If you haven’t seen it on the WPR front page yet, give John Nagl’s and Brian Burton’s piece on the need for building civilian institutional capacity for counterinsurgency and nation-building operations a look. Obviously conflict zones are going to command a great deal of American attention and resources in the years ahead, and as Nagl and Burton make clear, unless civilian agencies adapt their training and institutional orientation, they will increasingly see their expertise farmed out to, or absorbed by, the military. As the article also makes clear, the necessary adaptation won’t take place until these agencies are funded and staffed to a level appropriate with their essential contributions to these kinds of interventions.
The piece emphasizes the need for more interagency “integration” of operations, but one question it leaves unanswered is who ultimately will play the overall coordinating role:
. . .The demands of large-scale counterinsurgency and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq are increasingly clear: The United States must integrate civilian reconstruction expertise with military force in conflict zones. Ad hoc measures, like the establishment of the civil-military Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan and Iraq, were an important step towards creating this capability but are an incomplete solution. Recent State Department-led initiatives, which include the establishment of the Civilian Response Corps as well as the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (CRS) and the Interagency Counterinsurgency Initiative, represent an effort to establish effective civilian control of the political, economic, and social dimensions of nation-building operations.
One of the problems identified with the PRT’s is that, lacking any uniform command structure, they are essentially coordinated by the agency controlling the funding stream. More often than not these days, that’s the Pentagon. As Nagl and Burton put it, the State Dept. initiative is only a first step. An overarching conceptual framework of how interagency integration functions might be a useful second one.