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Civil Affairs: Reflections of the Future
Prepared Remarks of H. Allen Holmes, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, Worldwide Civil Affairs Conference, Chicago, Friday, June 06, 1997

Defense Issues: Volume 12, Number 32-- Civil Affairs: Reflections of the Future The threat of global war has receded since the end of the Cold War, but the world remains a highly uncertain place, with increasingly complex and dangerous national security threats. Consequently, the work of civil affairs forces has grown more and more salient.


Volume 12, Number 32

Civil Affairs: Reflections of the Future

Prepared remarks by H. Allen Holmes, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, at the Worldwide Civil Affairs Conference, Chicago, June 6, 1997.

It is a special privilege for me to participate in the Civil Affairs Conference this year as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Cohen-Nunn Amendment to the Goldwater-Nichols Act. The original intent of the Cohen-Nunn legislation was to "take immediate steps to repair a flawed organization structure that leaves SOF [special operations forces] at the mercy of interservice rivalries and a military bureaucracy in which support for special operations runs counter to mainstream thought and careers," a pointed and -- I'm told -- accurate reflection of attitudes back in the SOF dark ages of the '80s. Of course, today sweetness and light prevail.

In any event, Sens.[William S.] Cohen [now secretary of defense] and [Sam] Nunn and Rep. [Dan] Daniels reorganized and revitalized the special operations capabilities of the Department of Defense.

As a result, today we now have the U.S. Special Operations Command, a unified command dedicated to the preparation of special operations forces for assigned missions around the world. As components of USSOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], the Army, Navy and Air Force each have well-established commands for their special operations forces. And the unified theater commands all have special operations commands, which are increasingly capable and engaged in pursuing the national security and foreign policy interest of our country.

The Cohen-Nunn Amendment also established my office at the Pentagon as the policy and resource focal point for all special operations and low-intensity conflict activities of the Defense Department. Additionally and most important, we were given a separate defense budget for special operations forces, Major Force Program 11 –- a major innovation, without which I doubt we would be where we are today. Aided by these reforms, enormous improvements in the readiness and capabilities of our special operations forces were made.

Moreover, in 1993, six years after the enactment of the Cohen-Nunn legislation, the Army civil affairs forces were incorporated into the special operations community. This evolution greatly enhanced the breadth of capabilities of our special operations forces.

Our new secretary of defense, Bill Cohen, is no stranger to the special operations community or its accomplishments. Earlier this week, the secretary joined us in a small ceremony commemorating SO/LIC's [special operations/low-intensity conflicts] 10th anniversary. During the ceremony, the secretary stressed the importance of the daily work of SO/LIC, SOCOM and our special operations forces worldwide, including our most recent efforts to safeguard innocent citizens of the U.S. and our allies in Africa, our ongoing efforts to create inroads of peace and cooperation in Bosnia and our efforts to stem the growing threat to our troops and citizens from terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.

We have come a long way in 10 short years: The Department of Defense emerged from the tragic events of the early 1980s to construct the finest joint unconventional warfare capability in the world. This could not have been accomplished without the foresight of Sens. Bill Cohen and Sam Nunn, Rep. Daniels and many of you here today. We must continue, however, to look ahead and ensure that our forces are prepared for future challenges.

As we approach the 21st century, the United States faces a dynamic and uncertain security environment. We are in a period of strategic opportunity. With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the threat of global war has receded. The values that we hold dear -- freedom, democracy and market economics -- are being embraced in many parts of the world. Meanwhile, the changing global economy and proliferation of international information systems continue to transform culture, commerce and global interactions.

Nevertheless, the world remains a highly uncertain place, with increasingly complex and dangerous national security threats. We continue to face a variety of grave regional dangers in Southwest Asia, the Middle East and Northeast Asia. Moreover, as we saw in Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, and more recently, in places such as Zaire, failed or failing states threaten to create instability, internal conflict and humanitarian crises.

In some cases, governments will lose their ability to maintain public order and provide for the needs of their people, creating the conditions for civil unrest, famine, massive flows of migrants across international borders and aggressive actions by neighboring states. The continuing crisis in Sierra Leone illustrates the point.

In this context, the work of our civil affairs forces has grown more and more salient. In four short years, we have seen the increasing importance of civil affairs in military operations other than war. Moreover, recognizing the value of civil affairs, the staff officers and planners of our conventional forces are becoming increasingly involved in planning the civil dimensions to military operations.

For example, in Bosnia, the planning for military support to elections was accomplished by the J-3 [Joint Staff intelligence] and J-5 [Joint Staff plans], while our civil affairs personnel served as critical links between the military planners and civilian planners.

In recent years, many countries outside of the United States have experienced the value of U.S. civil affairs missions and are incorporating these types of skills into their own militaries, using our civil affairs forces as a model. A number of countries have recognized the importance of civil affairs and sent their military personnel to the JFK [John F. Kennedy] Special Warfare Center and School [Fort Bragg, N.C.], requested mobile training teams and visited our civil affairs units to understand what makes our civil affairs so useful to military commanders.

Two of our chief allies, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Korea, are represented here at this worldwide conference. Others, including France and Germany, have expressed an active interest.

One of our future challenges will be to prepare our civil affairs units to work from a multinational perspective. Our civil affairs planners must anticipate differences in civil affairs doctrines among our allies and be prepared to work together to meet overall goals of combined operations. As we prepare to meet these challenges and we consider the use of our civil affairs forces in the future, we should do so in the context of the defense strategy articulated by the secretary through the Quadrennial Defense Review.

The recently completed Quadrennial Defense Review was a comprehensive review of our defense needs through the turn of the century. As part of this review, Secretary Cohen articulated a clear vision for the Defense Department through the year 2015 and provided a blueprint for a strategy-based, balanced and affordable defense program. Adhering to a national security strategy of engagement, we as a nation will continue to exercise strong leadership in the international community, using all dimensions of our capabilities to respond to the full spectrum of contingencies, to shape the international security environment and to prepare now to meet the challenges of an uncertain future. These three components -- respond, shape and prepare -- represent the strategic basis for both the Quadrennial Defense Review and our future defense strategy.

Recent experiences in the [Persian] Gulf, Haiti and Bosnia have demonstrated the extent to which our special operations forces and in particular our civil affairs personnel enhance the effectiveness of our conventional combat forces in responding to crises and after the crisis is over, helping our diplomats to shape the security environment.

During Operation Desert Storm, our special operations forces supported a major coalition combat operation for the first time since their reconstitution. Our civil affairs forces were critical during the postconflict stage of Desert Storm in assisting the Kuwaiti government to restore essential services going to the people of Kuwait and to reestablish its authority.

Subsequently, our civil affairs forces helped respond to a broad spectrum of humanitarian crises that followed -- including Provide Comfort, where our civil affairs personnel assisted with the resettlement of the Kurds, and more recently, smaller operations such as Pacific Haven, during which we helped move other Kurds that had provided us with intelligence and other assistance to Guam.

In Haiti, our civil affairs soldiers performed activities that ranged from restoring electricity throughout the countryside to serving as expert advisers to 12 government ministries.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, during the IFOR [implementation force] phase, under the leadership of a British corps commander, U.S. civil affairs personnel helped coordinate military involvement in the reconstruction of the civil infrastructure and provision of relief efforts of more than 500 international, government and nongovernment organizations.

During IFOR, the focus of civil affairs was on peacekeeping operations and small community projects in areas in which troops were deployed. With the deployment of the stabilization force, or SFOR, there has been a change in focus to national-level objectives.

To that end, SFOR uses the civil-military task force as its primary interface with the civilian establishment in promoting the economic regeneration and rebuilding of the country, in promoting returns of refugees and in attempting to build lasting institutions for peace. The task force, which is being led by a U.S. commander, has been involved in literally hundreds of major projects in support of SFOR and in furtherance of civil implementation of the Dayton accords.

In the future, SOF will continue to be required to train for, and be prepared to execute, a wide range of missions within major theater war scenarios. However, it is unlikely that our forces will often be used for such purposes.

Our recent experiences illustrate an increasing possibility that the U.S. military will be called upon to participate in more complex, nontraditional operations -- ones that involve close interaction with other U.S. government agencies, nongovernmental, international organizations and our allies. Thus the work that we have done in the past truly points the way toward the future security environment that we will face.

In this context, our civil affairs units have a lot to offer. But the way in which these forces are to be employed must be considered very carefully before we participate in an operation. Some of this can be addressed during the early planning stages of an operation by incorporating mechanisms for transitioning responsibilities from our military to appropriate U.S. government agencies and ultimately back to the host country. This means involvement by relevant offices within the State Department, Justice Department and others when we plan an operation. Tremendous strides have been made in this area ... .

The work of our civil affairs units in the gulf, Haiti and Bosnia-Herzegovina demonstrates how well civil affairs units shape the international strategic environment after our traditional forces respond to a crisis. Equally important is the day-to-day work of our civil affairs units before a crisis ripens. Our humanitarian demining efforts around the world offer a poignant example of the significant contributions made by our civil affairs personnel in shaping the international environment.

The anti-personnel land mine crisis has taken an enormous toll on populations and governments around the world. The failure or inability of a country to address the proliferation of anti-personnel land mines, beyond the obvious personal suffering, denies farmers use of their fields, which stymies the resumption of agricultural production, denies access to markets, reduces public confidence in fledgling governments and creates many other hurdles for a nation trying to heal the wounds of war. So beyond the injuries inflicted and the medical expenses incurred, mine fields drive whole societies into helpless poverty with no obvious way out.

Humanitarian demining is one of the most fundamental humanitarian missions that the United States -- and special operations forces, including civil affairs -- can be involved in and is a high priority for the Clinton administration. The goal of our demining effort is to help countries establish long-term, indigenous infrastructures capable of educating the population to protect themselves from land mines, eliminating the hazards posed by land mines and returning mined areas to their previous condition.

The program assists the host country in development of all aspects of mine awareness and mine clearance procedures, with the caveat that no U.S. personnel will clear land mines or enter active minefields. Under the auspices of my office, DoD is pursuing a vital role in humanitarian demining while improving the readiness of U.S. forces through the unique training opportunities and regional access afforded by demining activities. Example: civil affairs in Cambodia.

Special operations forces are the primary U.S. military resource for the training programs. When we met this time last year, our civil affairs personnel had only recently been incorporated into demining teams. Now, our civil affairs soldiers are beginning to play a key role in our humanitarian demining program. Civil affairs personnel serve as liaisons among our demining teams, the host government, the Civilian Mine Action Center and the U.S. Embassy. Moreover, the civil affairs forces provide the necessary skills to train host nation personnel to develop indigenous demining entities and maintain self-sustaining, long-term programs, which is the ultimate goal of this critical program.

Our civil affairs personnel create immediate, direct, tangible benefits in host countries around the world: Roads and schoolhouses are built, wells are dug, mined fields are made safe, governments are stabilized, chaos and confusion are diffused, and order is re-established. By making a difference in the lives of the local populace, our civil affairs personnel are also helping to strengthen the good will of the United States in the eyes of the world -- clearly, our civil affairs forces are invaluable diplomacy multipliers.

As we look to the future, it is critical that we maintain a presence and develop relationships in regions that are important to our national interest. Our challenge is to maintain an effective military presence throughout the world within a tighter budgetary environment. In order to do so, we must avoid high-cost solutions and seek greater international cooperation. Our civil affairs personnel allow us to do just that.

Looking at a snapshot in time, we see civil affairs personnel serving in Rwanda and Namibia as part of humanitarian demining teams, acting as intermediaries with the host country of Mali in a MEDCAP [Medical Civic Action Project] operation, working on small engineering projects such as well-digging and road improvement in Belize, continuing to help plan for elections in Bosnia, coordinating the allocation of humanitarian assistance flowing into Cambodia and assisting the government of Cambodia to establish an infrastructure capable of providing necessary governmental services to its people, and working with nongovernmental agencies and private entities on civic action projects in Laos, where up until a year ago, no U.S. military personnel had been permitted.

The work of our civil affairs personnel plays a critical role in promoting regional stability, preventing or reducing conflicts and threats, and deterring aggression and coercion worldwide. And in turn, civil affairs capabilities provide a wide range of options for our regional CinCs [commanders in chief], ambassadors and policymakers.

Later this morning, you will hear from a panel of experts who will discuss some of the early warning mechanisms currently in place to help policymakers and operators to anticipate potential crises. I suggest you consider ways that you can use such early warning mechanisms. For example, these mechanisms may be helpful planning tools for regional CinCs or ambassadors. Specifically these mechanisms could help CinCs determine how to employ civil affairs units before a crisis hits. I am certain that there are other resources and techniques which can help you in your work.

Like the special operations forces of yesteryear, today's special operators face unusual challenges. Special operations forces must adjust to the nontraditional challenges we face today and at the same time, help transform U.S. combat capabilities and support structures to be able to shape the environment and respond effectively in the face of future challenges.

To be prepared to fight and win our nation's wars, to be capable of a range of challenging contingency operations and to be ready to assist our friends and allies in the Third World in establishing a secure, stable environment, we must continuously develop new tactics and equipment that address the New Age warfare we will face in the 21st century.

We must anticipate that our adversaries will increasingly use asymmetric means or unconventional approaches to circumvent or undermine our strengths while exploiting our vulnerabilities. In order to avoid direct military confrontation with the United States, our adversaries will threaten us with terrorism, WMD [weapons of mass destruction], information warfare, etc., to achieve their goals. When faced with a conventional war, these means could also be used to delay or deny us access to critical facilities, disrupt our command and control networks, deter allies and potential coalition partners from supporting our efforts or inflict higher than expected casualties in order to weaken our national resolve.

Faced with these unconventional threats, the work of our civil affairs forces become even more important, because you possess a greater understanding of the needs and vulnerabilities of civil sector than do our conventional forces.

Last year, I mentioned that the civil affairs community can play an important role in preparing other governments and their citizenry to manage the consequences of a terrorist attack involving WMD. I urge you to continue to explore ways that you can contribute in this area.

I suggest you listen carefully to the speakers during this conference as they discuss future challenges, and available resources that can help you in your work. Ask questions, offer comments or suggestions based on your own past experiences and introduce new ideas. All of this will be helpful for the interagency policymakers and the CinCs to take home with them.

The years ahead will be a time of testing for all of our armed forces. Pressure on the defense budget will place a premium on adaptability and our ability to accept change. I am confident that today's civil affairs forces have the creativity, versatility and professional skills to tackle new, unconventional tasks, while maintaining their traditional skills, and that the civil affairs community will emerge in the coming decade strong, with renewed elan in a changing world. Thank you.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at