Beyond Joint: The Interagency Action

By Commander Jim Stavridis, U.S. Navy

The services have accomplished much good work in this area already, particularly at the staff level in Washington. The interagency process was clearly working during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, with highly successful results. 2 Additionally, representatives from the CIA and State Department are on most commanders-in-chief (CinC) staffs. And many interagency working relationships—like that between the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Defense-are detailed in laws, memoranda of agreement between the agencies, and policy.

Yet much room for improvement remains, particularly at the operational level overseas—where many of the emerging security challenges of the coming decades are apt to occur. While the Coast Guard has a fairly strong tradition of interagency operations, the Navy and Marine Corps—at the field level in particular—could profitably learn a great deal more about other arms of the government and key nongovernmental organizations—both at home and overseas. All three of the sea services should improve their understanding of other agencies and their procedures. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard should enhance training and increase practice operations with other agencies to prepare for potential missions supporting broad national security needs.

None of this should imply that the individual services will be likely to work directly with other agencies; virtually all of the interaction will occur in the context of joint military operations dealing with other agencies. The individual services, however, are responsible for training, equipping, and organizing forces that are capable of operating within the joint context in interagency scenarios. The performance of the sea services in joint interagency operations would be enhanced by better preparation for such contingencies.

The Needs of the World

Peacekeeping, international and domestic humanitarian and disaster relief, counter-narcotics, nation and region building, and domestic civic activity are all activities that will require a great deal of interagency cooperation—process for which the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard should improve their capabilities, maintaining a focus on a joint approach.

Peacekeeping: The often thankless task of keeping the peace between warring factions may become the highest-profile mission for the sea services over the next decade. This growth industry in the international military scene has quadrupled over the past three years. Today, the United Nations is undertaking 12 peacekeeping operations around the world with more than 50,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen involved. 3 Other potential trouble spots for future operations are spread around the globe, and many involve maritime and littoral operations (e.g., the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean Sea, and Caribbean basin) and are obvious candidates for joint and combined operations with significant Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard participation.

Working in the peacekeeping milieu requires finely tuned interagency relationships with a wide variety of both governmental and nongovernmental organizations. At a minimum, the Department of State will be involved in diplomatic clearances and negotiations and the CIA in information gathering. International organizations involved in peacekeeping might include the United Nations, NATO, or the Western European Union. Finally, private nongovernmental organizations like the Red Cross/Red Crescent or Amnesty International might have a role to play in peacekeeping operations—as they have recently in Somalia and Bosnia.

Lines of communication and command may become complex indeed, if the coalition structure employed in the Persian Gulf War and its after math is any example. The various coalition partners eventually worked out arrangements among themselves, but considerable negotiation was required at every level in the chain of command. 4 A workable command structure was ultimately created because of the exigencies of the situation and the cooperation of very senior actors throughout the governmental bureaucracies. 5 Clearly, in future complicated peacekeeping operations—which may closely resemble the coalition structure of the Gulf War—the sea services, working in a joint and/or combined scenario, must be prepared to operate smoothly with other governmental and nongovernmental agencies.

International Humanitarian and Disaster Relief: As they returned from the Persian Gulf, the Marines of III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) under Lieutenant General H. C. Stackpole were involved in a large-scale joint humanitarian relief operation off Bangladesh—Operation Sea Angel. After a devastating cyclone had killed nearly 140,000 people in Bangladesh, a U.S. joint task force was faced with providing relief to more than a million surviving victims of the storm.

In Bangladesh, the joint task force confronted the difficulty of coordinating U.S. and international relief organizations. General Stackpole had to work through an emerging democratic government that "had not yet put its laws together properly." 6 His forces coordinated with the Department of State, the Agency for International Development (AID), the U.S. intelligence agencies, the Red Crescent (Bangladesh is a Muslim country), various international rescue teams from around the world, CARE, and Save the Children-a panoply of governmental, non-governmental, and international agencies.

Other examples include Operation Provide Comfort in the Kurdish region of Kuwait, disaster relief in the Philippines after recent volcanic activity, and today's operations in Somalia in response to famine. In each case, U.S. military personnel were involved in complex, joint, nontraditional missions in support of U.S. national interests—with a high degree of interagency activity.

If the United States is to continue to play an effective role in overseas disaster relief and humanitarian operations, greater preparation and understanding of the various agencies involved will be crucial to success on the part of all participants from the services on the joint task forces.

Domestic Humanitarian and Disaster Relief: What we do abroad, we can expect to do at home as well. In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, an editorial writer in the south Florida area referred to the military as "angels in olive drab and khaki." 7 During the long weeks after the hurricane, the military supplied tent cities; moved millions of cubic feet of supplies into the area; provided emergency medical, fire protection, and law enforcement services; and, most important, showed the people of south Florida that the country cared and was responding to their overwhelming need. Navy men and women, operating as part of Joint Task Force Andrew, reopened 48 schools with 15,000 man-days of labor and delivered 2.8 million pounds of food—with comparable contributions from all the services. 8 Working in that complex environment required joint task force personnel from the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard to interface with organizations across the entire spectrum of the U.S. government—as well as countless state, local, and nongovernmental organizations. These organizations included the Federal Emergency Management Agency; the Departments of Interior, Commerce, and Health/Human Services; Environmental Protection Agency; Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; the Red Cross and many smaller disaster relief organizations; state, county, and city governments and boards; and insurance companies.

Such joint operations—exemplified by Task Force Andrew and Task Force Los Angeles—generally have been conducted under the overall direction of the U.S. Army, which is the Executive Agent under the Federal Response Plan executed by FEMA. Sea service personnel and units who participate in these joint operations would benefit from better training, equipping, and organization to be prepared.

Counter-narcotics: The problems associated with the flow of illegal drugs into this country have been well documented. Attacking the supply side of the problem—while not the total solution by any means—has become an increasingly important joint operation, with key support from the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

In order to effectively attack the counter-narcotics problem, the sea services will be part of complex, joint inter agency operations with a wide variety of organizations, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, the national intelligence agencies, Customs officials, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Department of State.

On the demand side of the equation, the individual services have created many programs to reduce drug use among sea service-associated youth-through work with the Young Marines, Adopt-A-School, Navy Kids Program, and Project D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). 9 These programs require coordination and cooperation with a wide range of domestic agencies and local governmental groups—from school boards to the Departments of Education and Health/Human Services.

Nation and Region Building: Beyond the immediate response to crises in a variety of regions around the world, the United States will need to help improve the quality of life, increase political and economic stability, positively influence local populations, and promote better relations among peoples.

The joint roles for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard personnel in these instances will include training of local police forces, coast guards, and militia; construction projects for medical or housing needs; sanitary education; medical treatment and training; and joint military exercises. These sorts of efforts will be undertaken in relatively unstable countries or regions in which the United States has national interests engaged, such as Central America or Southeast Asia.

Effective nation and region building will require joint coordination with a wide variety of government agencies and organizations, including the Departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury; the Agency for International Development; national intelligence agencies; various international and regional organizations like the United Nations, Rio Pact, or Southeast Asia Treaty Organization.

Domestic Civic Activity: Perhaps the most controversial of the potential new missions for the military that are emerging fall into a broad category that might be termed domestic civic activity. This includes programs that put military members into the community in many roles—school tutors, student mentors, charity work, anti-drug work, construction projects, and junior ROTC programs. 10 General Colin Powell wants to expand junior ROTC by at least 100% over the next few years, calling it "a way to compete with gangs, drugs, and boredom for the hearts and minds of our youngsters." 11 Should a national consensus in favor of such activity emerge, effective work in the complicated world of civic activity will require a better understanding of local government and issues. Our forces may need to coordinate activities and programs with government organizations as disparate as the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

What Currently Exists

Certainly the interagency process is alive and well in Washington. During the Gulf War, the broad strategy— political, economic, and military—was vetted through an interagency process at a variety of levels. Most international activity is likewise staffed through a complex—but workable—interagency process that involves all of the various U.S. governmental agencies with interests in a given decision or activity.

At the level of the CinCs, a more rudimentary interagency process is active through the posting of a CIA and a State Department representative to each CinC staff. Additionally, the CinCs tend to work directly with the ambassadors of the countries in their region of responsibility, with appropriate staff-level interaction as well.

In addition, in specific field-level operations the interagency process has worked very well. Relief efforts in both Los Angeles after the Rodney King riots and in south Florida, after Hurricane Andrew went reasonably well after some initial difficulties. 12 Also, a small amount of individual training in interagency operations is available to sea service officers, particularly commanding officers moving through pipeline training en route to command.

Despite these positive aspects, however, a shortfall exists in the overall level of interagency training in the sea services, particularly at the operational level. For example, both domestic task force (Andrew and Los Angeles) after-action reports show a pervasive desire to have a greater level of education, training, equipping, and organizing of forces for such interagency operations. 13 Additionally, there is virtually no training of any kind or any interaction with non-U.S. government agencies or nongovernmental agencies—ranging from the Red Cross/Crescent to Amnesty International. The interagency work that has occurred—as in Kurdistan or Pakistan, for example—has been at the initiative of the local commanders and the agency representatives.

Clearly, there is room for improvement.

What Must Be Done

First, it is important to outline what must not be done. The sea services must not lose sight of their overriding and primary mission—being prepared to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard must remain focused on the very real prospect of combat over the coming years.

But the sea services can do a great deal of valuable work in training, equipping, and organizing forces for these nontraditional mission areas in the joint context. And to do that work effectively, the sea services must become more skilled in conducting interagency operations.

To a significant degree, the services can take the same approach to improving their ability to conduct interagency work that they have taken to improve their capability to undertake joint operations, especially since interagency work almost always occurs in the joint context anyway.

The following four key approaches offer a starting point for improving the sea services' ability to participate in joint interagency operations.

Education: Just as the sea services have included a considerable amount of joint education in the "pipelines" for officers and selected enlisted personnel, they can include information and training for conducting interagency operations. This does not mean that every ensign in basic training needs to understand the complexities of FEMA—far from it. It does mean, however, that commanding officers and executive officers at the commander/lieutenant colonel level should have a basic grounding in the structure and potential interagency process as it occurs "in the field." And captains, colonels, and flag and general officers should have a sense of the interagency process at the Joint Task Force and CinC headquarters levels.

The initial training should be part of the pre-commanding/executive officer training pipeline in each of the key warfare and support communities. A five- to ten-day course in interagency operations could be offered at Tactical Training Commands, Atlantic and Pacific, as a functional follow-on (or as an integrated portion) of the current pre-command/executive/operations-officer courses. Some interagency material should also be offered in comparable Marine Corps and Coast Guard pre-command/executive-officer pipelines.

More in-depth interagency education should be available to officers heading to major commands and significant staff assignments. Clearly, the best place for this higher level of education to occur is through the various service and joint war colleges. Each of the service and joint war colleges has faculty members from the key cabinet departments and agencies. Some portion of the curriculum could be devoted to this important and expanding topic. It would only entail making minor modifications to war college curricula, yet it would be of significant real-world value downstream.

The Capstone course for flag and general officers conducted by the National Defense University should continue to offer education in the interagency process, with additional focus on the operational side of interagency activities.

Doctrine: Just as the joint process is being worked out formally through the issuance of formal doctrine, the interagency process would benefit from the application of detailed analysis. Each of the sea services currently has doctrinal development groups. These could be assigned the task of developing draft doctrine for working with interagency activities and moving it through the joint doctrine system.

The Navy and Marine Corps just opened a new Naval Doctrine Command in Norfolk, Virginia. One of its initial tasks could be the preparation of draft doctrine establishing procedures for working with the various agencies represented in a "typical" interagency operation. Perhaps an initial doctrine for International Disaster Relief, drawing on the experiences of Provide Comfort (Kurdish relief) and Sea Angel (Bangladesh), would be a valuable beginning.

Cross-tours: The best education occurs among people working for common solutions in the real world. The sea services should examine the possibility of bringing mid-grade operatives from various key agencies to sea for indoctrination tours. The Department of State, the national intelligence agencies, the Agency for International Development, and the office of National Drug Control Policy would be useful organizations to start with—generally for short periods of 30-60 days. This would give individuals from those agencies a sense of how the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard operate. At the same time, the sea services should send midgrade officers and selected enlisted personnel into those agencies for 30 to 60 days.

A limited number of Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard billets should exist in the headquarters staffs of some of the key agencies with which the sea services routinely work—the Department of State, Department of Justice, Customs, Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency. A small number currently do, but these could be expanded. One approach would be to institute a program similar to the current Navy Federal Executive Fellowship program, which sends officers to academic and policy "think tanks." That is a valuable program, and it should be expanded to include one-year fellowships either at headquarters or major field sites of key agencies. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard should offer similar one-year fellowships at various sea service headquarters—both in Washington and on the waterfront—for similar individuals from key agencies.

By investing in such cross-training, the services would create a small pool of officers and selected enlisted personnel with insight into the interagency operations process—which could prove invaluable in many potential contingencies over the next decade.

This does not have to be elaborate or costly. At the simplest level, it would be useful to institute a program where representatives from the various agencies could brief wardrooms and headquarters staffs on an annual basis. The sea services could make orientation tours and briefings available to the agencies with which they are likely to operate.

Force Structure: Finally, the sea services should study how military platforms could be used in nontraditional roles as part of interagency operations. Communications systems, medical and dental facilities, logistic transport, disaster evacuation, and countless other interagency activities may place emergent demands on military force structure—both hardware and people.

This study should also look at the reserve component, with an eye toward placing specialized skills in the reserves—disease control teams, environmental expertise, post-disaster reconstruction, urban and rural fire-fighting skills, agricultural knowledge—that could be called up as the occasion demanded.


Clearly, nontraditional missions that require interagency operations in the joint context will increase. This will stem from the availability of military assets in the post-Cold War environment and the dramatic success stories that linger in the public mind—like Provide Comfort and Hurricane Andrew. Above all, they will meet a real need throughout the world.

The sea services must seize the opportunity to participate by providing well-equipped, well-trained, and well-organized forces to the joint commanders undertaking such interagency operations.

Together with the other services, the sea services have made the leap from the disjointed failure of Desert One to the smashing success of Desert Storm. With early attention to the emerging needs of interagency operations, we will also dramatically improve our ability to undertake this key segment of our responsibility to our nation.

1 The Honorable Sean O'Keefe, Secretary of the Navy; Adm. F. B. Kelso, USN, Chief of Naval Operations; and Gen. Carl Mundy, USMC, Commandant of the Marine Corps, "… From the Sea: Preparing the Naval Service for the 21st Century," Washington, D.C., September, 1992. (See November 1992 Proceedings, pp. 93-96, for full text.)

2 See, for example, Bob Woodward's fine account of the interagency process at work in the Persian Gulf War, The Commanders (Chicago, IL: Praeger Press, 1991).

3 Warren Strobel, "Peacekeepers Do Everything Everywhere," Washington Times, 19 July 1992, p. 1.

4 Norman Friedman, Desert Victory Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1991.

5 The Commanders.

6 LtGen. H.C. Stackpole, USMC, "Angels from the Sea," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, May 1992, pp. 110-116.

7 From Gen. Colin Powell's speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 6 November 1992.

8 Press Release, 16 October 1992.

9 "Navy and Marine Corps Unveil Service-Wide Anti-Drug Effort," Press Release, Washington, D.C., October 1992.

10 See: LCdr. T. J. Cutler, USN (Ret.) "A Preventable Crime," U.S. Naval institute Proceedings, July 1992, p. 10.

11 Gen. Powell, Op.Cit.

12 Gen. E. H. Burba, Jr., Forces Command: Hurricane Andrew Response; After Action Report, Fort McPherson, Georgia, 20 November 1992. See, for example, JULL- 91928-95012, "There is a Need to Educate Military Personnel in Disaster Relief," JULL-92530-22637, "FEMA Interface and the Federal Response Plan," JULL-91732-40032, "DOD Disaster Plan Program Knowledge by Shipboard Personnel Needs Improvement," JULL-00248-76510, "DOD Interface with FEMA." All point to the need for improving basic service knowledge in this aspect of interagency operations.

13 Ibid.

Commander Stavridis is a surface warfare officer currently in the training pipeline en route to command of the USS Barry (DDG-52). He bas previously served as executive officer in the USS Antietam (CG-54) and operations officer in the USS Valley Forge (CG-50), among other assignments at sea. A 1976 graduate of the Naval Academy, he has a PhD from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and bas served ashore in a variety of strategic and long-range planning assignments.


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