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Breaking the Proconsulate: A New Design For National Power” by Mitchell J. Thompson in PARAMETERS

A worthwhile read. Thompson argues for instituting true ” Jointness” across the spectrum of national power instead of the wary separation between combatant command like CENTCOM or PACOM modelled on the Vietnam era CORDS program. The current interagency structure for coordination, according to Thompson, does not work:

” The cataclysmic events of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent Global War on Terrorism accelerated efforts toward interagency coordination, though Joint Forces Command already had been working on ways to achieve better integration at the strategic and operational levels. In October 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld directed that each Combatant Command form a “Joint Interagency Coordination Group” (JIACG) for a six-month trial period. The Secretary’s guidance to the Combatant Commanders stated, “JIACGs will be organized to provide interagency advice and expertise to Combatant Commanders and their staffs, coordinate interagency counterterrorism plans and objectives, and integrate military, interagency, and host-nation efforts.”17 This was clearly a more expansive mandate than anything previously envisioned. The November 2003 Joint Operations Concepts continued to wax eloquent on the value of the JIACGs:

‘JIACGs at each Combatant Command headquarters will significantly increase civilian and military coordination and enable a more complete understanding of policy decisions, missions and tasks, and strategic and operational assessments. They enable collaboration to integrate the capabilities from all instruments of national power to more effectively achieve the desired end state.18

Joint Forces Command and European Command created free-standing directorates, while Pacific Command, Central Command, and Special Operations Command embedded their JIACGs within their respective Operations Directorate (J-3). The JIACG is usually headed by a civilian director at the senior

executive service level, with approximately 11 on-site civilian and military personnel. The civilian members may include representatives from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Departments of State, Treasury, and Justice. This is conceptually enhanced by “virtual” (i.e., electronic) representation from other agencies. JIACG functions include participation in the full range of Combatant Command planning activities; advising on civilian agency campaign planning activities; presentation of agency perspectives, approaches, capabilities, and limitations; and providing habitual linkages to Washington, D.C., planners.19 As Colonel Harry Tomlin notes, the JIACGs bring “developed national and international contacts and networks that were previously unavailable to the Combatant Commander.”20

But the JIACGs have critical, even crippling, deficiencies. First, it is not possible, absent legislation, to mandate non-DOD participation. Indeed, the list of participants in the European Command JIACG as late as July 2003 was depressingly thin. As of February 2005, Central Command (CENTCOM) asserted that it conducted daily interagency coordination with the Departments of State and Treasury, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the FBI in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, but it is unclear which of these were actually represented on the JIACG or how institutionalized this support actually was.21 The non-DOD agencies are usually operating on far more limited resources than the military, and the costs of JIACG participation often outweigh any perceived benefits. Second, there are strict limitations on the roles and responsibilities of the JIACGs. They cannot task civilian agency elements or personnel, reorganize civilian agency elements, prioritize the efforts of civilian elements, or unilaterally commit agency resources. They are a coordinating element only. Likewise, the Combatant Commander’s authority is “exclusively exercised over military organizations and units. [The JIACG] does not authorize or entitle the Combatant Commanders to direct the actions of those elements in theater representing non-DOD agencies, institutions, and organizations.”22 Third, and most fundamentally, the vastly differing organizational cultures of the civilian and military agencies that constitute the JIACG greatly hinder its smooth functioning. Tomlin writes that “few [non-DOD agencies] have cultures that embrace doctrinal structure, and it is often perceived as being confining and rigid. The absence of formalized procedures pertinent to interagency cooperation and interoperability can challenge and impair the JIACGs’ potential.”23 Even Joint Forces Command admits that there is a “hesitant buy-in” by the civilian agencies, who perceive “coordination” with DOD as tantamount to ceding control.24 The JIACGs have served a useful purpose; however, they are clearly not the final answer for interagency unity of effort at the strategic or operational level. “

Thompson even points to the need for flexibility in what amounts to Leviathan vs. System Administration scenarios:

Roman proconsuls were military governors, but a “holistic understanding of the operational environment” in any AOR today would have to recognize that the military element of power will often not be predominant. Indeed, one draft “Joint Operating Concept” states, “During conflict the joint force is the ‘supported’ agency. In prevention and reconstruction operations, the joint force is the ‘supporting’ agency.”44 The Department of Defense early on took the lead in the planning and execution of the Global War on Terrorism, with the quiet acquiescence of the National Security Council. This was despite the proclamations of the President, and near universal recognition in the federal government, that the Global War on Terrorism is a multiagency effort. This was partly due to the practical reality that the resources available to DOD dwarf anything else in the US government, but it was also due to institutional habit and inertia. The Department of Treasury is not accustomed to campaign planning, but CENTCOM does it for a living. Nonetheless, success in a conflict such as the Global War on Terrorism requires that the US government break these old habits and the proconsulate system that sustains them

Given the right kind of high-level team this model could work very well. Eisenhower, for example, was the Allied Supreme Commander in the European theater but his shadow was Robert Murphy, who managed secret diplomacy and clandestine OSS operations for Eisenhower as the personal representative of the President of the United States. In Vietnam, another good example of a ” fusion” role would have been John Paul Vann in his civilian capacity of Senior Advisor in II Corps Military Region.

However institutionalizing this model would take a considerable amount of time. ” Jointness” in planning and executing military operations took years for the armed services to reach a level of reliability. How much longer would it take to bring Treasury and the Energy Department on board or overcome the notable reluctance of State or the IC to become tightly integrated with bureaucratic behemoth that is the Pentagon ?

Secondly, the senior figures with the statesman-like qualities and the experience to manage the military appropriately are relatively few in number. Thompson is proposing replacing a ” proconsular” military system with a set of figures who are a combination of Secretary of State, Defense Secretary and CIA director in miniature. Less experienced appointees are simply going to be bamboozled by their own staff and military advisers and more senior figures who have the requisite experience from say, having been National Security Adviser, are unlikely to accept so junior a position in an administration’s hierarchy.

Nevertheless, a concept that bears further examination.

2 Responses to “”

  1. StrategyUnit Says:


    Drats! I was actually very close to mentioning this article some weeks back. But, I had second thoughts in the end.

    Happy New Year Mark.

    – StrategyUnit

  2. mark Says:

    Hi Strat,

    Don’t worry – they’ll write more !

    Happy New Year to you as well !

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