Small Wars Journal

Contingencies and the Art of Being Prepared

Sun, 09/22/2013 - 3:01pm

Contingencies and the Art of Being Prepared

Morgan Smiley

After a decade-plus of war, we are winding down our efforts and refocusing on other areas of the world, moving away from large-scale counterinsurgency (COIN), irregular warfare (IW), and “nation-building” and back towards conflicts that we are generally more comfortable with (think Desert Storm).   Despite this, it is a given that we will likely find ourselves involved in such operations again, just as we did during the 1990s, even as we had hoped to avoid them.

The reasons for this are varied but often it boils down to one inescapable fact: we are really the only ones that have the capacity to conduct such operations.  Whether the operations are focused on disaster relief, as in the Aceh earthquake effort in 2004, humanitarian assistance as in Somalia, peace enforcement as in the Balkans, military assistance to allied forces in Libya or Mali, at some point we are going to find ourselves involved in some sort of “operation other than war” again because we have the ships, planes, equipment, technology, and personnel to rapidly respond to crises.

This past July, Representative Steve Stockman of Texas has introduced a bill to establish an office that plans, coordinates, and responds to such operations.  He proposes creating the Office of Contingency Operations, which will serve as a centralized, standing organization that brings together the capabilities of various agencies to plan, coordinate, resource, and manage contingency operations wherever they may occur vs. cobbling together ad-hoc efforts that lack the leadership, training, know-how, and direction needed for such an effort (see Coalition Provisional Authority).

 A previously proposed idea advocated something similar: 

Maintain general purpose force (GPF) capability to do irregular warfare & counterinsurgency (IW/ COIN) by keeping Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT), Agro-Development Teams (ADT), and Human Terrain Teams (HTT) in our organization, possibly rolled up under Civil Affairs Brigades, or in a new organization that focuses solely on “nation-building” or “stability operations” (or whatever the term of the day is).  This will allow us to maintain and apply the lessons learned over the last decade regarding small wars and whole-of-government approaches to civil-military operations (we can call it the Office/ Bureau/ Division of Strategic Assistance)……A synthesis of DoD and DoS in the form of the above-mentioned organization (an independent federal agency?) would allow for an organization that does more than diplomacy but less than military force,  SWJ, 8 May 2012.

Having come through a decade of counterinsurgency in which many noted the need for an interagency approach (and then did little to come up with a long-term fix for this deficiency), it makes sense to establish a standing organization that has as its primary focus contingency operations “other than war” that require a heavy dose of civil-military cooperation.  From Bosnia to Somalia to Afghanistan, low-level warfare (small wars) where our military must work WITH the civilian population in securing them, improving their conditions, establishing/ re-establishing rule of law, while simultaneously defending against hostile actors, is something we should plan ahead for vs. simply reacting to it with a bewildered look on our collective faces because our leaders said we were going to avoid these sorts of missions.

Such an organization will enable us to maintain the lessons learned over the last decade, possibly even maintain some of the organizations (Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Agro-Development Teams, etc) that have contributed to our civil-military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those lessons can then be reviewed, refined, and applied as applicable to other “unruly” areas where we might find ourselves.  Such an organization can also serve as one where military, corporate, and government civilian practitioners of COIN, IW, foreign internal defense (FID), and post-conflict reconstruction can serve (tour lengths based on requirements and availability) in order to ensure that plans, personnel, and resources  are ready whenever such operations are thrust upon us.

Like it or not, we are the modern equivalent of the empire upon which the sun never sets with the responsibilities that go with it (discussions about “Responsibility to Protect” or R2P are for another time).  Those include being prepared to use our resources and capabilities to respond to crises and emergencies….contingencies… a coherent manner.  The proposed Office of Contingency Operations sounds like it could meet that requirement and after a decade of ad-hoc civil-military efforts that, in some cases cost numerous lives and billions of wasted dollars, having a standing organization that can look ahead and better manage future efforts may help to save lives, save money, and expedite the conclusion of those contingency operations.


Word about the author: He's actually a retired guy and has a Blue ID Card to prove it.