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This article was published in the July 2005 volume of the SWJ Magazine.

The Joint Interagency Coordination Group

The Operationalization of DIME

Current United States National Security policy documents and future global trends drive the requirement to create and maintain an operational level organization to integrate the four elements of national power: diplomatic, informational, military and economic (DIME).  From the policy perspective, one can trace the requirement to operationalize DIME to National Security Presidential Directive 1 (NSPD-1), released 13 March 2001 and the National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States of America.  NSPD-1 lays down the organization of the National Security Council System to accomplish this task.  The national security policy infrastructure turns to the National Security Strategy of the United States for overall direction.  Last published in September, 2002, the NSS describes a world where, “America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.  We are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies in the hands of the embittered few.”[1]

The desire to avoid another attack against the United States like the September 11 attacks serves as the largest catalyst for United States intervention abroad.  However, the ever-present crisis related to basic humanitarian failures throughout the world will continue to lead to increased U.S. involvement globally that will require the need to integrate the elements of national power at the operational level.  In the 1990s, the United States experienced a three-fold increase in the number of ‘complex emergencies’.[2]  Future trends identified in the National Intelligence Council’s 2020 Project indicate that the number of complex emergencies will continue to increase, particularly in the Sub-Saharan Africa region and significant parts of Southeast Asia.  These trends lead one to believe that the United States will become more involved in regional crises around the world in the interests of its national security.  Critical to the success of the United States in this regard will be its ability to operationalize the elements of its national power in order to meet its national security needs?  By establishing a Joint Interagency Coordination Group focused on integrating the elements of national power at the operational level, the United States can better prepare itself for successful execution of complex emergencies and stabilization and reconstruction operations in the coming decades.

The Joint Interagency Coordination Group.

At the operational level of war, the goal of military planners is to adopt a plan that accomplishes strategic objectives within the theater or area of operation.  “Activities at this level link tactics and strategy by establishing operational objectives needed to accomplish the strategic objectives, sequencing events to achieve the operational objectives, initiating actions, and applying resources to bring about and sustain these events.”[3]  As a whole, the Department of Defense is well practiced and effective at planning at the operational level.  The same can not be said about the national interagency community. Often seen as a dysfunctional organization or effort, the interagency community typically lacks the unity and focus to provide long term solutions to the problems often confronting it.  The reasons for this are many but a significant factor contributing to this deficiency is the lack of an organization and the accompanying doctrine devoted to an operational level focus of interagency activities designed to provide lasting effects on the post-conflict landscape. 

  What the operational level of interagency activities includes are those activities where major humanitarian relief, civic assistance, and infrastructure rebuilding efforts are planned, conducted, and sustained to accomplish strategic objectives within theaters or areas of operation.  The basic activities at this level of crisis resolution involve linking the services and capabilities of interagency organizations to the strategic goals of the United States by establishing operational objectives, coordinating capabilities, initiating actions, and applying resources to bring about and sustain these events.  Similar to the way Joint Pub 1-02 describes the activities that take place at the operational level of war, the activities that take place at the operational level of crisis, “imply a broader dimension of time or space than do tactics; they ensure the logistics and administrative support of tactical forces and provide the means by which tactical successes are exploited to achieve strategic objectives.”[4] [Emphasis added]  Tactical forces in this case may include an engineer battalion providing vertical construction support, a relief agency providing basic human services or a civilian police team providing training to perspective new police forces, while tactics in this case encompass the menagerie of specific actions that interagency groups take when applying resources to and fixing problems. 

  The disparate entities that could potentially make up the interagency body that would respond to current and future crises need an organization to facilitate the planning and coordination efforts of interagency activities at the operational level of crisis.  Creating an effective Joint Interagency Coordination Group (JIACG) is the first step. 

Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) has looked at the development of a JIACG for some time according to an article that appeared in the Autumn 2002 issue of Joint Forces Quarterly.  “The enhanced integration of civilian and military agencies on the operational level was under consideration at JFCOM before September 11, 2001.  Both the organizers and participants in Universal Vision ‘01 grappled with the issue of coordination.  By the end of the exercise, the concept for an interagency staff directorate on the regional command level had emerged.”[5]  The directorate became known as the JIACG. 

Subsequent to 9/11, the JIACG has mostly taken on a counter-terrorism flavor, expanding on the Joint Interagency Task Force- Counterterrorism Asia Pacific that was already in existence in PACOM at the time.  Admiral Blair, then the Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, expanded the task force by, “…granting it a broad interagency mandate as well as coordinating authority.”[6]  In February 2002, the National Security Council deputies committee approved the JIACG concept and instructed the regional combatant commanders to implement the concept.  However, in their guidance, the deputies committee limited the JIACGs to coordinating counter terrorism plans and objectives only.[7] 

Limiting the JIACG to counter terrorism fails to meet the full needs of the strategic objectives of the United States.  To achieve the goals that the president has laid out in the NSS, the JIACG should take on a much greater role, particularly because meeting the United States’ strategic goals requires the coordination of all the elements of national power at the operational level.  Keeping the focus of the JIACG on counter-terrorism would be like having a Marine Expeditionary Force operational planning team focus on ground operations only.  Such a singular focus limits the overall breadth of potential that the elements of national power encompassed in the interagency community can bring to bear to crisis situations.  The JIACG should go beyond the PACOM model and should be organized and focused on providing operational level interagency plans, asset allocation guidance, execution over-site and responsibility, and sustainment expertise designed to meet the operational objectives of interagency activities.  However, if the PACOM model serves a valuable long-term capability for countering terrorism and should remain, a similar but more broadly focused organization should be established that accomplishes the operational level integration of interagency activities and focuses on the full spectrum of planning from the first engagement to the final victoryCurrently, the JFCOM J-9 continues to work the development of the JIACG Prototype, conducting numerous workshops and other events in an effort to develop further the full spectrum JIACG concept.[8]       

  The foundation of JIACG operations should be guided by several enduring general considerations that include unity of effort, centralized planning, decentralized execution, common terminology, and responsiveness.  Joint Publication 0-2 explains that unity of effort at the strategic level “requires coordination among government departments, between the executive and legislative branches, nongovernmental organizations, and among nations in any alliance or coalition.”[9]  Unity of effort at the JIACG level will be the critical element that makes or breaks the operational success of an overall mission.  The myriad of stereotypes, agendas, biases, and other influences that the interagency participants will bring to the JIAGC organization can exert tremendous pressure on the overall direction and effectiveness of the organization.  This, in turn, can jeopardize the attainment of the operational and subsequently the strategic objectives of United States intervention abroad.  More difficult to overcome than the conflicting pressures listed above will be the chaotic situations that interagency actors will find themselves working in overseas.  Mitigation of this chaos requires a unified effort that has all players working towards the same common goal.  Critical to this unity of effort is centralized planning.

  The planning effort of the JIACG, or something comparable, must be centralized in order to synergize effectively the capabilities represented and to allocate the resources and assets available to the JIACG. Resources (particularly funding) and special skills are the two elements the interagency community brings to a crisis situation.  If the planned application of those resources is not centrally planned, the organization runs the risk of duplicating efforts or of over committing assets in one area while another area is overlooked. 

However, once the JIACG has developed the plan, its execution must maintain a decentralized character.  Because of the tremendous scope of activities that the JIACG will be responsible for, it is impossible to maintain centralized control over plan execution.  To do so would require such a large headquarters organization to be able to track all the activities under the JIACG, that the decision making process would overwhelm the actual execution cycle.  The time required to make and pass on decisions from a central point would take such a long time that the issue requiring the decision in the first place would become moot.  The more effective way to execute plans in the stability and reconstruction environment is to establish a framework for decision making in a well thought out detailed plan that is thoroughly briefed to decentralized teams empowered to take appropriate actions they deem necessary.  To further enhance the plan for the interagency community, the JIACG must incorporate common terminology to the planning and execution of stability and reconstruction operations.  The JIACG must make every effort to explain the tasks, requirements, and issues of a general nature in common terms that everyone understands in order to mitigate any unnecessary confusion or misunderstanding that could delay action by the JIACG. 

  The greatest initial pressure the JIACG will experience will be the requirement to provide an immediate response to save lives, protect property and meet the basic human needs of food, water, and shelter.  Any initial delay in securing these basic needs will have lasting effect to the legitimacy and effectiveness of the JIACG effort.  Two factors will provide the biggest challenges to the JIACG in this effort: lack of experience of the organizations involved, and access to the target population.  As the JIACG begins to take action, the organization will experience problems associated with the start-up of any organization.  Like the first game of the football season, the JIACG’s timing and effectiveness will be off because of unforeseen friction points that only are discovered once a plan is put into action.  The JIACG may have difficulty getting to the target population at times because the security environment makes it prohibitive to reach the target area.  In either case, the JIACG has to work through the challenges to provide relief to the target population in an effort to establish itself as a legitimate effort in restoring stability to the crisis region. 

The general structure of the JIACG should incorporate the fundamental capabilities that are commonly required in stability and sustainment operations.  These capabilities include, but are not limited to: transportation, communications, public works and engineering, information and planning, mass care, resource support, health and medical services, hazardous materials, food distribution, and energy.  These ten functional areas serve as the skeletal framework that a JIACG planning staff should use as a departure point when it begins to identify what capabilities it should be able to provide as the JIACG plans a response for a crisis.  Planners should then identify the required capabilities for a specific situation identified by an initial assessment and mission analysis.

The Regional JIACG Headquarters.[10]  The highest level JIACG organization should exist at the regional level, similar in scope to a regional combatant commander within the Department of Defense structure.  Each Regional JIACG Headquarters should maintain a long-term focus within its assigned region. Strategic guidance for the JIACG Regional Headquarters should emanate from the National Security Council and should provide direction to the JIACG in regard to achieving long-term stability in the region.  As crises emerge, the regional JIACG HQ, upon receiving specific guidance appropriate for the crisis, should then turn that strategic guidance into a campaign plan, identifying campaign objectives designed to meet the overall strategic goals of the United States. 

The proposed organization of the regional JIACG includes four primary staff sections, an administrative section and a liaison section and is depicted in Figure 1.  The National Security Council would appoint the head of the regional JIACG Headquarters in accordance with guidance passed in NSPD-1, keeping in mind that because of the longer-term view of this headquarters, and the significant involvement with diplomatic issues relating to foreign aid, the Department of State would be best suited to handle the responsibilities of the Regional JIACG Directorship.  The relationship between the JIACG and the Regional Combatant Commander would be one of coordination with the National Security Council maintaining coordinating authority to require consultation between the two bodies.

To coordinate efforts at the operational level, the JIACG Regional Headquarters would form a sub-staff or deployable JIACG.  Similar to the formation of a JTF for a military operation, the deployable JIACG would shape its deploying capabilities according to the identified requirements needed to address the crisis situation.  This JIACG should look similar to the Regional JIACG Headquarters in general organization, only to be amended to suit the specific situation.  Figure 2 depicts the proposed organization of the deployable JIACG.

The deployable JIACG would be the primary forward deployed headquarters to run interagency operations.  The National Security Council would specify the relationship between the deployable JIACG and the military operations of the JTF deployed in the area to ensure unity of effort and unity of command.  Possible command arrangements could include a supported and supporting relationship where the National Security Council had determined which effort should have the lead in the crisis situation.  In responses viewed as primarily humanitarian in nature, the deployable JIACG should be the supported effort, while the JTF should be the supporting effort.  If the situation was such that military related issues composed the most significant factors, the JTF should be designated as the supported effort while the deployable JIACG should serve as the supporting effort.  Many operations would include plans that incorporated phases where the supported and supporting efforts shift as the campaign unfolded.  These shifts should be mutually agreed upon between the military commander and the JIACG Director and approved by the National Security Council. 

Critical to the early establishment of the command relationship of the two organizations is the requirement to establish the planning relationship between the two efforts.  Integrating the overall planning effort is one of the primary reasons for creating and deploying the JIACG early, allowing the interagency and the military efforts to develop mutually supporting plans that set the stage for early success in the stabilization and reconstruction effort.

The section within the JIACG structure that would incorporate the specialized capabilities of the interagency effort is the Operations Section.  This section would coordinate the delivery of American assistance and oversee the activities of response teams.  The Operations Section in this proposal contains four branches; the Operations Support Branch, the Human Services Branch, the Infrastructure Support Branch, and the Emergency Services Branch.  The breakdown of specialized tasks within the branches is listed in Figure 3.  As the diagram suggests, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) would head the operations section of the deployed JIACG.  Traditionally, OFDA has been the lead United States organization for coordination and delivery of international relief making OFDA the best qualified and obvious choice to head the operations section.  To meet these new requirements, OFDA would require a significant increase in personnel as current USAID requirements fully incorporate the lean OFDA staff.

Also included in the diagram are recommended departments and agencies that should serve as the leads for those particular capabilities or stability and reconstruction functions.  In regard to synchronizing its efforts with the military forces in the operating area, the Operations Section should be tied into the JTF operations directorate and the current operations section through liaison cells or even by co-locating the two sections, in order to maintain the same situational understanding of the current situation on the ground.

The Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act of 2004

  The above discussion speaks to the establishment of a two significant headquarters to direct interagency efforts during international crises.  Manning these headquarters with the right mix of capable and experienced personnel could prove difficult mainly the result of a lack of qualified personnel available to deploy as part of a JIACG.  One solution potentially rests in a bill recently introduced in the United States Senate by co-sponsors Senators Richard Lugar and Joseph Biden of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  The Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act of 2004 addresses the deficiency of qualified and prepared civilian personnel able to respond to overseas crises and that the United States has placed an over-reliance on the military for executing stabilization and reconstruction operations.  In his remarks introducing the bill, Senator Lugar stated:

Our post-conflict efforts frequently have had a higher than necessary military profile.  This is not the result of a Pentagon power grab or institutional fights.  Rather, the military has led post-conflict operations primarily because it is the only agency capable of mobilizing large amounts of people and resources for these tasks.[11]

The inference in Senator Lugar’s comments is that the civilian agencies within the government are not positioned to respond in sufficient numbers to overseas crises.  The Senator continues:

There should be improved standing capacity within the civilian agencies to respond to complex emergencies and to work in potentially hostile environments.  The agencies must be capable and flexible enough to provide a robust partner to the military when necessary or to lead a crisis response effort when appropriate.  The rapid mobilization of resources must be shared by the civilian agencies and the military.[12]

Combining the expeditionary qualities that Senator Lugar has identified with the professional expertise that resides in the various civilian departments and agencies in the United States Government would go a long way to solving the manning issues of the proposed JIACG organizations discussed above. 

The Stability and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act specifically would address three areas of interest: the creation of the Office of International Stabilization and Reconstruction, the establishment of a Response Readiness Force, and the establishment of an education program for personnel involved with stabilization and reconstruction operations.  The Office of International Stabilization and Reconstruction would fall under the State Department and would primarily be responsible for, “Monitoring, in coordination with relevant bureaus within the Department of State, political and economic instability worldwide to anticipate the need for mobilizing United States and international assistance for the stabilization and reconstruction of countries or regions that are in, or are in transition from, conflict or civil strife.”[13]  The new office would also have responsibilities that included the assessment of capabilities within the executive agencies available for stabilization and reconstruction operations, planning for the full spectrum of activities involved in conducting stabilization and reconstruction operations, and coordinating with appropriate Executive agencies when developing mobilization and deployment plans for interagency contingency plans.  The Office for International Stabilization and Reconstruction would become the focal point for planning, mobilizing, deploying, and assessing United States efforts during stability and reconstruction operations.[14]

The Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act of 2004 requires the creation of a Response Readiness Force (RRF).  The RRF would have two components, the first of which, the Response Readiness Corps, would consist of up to two hundred fifty additional personnel from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State to “provide assistance in support of stabilization and reconstruction operations,”[15] in overseas crises.  The Secretary of State and the Administrator for USAID would be responsible for the recruitment, hiring, and training of these personnel.  The second component of the RRF, the Response Readiness Reserve, would maintain a roster of capable and qualified federal employees from throughout the government that would volunteer to deploy in support of stabilization and reconstruction operations.  The Readiness Response Reserve would also maintain a minimum of 500 additional non-federal employees that would volunteer to deploy in support of stabilization and reconstruction operations, provided they had the training and skills required to support these operations.[16]

The third critical element that the new bill addresses is the establishment of a “stabilization and reconstruction curriculum for use in programs of the Foreign Service Institute, the National Defense University, and the United States Army War College.”[17]  The curriculum would include topics regarding the global security environment, lessons from previous international experience in stabilization and reconstruction operations, an overview of the responsibilities of the various executive agencies and the international resources available to support stabilization and reconstruction operations, foreign language training, and training exercises dealing with simulated stabilization and reconstruction operations. 

According to Senator Lugar, the curriculum serves two purposes: “to bring together civilian and military personnel to enhance their stabilization and reconstruction skills and increase their ability to work together in the field.”[18]   The latter purpose is the more important of the two, as it attempts to take the military’s view of jointness and joint education to a national level by bringing together in a training environment the various military, federal civilian, and non-federal civilian leaders of efforts that may find themselves working side by side during stabilization and reconstruction operations.  In addition to providing a common understanding of the national effort required and possible during stabilization and reconstruction operations, this educational setting will provide a unique forum for the various individuals and communities involved to ‘cross-pollinate’ with civil servants, members of the armed forces, or civilian professionals that they may never have had to work closely with in the past. 

If passed by the Congress and placed into law by the President, the Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act of 2004 would provide a larger pool than currently exists to fill the critical positions on a deployable JIACG headquarters and effectively accomplish the mission of the JIACG.  More significant than that; however, is that this bill recognized that the United States currently maintains a deficit of quality individuals trained to conduct stabilization and reconstruction operations and takes steps to address this deficit.


  The United States’ effectiveness in stability and reconstructions operations will serve as the true measure of success in overseas engagement for the United States in current and future operations throughout the world.  Because of its standing National Security Strategy, its desire to win the war against global terrorism, and the fact that certain regions in the world are saddled with an ever present humanitarian tragedy, the United States will be tied to an increasing requirement to conduct stabilization and reconstruction operations in the future.  To meet this increasing requirement, the United States will need to do more than employ the might of its military forces.  The United States Senate has already taken the first step by proposing the Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act, but to maximum the potential of its elements of national power, the Unites States must establish a framework for coordinating and employing its strengths as a nation.  The creation of a Joint Interagency Coordination Group with a deployable capability designed to operationalize the elements of United States national power is the next step in this effort. 

LtCol Van Opdorp is an infantry officer currently serving as the Inspector-Instructor of 2nd Bn 25th Marines.


[1] “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” (Washington, DC: The White House, September 2002), 1.

[2] Thomas S. Blanton, ed., “Interagency Review of U.S. Government Civilian Humanitarian & Transition Programs, Section I: Overview,” (downloaded from National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 30, The George Washington University, The Gellman Library, Washington, DC: January 2000, 6.

[3] Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs Of Staff, 10 June 1998), 326.

[4] Joint Publication 1-02, 326.

[5] Charles N. Cardinal, Timber Pagonas, and Edward Marks, “The Global War on Terrorism: A Regional Approach to Coordination,”  (downloaded from  the Interagency Transformation, Education, and After Action Review website at 50.

[6] Cardinal et al, 50.

[7] Cardinal et al, 50.

[8] Joint Experimentation Interagency E’Newsletter, downloaded from on 14 April 2004.  The newsletter provides an update regarding the development of a JIACG prototype for DOD.  Currently, each regional combatant command maintains some type of JIACG organization within the headquarters, with each JIACG reflecting the particular characteristics of that combatant command.  Additionally, each JIACG varies in its development within the command.

[9] Joint Publication 0-2, Unified Action Armed Forces (UNAAF) (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs Of Staff, 10 July 2001), I-3

[10] The initial idea for the structure of both the Regional JIACG and the Deployable JIACG came from a review of the United States Federal Response Plan.  The Federal Response Plan (FRP) lays out a comprehensive plan for how the United States would react to a natural disaster or emergency within the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, as amended (42 U.S. Code (U,S,C,) 5121, et seq.).  The Regional JIACG is similar to the Regional Support Team while the Deployable JIACG is similar to the Emergency Response Team.  The obvious differences in the two types of organizations, the JIACGs and the FRP organizations, is the additional requirement for the JIACGs to directly coordinate with, serve under, or serve over military units and the fact that the JIACGs will deploy overseas in response to global crises.

[11] Senator Richard Lugar and Senator Joseph Biden, Remarks introducing theStabilizations and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act 0f 2004, Congressional Record – Senate,” (Washington, D.C.: United States Senate, February 25, 2004) S. 2127.

[12] Senator Lugar, S 2127.

[13] Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act of 2004, Congressional Record – Senate (Washington, D.C.: February 25, 2004) Sec. 59.(a)(3)(A).

[14] “Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act of 2004,” Sec. 59.(a)(3).

[15] “Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act of 2004,” Sec. 7.(c)(1).

[16] “Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act of 2004,” Sec. 7.(c)(2).

[17] “Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act of 2004,” Sec. 8.(g)(1).

[18] Senator Lugar, S 2127.

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