February 1, 2009  

The military diplomat

At the tip of the spear of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Army Special Forces Maj. James Gavrilis found himself forced to rely on “common sense, the trust of Iraqis and recollections from Political Science 101” to manage and govern the city of Al Rutbah. He had received no guidance or assistance in managing a Sunni city of nearly 25,000 citizens. Today’s young leaders are called upon in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo to use diplomatic skills and tools for civil military operations for which most have received limited formal training.

The military diplomats of the past are embodied in the actions of Capt. Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition and T.E. Lawrence during the Arab Revolt in World War I. The military diplomats of today could be a first sergeant and his company commander charged to work within their area of operations with a plethora of intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGO), multinational forces and host-nation community-based organizations. Like it or not, each interaction that U.S. forces have with civilian leaders counts as a diplomatic venture that can have positive or negative affects. These company-grade leaders are often forced to deal with ancient hatreds between warring clans, failed local economies, corrupt legal systems and deficient civil infrastructures. If the adage holds true that “all politics are local,” then we must arm our company-grade leaders with the skills and tools necessary to be successful. This raises the question: What skills need to be added to their training and developmental programs? Since the end of the Cold War, there have been more than 58 peacekeeping operations, and from 1989 to 2000, the world saw 111 armed conflicts, of which 85 percent were intrastate in nature. Managing or securing peace within a state in places such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and, most recently, Iraq and Afghanistan, are just such conflicts. With the proliferation of intrastate conflicts, and the increasing complexity of military-civil operations, the time is ripe to delegate certain diplomatic skills down below brigade level and develop a new cadre of military leaders who understand basic diplomatic skills and conflict management in support of peacekeeping, peacemaking and postwar reconstruction missions.

With these new basic diplomatic skills, our junior leaders will be more effective at working with international partners that support not only the tactical military objectives, but also set the conditions for diplomatic and economic success.

A step toward creating a cadre of military diplomats at the company and field grades is underway with modules that have been added to the Captains Career Course, and the Command and General Staff College. However, current training programs lack the instructional component on diplomatic interaction essential in containing and managing intrastate conflicts.

There are three recommendations that must be explored by senior military and civilian decision-makers:

å Increase the study of intrastate conflicts and how the military can work with agencies who share similar “nation-building, conflict-termination” roles.

å Add to curricula a basic understanding of conflict management.

å Assign leaders tasks that facilitate and enhance their leadership skills for operations dealing with intrastate conflicts.

Understanding intrastate conflict

There are many definitions of intrastate conflict. Terms such as insurgency, civil war, revolutionary war, coup d’état and rebellion are often used interchangeably by different state and international actors.

Failure to distinguish terms is a critical flaw that prevents a universal understanding of the root causes of intrastate conflict and hinders the ability to apply proper resources to contain and manage it. The study of intrastate conflict is difficult because of different definitions used by military and civilian partners. These are the most common definitions and manifestations of intrastate conflict:

å Insurgency. The most universal definition comes from the CIA, which in the 1980s defined insurgency as a “a protracted political-military activity directed toward completely or partially controlling resources of a country through the use of irregular military forces and illegal political organizations.”

å Civil war. The key item of confusion with this term is its resemblance to an insurgency. If we hold to the universal definition above, then civil war can be defined as two or more armed groups within a single state seeking political advantage. That advantage is generally in the form of autonomy or creation of a separate state.

å Revolutionary war. Defined by scholars Raj Desai and Harry Eckstein as a movement revolving back to some pre-established condition or point that a utopian society may have existed, or, as the Greeks call it, isonomy — perfect equality of citizenship through universal liberty.

å Coup d’état. In political terms, can be defined as a secretly planned, quick action of violence to remove or kill incumbent leaders of a regime to gain control of the government. An older study, still relevant today, indicated that from 1935 to 1964, of the 56 governments that were overthrown, 90 percent were executed via coup d’état.

å Rebellion. An irregular force or group using violence to attain limited goals.

å Terrorism. Any action specified by the Geneva Conventions and Security Council Resolution 1566 that is intended to cause the death or bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants to intimidate a population or compel governments to do or to abstain from doing any act.

Our new cadre of leaders must be taught to look for these types of conflicts within their area of operations. It has not been uncommon for several types of conflict to occur simultaneously, making it even more important for leaders to understand the root causes of conflict within their sphere of influence. It is also important to note that general crime and lawlessness are often lumped into one of the intrastate conflicts, making it difficult for senior leaders to differentiate between motives of civil crime versus political warfare.

A basic understanding of the players our new leaders can or will be required to work with is paramount. On-the-job training in war is not the time to learn what the International Red Cross (IRC) or Amnesty International is designed to do. The best way to look at these other players is to look at the national (host state in turmoil) and international levels. At the national level, leaders must seek out local charities, churches and leverage the nation’s existing governmental and nongovernmental organizations to solve local problems. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defined transformational diplomacy as “rooted in partnership, not paternalism — in doing things with other people, not for them.” A complicating factor is the unwillingness of the players to execute their roles. Robert Kaplan’s book “Imperial Grunts” tells the story of Capt. Jason Smith’s time in Iraq and how he had to work diligently with the chief of police of Al Karmah to make sure the chief “fulfilled his obligations” of law enforcement duties. In true Marine Corps fashion, Smith by all accounts did well, but was this because of the Marine Corps’ emphasis on its “Small Wars” manual that was a backbone of Marine Corps training? We must ensure successes are due to training, not chance. Even with proper training, making nation-level players work effectively is daunting, but the challenge must be addressed to achieve larger strategic goals.

At the international level, leaders must look to existing international partnerships that can be leveraged to assist in securing peace. At a minimum, leaders must understand that the IRC and Red Crescent Movement is the world’s largest neutral and impartial humanitarian network providing protection and assistance to people affected by disasters and conflicts. According to the IRC Web page, the organization is made up of almost 97 million volunteers, supporters and staff in 186 countries. Another important organization potentially useful in developing threat templates is Amnesty International. This organization campaigns for internationally recognized human rights for all. Amnesty has provided watchdogs around the world, reporting abuses by elected and nonelected leaders and publishing open-source documentation on reported human rights atrocities and the alleged perpetrators.

Diplomatic and conflict management

Army leaders are not State Department Foreign Service officers, nor must they try to be. However, the military has been called upon to become increasingly involved in what was once purely the jurisdiction of the State Department. Until that changes, the Army must educate company- and field-grade leaders in the basics of diplomacy in conflict management.

Merriam-Webster’s defines “diplomacy” as “the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations; skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility.” The latter part of the definition is a dead-on requirement for our new leaders. The first part is a bit more problematic. Where in our training programs do we teach negotiation? In fact, within the military culture at the lower levels, negotiation is deemed dangerous to morale and good order. But today’s leaders often have to sit down and share a cup of tea with religious clerics, mullahs and other local leaders to facilitate and negotiate security and civil matters within their area of operations.

The Army must mandate and leverage the existing officer skill identifiers of civil operations specialist and criminal analysis specialist. These two skill identifiers are administered by the National Guard Bureau J-3 Counterdrug Division and, while having a counterdrug nexus, have direct applicability to intrastate conflicts.

The civil operations specialist focuses on three areas, two of which are quite apropos for diplomatic ventures in conflict resolution. First is how to engage youth, parents and schools. The mantra here is that children are the decisive point in long-term progress, whether the goal is to curb drug abuse or teach democracy. As with transformational diplomacy, much depends on the train-the-trainer concept, helping schools and parents transmit critical messages to youths. The second key area is coalition-building. This phase of the course lasts an entire week and is taught by national experts on building coalitions. This is the only training of its kind within the services. The only comparable training program is in the Special Forces qualification course that is not available to conventional forces. The ability to bring diverse groups of people together, who may each blame the other for the plight that envelopes them, is exactly the type of training we must make sure all our new leaders have and understand.

The criminal analysis specialist course focuses on how to detect and dismantle criminal drug-trafficking organizations and prepare cases in support of law enforcement for trial and prosecutions. As the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports, nearly one-third of the terrorist organizations listed by the FBI have direct ties to drug distribution and trafficking. The obvious example here is the Taliban and al-Qaida’s dependence on Afghan opium to fund their global jihad. At the tactical level, it is critical that leaders be able to discern criminals from terrorists or, in those cases where they are the same, to target their resources accordingly. Generally, the mantra of criminal analysts is to “follow the money,” because the financial aspects of criminal organizations are generally more prone to destruction than the zealots and tyrants they support.

The final aspect that must be addressed in training our new cadre of leaders are basic diplomatic tools found within the nation in conflict and the use of third-party mediation to solve disputes.

National tools comprise laws and political procedures that exist within the nation of conflict, acts of diplomacy with belligerent groups, and the adoption of international norms for armed forces that can be used to contain a conflict. While this may seem obvious, it is hard to execute. In failed states such as Afghanistan, little to no law exists except for Sharia Law. The tricky part of using purely domestic laws, rather than universal codes of conduct for armed forces such as the Geneva Conventions, is how the state’s actions will be perceived at the international level. An example of this can be found during the 1891 revolution of the British colony in Manipur, India. English law at the time dictated that “insurrection in a dependant community is waging war upon the queen, justifying the execution of the leaders of the revolt as criminals.” Imagine if the same standard was applied to the U.S. Civil War, and all soldiers of the Confederate Army were treated as traitors, as they legally could have been, and summarily shot? This would not bode well for accommodation or resolution of any intrastate war. Therefore, other considerations must also be applied, in tandem with the national laws.

The important factor in this tool is recognizing that a state has a responsibility to prevent armed conflict within its borders that could spill over into other nations and cause regional instability. To the military leader, it becomes important to understand the traditional laws and norms that were or are still in place during operations.

The second type of tool available to prevent or contain intrastate conflict, and the most popular, is third-party mediations. This is when a person or group, not party to the conflict and generally from another nation or part of the state, works with warring parties to negotiate a peace settlement. Jacob Berchovitch, a professor of international relations at the University of Canterbury, has conducted extensive research into this topic, and the results do not present the expected panacea.

In examining mediation outcomes from 1945 to 1995, Berchovitch discovered that half of all mediation efforts in internalized conflicts were unsuccessful. While this may sound like a disaster, his research has at least validated where and how successful mediation attempts can be used. His research indicates that third-party mediation has a 45 percent success if applied post-hostility, and with a mixed team of mediators from nongovernmental organizations, internationally prominent individuals, regional and international organizations and members from the state in conflict.

Interagency assignments

In Iraq in 2004, an Army captain was given the assignment of becoming the S-5 of an infantry battalion. He asked what an S-5 was and was told by his commander, “I don’t know. When you figure it out, let me know.” In the S-5 role — staff officer for civil affairs — the captain learned quickly the Army had not taught him the skills needed to create and foster Iraqi neighborhood coalitions, how to work with NGOs or even how to work alongside interagency partners such as the U.S. Agency for International Development or the Red Cross.

This third recommendation relates to the assignments that are critical if military leaders are to operate effectively and succeed in dealing with intrastate conflicts. Basic interagency skills must match those listed in Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, which states that the interagency players most often found in the U.S. ambassadors’ country team are from the departments of Defense, State, Justice and Treasury, USAID, CIA and DEA. Assignments also should increase the knowledge of critical United Nations bodies such as the Department of Peace Keeping Operations or the Committee and High Commissioner for Refugees. Today, far too little emphasis is placed on such knowledge.

The assignment of military personnel to a country team within U.S. embassies such as the defense attaché and security assistance officer or foreign area officer are too scarce to make available to all new leaders, but the lessons they have learned could be crafted into the programs within existing leader development courses. Because this is not done now, a wealth of information is lost on each rotation.

The assignments to plumb interagency fellowships are also too rare to percolate down to company level, yet the lessons learned by fellows is shared only at the War College level. This must change if we are to educate our new leaders on the complexities of interagency, intergovernmental challenges.

Interagency training slots must be expanded to include civilian participation in military courses and vice versa. Additionally, a program must be explored for active-component leaders to serve in the National Guard so they can gain from the tremendous experience Guard leaders get each year during fire, flood, hurricane and tornado seasons.

Lt. Col. Reyes Cole is an Army National Guard officer assigned to the National Guard Bureau J3 Counterdrug Division. The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Army or Defense Department.