The Future of Civil Affairs

In the article, The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War, Allison (2015) states, “…based on the current trajectory, war between the United States and China in the decades ahead is not just possible, but much more likely than recognized at the moment” (p. 2). In response to this rapidly evolving environment, the Army updated and depicted its Strategy through 2028. Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the Army Forces, and Army Futures Command are directing modernization efforts to counter threats and retain a competitive advantage in the era of Great Power Competition (GPC). Almost simultaneously, the United States refined its approach to foreign policy to include our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This enabled China to tighten the noose around Asia through the Belt and Road initiative as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also generated considerable economic benefit from the United States’ withdrawal from the TPP and strengthened its regional position of leadership. As China continues to build and militarize islands in the Pacific, invest heavily in Asia, South America, and Africa as well as modernize its military forces, the United States pivoted away from counterinsurgency to focus on Large-scale combat operations (LSCO) occurring across multiple domains. As we shift national security and policy objectives, the question of where and how Civil Affairs (CA) fits within this new paradigm – from LSCO to Multi domain operations (MDO), is an ongoing discussion. However, if the regiment is unable to convey value and maintain relevancy with our joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational (JIIM) partners, it is a moot point.


Currently, stakeholders within the JIIM construct lack a comprehensive understanding of CA capabilities. If these organizations, institutions, and the interlocutors who work within them lack an awareness and understanding for the skill set CA delivers, how will the regiment flourish in the future? Internal to the organization, Reserve and Active-duty CA practitioners often fail to fully understand and complement each other, hampering effectiveness. This gap only grows outside of the regiment. Muddying the waters further is the Army’s new Security Force Assistance Command (SFAC). Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) missions overlap with CA, adding layers of redundancy while contributing to a sense of ambiguity to anyone outside of the regiment. For many conventional Department of Defense (DoD) partners, for example, CA is an enigma. This mystique degrades the ability of Civil Affairs Teams (CAT) and planners to maximally influence the human domain in LSCO and MDO.