A theme is taking shape at the USNI/AFCEA Joint Warfighter Conference 2009, at least in my view, and the theme would be something along the lines of “Fighting Organizational Inertia” or the ugly operational work of cooperation in government, and across governments. Building off the discussions yesterday begun by USMC General James Mattis, the current and future warfighting environment is developing a narrative of security challenges, not defense challenges. No one is willing to give up the biggest gun, but the questions regarding where to aim the gun, when to load the gun, and when to fire the gun continue to dominate the narratives of the speakers and panel. On one end, a perception of this violent world is being shaped to suggest the DoD is in for a long haul of military action, while on the other is this reality where in the vast majority of the world, special operators can just as easily buy plane tickets to their destinations rather than be inserted by submarine.
Today began with a keynote morning address from Dr. Thomas Barnett, who if you have never seen live are missing one of the better presentations on global strategy available. Dr. Barnett runs through his message in a linear way that aligns itself to his books, moving from system to states to leaders. In the end, the theme of the Department of Everything Else (DoEE) comes up on top, with Dr. Barnett concluding the Q&A session in the end that he believes the DoD is building the DoEE today and that within the next decade, it will be broken off from the DoD and merged with some of the poorly funded and organized critical elements of the State Department, including USAID, which will elevate those organizations to the priority they need. I’ll discuss Dr. Barnett’s presentation in more detail later.
The panel this morning was “Beyond the Military: How Do We Foster and Employ a More Comprehensive Approach in the Future Security Environment?” Moderated by retired General Anthony Zinni, the panel consisted of Dr. Heather Hanson, Director of Public Affairs for Mercy Corps, Mr. Len Hawley, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, MajGen Chris Miller, Director of Plans, Policy and Strategy, NORTHCOM, and Ambassador Mary Yates, Deputy to the Commander, Civil-Military Activities AFRICOM. It was one of the most insightful discussions of comprehensive approaches to national security challenges I’ve sit in.
Front and center was Dr. Hanson, who in the spirit of a maverick opened by suggesting that Whole of Government approach may not be a good thing, while the others on the panel were naturally touting the Whole of Government approach. Dr. Hanson’s concern is legitimate, noting that the specific priorities of the individual non-government groups that have track records of successful work that contributes to the whole can get lost when they must concede to priorities of the Whole of Government approach. As MajGen Miller states, the term “Whole of Government” can take on a whole new meaning when you drop the “W” from the first word, and that isn’t a good thing.
Dr. Hanson was outstanding, and I thought she really elevated the discussion by consistently contributing intellectual inputs that were contrary to the official government narrative. When the DoD describes non-government organizations as force multipliers, that simple statement alone can undermine the security that must be negotiated by NGOs to operate consistently in threatened regions. In Southern Afghanistan for example, NGOs can stay around for months at a time because security has been negotiated at the local level, and their projects to improve the conditions are politically neutral. The Taliban doesn’t target them as a threat, but can do so when the coalition forces suggests they act as a force multiplier.
Themes like Unity of Effort and Whole of Government are themes that build domestic confidence, because new buzzwords like “whole” and “unity” suggests an aligned process that resonates as responsible activities with taxpayer money. These themes are theories that look different in practice, as is often realized by the competing interests of the PRTs and the military in Iraq. The picture at the operational end is one of work, strained by inexperience and the absence of coordination; often compounded by competing rather than complimentary leadership objectives.
There are some themes emerging that will require more intellectual analysis leading into the rest of the conference and beyond. Intelligence is a good one, but also a theme that is brought up and never seriously discussed is one of strategic communications. Both are hard, and both combine full spectrum activities and it is noteworthy that both intelligence and strategic communications are critical to the implementation of any phase of war or peace, high or low intensity. Amb. Yates suggested that open source intelligence was critical, and AFRICOM incorporates STRATCOM into everything they are doing, while admitting they are still very early in their development process.
Be sure and check back for more observations as the day unfolds. For example, MajGen Miller raised a crtical need in the panel discussion, Maritime Domain Awareness, as part of the intelligence debate for addressing security challenges in a realistic way. When the Air Force has flag officers calling for Maritime Domain Awareness, my confidence in joint operations between the military services ticks up one notch.