Support & Stability Triage

By Lieutenant Colonel George E Rector Jr., U.S. Marine Corps

Restructuring the armed forces to meet this wide range of missions will be difficult, but the world environment and our role in it demand that we stay engaged. In this context, support and stability operations-missions such as nation assistance and peacekeeping, which may call on the skills and resources of the military but do not require the use of offensive force-can help prevent and resolve conflicts before they pose direct threats to our national security. They also can serve U.S. interests by promoting democracy, regional security, and economic growth.

The issue of support and stability operations is one of proper use of military power to meet national goals and objectives. The Clinton administration's Policy on Reforming Multilateral Peace Operations presents eight factors to consider when deciding to vote for a proposed peace operation, regardless of the particular mission. The factors are an aid in decision making, and are not by themselves prescriptive.

  • U.N. involvement advances U.S. interests, and there is an international community of interest for dealing with the problem on a multilateral basis.
  • There is a threat to or breach of international peace and security, often of a regional character, defined as one or a combination of the following: international aggression; urgent humanitarian disaster coupled with violence; sudden interruption of established democracy or gross violation of human rights coupled with violence or threat of violence.
  • There are clear objectives and an understanding of where the mission fits on the spectrum between traditional peacekeeping and peace enforcement.
  • For traditional (Chapter VI) peacekeeping operations, a cease-fire should be in place and the consent of the parties obtained before the force is deployed.
  • For peace enforcement (Chapter VII) operations, the threat to international peace and security is considered significant.
  • The means to accomplish the mission are available, including the forces, financing, and a mandate appropriate to the mission.
  • The political, economic and humanitarian consequences of inaction by the international community have been weighed and are considered unacceptable.
  • The operation's anticipated duration is tied to clear objectives and realistic criteria for ending the operation.

It has been suggested in Congress that we refocus portions of the military to accomplish "nontraditional" domestic and international missions. This is a call for increased emphasis on missions such as peacekeeping, disaster relief, and humanitarian assistance, which although frequently called "new," are missions that the military has supported for years. In addition, members of Congress are asking for a reevaluation of roles and missions that could alter the use of U.S. military forces dramatically. Retired Senator Sam Nunn, former chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, stated that "the opportunity exists to use military assets to assist civilian efforts in critical domestic needs.... Our society faces numerous domestic challenges that in many respects are as daunting as any potential foreign threat to our national security." He proposed establishing a Civil-Military Cooperative Action Program, which would use military forces to help in areas ranging from the rehabilitation of community facilities, public health, and drug-reduction outreach to serving as role models and conducting training for disadvantaged youth.

Some analysts have speculated that these operations will become an increasingly important part of the military's mission. Our forces are, after all, well-trained professionals in many occupational specialties, particularly in the service support area, who can contribute significantly to relief efforts. And the American people want to see a return on their investment, particularly at a time when the deficit and multiple domestic issues-hurricanes, floods, fires, and more-are at the forefront of the public mind. We may have to show them that they are getting the appropriate bang for their buck; to maintain a military for two major regional contingencies, it may be necessary to show our utility in lesser contingencies right here at home.

There are some well-founded concerns associated with support and stability operations. First, they have the potential to becoming all-consuming. The suggestions for using the military to fix domestic problems are overwhelming. Add to that the many Third World countries throughout Africa, Southwest Asia, and the former Soviet Union that have exhausted their own resources and overwhelmed their own military forces with humanitarian assistance missions, forcing them turn to the United Nations-and, therefore, the United States-and these missions easily could occupy all our resources.

In the earliest stages of a support and stability operation-when the National Command Authorities (NCA) are determining if the United States will be involved and which elements of our national power will be used-the NCA must perform triage. They are faced head-on with the problems of diagnosing the situation and determining the cause of the problem, the objective that, if attained, will cure it, and the uncertainties and assumptions that must be dealt with to proceed with the cure. It is in this formulation phase that localizing and limiting the problem is essential. This is a difficult job-isolating the real issue, seeing it in context with other problems, facing up to its solvability, and being capable of solving it in time and with optimal use of available resources.

The theater commander-in-chief (CinC) is critical in interagency triage and diagnosis. He, the ambassador, and the country team are in the best position to make immediate recommendations. Using established criteria and their judgment, they can determine the best mix of economic, diplomatic, and military power to accomplish the mission, maintain stability, shape events, and support national interests and can make recommendations for humanitarian assistance, peacemaking, and/or peacekeeping.

It is imperative that criteria be established for evaluating domestic support and stability operations. Failure to screen missions carefully could distract from primary missions, reduce readiness, and reduce accessibility of the force. Civil emergencies-whether natural disaster, civil disturbance, or civil defense-are straightforward in their short-term nature and the need for quick response.

Close coordination with agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency is paramount. In addition, unless a federal emergency is declared, only state National Guard units can become involved. Community assistance programs, however, encompass a broad range of activities and have the greatest potential for misuse of the military. Units easily can become so engrossed in providing support to local communities in areas not compatible with their primary occupational specialties that they fail to maintain acceptable levels of combat readiness.

Local commanders are key in diagnosing domestic emergencies. They must maintain a trained and ready force for combat while being receptive to missions that support the civilian community-and they must maintain this balance without slighting either side. Failure to do so represents lost opportunity and, very possibly, unpreparedness.

Another element of today's total force is the reserve component, which provides well-trained and well-equipped units and individuals for active duty in times of war, national emergency, and other times required by national security. In addition to a federal mission, National Guard units are tasked by their states to protect life and property and to preserve peace, order, and public safety. Greater reliance is being placed on the reserves, as typified by their inclusion in warfighting contingency plans and peacetime operations such as restoring democracy in Haiti. The recent use of the presidential call-up authority in support of Operations Uphold Democracy and Joint Endeavor, as well as ongoing drug interdiction, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and humanitarian missions, clearly demonstrates the contributions of the total force.

The reserve component is capable of contributing to both domestic and international support and stability operations. The scope of that contribution may be limited by the response time and equipment required or by the number of skilled personnel available, but with adequate planning and resourcing, the reserve force repeatedly has demonstrated its ability to respond quickly and effectively.

The following recommendations offer an alternative approach to selecting support and stability operations.

  • Ensure that theater commanders-in-chief are involved in the interagency process from the very beginning. They are in the best position to recommend to the NCA the appropriate scope of military support. In addition to using the established criteria and his judgment, the CinC can determine which forces are best positioned to accomplish the mission, maintain stability, shape events, and support national interests and war plans. The CinC can determine the level of military effort, with close coordination with nongovernment organizations and international organizations.
  • Make state adjutants general-through their governors and in coordination with local, state, and federal agencies-responsible for diagnosing domestic humanitarian assistance missions. With the same philosophy outlined in the Clinton administration's Policy on Reforming Multilateral Peace Operations and guidance from the Department of Defense Director of Military Support, state adjutants general should use their judgment and the following criteria in deciding how to support domestic support and stability operations:
    • They exercise military occupational specialty skills and enhance individual and unit readiness.
    • They do not detract from combat readiness and training.
    • They have a clearly defined scope, distinct objectives, realistic criteria, and a definite endpoint.
    • There is a plan to achieve those objectives decisively.
    • They do not compete with private sector or other government services.
    • They do not divert material or funding that would adversely affect combat readiness.
    • Participation is necessary for the operation's success.
  • Stress reserve integration with active forces. If used properly, the reserve component can reduce active component operational/personnel tempo, receive valuable training, and contribute significantly to mission accomplishment. The reserves are ideally positioned to enhance national security with efficient and cost-effective forces.

Commanders need clear and unambiguous criteria for military participation in humanitarian or peace operations. If our forces are overcommitted to peacekeeping operations, they may not be able to respond rapidly and decisively to regional provocation by such potential aggressors as Iraq, Iran, or North Korea. Developing firm standards for intervention will provide important indirect support for the U.S. deterrent posture worldwide.


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