By J. William DeMarco, Curt Rauhut, and Kurt Waymire
Joint Forces Staff College, November 2009
Isaac Asimov’s quote echoes the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, who observed hundreds of years before the birth of Christ that “nothing endures but change.” Change is perhaps never more evident than in the function of the state—and how states deal with conflict.
America is facing a changing international environment. The threat of traditional state on state conflict appears to have diminished, at least in the near term, and nation-states face non-state actors on the battlefield. But the US Federal Government, shaped by the industrial revolution, has failed to keep pace with that change. Current departmental relationships and stovepiped operational execution philosophies are ill suited to wage war with non-state entities operating in a modern networked world reshaped by the information revolution.
The U.S. must modify its internal strategic structures to meet this growing and emerging threat. President Barack Obama has recognized and taken initial steps toward meeting this challenge. But much more must be done if America is to meet the challenges of integrating Defense, Diplomacy, and Development in response to 21st century threats.
Today it is relatively easy to recognize a warfare genealogy of sorts. First generation warfare, prior to the Industrial Revolution, reflected the era’s smoothbore muskets, the tactics of line and column. Second generation warfare responded with the rifled musket, breechloaders, barbed wire, the machine gun, and indirect fire—inventions enabled by the Industrial Revolution—and tactics based on fire and movement. Third generation warfare increased battlefield firepower, again enabled by industry and invention and coupled them with radically new tactics based on maneuver rather than attrition. Developed by the Germans in World War II to compensate for their weaker industrial base, these third generation concepts were the first truly nonlinear tactics.
The Information Revolution began in the 1960s, as the Pentagon sought a secure way to keep its lines of communication open in the event of the Cold War going hot — that system of open protocols is today’s Internet. The Information Revolution had begun, enabling fourth generation warfare, but like the Industrial Revolution in its early days, it is not clear what the implications of this new revolution are.
Just as the Industrial Revolution spurred massive changes in warfare, technology, and organization, so today nation states find that war fighting and the enemy have morphed. The same major catalysts for change in previous generational shifts, technology and ideas, are present today.
In broad terms, the fourth generation of warfare enabled by the information revolution is widely dispersed and largely, as of yet, poorly defined. The distinction between war and peace is blurred close to the vanishing point. Small, decentralized, non-state groups turn the advantages of large national armies—overwhelming firepower, high technology, and a clear hierarchy of command—into disadvantages. Winning political and public relations victories matters more than counting casualties and bombing sorties.
Fourth generation warfare (4GW) is not new, but a re-tooling of how warfare was conducted before the rise of the state. The change is in the ability of non-state actors to have global influence far beyond that of the pre-Westphalia era. Nation states must focus not only locally but also regionally and internationally when confronting this 4GW adversary since the complexity in dealing with these “new” actors has increased exponentially.
4GW issues cross departmental lines within the US Government (USG) and are no longer simply warfare—or simply a Defense Department problem. America can no longer call in air strikes to bomb the enemy back to the Stone Age. There is an eloquence demanded, a finesse from the highest levels of leadership as the country is forced to mix diplomacy with development and defense in response to this 4GW enemy. The “best weapon” –the military staff –is still applicable but severely hamstrung with its defense-only product line.
Today there is no agency responsible for interagency orchestration; there is no authority, no funding or resources to bring together the 3Ds (Defense, Diplomacy, and Development). The only true integrator is the President of the United States, who quite obviously is very busy with a myriad of domestic and foreign affairs.
This new enemy in an information-networked environment may require more soft power than steel on target—diplomacy combined with developmental efforts. The US Federal Government has strong departmental capabilities but weak integrating mechanisms. The United States Departments of State, Defense and the Agency for International Development (USAID) have independently and incompletely entered the networked Information Age.
The Industrial Revolution brought to power leaders who valued three things; reliability, predictability, and stability. This desire helped build the stovepiped systems the American government operates in today. The Information Revolution ushers in an era of unpredictability, complexity and interdependency. In this unpredictable world there is a need for speed and information that has led to a new era of networked organizations.
Past generations of warfare sought at the strategic level to destroy the enemy’s armed forces and capacity to generate them. Fourth generation warfare attempts to change the minds of enemy policy makers. As Sun Tzu noted millennia ago—“So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.”
A 4GW enemy will seek to create political paralysis. Since America’s military is the strongest in the world, they target the U.S at her interagency/networking seams. This form of warfare takes place across the spectrum of political, economic, social, and military fields. 4GW is about winning wars not battles; it takes a long-term view of conflict.
Victory comes through the superior use of all available networks to directly defeat the will of the enemy leadership or to convince them their aims may be either unachievable or too costly. These practitioners are constructing weapons from materials available in the societies they are attacking; they have no need to defend core production assets or logistic lines and are free to focus on offensive operations. They transport little but ideas and money—both can be digitized and moved instantly.
In the end, the United States is still trying to apply 21st century tools and speed to 19th century Industrial Revolution era constructs. As the world continues to move from a hierarchical, industrially based society to a networked, information-based society; American political, economic, social, and technical bases must evolve as well. The U.S. should not radically change the internal federal construct but it should enable the interagency to plan, dialog, and act in a synergistic manner with a single integrating agency—the National Security Council.
On 13 March 2009, President Obama pledged America would maintain its world leadership by combining military power, diplomacy, and economic might. He cited terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, cyber-threats, and economic turmoil as the basis for the interagency effort, warning, “the old approaches won’t meet the challenges of our time.”. “Make no mistake, this nation will maintain our military dominance,” he said, adding that the United States must also apply diplomacy and its economic power in order to stay secure. “We cannot continue to push the burden onto our military alone.”
The President’s agenda promises to develop “whole of government” initiatives to promote global security. The administration plans to integrate military and civilian efforts in hopes to “build up the capacity of each non-Pentagon agency to deploy personnel and area experts where they are needed, to help move soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines out of civilian roles.” The President also aims to create a national Civilian Assistance Corps (CAC) of 25,000 personnel. This corps of civilian volunteers with special skill sets (doctors, lawyers, engineers, city planners, agriculture specialists, police, etc.) would be organized to provide each federal agency with a pool of volunteer experts willing to deploy in times of need at home and abroad.
The proposal fits well in this new era of conflict, yet how do these agencies coordinate such operations—how do they collaborate and plan? All the solutions above require true interagency planning and operations allowing the American government to bring all the tools of national power to bear on any problem. Departmental stovepipes do not need to be eliminated for progress to be made, but the concrete of the stovepipe wall must be replaced with a semi-permeable membrane—call it a form of osmosis. Breaking down these stovepipes will take time. To succeed, the Federal Government must embrace the concept of networked operations with strong leadership coupled with a very articulate message and clear intent.
On February 13, 2009, President Obama signed his first national security policy directive, outlining the structure and role of the National Security Council. Presidential Policy Directive –1 (PPD-1) significantly expanded the NSC structure to add the Attorney General, Secretary of Treasury, Secretary of Homeland Security, US Ambassador to the UN, and the Chief of Staff to the President. In addition, the President’s Counsel is now invited to attend every session as are, when appropriate, the Secretary of Commerce, the US Trade Representative and the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. Equally significant is the creation of Interagency Policy Committees (IPCs)  to manage the “development and implementation of national security policies by multiple agencies”. 
This new capacity at the NSC is the first major step in coordinating policy and programs that touch multiple agencies and require a central implementing body. But it does not necessarily resolve the interagency planning problem. For example, the State Department is the designated interagency coordinator of reconstruction and stabilization operations, yet the department has no true oversight of interagency issues, nor the expertise to plan across the departments. Historically, the interagency process is ad hoc at best and non-existent at worst.
Recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan provide ample evidence of this with the DoD, State, USAID, Agriculture, Commerce and many other federal agencies working with little to no coordination. A strong centralized coordinating body is desperately needed.
Issues such as security assistance, counterterrorism, counter narcotics, nonproliferation, stabilization, and reconstruction require the resources of many federal departments and agencies. IPCs lack budgetary control over policies and programs, creating doubt that the IPCs can truly influence departments and agencies responsible for an interagency policy. However, the IPCs are a first step in centralizing the coordination of policies and reducing the gaps that characterize many of these interagency programs.
The recently restructured NSC does indicate a renewed focus towards interagency coordination. The new structure includes five new Deputies responsible for: Iraq and Afghanistan, Strategic Communications and Global Outreach, International Economics, Global Democracy Strategy, and Combating Terrorism Strategy. But the task of strategic planning is outside the purview of these Deputies and is left for other agencies to complete. General (Retired) Tony Zinni, former military commander responsible for the Middle East, recently proposed a notional joint inter-agency organization: the “National Monitoring Planning Center” (NMPC) under the direction of the NSC. The NMPC functions as the integrating organization responsible for monitoring unstable areas, destabilizing conditions, and emerging threats, regardless of their nature. While not specifically citing strategic interagency planning as a primary NSC role, it is clear that no other organization could impose influence over the other Departments within the Federal Government.
The new NSC reorganization is laudable, but the emerging structure does not create a dedicated planning capability for the wider range of important foreign and security policy issues such as economic development and foreign assistance, fragile states, global health, or what is being called “natural security” – environment, climate change, energy and networked information. In this new era of 4GW, this interagency requirement is urgent and the NSC must play a greater role in strategic direction, planning and the coordination of foreign and national security policy throughout the executive branch.
Finally, the new design does not integrate resources for national security. Close integration concerning planning and resources is a must—without resource guidance of American national security agencies, NSC’s strategic planning is meaningless.
Although President Obama, Congress, and the American people are understandably focused on the current war effort and health care, the U.S. also faces multiple crises in the rest of the world. The floundering global economy will force reductions in U.S. defense spending and likely drive up global instability. One key issue federal officials and national security experts have gleaned from the Iraq conflict is that the American military is doing too much. Other agencies, like the State Department and USAID, are not funded or organized properly to execute missions abroad in which they have expertise.
State and USAID are receiving increased manning and funding but without an interagency planning organization the government may be adding more resources without achieving real effectiveness or synergy. President Obama should assign the NSC staff to work with agency counterparts to develop an interagency “concepts of operation” for critical mission areas. These concepts of operation would provide the basis for codifying an interagency division of labor in various mission areas and for proper alignment of agency authorities and resources with operational responsibilities. If fully implemented, this approach would significantly enhance the USG’s preparedness to deal with specific interagency operations when they arise. The CONOPS may indeed be approved, but in the meantime America requires a process to move the interagency in a direction that goes beyond the ad hoc organization it currently utilizes.
Currently, each of the 3Ds develops their own strategic planning documents. As recently as 2008, the departments were attempting to synchronize their strategic plans. The DoD has invited State and USAID to collaborate on the new Guidance for the Employment for the Force (GEF) and has held special sessions of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) for the Interagency. State Department is attempting a similar document with DoD assistance titled the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). These documents will inform lower level plans to include the DoD Combatant Commander’s Theater Campaign Plans (TCP) and State’s Mission Strategic Plans (MSP). The missing document, the President’s National Security Strategy (NSS), is the key driving strategic document yet the time/space continuum is not synchronized to allow the NSS to drive the National Defense Strategy (NDS) and State’s Strategic Plan. With the NSC functioning as the lead agent, the Federal Government can ensure all strategic plans from the highest level down inform all of the 3Ds planning processes.
The NSC might offer a phased approach to enable departments to step forward in a coordinated manner and allow for interagency experimentation. Although nowhere near a final product something on the order of a five-step process below, executed over a finite period of time, is sure to enable greater collaboration.
INTERAGENCY (IA) 1.0: Communication: The IA must develop a common framework for Defense, Development and Diplomacy to communicate on a basic level. The importance of relationships across organizational boundaries cannot be overstated yet so many times in the USG people move on, are promoted, or retire and the relationships immediately fade or deteriorate. In order to maintain some degree of continuity, an interagency coordinator (IAC) in each of the 3Ds must be established to function as the senior representative for that organization’s IA connectivity—streamlining their agencies actions. These senior representatives/IACs in turn connect directly with the newly created Strategic Communication and Outreach director now working at the National Security Council for planning synchronization and execution.
IA 2.0: Standardized Concepts: Departments cannot plan together unless they understand together—IA 2.0 develops a common reference for understanding conflict dynamics, standardized concepts, and shared analysis. Such a culture change cannot be forced, but must be facilitated. A common frame of reference is the beginning of such an effort. The key is a method to synergize strategy and concepts yet retain freedom to maneuver as an individual agency when required. The NSC’s Strategic Communication and Outreach director working with the Global Democracy Strategy director should determine which interagency concepts are relevant in this arena. A common understanding of how each agency works independently is important, but the accomplishment of a mission collectively is critical in bringing to bear U.S National power toward a particular problem.
IA 3.0: Processes: IA 3.0 seeks to develop processes for the IA construct to synchronize within existing systems. Phase 0 or global engagement reflects status quo operations, yet when the USG leaves engagement and moves to conflict in a region it must be clear how the interagency coordinates planning, steps into and through the phases of conflict. General Zinni’s proposed NMPC, with the right direction and charter, could accomplish this task. The NMPC would orchestrate the interagency in global engagement, ensuring the right agency with the required expertise is engaged at the correct time.
IA 4.0: Training: Integrated training for interagency planners, members, and leaders to include practical exercises are woefully short and inefficient. The NSC must take an active leading role in integrating interagency training, as well as providing appropriate incentives. The DoD possesses the training infrastructure, but does not have the authority to direct mandatory attendance from interagency partners. Funding is also a major concern, and NSC must leverage DOD infrastructure and Congressional committees as it seeks authorities and funding for appropriate “whole of government” training.
IA 5.0: Integration: Once the 3Ds develop, exercise, and establish the above constructs other government agencies should be brought into the venue ensuring true interagency coordination and execution. The NSC along with its interagency partners must make a concerted effort to raise the level of concern to the POTUS for additional interagency funding and resources to conduct and participate in both theater campaign planning and contingency planning exercises.
President Obama inherited a rising China and India, a resurgent Russia an evolving Europe, and nations, cultures and religions around the world reacting to the information revolution and globalization’s powerful and unpredictable effect. With all of these converging factors it is imperative that the US Federal Government be able to bring diplomacy, development, and defense together in ways not yet even imagined to engage global issues quickly.
The U.S. government must become more networked and interoperable in order to thrive in a networked world challenged by non-state actors waging fourth generation warfare. This requires flatter, more agile organizations to avoid stove-piping and a continual lack of integration of effort. Some critical future steps in attaining this:
– In the long term, interagency coordination requires Congressional committee reform in order to separate funding from the individual agencies to a project based or purpose based outcome.
– Support of cross-organizational bodies to flatten communication and facilitate discussion.
– Personal relationships amongst experts with a clear, common goal will help, at the all levels of government. This, of course, requires that goals and objectives are clear and well thought out at the highest levels.
– Facilitate cross-organizational support that will allow field cooperation by decreasing the apportionment of funds by organization, and increasingly funding by topic area or working group.
– Decrease the complexity of Federal Government organizations while increasing functional area expertise.
The National Security Council is the only organization with the ability to reach across all departments of the US Federal Government to strategically plan and coordinate interagency strategic efforts to impact 4GW adversaries. Although President Obama has made significant changes to the NSC—the USG has stalled and deeper follow-on action is required. The nation must step from its industrial revolution roots and embrace the information revolution with its networked operations—or find its global influence diminishing and on the road to the graveyard of empires.