilience speaks to a system's ability to recover from a shock; to quickly get back on its feet, so to speak. The military has a renewed interest in resilience as a key coping strategy (Jermalavičius & Parmak, 2018: 26). Discussions around resilience should extend to include the need for fluidity. Late in the 20th century “nimbleness and flexibility became increasingly valuable” (Naím, 2013: 117). Flexible suggests systems capable of bending under stress and not breaking. Flexibility is only good enough with networks in war. Networks must develop the capacity to flow with hybrid threats using their energy to build network-wide responses. Fluid, non-kinetic conflict management approaches that “embrace the chaos in a unity-of-aim, self-organizing, systems approach to peacebuilding” are required (Matyók & Stauder, 2020: 339).


To successfully transform crises and hybrid threats it is not necessary to develop asymmetrical warfare capacity nor even limited war responses, it is essential to build anti-fragile political and military networks as well as general public warning systems. This approach moves beyond resilience. Resilience relies on building systems that can absorb shock and recover. In contrast, Taleb (2014) outlines a need for the development of anti-fragile systems – systems that embrace shocks and use the energy to make systems stronger. Military networks ought to become anti-fragile in meeting hybrid threats, and develop into dynamic, complex adaptive systems; “a scale-free network…a web without a spider” (Ferguson, 2018: 37). To build resilient Whole-of-Society structures is daily work and it needs to be done in advance of threats through Joint Civil-Military Interaction (JCMI) preparedness. During crises, systems are pushed to improvise, and improvisations do much better when they adhere to already established algorithms of resilience.


Resilient, anti-fragile systems are the answer to crises, hybrid threats and asymmetric warfare. The question is: Are military networks capable of becoming anti-fragile without networking with non-military specialists? Most military decisionmakers have shown little need to transform an Industrial Age military mindset to one that is adept to deal with a flattened and dynamic digital world. Calls for change do not endanger the rigid, sturdy military system. Change can be viewed as an opportunity or a threat, and many military leaders have learned to be risk-averse.


It is important to recognize that crises and hybrid threats are nothing new. It is a return to the future. Interstate industrial war is an outdated model (Smith, 14: 4-5). Business-like approaches to war are being replaced by conflict-entrepreneurs where violence is a hybrid cottage industry.


Conflict analysis and transformation, as part of Joint Civil-Military Interaction (JCMI) employing a unity-of-aim approach (Matyók & Stauder, 2020) to achieve a harmony-of-effort, ought to become the primary non-kinetic response to hybrid threats. Presently, education and training schemes regarding Civil-Military Interaction (CMI) are inadequate leaving military actors ill-prepared to confront hybrid threats that have no kinetic response.


This is not to suggest that classic military capabilities are no longer needed, only that our understanding of the military and requirements placed on military actors have changed. The military is now one tool among many in conducting Whole-of-Society responses to crises, hybrid threats and asymmetric warfare. For kinetic responses, the military remains the best option. The military can establish a safe-and-secure environment within which humanitarian aid and development actors can function. Special operations forces, fast-moving logistical support, medical support, and engineering are capacities that civil society are unable to replicate. When it comes to kinetic and disaster response the military maintains an unmatched economy-of-scale. But the military is incapable of leading and implementing an entire comprehensive approach. We should not forget that more and more civilian companies are contracted by the military.


For instance, transportation of military assets is routinely provided by civilian companies. The COVID-19 response is a painful acknowledgment that a new, fast reacting, well-coordinated complete body of actors at national and international levels is needed. Conflict resolution methodologies have to become part of a JCMI tool kit. Negotiation, mediation, and facilitation are tools for combatting crises, hybrid, people-centric, network battle and war (Matyók & Schmitz, 2014). We should not underestimate the influence of strategic communication and information timely delivered to the general public involved in crises. Unfortunately, even though there is a need for new approaches to addressing emerging forms of conflict we remain ill-prepared. For instance, “NATO personnel are lacking awareness of CMI” and they are unable to effectively engage non-military actors positively (van der West & Warstat, 2018: 46-47). A myopic focus on kinetic operations continues irrespective of the observation of how the military engages regularly with local civilian actors in non-kinetic engagements (Davidson, 2009; Gezari, 2013). Increasingly, military actors find themselves involved in the political sphere 80 percent of the time and employing the remaining 20 percent of their time in kinetic operations (Gezari, 2013).


The complex nature of crises and hybrid threats makes them a challenge to understand vis-à-vis conventional war. Possibly it is useful to borrow from the medical community in working to understand hybrid, asymmetric warfare and thereby move out of the intellectual box that can restrict our thinking.


Cleveland, et al (2018) quotes Janis Berzin when discussing Information Warfare as an aspect of the asymmetric battle. For Berzin,

“The Russian view of modern warfare is based on the idea that the main battlespace is in the mind, and as a result, new-generation wars are to be dominated by information and psychological warfare with the main objective being to reduce the necessity for deploying hard military power to the minimum necessary, making the opponents military and civilian population support the attacker to the detriment of their own government and country” (see: Learning to Distort: The Evolution of Information Warfare in Russia”).

Possibly it is useful to imagine the new battlespace as a social body where diplomacy, information, security forces, and economics interact. Peacebuilders approach the social body as a physician approaches a patient; they conduct a diagnosis, make a prognosis, and apply a therapy or intervention. Rather than meeting asymmetric, hybrid threats with direct military force alone, CMI actors address violent conflict as a social virus using therapeutic means, treating the patient holistically.


The current novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is a threat to global health and at the same time is a teacher teaching us, that without a global scientific approach, research, and a unity of efforts no one wins. (At the moment we do not have enough information regarding COVID-19 to see the whole picture. We are confronted with incomplete information and disinformation. We must wait and avoid speculations.) The novel coronavirus and the more familiar yearly flu virus have no respect for national borders (just as hybrid threats and networks do not recognize borders); it is progressing in a fast-moving world adapting to its specific environment. Systems, states, societies and individuals must adapt too, and they need to reinvent and develop a value regrettably forgotten in the last decades: solidarity. Solidarity is needed in minimizing the living space of a virus, the virus must have a host; unfortunately, selfishness is expanding to meet the pandemics size. In this instance, large portions of populations refuse to take COVID-19 seriously. The global community must be called to action, civil and military. There can be no hangers-on.


The paradigm ‘war on terror’ must be replaced with ‘solidarity to everyone’. Crises, limited or pandemic size, and hybrid threats that operate like, or as viruses, must be met with whole-of-society responses. Cultural, religious, ethnic differences are minor when facing global, existential threats that endanger life and show no respect for social differences dividing individuals. The smallest denominator is ‘basic life’ or ‘human rights’, if you prefer. Human Security and National Security are two sides of the same coin.


Asymmetric, hybrid threats infect the social body and when left untreated can affect the DNA of a society. Social structures become addicted to violence and conflicts become intractable. Violence becomes part of a society’s DNA.


Hybrid threats can be understood as social viruses that live off their hosts gaining strength as host-bodies seek to develop an immunity. The hybrid threat as a virus adapts to changes in the social body. It is a dynamic activity. The idea guiding civil-military intervention should be bringing the social body to a state of wellness. The treatment plan should be holistic. It cannot be military-centric. When a physician treats a patient, he or she treats the whole patient; physical, emotional, and spiritual. Responses to asymmetric, hybrid threats cannot be any less focused. Societies have physical, emotional (cultural), and spiritual dimensions. A pathology in any one dimension impacts the others.


Joint Civil-Military Interaction (JCMI) could be the most progressive, adaptable, and useful tool available to civil authorities and the military in tackling hybrid threats and providing humanitarian assistance and disaster response to crises. Employing a CMI way of thinking civil and military actors harmonize their efforts in complex operational environments to ensure the meeting of human needs and continuation of national security objectives, national and human security merge. A CMI way of thinking is the goal where civil and military act out of their expertise and complement each other. Competition is anathema to CMI. Collaboration, cooperation, and complementarity (C3) are the process and the goal.


Time is the most critical resource when executing humanitarian assistance and disaster/crisis response operations. The CMI mindset is built upon a common language or grammar. Agreeing to, and using, settled upon terms and definitions facilitates C3 and speeds joint problem-solving and joint decision-making. Agreed upon conflict resolution processes expand the amount of time available to civil and military actors. Operational delays resulting from a misunderstanding of terms in use with no conflict resolution structure in place can result in unnecessary confusion among individuals and agencies.


To better manage the time available in complex operations planners and operators require new ways of thinking and acting. Bureaucratic, stovepipe responses to fast-moving chaotic, complex, and complicated situations is no longer acceptable. The Joint Civil-Military Interaction Network provides a structure within which the CMI mindset is made manifest.


The JCMI Network brings civil and military actors as well as scholars together to investigate issues impacting civil-military interaction in peacekeeping and humanitarian actions. JCMI is based on communication, planning, and coordination among international, national, and local non-military representatives and military leaders before, during, and post-crisis to facilitate mutual effectiveness and efficiency of each. The purpose of JCMI is to construct a new way forward in addressing crises, hybrid threats and asymmetric warfare. Its goals are to:


  • Establish and strengthen partnerships among JCMI actors,

  • Build international cooperation,

  • Inform and educate policymakers regarding JCMI, and

  • Promote public policy initiatives that advance JCMI within peacekeeping and humanitarian response communities.


The JCMI Network offers a way forward. JCMI is a humanoid-algorithm, flexible enough to adapt as fast as possible in meeting new kinetic and non-kinetic threats - conventional, hybrid, and asymmetric – providing real-time advice to military and non-military actors regarding conflict analysis, resolution, and transformation.

As a network, JCMI has the capacity to provide tailored responses based on need. Off-the-shelf responses that are not context-driven can have limited utility and are not part of the response-set; rather, subject matter experts can ‘swarm’ to address specific needs in context. Strategy and tactics are developed case-by-case.  A response network is developed.


It may appear as though we are suggesting that addressing crises, hybrid threats, and asymmetric warfare is like coping with the spread of disease, and that is correct. When confronting the spread of disease, it is important to move fast, to bring experts together who are capable of collaborating, and freely exchanging information in building capacity to respond. In a civil-military interaction context, ‘fight’ is not exclusively used as a military term. It describes concerted action in the same way we speak of ‘fighting climate change’, ‘fighting coronavirus’, and ‘fighting for peace’.


The world is flat, and military organizations are vertical, hierarchical. The non-military organizations are horizontal, more flexible. Conflict between two horizons can lead to slow bureaucratic thinking and inadequate responses when quick action is needed. The military can default to what it knows best, kinetic responses. We must invent responses that are appropriate to the demand and comprehensive Joint Civil-Military Interaction is now the best option we have to develop.


References


Cleveland, Charles; Jensen, Benjamin; David, Arnel; & Brynat, Susan. (2018). Military strategy for the 21st century: People, connectivity, and competition. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press.


Davidson, J. (2009). Principles of Modern American Counterinsurgency: Evolution and Debate. Brookings Counterinsurgency Paper Series, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. www.brookings.edu/research/principles-of-modern-american-counterinsurgency-evolution-and-debate


Ferguson, Niall. (2017). The square and the tower: Networks and power, from the freemasons to Facebook. New York, NY: Penguin Press.


Gadlin, Howard; David, Matz & Chrustie, Calvin (2013). Playing the percentages in wicked problems: On the relationship between broccoli, peacekeeping, and Peter Coleman’s The Five Percent. In Educating Negotiators for a Connected World, Christopher Honeyman, James Coben, and Andrew Wei-Min Lee (Eds.). Saint Paul, MN: DRI Press, 475-510.


Gezari, V. (2013). The Tender Soldier: A True Story of War and Sacrifice. New York: Simon & Schuster.


Gregg, Heather. (2018). Building the nation: Missed opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lincoln, NE: Potomac.


Jermalavičius, Tomas & Parmak,, Merle. (2018). Societal resilience: A basis for whole-of-society approach to national security. In Kevin D. Stringer and Mark C. Schwartz (Eds.),  Resistance Views: Essays on Unconventional Warfare and Small State Resistance. MacDill Air Force Base, FL:  Joint Special Operations University: 23-46.


Levy, Jack S. & Thompson, William R. (2010). Causes of War. Walden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Matyók, T. & Schmitz, C. L. (May-June 2014). Is There Room for Peace Studies in a Future-Centered War-Fighting Curriculum? Military Review(94)1, 51-55.


Matyók, Thomas & Stauder, Sven. (2020). Civil-military interaction: A unity-of-aim method for peacebuilding. In Routledge Companion to Peace and Conflict Studies, Sean Byrne, Thomas Matyók, Imani Michelle Scott & Jessica Senehi (Eds.), New York, NY: Routledge: 337-348.


About the Authors


Srečko Zajc served as Director General of the Defense Affairs Directorate, Ministry of Defense Republic of Slovenia. The Directorate is responsible for the National Defense plan, Critical Infrastructure Protection and the implementation and integration of the NATO Crisis Response Mechanism into the national crisis response mechanism. Mr. Zajc was instrumental in speaking to military mobility from NATO and EU perspectives, countering hybrid threats and developing responsive policies on a national level, promotion of the military profession and recruitment, civil-military cooperation and interaction, and development of remote CIMIC Support. In June 2019 the NATO Civil-Military Centre of Excellence awarded him with the prestigious CIMIC Award of Excellence. He can be reached at: srecko.zajc@gmail.com


Thomas Matyók, Ph.D. (Nova Southeastern University) is Director of the Joint Civil-Military Interaction (JCMI) research and Education Network. He has taught Conflict Analysis and Resolution at universities in the United States and Germany. Dr. Matyók  has also taught conflict analysis and resolution in professional military education settings at Army and Air Force senior service colleges. He was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Konstanz in Southern Germany and a visiting research professor at the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute. Dr. Matyók has written and presented extensively on conflict analysis and resolution as part of civil-military interaction. He can be reached at: thomas.matyok@outlook.com


Originally published with our partner publication, Small Wars Journal here.




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