Small Wars Journal

Human Domain Operations: Institutionalising Eating Soup

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Human Domain Operations: Institutionalising Eating Soup

Ruben Stewart

The future is not one of major battles and engagements fought by armies on battlefields devoid of population; instead the course of conflict will be decided by forces operating among the people of the world. Here, the margin of victory will be measured in far different terms than the wars of our past. The allegiance, trust and confidence of populations will the final arbiters of success

– William B. Caldwell IV and Steven Leonard [i]

The term ‘human domain’ is being increasingly used to describe an important part of the military’s battlespace, one in which a doctrinal lacuna exists that requires more attention from military forces. The last decade of operations have reinforced the idea that civilian populations within a military area of responsibility are an important, and arguably, in many cases the most important factor, in determining the success of the military mission. In an oft quoted phrase it is said that in addition to our own forces, the enemy also gets a vote. However recent experience in Afghanistan and Iraq shows that it’s also true to say that the civilian population and host government institutions including local security forces also have a vote to cast. In many cases this may also be the deciding ballot. This is not to reduce the importance of enemy and geographic factors in operations but to add recognition to an important dimension that requires closer attention and consideration than has been previously afforded. 

This article will examine the concept of civilian human domain operations and then look at some of the tactical level measures developed and utilised in the last decade of operations and how they could be used by military forces to enhance their situational awareness and analysis of and influence in the human domain.

The recent development and adoption of population centric counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine and tools has led to an ongoing and important debate about the utility of this type of COIN[ii] but more importantly it has raised awareness of the need to incorporate the civilian human factor into military operations more broadly[iii]. The consideration of human factors and human domain tools developed as part of the resurgence of population centric COIN operations can be of great utility and provide a valuable foundation for analysis and operations, as the human domain concept continues to develop. COIN is just one type of military operation where the human factor is critically important.

Not only is the human domain an essential element of counter-terrorism, stabilisation, reconstruction, rule of law, peace-enforcement, peace-keeping, Foreign Internal Defense (FID) and humanitarian support missions but increasing population growth and urbanisation means that conventional operations will have an increasingly human component. One will notice that many of these aforementioned operations fall under the rubric MOOTW (Military Operations Other Than War) although after a decade of plus of such operations many veterans would disagree with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) Shalikashvili who reportedly remarked disparagingly that "Real men don't do MOOTW"[iv]. These types of operations are also commonly termed irregular or unconventional warfare although the frequency with which they occur would suggest they are neither of those terms is still accurate[v]. The term asymmetric is also used to describe such an operation which again is not helpful as all warfare attempts to defeat an enemy through creating an asymmetric advantage, generally in time, space or force capabilities[vi].

What is the ‘human domain’? Many terms have been generated to define the human influence on military operations including population-centric operations, human terrain, the human environment and as General Rupert Smith put it “war amongst the people”[vii]. Unlike other domains that are easily defined by geospatial boundaries such as land, sea, air and space the human domain, as described by Admiral William McRaven, commander of US Special Operations Command, is a domain that encompasses the social, cultural and physical elements that influence human behaviour[viii]. The human domain, like the cyber domain, transcends geospatial boundaries and includes physical and cognitive elements that will influence operations irrespective of whether they occur on land, sea or air. However land orientated forces such as the army, marines, special operations forces have pointed out that given that the vast majority of humans exist on land and therefore that is where interaction is most likely to occur, the human domain is inextricably linked to the land domain[ix]. However given the all-encompassing nature of the human domain, the factors that derive from it’s consideration will shape operations in all other domains. For this reason there is merit to the proposal by Hoffman and Davies, that the human domain should be the “base component or fundamental foundation” for all other domains[x].

Whilst the importance of human operations at the tactical level has been recognised through the adoption of new counter-insurgency and stabilisation doctrine by many armies, the development of resources to analyse this area such as the Human Terrain Teams (HTT)[xi], greater emphasis on interaction with civilian populations in training events and specific modus operandi like Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and the District Stability Framework (DSF)[xii], such developments are generally ad-hoc or specific arrangements that did not occur under the overarching umbrella of strategic doctrine, of the sort that is now being considered for the human domain.

What do military forces need in order to operate effectively in the human domain? The phrase coined by TE Lawrence[xiii] and reintroduced to the public almost 100 years later by John Nagl[xiv] "eating soup with a knife" was used to describe the slow and messy process that counterinsurgency troops would endure whilst fighting an insurgency. The phrase has extra interest to us as it describes a normal human civilian act, that of "eating soup", albeit with a utensil that can also be employed as a weapon. Therefore the phrase could also be understood as saying that conducting inherently civilian activities with military instruments could also be slow, messy and ineffective, especially as traditionally military forces are not formed, trained or equipped to conduct such civilian tasks but rather their focus has been on kinetic operations as part of inter-state conflicts.

There has been much debate about whether military forces should conduct civilian tasks such as reconstruction or stabilisation[xv], however experience shows that military forces will inevitably doing exactly that and as such it behoves them to examine how best to achieve dominance of this domain[xvi]. Military forces need to retain the characteristics of a “knife” but concurrently also need an equivalent proficiency for “eating soup[xvii].  

But whilst a new phrase, the ‘human domain’ is not a new concept. Positive lessons learned and effective practices need to be institutionalised as part of developing a coordinated full spectrum capability under the rubric of this new phrase.  It’s not that military training or decision making processes need significant changes, they just need to be more inclusive of this domain and the effects it will have on military operations because “Simply stated, the lesson of the last decade is that failing to understand the human dimension of conflict is too costly in lives, resources, and political will for the Nation to bear.[xviii]

Some of the key lessons learned from the past decade indicate that there are three key areas where progress has been made which can be built upon to improve military operations in the human domain in the future. These three key areas are situational awareness, analysis and influence.  

Situational Awareness

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), General Martin Dempsey recently wrote that “Our fellow [American] citizens may have different perspectives that we need to hear and understand….It can be tempting to stay on our bases and talk to only those we know[xix]. However the same requirement to understand, applies to citizens of any area where military operations will occur because “Once a conflict commences, it is already too late to begin the process of learning about the population and its politics.”[xx]

It is important that military forces develop a greater awareness for the civilians and populations that will inevitably end up working amongst. Lessons from the Special Forces experience can be utilised here, especially in regards to language and cultural skills. Development in this area is essential, especially given the demonstrably low levels of such understanding, examples including when US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense when testifying on language and cultural awareness capability in the military to the Congressional House Armed Services subcommittee, referred to ‘Iraqi’ as a language[xxi]. Whilst the US Department of Defense provides language training via online sources, it is of note that as of 2008, and in the midst of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the most common language packages utilised by DoD staff were Spanish, French and German[xxii].

The Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF) concept where brigades are assigned to geographic combatant commands is another important element designed to create greater situational awareness of the human domain[xxiii]. RAF would allow those forces to develop and maintain greater expertise in specific regional areas, in much the same way that US Special Forces groups are assigned to specific geographic areas that allow them to develop and practice appropriate language and cultural skills for use within that specific area.

Foreign Area Officers (FAOs) are another avenue to enhance situation awareness within the military however their remit needs to expand in order to allow a greater understanding of the civilian aspects of their area of specialty and not just military and political aspects[xxiv]. Programmes to deepen this exposure include the ‘AfPak Hands’ programme in which rather than the standard two year military posting, volunteers are required to spend five years of their career studying about and working in a specific region[xxv].

Analysis

Developing situational awareness provides a valuable basis to provide direction and planning as the first step in the intelligence cycle. However different tools than are traditionally used are required at the collection, processing and analysis steps in order to provide commanders and their staff with useful information that will assist the decision making process. In such scenarios involving the human domain, where a vast plethora of open source[xxvi] and more restricted information is available, it is essential that a more focussed approach is applied to the collection of information, lest it overwhelm those tasked with the processing and analysis[xxvii].

One damning indictment of the NATO intelligence effort in Afghanistan in regards to the human domain, came from the ISAF intelligence chief personally when he said that intelligence analysts, despite eight years of experience, were “ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the power brokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers.”[xxviii]

Military intelligence during the Cold War was focussed on the capabilities and doctrines of the opposing force, which was generally based on organograms and templates and many graduates of western staff colleges during that time will still have the organisation of Warsaw Pact order of battle branded in their memory. However analysis of the human domain is far more nuanced and contains far more stakeholders than just the opposing force. Indeed when collective terms such as Anti-Coalition Forces (ACF), Taliban or Anti-Iraq Forces are used to describe all actors who conduct actions against a military force, it fails to describe the mosaic of actors and varying motives involved and failing to separate out such actors is a disservice to the commanders and the force as a whole.

One controversial tool to aid in the collection, processing and analysis of information in regards to the human domain has been the US Human Terrain System (HTS) in which social scientists, primarily anthropologists, have been utilised to conduct research and provide analysis to military commanders in support of the military’s operations[xxix]. Criticism has been rife over the conduct of the HTS programme, including from social scientists who view these efforts as militarization of their field of study despite the use of anthropologists in such efforts by the military since before World War II, but also for the mismanagement of the programme. The mismanagement of the programme should be viewed as indication of the lack of attention and guidance that military leadership placed on the programme rather than the capability that it provided. At the height of the programme there were 30 HTS teams in Afghanistan and despite the challenges of the programme, it was widely viewed as providing value according to a number of studies[xxx] and the opinions of the US Secretary of Defense Gates[xxxi] and CJCS and it has been identified efforts to analyse the human domain were an important activity that needs to be continued[xxxii]. Military forces have long made use of science to help them understand and make better use of their operating environment and in this respect the use of social scientists to understand the human terrain differs little from the use of geologists and meteorologists to understand the geographic terrain and climate. As one of the founders of the HTS said “I’m frequently accused of militarizing anthropology. But we’re really anthropologizing the military.[xxxiii]

Currently tools such as PMESII (Political, Military, Economic, Societal, Infrastructure, Information)[xxxiv] through to the excel spreadsheet in the British issued human terrain packs can provide valuable tools to begin the collection and processing of human domain information[xxxv]. However the use of such tools has raised concerns that such a tool is not sufficient to assess or understand such a complex environment, especially when taking into account that PMESII was designed primarily as a targeting tool. For example when used by NATO one of the only products produced by such analysis is a list of the sites of significance, whose damage or destruction would undermine the force or its mission[xxxvi]. An example of those concerns is that such tools focus on the entities and nodes examined whereas a more accurate holistic view must also include the interactions and inter-relationships[xxxvii]. As anyone who has served in southern Afghanistan knows the interactions, both positive and negative, of Pashtu tribes and sub-tribes is a key element of Afghanistan’s human domain. As expressed by a Canadian police mentor “Tribalism is underneath everything; every glance, every knowing look, every payment, every invitation, everything that happens is linked to tribal connections.[xxxviii]

Analysis can be provided by through subject matter experts but technology can also be a useful tool. An example of the advantages technology can play in analysing such networks is the US Military Academy at West Point’s Organizational, Relationship and Contact Analyzer (ORCA) which is designed to provide a more refined view of enemy organisations and the interaction that occurs within them[xxxix].

Influence

Operating within an environment with a greater understanding of the human environment goes a long way to changing the military from a blunt weapon in this environment to a more nuanced and more effective tool of national power. However translating that understanding of the environment into influence in the battle-space can be extremely difficult. Especially so when traditional kinetic forms of coercion may not be as valuable in the human domain as they are in opposing industrial style state based force on force conflict. CJCS Martin Dempsey recently espoused that “the application of force rarely produces, and in fact maybe never produces the outcome that we seek[xl] echoing the comments of UK Foreign Secretary David Milliband who said “The lesson is that while there are military victories there is never a military ‘solution’. There’s only military action that creates space for economic and political life[xli]. Therefore other tools need to be employed alongside and in coordination with kinetic military operations. For example the utility of money to influence the human domain was directly addressed when General Petraeus said whilst in Iraq that “money is my most important ammunition in this war”, a fact institutionalised when the US Centre for Army Lessons Learned produced a ‘Commander’s Guide to Money as a Weapon System’[xlii]. A number of initiatives over the last decade provide a useful guide in influencing the human domain; however this article will focus on the key challenge to this effort, now and for the future, coordination of efforts.

The full application of national and international power as represented by the effects of DIME (Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic) requires the integration of military and non-military lines of operations in a comprehensive manner to achieve an objective[xliii]. The UK has attempted to address this challenge through the formation of the UK Stabilisation Unit and the US through legislation such as ‘The Stabilisation and Reconstruction Act of 2013’ which when passed will create the US Office of Contingency Operations[xliv]. Such efforts are reminiscent of the US efforts in 1966 to coordinate government agencies activities in Vietnam, under the auspices of the Civil Operations and Revolutionary (later Rural) Development Support or CORDS programme[xlv].

This need for greater integration and coordination has been re-learned over and over in the past decade as military forces failed to understand and coordinate with aid organisations[xlvi] such as donor and diplomatic entities, United Nations (UN) agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who operate extensively in the human domain. Opportunities for this important dialogue to begin currently exist with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) running Civil-Military Coordination courses[xlvii] and USAID conducting courses such as the “Joint Operations Humanitarian Course” and “Working with the Military” [xlviii]. Other tools such as the unclassified All Partners Access Network (APAN) have been established to enhance communication between the military and other partners[xlix]. An example of this developing relationship is the increasing use of “green” and “white” representatives at military exercises to respectively represent host country and civilian actors showing an improving awareness of these factors.  However as long as those representatives remain confined to the camp gymnasium for the duration of the exercise, with minimal interaction generally only occurring via Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) staff instead of all staff functions, then their extremely valuable input will continue to be stove piped rather than cross streamed across all elements of military planning and operations.

Note must also be made of the information operations developed over the last decade, which is a key part of influencing perceptions in the human domain. The ‘battle for the narrative’ is critical but one that western militaries are still struggling to develop competency in[l].

Conclusion

The ability for military forces to operate successfully in the human domain will rely on their ability to incorporate some the existing tools and mechanisms mentioned above. This includes deciding how best to integrate the various elements of national power to achieve a common objective whilst also clearly delineating who is responsible for what activities in the conduct of such operations. However it is essential that military forces recognise the importance of the human domain on operations and preserve the important lessons learned from the last twelve years of operations despite the drawdown, reducing budgets and pressures to re-focus on conventional operations and to hardwire those capabilities to operate in the human domain into military doctrine and force preparation. Just as commanders of the past have learned the lessons of applying the full weight of combined and joint arms in order to achieve victory in the military domain, commanders will have to work with the varying elements of DIME in order to achieve success in the human domain.

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End Notes

[i] William B. Caldwell IV and Steven Leonard in FM 3-07, Stability Operations: Upshifting the Engine of Change, Military Review, July/August 2008.

[ii] Ucko, D. P. (2011). Counterinsurgency and its Discontents. Berlin: Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik,  Gentile, G. P. (2009). A Strategy of Tactics: Population-centric COIN and the Army. Carlisle: Parameters, Eikenberry, K. W. (2013). The Limits of Counterinsurgency Doctrine in Afghanistan. Foreign Affairs, 59 - 74.

[iii] Davidson, J. (2008, October 20). The New Army Stability Operations Manual: Fact, Fiction, and Perspective on FM 3-07 . Retrieved July 12, 2013, from Small Wars Journal: http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/the-new-army-stability-operations-manual-fact-fiction-and-perspective-on-fm-3-07

[iv] Kaplan, F. (2013). The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. New York: Simon and Schuster, p 45

[v] FM 3-07 states that in the history of the United States, only eleven conventional wars have been fought, whereas there have been hundreds of ‘un-conventional’ military operations that have been conducted - US Department of the Army. (2008). FM 3-07, Stability Operations. Washington D.C.: US Department of the Army

[vi] Smith, R. (2006). The Utility of Force. St Ives: Penguin Books.

[vii] Smith, R. (2006). The Utility of Force. St Ives: Penguin Books.

[viii] Roulo, C. (2013, June 5). McRaven: Success in Human Domain Fundamental to Special Ops. Retrieved from US Department of Defense American Forces Press Service: http://www.defense.gov/News/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=120219

[ix] Odierno, R. T., Amos, J. F., & McRaven, W. H. (2013). Strategic Landpower: Winning the Clash of Wills. Washington D.C.: US Department of Defense.

[x] Hoffman, F., & Davies, M. C. (2013, June 10). Joint Force 2020 and the Human Domain: Time for a New Conceptual Framework? Retrieved from Small Wars Journal: http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/joint-force-2020-and-the-human-domain-time-for-a-new-conceptual-framework

[xi] Finney, N. (2008). Human Terrain Team Handbook. Fort Leavenworth: Human Terrain System

[xii] United States Center for Army Lessons Learned. (2011). Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Team Handbook 11-16. Fort Leavenworth: United States Center for Army Lessons Learned.

[xiii] Lawrence, T. E. (1973). Seven Pillars of Wisdom. London: Jonathan Cape.

[xiv] Nagl, J. A. (2005). Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

[xv] Masellis, N. (2009, May 31). Human Terrain: A Strategic Imperative on the 21st Century Battlefield. Retrieved July 7, 2013, from Small Wars Journal: http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/250-marsellis.pdf?q=mag/docs-temp/250-marsellis.pdf and Brigety II, R. E. (2008). Humanity as a Weapon of War - Sustainable Security and the Role of the US Military. Washington D.C.: Center for American Progress

[xvi] Davidson, J. (2008, October 20). The New Army Stability Operations Manual: Fact, Fiction, and Perspective on FM 3-07 . Retrieved July 12, 2013, from Small Wars Journal: http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/the-new-army-stability-operations-manual-fact-fiction-and-perspective-on-fm-3-07

[xvii] US Department of Defense. (2009). Department of Defense Instruction 3000.05 - Stability Operations. Washington D.C.: US DoD

[xviii] Flynn, M. T., Sisco, J., & Ellis, D. C. (2012). "Left of Bang" The Value of Sociocultural Analysis in Today's Environment. Prism, p.13

[xix] Dempsey, M. E. (2013, July 3). The Military Needs to Reach Out to Civilians. Retrieved from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/general-dempsey-the-military-needs-to-reach-out-to-civilians/2013/07/02/b10c3bb0-e267-11e2-aef3-339619eab080_story.html

[xx] Flynn, M. T., Sisco, J., & Ellis, D. C. (2012). "Left of Bang" The Value of Sociocultural Analysis in Today's Environment. Prism, p. 13

[xxi] United States Congress. (2009, September 10). Testimony of Gail H. McGinn, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense. Language and Cultural Awareness in the Military. House Armed Services Subcommittee: Oversight and Investigations.

[xxii] Masellis, N. (2009, May 31). Human Terrain: A Strategic Imperative on the 21st Century Battlefield. Retrieved July 7, 2013, from Small Wars Journal: http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/250-marsellis.pdf?q=mag/docs-temp/250-marsellis.pdf

[xxiii] Wong, K. (2012, December 23). Army Plans to Shift Troops to U.S. Africa Command. Retrieved from The Washington Times: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/dec/23/army-plans-to-shift-troops-to-us-africa-command/?page=all

[xxiv] US Department of Defense. (2005). DoD Directive 1315.17 - Military Department Foreign Area Officer (FAO) Programs. Washington D.C.: US Department of Defense

[xxv] Cobb, A. (2011). Intelligence in Low-Intensity Conflicts: Lessons From Afghanistan. In D. Richards, & G. Mills, Victory Among People: Lessons from Countering Insurgency and Stabilising Fragile States (pp. 107 - 126). London: Royal United Service Institute, p 114

[xxvi] Flynn, M., Pottiner, M., & Batchelor, P. (2010). Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan. Washington DC: Center for a New American Security

[xxvii] Cobb, A. (2011). Intelligence in Low-Intensity Conflicts: Lessons From Afghanistan. In D. Richards, & G. Mills, Victory Among People: Lessons from Countering Insurgency and Stabilising Fragile States (pp. 107 - 126). London: Royal United Service Institute, p 108-109.

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About the Author(s)

Ruben Stewart has spent the last twenty years serving as a New Zealand Army officer and as a civilian. He has served as an advisor to NATO and a consultant to the US, UK and other allied governments, international organisations and NGOs, in conflict and post-conflict environments and the developing world in the fields of peace-keeping, counterinsurgency, stability, reconstruction, humanitarian and development operations including governance, disarmament, reintegration, elections and security sector reform.