Filling the Gap Between War and Peace: Creating a Stability Command

A Small Wars Journal and Military Writers Guild Writing Contest Finalist Article

Filling the Gap Between War and Peace: Creating a Stability Command

Hardy P. Merrill

Clausewitz tells us that low-intensity conflict is continuous, while “Absolute War” or “Total War” is like a volcano requiring years of preparation.[1] In its short existence, the United States has participated in 11 full-scale wars and 320 low-intensity conflicts.[2]  Considering Western powers’ avid study of Clausewitz, why has no one built a lasting, autonomous and networked force for handling small wars? We accept that there will always be another war, and we have built the force capable of dominating “Total War.” It is time to build a standing force that bridges the gap between war and peace.

In The Pentagon’s New Map, Dr. Thomas Barnett provided a rough road map for establishing a transition force in 2004. To be successful, the force must transcend the conventional structure of line wire diagrams at the tactical level. To accomplish this, we need to address organizational structure, military culture and design. Addressing these factors will provide us with the Comprehensive Approach that Joint Publication (JP) 3-07 preaches to achieve peace in the 21st Century. This paper will propose a Joint Force Command centered on stability operations that will fall under the umbrella of the Department of Defense (DoD).

Stability Command (STACOM) would be established as a Joint Command within the DoD. This command would be regionally aligned like Army Special Forces Command and would be more integrated into relevant government agencies than the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Additionally, STACOM would retain its own protection force centered on stability and maintain a comprehensive collection of enablers to execute its mission. Pertinent federal departments including Defense, State, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Transportation and Education would supply enablers through a broadening assignment program, but STACOM’s budget would fall directly under the DoD. Such a unified command will place ownership of Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW) on a single overarching entity, hone conventional forces’ responsibilities and concentrate our strategic efforts. Ultimately, the intent is to raise a force that is capable of handling stability operations commensurate with our capacity to conduct war. The organization would reallocate power and funds to prevent escalation and mitigate insurgencies in full-scale conflict.

This concept for such a force is already unpopular because it threatens the status quo on a strategic level, affecting personal agendas, organizational culture and budgets. STACOM represents a tectonic shift in government organizational structure and power, affecting every federal department. As agonizing as it is to establish yet another bureaucracy, it is vital to do so. “There is a double irony here, because a bureaucratic system is an absolute necessity for successful adaptation. Nevertheless, at the same time the rhythms and culture of most bureaucracies are antithetical to successful adaption.”[3]

As a reactive culture, it takes a catastrophic event to address large-scale organizational failure. From Operation Eagle Claw and the formation of JSOC to 9/11 and the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) failure has repeatedly sparked widespread and lasting change. When the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) steamrolled through northern Iraq, it became poignantly apparent how devastating our failure was at the strategic and operational level. Four years later, and thirteen years after entering Iraq, it appears we still have no everlasting exit strategy.

The situation in Afghanistan continues to challenge us as the Taliban reclaims territory almost as soon as we withdraw; however, we possess the preliminary institutional knowledge necessary to establish a standing stability force. The brief existence of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) has provided lessons that will serve as the foundation of our tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) and we are finally beginning to internalize the importance of stability efforts at the national level. The 2008 National Defense Strategy (NDS) stated, “We will continue to rebalance our military capabilities to excel at counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and stability operations.”[4]

History of Insurgency Doctrine

Insurgencies grow out of the transition space between war and peace. They have been around for thousands of years, from Sargon and the city of Akkad (near modern-day Baghdad) that collapsed in 2190 B.C. to the rise of ISIL, which currently occupies some of the same territory.[5]  Insurgencies are perpetual, and as a result, we have become numb to their existence. “Nation building” has a negative connotation because it implies extended commitment. Consequently, it has not been a national priority until recently.

Under the Marshall Plan, the United States distributed $120 billion dollars over four years to Western Europe (dollar value June 2016) reducing commercial regulation, rebuilding infrastructure and increasing productivity.[6]  However, the Marshall plan would not be nearly as fruitful today. Most countries that require stabilization lack basic infrastructure and industrialized economies before conflict erupted. In fact, poverty is one of the main grievances we see in conflicts today. Thus, top-down programs like the Marshall Plan won’t work. Instead, stability programs need to be tailored, bottom-up plans that address the grievance and necessities of each particular community, city or province.

Over the past 25 years, we have taken the first true steps to making stability part of our National Security and National Defense Strategies. In 1993, Army Field Manual (FM) 100-5 Operations was the Army’s first manual that explored stability operations, dedicating an entire chapter to it.[7]  A year later, Army FM 100-23 Peace Operations further explored stability operations to combat failing and failed states. We utilized both of these manuals during the Somali and Bosnian campaigns. With the lessons learned from these conflicts, the Army elevated the importance of stability operations in FM 3-0 in 2001; however, stability operations remained separate from offensive and defensive operations.

Stability operations received its own FM in 2003: FM 3-07 Stability Operations and Support Operations. In 2008, FM 3-0 was rewritten to include stability, offensive and defensive operations as part of a cohesive strategy to win wars.[8]  Thus, stability operations were no longer considered the final phase of a campaign plan; rather, they became continuous throughout. This is why in depictions of offensive, defensive and stability operations, stability operations always occupy the largest box, encompassing both the offense and defense.

Field Manual 3-07 has been renewed and became a Joint Publication (JP) in 2011. Joint Publication 3-07 Stability was last updated in August 2016 (stability operations was renamed “stability;” “stability actions” refers to the tactical level; and “stability efforts” refers to the operational and strategic level).

There have also been several DoD internal directives, as well as NDS and NSS publications that have attempted to delineate ownership, roles, and responsibilities. In November 2005, DoD Directive 3000.05 established policy and guidance for stability within the DoD.

Stability operations are a core U.S. military mission that the Department of Defense shall be prepared to conduct and support. They shall be given priority comparable to combat operations and be explicitly addressed and integrated across all DoD activities including doctrine, organizations, training, education, exercises, material, leadership, personnel, facilities and planning.[9]

In December 2005, National Security Presidential Directive 44 (NSPD-44) placed the State Department in charge of “Interagency efforts concerning reconstruction and stabilization.”[10]  Thus, the two departments effectively share stability efforts. The Army developed PRTs, which included members of State and other departments. The State Department energized the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and organized the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS, later renamed Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO)) in November 2011 after stability became one of the five national objectives under the 2010 NSS.


Why Stability Matters

Low-intensity conflict resolution is important because it contributes to broader international security. Moreover, insurgency is more far-reaching than ever before due to the ease of transportation and the ability to capture international media attention. Machiavelli compares fighting an insurgency to tuberculosis: hard to spot in its early stages but easy to quell; later on, visible to everyone, but incurable.[11]  When states collapse, the fallout reaches far beyond their borders. We have watched hundreds thousands of refugees flee Syria and Iraq, and we have seen peripheral states compelled to absorb the burden. Additionally, insurgent cells intermix with refugees, carrying fear to the next healthy host. France, Germany and Belgium have all experienced Machiavelli’s tuberculosis paradigm within the past year with attacks in Paris, Nice, Munich and Brussels. In short, insurgency is a virus capable of infecting other nations and exacerbating instability on the global stage.

Results from a study conducted by the RAND Corporation found a strong positive correlation between security and trade. “Our estimates suggest that doubling the number of U.S. security treaties with other countries could expand global bilateral trade by more than 50 percent.”[12]  Conversely, reducing our overseas presence by 50 percent, Rand estimates we would lose $577 billion a year in goods and services, or roughly 18 percent of our foreign trade. Furthermore, the current return in domestic economic benefits is three times what we spend.[13]  Although instability does not directly threaten our nation’s livelihood, it can inhibit trade, lower standards of living and burden our international partners. STACOM would enforce the minimum rule sets necessary to maintain a functional global economy.[14]  Much like cancerous tumors, insurgencies need to be addressed early; otherwise they have time to morph, metastasize and attrite us slowly.

99 Problems

Since its inception in 2003, PRT’s structure has been confusing and disjointed. For example, the PRT organizational chart for Iraq differed greatly from its organizational structure in Afghanistan.[15]  The State Department isn’t even included on the Afghanistan organizational chart. In Afghanistan, NATO/ISAF dominated stability operations. Each Afghanistan team only had one DoS, one USAID, and one USDA representative.[16]  The complexity of both the Iraq and Afghanistan charts exemplifies how intricate this problem is at the strategic and operational level; the reconstruction team composition that identifies and addresses dilemmas on the ground is even more complex. 

Iraq Organizational Chart

Legend: AAB: Advise and Assist Brigade, BCT: Brigade Combat Team, JCP: Joint Common Plan, MOA: Memorandum of Agreement, MSP: Mission support plan, SOFA: Status of Forces Agreement, UCP: Unified Common Plan, USAID: U.S. Agency for International Development, USEMB: U.S. Embassy.

Afghanistan Organizational Chart

The DoS has two offices that direct stability efforts: USAID and CSO. The military has PRT, Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP), Military Transition Teams (MITT) conducting Host Nation (HN) security training operations, and Special Operation Forces (SOF) conducting Foreign Internal Defense (FID), Village Stability Operations (VSO), and information campaigns. Six different elements, with different, commanders and chains of command, are trying to reach the same end state without a comprehensive, unified plan. Exercising multiple efforts under multiple commanders while lacking any sense of cohesion eventually results in disjointed execution, redundancy, mixed messaging and Line of Effort (LOE) fratricide. On top of that, the endless personnel movements, priority changes, contractors and rotation of Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) further tangles our web of objectives and projects. The absence of a common understanding hinders our effectiveness and, ultimately, our success. Despite being a predominately DoD and Army mission, we fail to use mission command: central planning, shared understanding, and decentralized execution.

If it wasn’t already obvious, stability actions (tactical level) are incredibly complex and perpetually evolving. A stability action as defined by JP 3-07 is:

A military action or the carrying out of a strategic, operational, tactical, service, training, or administrative military mission. Military contributions to stabilization consist of those various military missions, tasks and activities conducted outside the U.S. in coordination with other instruments of national power to maintain or reestablish a safe and secure environment, provide essential governmental services, emergency infrastructure reconstruction and humanitarian relief… These actions may be conducted in support of other U.S. Government (USG) departments and agencies as part of an integrated country strategy… Commanders might employ stability capabilities as part of a theater campaign plan (TCP)[17]

Stability action is primarily dependent on the commander’s interpretation. Ultimately, it is fluid and varies greatly from situation to situation. Hence, it takes a professional who studies insurgency warfare full time to conduct effective stability actions.           

Stability is a broad subject, and it takes years to develop the ability to assess, address, and execute the needs of a community or province. While PRTs were designed to do a lot of the heavy lifting, they require the cooperation and assistance of BCTs to be successful. We cannot realistically expect a company or battalion commander to be a master of all operations. We don’t expect a pediatrician in his residency to lead a brain surgery team, so why are we asking a company commander with less than a decade of experience to train 150 men for high-intensity combat one day and to distribute aid and operate more like a police department in the surrounding region the next?

Combat arms need to be aggressive to be effective, whereas stability actions require more patience and finesse. As Dr. Barnett describes it, combat arms should primarily be comprised of men: “young, single, slightly pissed off.”[18]  Stability forces demographically are more like a “middle-aged, married beat cop.”[19]

It should be clear by now that the United Stated spends the majority of its time abroad involved in stability efforts. So why don’t we allocate more energy and time to it? The short answer is the instability of failing nations is not perceived as imminent national threat.

At the platoon, company and battalion levels, there is a limited amount of time to train and certify men, so leaders prioritize the greatest threats first. Mandatory administrative annual training dictated by the Army at the strategic level puts commanders at an eight-month deficit (as of 2015) before they begin to tackle the Commander’s Mission Essential Task List (METL).[20]  The mandatory training deficit has increased six fold since 2002.[21]  Commanders are going to concentrate what little time they steal away from higher echelons on combat operations and subsequently accept risk in stability action. Serving under three different battalion commanders in the same infantry battalion over the course of four years, I never conducted a single stability action. During monthly Commander’s Readiness Conferences (CRC), most if not all battalion commanders accepted the most risk in the stability category.

Operational and Strategic leaders reinforce this theme. While offensive and defensive operations protect our livelihood against a near peer engagement, low-intensity conflict slowly bleeds us dry. We have a tendency to spend the lion’s share of our time and resources on planning for the lethal fight and coping with the transition after major combat operations have concluded. Anthony H. Cordesman, who has authored more than 50 books on military strategy, served as a civilian advisor to Gen. Stanley McCrystal on Afghanistan and holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) affirms this stating:

The U.S. military culture has failed to look beyond war fighting in defining the role and responsibility of the U.S. military ...  Military commanders do not seem to have fully understood the importance of the peacemaking and nation-building missions. They often did not provide the proper support or did so with extensive delays and little real commitment.[22]

Furthermore, MAJ Ray Eiriz, one of Gen. Tommy Franks’ primary planners stated, “From an operational perspective our main focus was on the first three phases and Phase IV is something we were planning but there were too many intangibles and we didn’t focus as much time on it as we should have.”[23]  As we saw in the example stated above, the military is slowly catching up, but the emphasis placed on stability is still subpar. Moreover, developing a unit trained in in offensive, defensive and stability actions is next to impossible given the amount of time a tactical commander has.

The next obstacle to tackle is our culture. The Future of the Army Profession coauthored by Col (Ret.) Lloyd J. Matthews and Dr. Don Snider of the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) stated, “Resistance to stability operations is more of a cultural and intellectual challenge… The sentiment “we don’t do windows” all to often captures the profession’s attitude toward these “fringe” operations.”[24]

According to personality data gathered by the U.S. Army War College, most successful officers score lower in openness than the general U.S. population.[25]  A closed perception allows them to focus, prioritize and thus increase productivity. However, this raises issues at the strategic level:

To make matters worse … USAWC students selected for brigade command score even lower than the overall USAWC average. This raises an interesting paradox: The leaders recognized and selected by the Army to serve at strategic levels — where uncertainty and complexity are the greatest — tend to have lower levels of one of the attributes most related to success at the strategic level.[26]

Additionally, at the general officer level, leaders tend to rely on their accrued experience and to rationalize their decisions while discarding empirical evidence.[27]  Stability’s advancement has not escaped the Army’s stifled ability to acclimate. The military’s reluctance to adapt coupled with the time it will take to refine our current knowledge base are the primary reasons why a standing organization with accumulated experience and consistent leadership would benefit our National Security Strategy.

“The last problem that we will contend with is money. Dr. Barnett stated, “Don’t go to war, unless you’re prepared to win the peace.” We want to win the peace, and we are prepared to pay. USAID’s budget in 2015 was $35.6 billion dollars globally.[28] We spent $750 million on more than 80 VSO missions in Afghanistan alone.[29]  The State Department also allocates $75 million to the CSO office, but we don’t maintain a consistent, comprehensive vision for our stability efforts.”[30]

In Iraq, the Unified Common Plan (UCP) and Operational guidance came from different entities. “Participating agencies maintain primary control of the capacity and programs they allocate to PRTs because of fiduciary responsibilities.”[31]

In Afghanistan, BCTs made the vision a little clearer; however, just two levels up, the lines begin to blur again. There is not a single entity responsible for taking funds and stability efforts and translating them into a comprehensive action that unifies diplomatic, economic and military lines of effort. NSPD-44 states DoS is in charge of stability and reconstruction abroad. USAID has 3800 employees worldwide and CSO has 150.[32]  At its height, there were 50 PRT teams total in Iraq and Afghanistan. PRTs can have as many as 400 personnel.[33]  We understand DoS isn’t large enough to wrestle with failing or failed states while sustaining current operations, but the DoD is not structured as a stopgap either.

New Responsibilities

We have identified the primary issues that failing states pose, and STACOM would become the flexible, strategic tool to address them. In reactive situations, STACOM would follow on the heels of combat forces. In preventative situations, it would supplement DoS catching failing states before they fall into the abyss and become failed states. Intervention would still be a deliberate process; STACOM would expand our capabilities and enhance our options when dealing with events like Somalia circa 1992 or Sudan in 2003. The Deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs would own STACOM.  

Domains of Responsibility[34]

Drastic Reorganization

The first step to improving our effectiveness is eliminating the disjointed overlap among organizations. We can do this by merging various programs and channeling their lines of effort. Redefining department roles would be the most controversial step.[35]  STACOM, as a joint command, would absorb wholesale, several large entities, including the Marines, Civil Affairs (CA) and CSO. The Naval surface fleet and Air Force airlift components would provide units on a rotational basis, balancing other requirements. Reserve components and the National Guard would augment the Marine Corps as protection force in larger conflicts and supplement STACOM’s enabler pool.

The Marine Corps would serve as the primary security force and lead stability actions. Their present composition and disposition around the world makes them the ideal protection force. From the Barbary wars and the shores of Tripoli to Smedley Butler and the Philippines, Marines have dominated U.S. involvement in stability.

Max Boot, a foremost expert on small wars, wrote, “A visitor to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina… finds the marines practicing not only traditional amphibious assaults but also newer missions such as crowd control in urban areas.”[36]

The Small Wars Manual returned to the Marine Basic School curriculum in the 1980s. Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) and their highly modular organization down to the platoon level emphasize flexibility and initiative, key requirements to battle insurgency. This makes the Marine Corps the best-suited armed force for stability actions.

The Naval surface fleet and Air Force transportation wings would rotate in and out providing STACOM’s global mobility while preserving their ability to conduct current missions. These assets would enable STACOM to access battle spaces quickly and to administer requisite aid.

The argument for National Guard and Reserve forces under STACOM centers on demographics and historic duties. According to Military One Source, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers are older and more mature as a group than active duty Soldiers are. As Reservists and National Guard Soldiers, they hold a wide range of civilian jobs and have higher adaptability quotients, which broaden their individual perspective.

They serve as the governor’s crisis response force in states of emergency and have functioned as a stability force within the United States. From assisting displaced populations to quelling looting in New Orleans after Hurricane Irene and securing FEMA task forces, the National Guard is already performing many of the same roles it would execute under STACOM.

STACOM Human Resources Command (HRC) would track the stability-oriented skills of National Guardsmen and Reservists. Based on their assessment, certain individuals would become the foundation of the personnel pool that STACOM HRC utilizes to maintain the enabler elements within each battalion. Additionally, select persons would serve periodically at a higher readiness status, allowing them to deploy within 30 days.


STACOM would also establish an interagency program to connect with other federal departments, much like the CIA and FBI do with each other. Each department would supply employees for four-year broadening assignments. These employees would serve as department liaisons, core team members or additional enablers where applicable. The intent here is to remove the vertical walls between organizations, which will ultimately strengthen relations among agencies and improve everyone’s individual effectiveness. Without this “interagencized” approach, STACOM would lack the situational awareness, personal relationships and accumulated niche experience vital to accomplishing its mission.

Strategic and Operational Structure

Strategic organizational structure governing PRTs varied greatly due to international influence, provincial necessities, and competing environmental priorities. Placing all stability efforts under a single entity would instill ownership of such operations. Maintaining a narrow focus would build task proficiency, prevent deviation and improve the Army’s capacity to prioritize offensive and defensive operations.

STACOM, with its extensive enabler pool, would be a network at the tactical level, while maintaining concise hierarchal structure at the operational and strategic level. Regardless of PRT size, the same lieutenant colonel will be responsible for prioritizing requirements, requesting the requisite assets and carrying out the action in support of the effort. Intelligence assets would be maintained at the PRT and battalion level and intelligence representatives at higher echelons would focus on combining reports to form the broader picture. Retaining all enablers at the Battalion level and below will foster bottom-up refinement, reduce staffs and reinforce unity of actions.

Battalions exist to prioritize actions into effort, and regional commands exist to synchronize efforts with the relative combatant command intent. Guidance and commander’s priorities would come through the same chain, ensuring common understanding and the integration of action with effort. This would also eliminate the need for intermittent strategic guidance from the NSC. 

Regional alignment of commands will preserve cultural knowledge and ensure follow-through in a force with high personnel turnover. The emphasis on regional alignment is fortified by the conventional Army forces’ effort to regionally align conventional combat units in the last decade. Stability can take years. Every effort should be made to maintain consistency between rotating teams and the leadership within those teams. Interpersonal relationships developed between team members and host nations will be vital for continuity and overall effectiveness.

Expanding on regional alignment, Battalions should cultivate relationships with embassies and consulates in their areas of influence. Stability is about prevention. Pre-established relationships between the Battalion and the Ambassador will expedite stability efforts by STACOM, as well as synchronize actions and ensure completion by DoS. 

Dr. Barnett stated that there should have been 250,000 stability-oriented personnel flooding into Iraq in 2003 following combat forces to quell an insurgency. At the height of stability efforts, though, there were just 50 PRT teams divided between Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although Dr. Barnett’s figure seems high, his approach is meaningful. The ratio of combat forces to stability force should be almost 1:1. Put simply, the DoS, which is currently responsible for stability, cannot accomplish its mission with a group of ad hoc Soldiers that spend the majority of their time preparing for combat operations. In a conventional fight, STACOM would integrate “Core teams” with conventional forces and become the supported command at the conclusion of combat operations. Using the core team concept would increase communication and assist in the transition from major combat operations to stability.

Strategic Structure

Operational Structure

Tactical Structure

Asset Management

Community and provincial requirements vary greatly. A stability team’s concept of support in Iraq on the outskirts of Baghdad will contrast with the approach taken by a team supporting a village in Nepal. Team size and scale will depend on priority level, population density, and the tasks required.

As mentioned previously, PRT teams in Iraq ranged in size from 30 to over 400 personnel, with enablers relevant to that mission constituting the majority of team. PRTs are also notoriously expensive to operate.[37]

To allocate personnel effectively, STACOM must utilize a core team concept. Similar to how a reconnaissance team observes the enemy, the core team would be responsible for occupying a defined area and assessing the future area of operation. Tasks would include meeting with local political, utility, infrastructure, medical, police, and military leaders. At a minimum, the core team should identify the root cause of insurrection and address the five primary tasks of Stability: Civil Security, Civil Control, Restore Essential Services, Support the Governance, and Support Economic and Infrastructure Development.

Generally, all five will need to be overhauled to achieve any kind of sustainable success in vulnerable countries. In the long term, the PRT must identify and invest in people that will become the future day-to-day community leaders. The core team would merely serve as the nucleus at the tactical level. An organic team would be comprised of the Team Commander (O5), Team NCOIC (E9), a squad size security detachment (Marines), and two representatives covering each area of expertise listed above. Their findings would be passed to the PRT Executive Officer, who would then gather the required team.

Advance Team

A Note on Speed and Personnel

Historically, PRTs have predominantly been comprised of civilians and Reservists, which is an advantage because they bring a broader range of experience and technical skill to the table; however, they are also slower to mobilize. It can take months to mobilize and deploy a PRT. Thus, STACOM would create a standing structure with readiness levels necessary to deploy a PRT rapidly. A higher readiness level would permit the core team to begin an initial assessment within 10 days of the ground commander’s order and to deploy a PRT with the necessary enablers within 30. Identifying the grievance and addressing the primary stability tasks earlier will enable conventional forces to continue combat operations or transition to a support role.

Due to the linear command structure that would characterize STACOM, it is vital that personnel are selected based on their creativity and tenacity. STACOM will demand problem solvers that can devise and implement organic, self-sustaining solutions, regardless of the issue’s complexity or potential evolution.

It has long been argued that we should avoid stability operations. They are too diffuse and too expensive in regards to blood and treasure. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Gen. George Marshall and Gen. Colin Powell have all preached similar guidelines for going to war. In Gen. Marshall’s words, “Never fight unless you have to, never fight alone, never fight for long.”[38] Powell doctrine, Weinberger doctrine and Anti-Access Asymmetrical Aerial Denial (A2/AD) strategy that steered us through the 1990’s all follow Marshall’s guidelines. These policies have benefited America in the past, prioritizing our commitments. However, the dilemma is while war has not changed, technology and the environment have. This evolution has shuffled the order of threats and elevated the effectiveness of terrorism and insurgency. Social media can mobilize nations as we saw with Arab Spring; globalization is shrinking the world enabling radicals to reach further than ever before. The gradual alteration of our National Security Strategy affirms this and we must adapt to face this threat.

Joint Publication 3-07 reiterates the importance of a “Comprehensive Approach.” A comprehensive approach requires joint operations and the “whole government approach” to be effective. Thus, players conducting stability operations require a panoramic view to see the combined effect of their actions, measure their effectiveness, and evolve to accomplish their purpose. An assembly similar to the Operation and Intelligence brief (O&I) Gen. McCrystal held daily in his Situational Awareness Room (SAR) would assist in achieving a panoramic view. As Gen. McCrystal said, “Share information across organizations until you’re afraid it’s illegal.”[39]

When discussing the continuous transformation of JSOC, Gen. Stanley McCrystal and his team often said that they “were designing a plane in midflight.”[40] The formation of STACOM would take a similar path. Fighting as a network will provide the adaptability to face counterinsurgency proactively. However, this also means trading efficiency for adaptability. Military commanders at all levels must acknowledge and internalize this counterintuitive fact.

Ultimately, STACOM would foster the readiness and skill necessary to implement successful stability operations; however, it would not be without fault. It will take years of accruing lost lessons, or what Max Boot aptly refers to as “lessons unlearned,” to achieve proficiency in stability. As failures become less frequent, though, and STACOM becomes embedded in our National Security Strategy, the plane will stabilize, and we will develop the leaders, competency, and structure necessary to win the peace abroad.

End Notes

[1] Carl Von Clausewitz, On War (London, Penquin Classics, 1982) 235.

[2] Brian Tempest, Stability Operations Challenges (Carlisle Barracks, P.A. : USAWC, 2011), 6.

[3] William Murray, Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 23.

[4] Ibid, 22-23.

[5] Max Boot, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013), 13.

[6] “Marshall Plan,” The Marshall Plan, 26 December 2016.

[7] Tempest, Stability Operations Challenges, 12.

[8] Ibid 15.

[9] Ibid, 20.

[10] The White House, National Security Presidential Directive 44. 2005 (Washington, D.C. : GPO, 2005) 2.

[11] Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (New York, Penguin Books, 2003), 2.

[12] Daniel Egel and Howard Shatz, “Economic benefits of U.S. Overseas Security Commitments Appear to Outweigh Costs,” Rand Corporation. 23 September 2016. (20 October 2016)

[13] Ibid, 2.

[14] Barnett, Thomas. “Let’s rethink America’s military strategy.” Lecture, TED Talk, Monterey, February 23 2005.

[15] Center for Army Lessons Learned. Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team Handbook. 2010 (Washington D.C. : U.S. Department of the Army, 2010) 36.

[16] Center for Army Lessons Learned. The Provincial Reconstruction Team Playbook. 2007 (Washington D.C. : U.S. Department of the Army, 2007) 56.

[17] U.S. Department of Defense. Joint Publication: Stability 3-07. 2016 (Washington D.C. : GPO, 2016) I-1.

[18] Barnett, Thomas. “Let’s rethink America’s military strategy.” Lecture.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Crispin Burke, “No time, Literally, For All Requirements,” Association of the United States Army. 04 April 2016. (22 October 2016)

[21] Ibid, 1.

[22] Tempest, Stability Operations Challenges, 9.

[23] Ibid, 10.

[24] Ibid, 2.

[25] Stephen Gerras and Leonard Wong, Changing Minds in the Army: Why It Is So Difficult and What To Do About it (Carlisle Barracks, P.A. USAWC, 2013), 9.

[26] Gerras and Wong, Changing Minds in the Army, 9)

[27] Ibid, 15.

[28] “United States Agency for International Development,” USAID, 26 August 2016. (26 September 2016)

[29] Ghormley, Timothy. “Class Mentoring program”, Lecture, Special Operations Captains Career Course, Fort Bragg, NC, October 24, 2016

[30] Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations,” CSO, 26 August 2016. (16 October 2016).

[31] Center for Army Lessons Learned, Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team Handbook, 23-24.

[32] “Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations,”

[33] David Wallace, “Provincial Reconstruction Teams” (Suffolk, V.A. : Joint Forces Command, 2007) 7.

[34] Center for Army Lessons Learned, Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team Handbook, 7.

[35] Barnett, Thomas. “Let’s rethink America’s military strategy.” Lecture.

[36] Max Boot, Savage Wars of Peace; Small Wars and the Rise of Amercian Power (New York, Basic Books, 2002), 334.

[37] Center for Army Lessons Learned, Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team Handbook, 7.

[38] Eric Greitens, The Heart and the Fist (New York, HMH Books) 269.

[39] Stanley McCrystal, Team of Teams (New York, Penquin Publishing Group) 213.

[40] Ibid, 84.


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In order to better understand what kind of "stability" we seek -- and, thus, what we want "Stability Command" to achieve -- let's look at, for example, post-major conflict "stability" and, this, from two perspectives:

a. From the perspective of international law; which seems to indicate that, following such armed conflict, "stability" is to be achieved by re-establishing, as quickly as possible, the political, economic, social, etc., order that existed prior to the armed conflict. And

b. From the perspective of ideologically-driven "expansionist" great nations (such as the U.S. and the former Soviet Union?); who see "stability" -- before, during and after armed conflict -- more in terms of transforming outlying states and societies more along one's own, often alien and profane (and thus often massively destabilizing?), political, economic, social and value lines.


Within the existing framework of international law, is it legitimate for an occupying power, in the name of creating the conditions for a more democratic and peaceful state, to introduce fundamental changes in the constitutional, social, economic, and legal order within an occupied territory? ...

These questions have arisen in various conflicts and occupations since 1945—including the tragic situation in Iraq since the United States–led invasion of March–April 2003. They have arisen because of the cautious, even restrictive assumption in the laws of war (also called international humanitarian law or, traditionally, jus in bello) that occupying powers should respect the existing laws and economic arrangements within the occupied territory, and should therefore, by implication, make as few changes as possible. This conservationist principle in the laws of war stands in potential conflict with the transformative goals of certain occupations. ...

The assumption that, the occupant’s role being temporary, any alteration of the existing order in occupied territory should be minimal lies at the heart of the provisions on military occupation in the laws of war. ...

What are the rules under occupation law that govern the nature and extent of changes that can be introduced within occupied territory? On the face of it, they are straightforward. Their basics are enshrined in the much-quoted words of the 1907 Hague Regulations, which provide in Article 43: "The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country."


(From Sir Adam Roberts "Transformative Military Occupation: Applying the Laws of War and Human Rights." )

Thus to suggest that:

a. If "stability" is our goal, then the "do not change the political, economic, social and/or values order of the state and societies" requirements of international law might be our guide and, thus, "Stability Command" might be organized, ordered and oriented exactly according to these such (international law reasoned and approved?) "non-interference" principles.

b. If, however, "transformation" is our goal -- this, more along one's own often alien and profane political, economic, social and value lines -- then the massive alternation (by the U.S./the West or anyone else) of the way of life, the way of governance and the values, attitudes and beliefs of other states and societies becomes the order of the day; this, requiring that these such -- amazingly disruptive -- transformative practices, likewise and accordingly, become what drives the organization, ordering and orientation of our "Stability(????) Command."

(If this latter goal is chosen, then why not just name our such organization in less-contradictory terms, for example, as "Transformation Command;" thus, a command whose activities -- before, during and after large wars and small -- could be understood more clearly?)

Instead of creating an entirely new organization to do this, why not reorganize the Marine Corps to handle this? In years past, the Marines were referred to as “State Department troops” (if I recall Thomas P.M. Barnett correctly). Stability operations are the ones traditionally viewed as “small wars” which the Marines are quite adept at and have a history of executing, and are currently preparing for as demonstrated by their recent establishment of “Law Enforcement Battalions” (

Furthermore, because stability operations involve an ebb and flow between low-intensity and mid/high-intensity “combat” with combatants often hiding among the populace requiring the intervening force to deploy special operations types to deal with, give all special operations to the Marines as well (as opposed to creating a separate special operations service as advocated by Doug Macgregor- They’re already highly trained (& probably capable of even more specialized training), can organize as “special operations capable” elements, are routinely forward deployed allowing for rapid application, and are (like other services) looking for a ways to justify their size and purpose. This would allow the Marines to take on complementary missions: stability operations – for which foreign internal defense and small unit efforts are well suited, and special operations – small unit direct action, irregular warfare, foreign internal defense, etc, etc….

No argument that weak and failing states present a current and growing risk to U.S. interests, but there is considerable room for debate on how the U.S. should manage this risk. Pushing for unaffordable organizational changes to more effectively conduct failed stability efforts like PRTs is unlikely to gain support in Congress or DoD. What we all need to do is step back and objectively and as possible assess the true causes of instability and then how to mitigate it. We don't understand the true nature of the problem, so we default to simple like providing jobs.

Captain Merrill,


This is exactly the argument that I've been making for several years now. When it's on the critical path to mission success--or, indeed, when stability constitutes mission success--responsibilty for stability operations should be institutionalized and mainstreamed in the only USG organization that has the ways and means (including experience, expertise, and personnel) to do the job: DoD.

DoD has always been resistant to the idea--"We break things and kill people"--but it's a natural fit, and there's nothing involved in stability operations that DoD hasn't already been doing, and doing very well, for years. In any case, when the chips are down and there's no other agency that can do the job, it's DoD that will have to execute this work.

As far as the argument that this should be the responsibility of State or USAID, I'd just point out that State is a diplomatic not an operational agency. And USAID, for all of the great work that its Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) and Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) does, hasn't had this kind of expeditionary capability since John Paul Vann was running CORDS back in Vietnam. I discussed this in some detail recently at this link:

Thank you for fleshing out how this might work at DoD in practice. It's an especially important contribution to an especially important debate.

I found this a curious article and my comment comes from being an observer of 'Small Wars' from afar.

The author glides over the reluctance of civilians to volunteer for the work in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Yes the USA has the option of mobilizing military reservists who have the required skill set.

The second gap is where do the contractors and private military companies fit? We know they provide the majority of non-Afghan personnel today in Afghanistan for example.

Finally is a MILITARY organization really the answer?

We already have a stability "command" - USAID and DoS. That it's not funded is not a reason to create a wholly new organization that will require its own new funding and authorities. I've never understood in 20 years of military service why we always look for an ad hoc band aid solution instead of fixing the systemic problems we already have and refuse to acknowledge.

This is just another good idea to push us further down the slippery slope of institutionalizing ourselves as the world police in areas which do not impact national interests. I.e. wasted blood and treasure.

In referring to Thomas P.M. Barnett's "The Pentagon's New Map," is the author describing a "stability command" based (specifically or loosely) on his (Barnett's) "System Administrator" model, described below?


SysAdmin/System Administrators

The “second half” blended force that wages the peace after the Leviathan force has successfully waged war. Therefore, it is a force optimized for such categories of operations as “stability and support operations” (SASO), postconflict stabilization and reconstruction operations, “humanitarian assistance/disaster relief” (HA/DR), and any and all operations associated with low-intensity conflict (LIC), counterinsurgency operations (COIN), and small- scale crisis response. Beyond such military-intensive activities, the SysAdmin force likewise provides civil security with its police component, as well as civilian personnel with expertise in rebuilding networks, infrastructure, and social and political institutions. While the core security and logistical capabilities are derived from uniformed military components, the SysAdmin force is fundamentally envisioned as a standing capacity for interagency (i.e., among various U.S. federal agencies) and international collaboration in nation- building, meaning that both the SysAdmin force and function end up being more civilian than uniform in composition, more government-wide than just Defense Department, more rest-of-the-world than just the United States, and more private-sector-invested than public-sector-funded.



a. A "nation-building" force/command which

b. No U.S./Western politician -- and likewise no U.S./West population -- appears to want anything to do with currently?

I would like to take a second to congratulate CPT Merrill and wish him good luck in his final ranking and the rest of his career. I would also like to thank him for being motivated enough to give the ARSOF CCC its first student publishing success story and helping me prime the pump for a fledgling writing/publishing program.
Let the comments/critiques begin.