Theory Operationalized: Some Core Concepts in Practice

The term “civil-military interaction” is a broad concept that is reflected through a number of specific doctrines, models, guidelines and policy approaches. Often these approaches are developed and applied by military institutions like NATO, but also by civilian organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). Thus the concept is not exclusively military, and nor should it be. Of the many approaches that abound, one can see that they range from the tactical and operational to strategic and political, including the so-called “Oslo Guidelines” (Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil-Defence Assets in Disaster Relief), NATO CIMIC (Civil-Military Cooperation), UN CIMIC and/or CMCoord (Civil-Military Coordination and Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination), the ICRC Code of Conduct, COIN (Counterinsurgency), the “Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets to Support United Nations Humanitarian Activities in Complex Emergencies”, PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team), NATO Comprehensive Approach, EU Comprehensive Coordination, and the UN’s Integrated Missions, among others.

These terms are all relevant to civil-military interaction, however they are by no means synonymous and do not serve similar purposes. Often however there is considerable confusion between and about these approaches, for example where the military function of CIMIC is confused with the political/military strategy of COIN or an operational unit like the PRT, or where humanitarian guidelines are assumed to be similar to, or reflective of, military approaches. Civil-military interaction is further complicated by the vague slogans it elicits in popular media. Typical statements on civil-military interaction include: “there is no military solution”; “we need a unified approach”; “there needs to be a political solution”, “civil and military activities should be separate”, and references to and criticisms of gaining the “hearts-and-minds” of local populations in complex emergencies. What is clear, however, is that civil-military interaction is a key concern for both civilian and military actors, and that the proliferation of models and guidelines demonstrate a desire for better preparation in this field.

Some of the concepts that lie under the civil-military interaction umbrella are a part of strategy, some are understood and practiced as doctrines, guidelines or units within a given operation, and some civil-military concepts are instead functions (roles or positions) that are relevant in all operations but may not play a role at all levels (strategic, operational, tactical).[1] In which ways these doctrines and functions are relevant depends on the context of and the strategy behind the operation, but as long as the operation has an impact on civilian actors, civil- military functions would have a role to play. Concepts that are relevant to the strategic level include the “Comprehensive Approach” or Integrated missions”, whereas those concepts that are more operation specific include counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) that is additionally fine-tuned to the context (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.). Bridging the operational (planning) and tactical levels (implementation of tasks) one finds military functions such as CIMIC. The comprehensive approach reflects a broad (but often vaguely or poorly defined) strategy for ensuring that critical but diverse efforts from civilian and military actors can ensure a stable and secure society in what is considered to be a problem area, for example, a country that either is considered a weak or failed state which one or more other nations wish to stabilize according to their own premises for the purposes of national and/ or global security (Wendling 2010). NATO and the European Union (EU) have played significant roles in attempting to define and operationalize this strategy. The UN has focused on a similar strategy that is referred to as “Integrated Missions” but which also is characterized by a lack of agreement about how this strategy is to be defined. In general and overall, these different approaches attempt to ensure that they are sensitive to the needs of core actors such as humanitarians, as well as prioritize human rights and development. At the same time it is recognized that there is a need for coordination between multiple actors and stakeholders to achieve the overall strategy of peace and security (particularly human security) and stability (Barth Eide et al., May 2005).

As noted above, the manifestations of civil-military interaction at the operational level include COIN (counterinsurgency) doctrine, and the PRT structure which has been used in Afghanistan and Iraq, though operationalized somewhat differently and with different success rates as the two contexts differ considerably. Afghanistan has been considered to be a more complex and difficult context (Ollivant, 22 August 2012). COIN bridges the strategic and operational. It is so broad and implies so many factors for the operational level that it also requires the articulation of an overarching strategy and set of goals. The process of defining COIN illustrates this bridge, where it is understood as the “military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency” (US Army 2007: 2). The doctrine “incorporates stability operations, also known as peace support operations, reconstruction, and nation building” (ibid.: xxiii) which further implies participation of diverse civilian actors and consensus between military and civilian actors toward the overarching goal. COIN doctrine appears as an attempt to serve both operational level requirements providing guidance for carrying out COIN operations, but at the same time takes on the appearance of a “global strategic concept” (ibid.: xxiv). COIN operations are also considered to be part of “broad category of conflict known as irregular warfare” (ibid.: 2). Although COIN is presented as a political and military strategy to engage in a particular type of warfare, providing operational guidelines for doing so, it is also a strategy that is heavily dependent upon cooperation with civilian counterparts, and a legitimate host nation government towards whom all of these efforts are focused.

The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) concept refers to a joint and integrated civilian and military structure intended to support a host-nation (HN) government by supporting HN activities in a given area, establish and further develop trust and unity between a HN and local populations (NATO 2009). It is a structure that can be (and has been) employed as a part of any number of measures in pursuit of a COIN strategy, although it is not necessary to COIN. The military arm of a PRT is usually responsible for establishing and maintaining physical security in a region as well as supporting the training of local security forces, while the civilian arm of a PRT would have connections with various civilian actors for humanitarian and more so development purposes, as well as potentially supporting different governance needs (establishing rule of law). Here, too, the PRT is dependent upon civilian as well as military efforts, including troop- contributing nation government officials/civilians, which ideally interface with their host nation equivalents.

The above approaches and concepts are thus not relevant to or employed within each and every circumstance or complex emergency - the PRT concept and COIN have been particularly relevant to the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, they may or may not be directly linked to broader political goals including regime change and nation building, and may very well not be employed outside of those contexts in the future. When we get closer to the ground however, where the interactions between people take place, the military functions like CIMIC or Gender Advisers will often have relevance regardless of the type of operation and/or strategy, as they are mandated to provide an overview of the civil situation where the operation will take place no matter what the operation. Questions should be raised, before, during and after an operation, regarding goals and how to implement them, who benefits and why, and how this serves either the broader political cause and/or local populations. Lessons-learned from previous operations, even if they are not of the same type as those for the future, are crucial. Even though the context may change

(no longer in Iraq or Afghanistan), it does not mean that civil-military interaction becomes irrelevant, as this relationship manifests itself under any situation where civilian and military operators may come into contact and the ways in which they ought to coordinate, co-exist, or cooperate.

  • [1] Simply defined, the different levels are: the strategic level where one or more nations(such as in an alliance) determine the strategic security objectives for that nation/group ofnations and direct national resources towards achieving these objectives; the operationallevel where campaigns and operations are planned and carried out in a specific area ofoperations or theatre of operations for the purpose of achieving the strategic objectives; thetactical level is where specific battles or tasks are carried out as part of the operation (DODDictionary of Military terms, at, accessed 27August 2012).
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