The Breadth of Military Functions

The primary object of the military is to fight, and this is the core feature that differentiates it from civilian organizations. Not all military functions are strictly combat functions however, and some functions have potentially “civilian”- related, non-combat (non-kinetic) tasks/services and consequences. Different national militaries are organized in different ways, in part dependent upon the size of the forces as well as the national priorities. Not unlike the roles found amongst civilian actors, it is also difficult to place military actors into cookie- cutter categories. However, for my purposes here which focus on the civil-military interface, I can use one broad approach to try to illustrate the breadth of military functions, and how this breadth implies a differentiation of the ways in which “being a soldier” can be understood, and the ways in which these roles impact the civilian environment.

The different forces (land, air, sea) will all have contact with, or impact upon, civilians although to varying degrees, through different means, both kinetic and non-kinetic. It can be argued that land forces, however, have the most considerable contact with civilians and they have been the most forward thinking in ensuring that there are specific functions designed for contact with civilians (such as CIMIC). In general, most land forces are further divided into the categories of “combat forces”, “combat support”, “combat service support”, and “command and control” (ibid.). However military forces are not combined in precisely the same way in all countries, therefore it is difficult to generalize the ways in which militaries are specifically structured. Since the ways in which these categories are further organized can differ according to country, I draw on the Norwegian case as an example. “Combat forces” include those functions that engage in direct combat such as infantry and cavalry forces (armoured vehicles) and those battalions designed with the primary assignment to go into battle (in Norway this includes Telemark Battalion and the 2nd Battalion). These battalions are nevertheless combined units with both kinetic and non-kinetic skills, able to function as a fully functioning and independent unit with information collection, logistics and medical support. “Combat support” includes artillery, engineers, and air defence. “Combat service support” includes logistics, medical support, transportation, while command and control includes the military staff and leadership, communications, intelligence, military police, CIMIC, and psychological operations (PSYOPS). It is difficult to distinguish the kinetic from the non-kinetic within these categories, as the kinetic and non-kinetic are tightly linked. But whereas operations conducted by these different units often require a combination of the kinetic and non-kinetic (kinetic tasks cannot be conducted without some sort of non-kinetic support, not least information collection/intelligence), some operations can be purely non-kinetic, such as many forms of information operations (Forsvarets stabskole 2007). The combination of kinetic and non-kinetic efforts therefore depends upon the operative approach or method taken, ranging from combat to attrition (no longer extensively applied, if at all) to stabilization (ibid.).

The difficulty of distinguishing military roles, and of stereotyping such roles within a narrow, solely combat figure, comes to light, for example, with the role of military medical personnel. This role complicates the attempt to make a clear distinction between civilian and military, particularly for those in these roles themselves. Military doctors and nurses have mandates to save lives and provide assistance where needed. Many are recruited from civil society and though they have some training, may never have had combat experience at all, nor desire it. Being employed in the military, their first obligation is to provide for the healing and health of military personnel, but there are many examples in Afghanistan where military medical personnel have provided their skills and services to the local populations in addition.


Military functions related to civil-military interaction fall under core nonkinetic competencies. A fundamental issue with civil-military interaction is the legitimacy of the military actor engaging in non-kinetic activities, and determining what these activities can and should include. What activities are legitimate and appropriate to assist the mission and gain victory, and which constitute illegitimate or inappropriate activity and contact with civilian actors? When an activity does not include the use of a weapon or physical force, does that make it a civilian activity? Some non-kinetic activities and functions might mirror some civilian activities but will have a different purpose - that is, to assist the military itself (logistics, situational awareness, etc.), protection and security for locals, and/or influence the population that is the target. The tactics used to address these purposes are in part defined by the nature of the conflict and the military role. A peacekeeper that is assigned a neutral role between conflicting parties will not interact with local populations the same way as a soldier that is mandated to engage in offensive, kinetic operations against an enemy.

Non-kinetic skills, in particular CIMIC, were not prioritized in the Norwegian contribution to the civil-military operation taking place in Afghanistan.[1] [2] This was evident particularly in discussions with both the Provincial Reconstruction team (PRT)11 commanders as well as respondents from the Norwegian Ministry of Defence. A small number of these respondents indicated that CIMIC was an unwanted function in the PRT. The majority of these respondents stated however that CIMIC would have been an asset, but could not be prioritized as there were only a limited number of positions at the PRT, and they needed enough positions for kinetic-oriented functions (combat). However, amongst those commanders who would have included CIMIC if there was a designated position to be found, few were actually familiar with CIMIC doctrine and what CIMIC offered to the operation, assuming largely that CIMIC would focus almost solely on quick- impact projects or QIPs.

A core challenge in the civil-military interface is then image versus reality, where a “divide” between civilians and militaries are perceived as being between two poles: apolitical humanitarians and combat-ready military forces. These images appear to have more influence on perceptions about civilian and military rather than the more complex, grey-zone realities that exist, where civilians can and do include very politicized actors who make the decision to employ force and who carry out activities with a clear political goal (to support the host-government (Afghanistan), or to support opposition groups (Libya), etc.), and military includes civilian-oriented/educated actors who nevertheless are part of the military framework (such as medical or legal personnel). The diversity of military and civilian roles in civil-military interaction should be explored more fully.

  • [1] Note that the function of “Intelligence” is generally not included in discussionsabout civil-military interaction, largely as the function lacks transparency and reciprocitywith civilian actors. Intelligence is a function that provides the background/justification foroperations. Intelligence is an enormous and complicated field in and of itself, but briefly, itcombines both information collection and information analysis about other nations, aboutenemies or potential enemies, or about potential operations areas Forsvarets stabskole(2007). Forsvarets fellesoperative doktrine. Forsvaret. Oslo, Forsvarsstaben.
  • [2] The Provincial Reconstruction Team is a civil-military structure designed to assistin stabilization operations in particular in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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