Small Wars Journal

Expeditionary Law Enforcement

Wed, 07/02/2008 - 2:18am
Expeditionary Law Enforcement

By John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus

Cross-posted at Defense and the National Interest where it was originally published on 29 June 2008.

Washington is overflowing with foreign policy proposals for the next administration. Think-tankers of all political stripes are looking for a big idea to revolutionize American foreign policy. Missing from the equation, however, are new solutions for America's problems with counterinsurgency (COIN) and stabilization operations. The goal of these military missions is the reconstruction of law and order and the pacification of enemies such as criminals and guerrillas. The vast majority of American military missions since World War II have been counterinsurgencies, and military experts agree that we will face many more in the coming decades.

Unfortunately, Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the immense difficulties our conventional military faces in adapting to careful, intelligence-driven stabilization missions. A bipartisan chorus of critics argue that military force alone is insufficient for winning counterinsurgencies, which they often dub "police work." So how do we get COIN right? One solution wears blue, drives cars with flashing lights, and wrote you up yesterday for doing 56 in the 55 zone. Yes — police officers.

Why? Future battlegrounds increasingly blur the boundaries between war, crime, and terrorism. Lawlessness usually follows disorder and accelerates the process of state failure by eroding the state's monopoly of violence and preventing the growth of legitimate enterprise. In Afghanistan the Taliban uses the country's illegal opium trade to finance its operations and undermine government authority. Mobbed-up Iraqi insurgents muscle in on criminal enterprises. And the Colombian FARC, who lack mass public support, are sustained by their command of the coca fields. This highly volatile and complex kind of warfare cannot be waged by traditional military forces alone.

The fault lies not in the professionalism and courage of our fighting men and women, who have proven their mettle in fierce combat. But military forces are ill-suited for restoring basic law and order in societies ravaged by the reach of terrorists and organized crime. Investigation, community relations, and other complex tasks of preserving social order have never been part of the basic military mission and remain at best an acquired taste.

With a wealth of experience in combating gangs and organized crime, community policing, and dealing with complex conflicts in an increasingly multi-ethnic society, America's metropolitan police officers are well suited to overseas stabilization missions.

Yes, the average uniformed police officer doesn't have all of the range of skills necessary to operate effectively in failed states riven by insurgency. But building from community police skills, SWAT capabilities, gang suppression, and detective practices, they can be adapted and integrated into paramilitary, "formed" police units. These hybrid forces like France's Gendarmerie, Italy's Carabinieri, and Spain's Guardia Civil are a third option between the military and the police. These militarized internal security units are trained for both policing and fighting, and excel at international stability missions. These units handle specialized tasks like riot control, investigations, and disrupting criminal conspiracies, freeing up military forces for more general missions.

The European Union has pooled these military police into a 5,000-strong expeditionary police (EXPOL) force known as the European Gendarmerie Force (Eurogendfor), and Australian and Canadian national police departments regularly deploy police for stability operations worldwide.

Unfortunately, the US has no equivalent. With no national police force, few local police forces can contribute officers for peacekeeping abroad without straining their own resources. With no standing EXPOL force, international policing needs are filled on an ad hoc basis by military units and small civilian police forces that are ill-suited to the task. The United Nations has experimented with civilian police (CIVPOL) in peacekeeping forces, but uniformed military peacekeepers still predominate in peace operations.

The time has come for the development of standing constabulary forces that can draw talented and intelligent individuals for overseas policing. A US-specific EXPOL force could deploy in concert with standing NATO and UN expeditionary police units, although there's no reason why US EXPOL units couldn't be combined into mixed police units.

There are many remaining questions about such a force. Under whose authority would it fall--State Department, Defense Department, or Homeland Security? Would it be a US-centric standing force, or a composite force drawn from many alliance powers? A standing force would offer a clear continuity of command and control, but would be expensive in both money and political will to maintain. A composite force would be cheap and rapidly deployable, but would have uncertain lines of command and control and lack continuity and professionalized training. Constructing such a stability police force would pose many problems and difficulties. But going without it is infinitely more expensive.

In the military, the COIN process is often simplified as DIME (Diplomacy, Intelligence, Military, Economic). But without effective policing to guarantee basic law and order, diplomacy has no credibility, the military cannot effectively operate, and economic reconstruction is impossible. We need to add a "P" — Policing — to the mix.

John P. Sullivan is a senior research fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism. A career police officer, he is a lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. He is also co-editor of Countering Terrorism and WMD: Creating a global counter-terrorism network (Routledge, 2006).

Adam Elkus is a writer specializing in foreign policy, national security, and law enforcement issues. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus,, DefenseWatch, Defense and the National Interest, SWAT Digest, and the Huffington Post. Adam blogs at Rethinking Security.



Sat, 09/21/2013 - 11:22pm

In reply to by davidbfpo


I've read about the recently activated USMC Law Enforcement Battalions....I think they currently have two. Not familiar with the EU EXPOL but I've read about the European Gendarmerie which seems like an organization that we (the US) may want to become more knowledgeable on.

Seems like such a force (constabulary, gendarmerie, etc) may be worth looking at given the likelihood of continued involvement in global affairs, even if it's disaster response (Aceh Earthquake) or HA (like Haiti).


Sat, 09/21/2013 - 2:55pm

In reply to by Morgan


The theme of 'constabulary' units has cropped up on SWC many times, although on checking not an obvious thread. There are seventy-five hits on 'constabulary'.

IIRC the USMC has stood up a similar law enforcement formation.

To my knowledge the EU's EXPOL has not been deployed as a unit. It was a lesson learnt from the Balkans and with Kosovo in particular. The EU has spent more time and gold of late on border guard deployments, notably to Greece.

So, is anyone thinking of reconstituting the Constabulary units of the post-WW 2 era? They did the law-n-order part as well partnered with host-nation elements.

Byron Jones (not verified)

Thu, 01/20/2011 - 2:27pm

I agree with Jason. Shift the focus of the Army AND Air National Guard, move the major combat units to the respective reserves, and train the rest as MP's/PAA's, with an active component for CBRN(domestic and international), humanitarian aid(internationally), admistration, recruitment, etc. I've floated that idea to a couple of people and they seem to think it's a good idea. Now I don't have any experience as a cop, soldier, or NG, but it makes sense to me.

While the fed will never accomplish a P in the proper sense of the word, it could be accomplished on the local end with proper teamwork. The cross jurisdiction issues are beat when we want to via the USM for drugs or gangs, why not this. Of course we would need a federal leader, someone who believed in the original local up type of fight.
Time will tell.

As a separate issue: the idea of a National Police Force scares the hell out of me, we have enough police with enough power as it is, no offense to L.E. Whatever the good intentions would be, it would be put to no end of mischief.

I was NG and at least 30% or more of our unit was Law Enforcement. K.W is right that it makes no sense to reinvent the wheel - but let's not forget the Federal Reserve Component contains vital logistical units without which the RA cannot enter major combat operations. No matter how many contractors are hired to perform logistic functions.

The NG on the other hand - despite the fact that a recent commission named it openly as an Operational Reserve - is still structured as if they were the Strategic Reserve for the Cold War.

The answer to fixing the NG/NGB is to have a major housecleaning at the top and middle. You've got plenty of younger, experienced talent with combat experience either as Guardsmen or coming off active duty, promote them and pension off the geriatrics holding us down. Then the Guard can act as the Constabulary Force for SSO. Those of us with other job skills can also assist in teaching unemployed young men with no prospects how to get another job (besides gunman for hire).

As far as Congress and the States: for that you just need a tough POTUS and SECDEF. Threaten the money, watch how fast they roll.

Ken White

Thu, 07/03/2008 - 11:27am

I strongly doubt you'll get Congress, NGB or most of the States to buy off on that. OTOH, all should be happy to add or convert a few MP Battalions to the PAA role.


Thu, 07/03/2008 - 4:46am

An alternate possibility is to change the focus of the National Guard into military police functions instead of combat formations. This function would fit both Homeland Security or State callups, and provide a pool of expeditionary capability for post conflict stability and training. Put heavy combat formations in the Reserve, and keep the active componet as highly mobile/deployable formations that can meet the need for speedy deployment around the world.

Ken White

Wed, 07/02/2008 - 12:29pm

Really bad idea.

Existing federal law enforcement agencies are arguably mildy dysfunctional -- certainly none has a stellar record. While all are staffed with generally well trained and dedicated people, the heirarchies are enmeshed in the federal bureaucracy and this adversely impacts agency performance. This is partly a function of our governmental structure (to include the resultant turf battles between agencies) and even more so the result of excessive Congressional meddling. One would also have to acknowledge that some "We're the Feds..." hubris occasionally enters the equation.

Another federal bureaucracy would not be helpful. The problems alluded to in the article ; "<i>Constructing such a stability police force would pose many problems and difficulties...</i>" would indeed be tremendous and and the creation of an organization that very well may -- but might not -- have productive employment outside the US and which would certainly, in the absence of that, seek work inside the country is not reassuring. The Authors add "<i>...But going without it is infinitely more expensive.</i>" That is a highly debatable statement.

What is not in question is, as the authors state:<blockquote>"But without effective policing to guarantee basic law and order, diplomacy has no credibility, the military cannot effectively operate, and economic reconstruction is impossible. We need to add a "P" -- Policing -- to the mix."</blockquote>

That statement is, of course, totally correct. A solution to that very real problem is readily available and quite simple -- conversion of a few US Army Reserve Component (RC) Military Police Battalions to Police Advisory and Assistance (PAA) elements. Many RC units have civilian police officers as unit members; to convert a few units in large metropolitan areas to such PAA focus would mean a simple shift of training and emphasis on recruiting mature, experienced current or former civilian Police Officers.

There is no sense in reinventing a wheel. Particularly if a square one is envisioned.