Small Wars Journal

Civil Affairs 2.0: Breaking the Circular Logic

Fri, 09/27/2019 - 1:35am

Civil Affairs 2.0: Breaking the Circular Logic

Donald ‘Tony’ Vacha

In the movie National Lampoon’s European Vacation, the Griswold family drives into a roundabout in London.  Not understanding how to merge out of the roundabout, Clark Griswold continues circling it for hours while proclaiming “Hey look kids, there’s Ben, and there’s Parliament.”[1]  This metaphor perfectly describes the circular logic of Army Civil Affairs.

Army Civil Affairs (CA) faces an existential conundrum.  The Army’s renewed focus on peer competition and lethality in Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO) challenges how the branch defines itself and how the Army perceives its role. The inability of CA to define itself in relation to the Army’s operating concepts and doctrine is an enduring problem.  While the branch still exists, it does so in a stasis.  One explanation – among many – for this dilemma is the failure of CA doctrine to define its role and core competencies in relation to the Army. Instead, CA defines its role and core competencies introspectively resulting in a circular logical construct.

While doctrine is only one component of DOTmLPF-P[2], it is the most vital.   Doctrine drives the requirements of the other domains of DOTmLPF-P.  Army doctrine provides a body of knowledge to serve as a starting point for thinking about and conducting operations.[3]  While most doctrine is descriptive, it requires judgement in application.[4]  Doctrine provides “taxonomies (the classification of things or concepts) to organize thoughts” about operations.[5]  The terminology in these taxonomies “should facilitate, not constrain” thinking.[6]

Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 1-02 introduced a taxonomy that defines the “terms to describe organizations and branches” and their contribution to the Army’s operating concept.[7] First, a branch must define its singular role or the “broad and enduring purpose for which [it] is established.”[8] Second, a branch identifies its core competencies or the “essential and enduring capabilit[ies] that a branch or organization provides to Army operations.”[9] The recent publication of Field Manual (FM) 3-57, Civil Affairs Operations, attempts to meet the rubric of ADP 1-02 and ultimately fails due to circular logic.[10]  

Understanding the ADP 1-02 logic is an essential tool to define capability requirements.  The AD 1-02 logic map contends –

A role defines the broad and enduring purpose for which an organization or branch is established. Core competencies define the overall capabilities of an organization or branch to the Army, while the Army’s core competencies explain the Army’s contribution to the nation’s defense. A function describes a set of subordinate tasks and systems needed to accomplish the role. Characteristics describe the attributes that the organization or branch requires to be effective, while principles are guidelines for the employment of an organization or branch. By applying the functions, guided by characteristics and principles, an organization or branch generates effects in the unique environment of the land domain to support the Army’s operational concept…[11]

The definition of CA’s role in the draft FM 3-57 is jargon-laden and obtuse –

The role of CA is to understand, engage, and influence unified action partners and [indigenous populations and institutions] IPI, conduct [military government operations] MGO, enable [civil-military operations] CMO, and provide civil considerations expertise through the planning and execution of [civil affairs operations] CAO..[12]

It is internally focused and fails to define CA in context to their end-users.  As such, it is essentially written in code that only Civil Affairs personnel can properly understand, which only serves to confuse those outside the CA regiment regarding the actual purpose and capabilities of the Civil Affairs Regiment.[13]   A re-defined role requires more clarity to meet the “broad and enduring” measure established by ADP 1-01.[14]

The new FM 3-57 defines three competencies, or the “essential and enduring” capabilities, that the CA Regiment provides to enable the Army as Civil Affairs Activities (CAA), Civil Affairs Supported Activities (CASA) and Military Government Operations (MGO).[15]  CAA and CASA lack critical thinking and use circular logic.  To define a capability, a simple test is to insert it into a contextual sentence – a branch provides the competency (capability to do something) to enable the Army’s operations.  For example, the Engineer branch provides the competencies (capabilities) to assure mobility, enhance protection, enable force projection and logistics, and build partner capacity and develop infrastructure to enable the Army’s operating concept.[16]  The Field Artillery branch provides the capabilities to destroy, defeat, or disrupt the enemy with integrated fires to enable the Army’s operating concept.[17]    In neither of these examples do these branches conduct “Engineer activities” or “Field Artillery Supported Activities” like the draft FM 3-57 illogically does for CA. These branches describe the capabilities they provide, or what they do for the Army.

Defining the competencies of CA in relation to itself is logically circular.  Circular logic uses “its own conclusion as one of its stated or unstated premises.”[18]  CA doctrine routinely uses circular reasoning to justify branch requirements.  For CA to effectively integrate into Army and Joint force operating concepts it is essential to describe in clear, coherent terms the role CA plays and the core competencies it provides to the Army’s operating concept.

In addition to the circular logic of CAA and CASA, the inclusion of MGO as a competency is problematic.  MGO is sclerotic and fails to account for changing trends in Joint and intergovernmental concepts like the Stabilization Assistance Review.[19]  This argumentum ad antiquitatem demonstrates rigidity and a lack of institutional reflexivity.[20]  Lacking “reflexivity, institutions tend to reify meanings – they objectify their perception of reality mindless of extended and displaced (i.e. dead) metaphors.”[21] By focusing post-conflict occupation or stabilization on a paradigm from the 1930s and 1940s, the branch reifies military government at the exclusion of broader changes in the international community and the U.S. Government writ large.

Rather than reshuffling or rearranging historical concepts to meet emerging requirements, the CA community must critically think and analyze how to define the advantages it provides to the Army, the Joint force, and ultimately the Nation.  The following recommendations represent ways the CA Regiment might define itself rationally to the Army, but not exclusively the way.  Hopefully, the identification of the illogical operating concept in FM 3-57 can drive CA practitioners to define and redefine the role and core competencies in professional discourse.

The role of CA is to engage with foreign populations to develop situational understanding, inform decision-making, achieve inter-organizational unity of effort, and influence foreign populations.   This simplified role in no way infringes on the requirements of CA, whether Special Operations or Conventional.  It provides a succinct, clear understanding of the role CA practitioners can fulfill throughout the competition continuum.  It also recognizes the unique role CA plays as an information related capability which is vital to the Army in operations in the information environment. 

FM 3-57 describes CA’s contributions to the Army on Page 1-5 by describing that “properly employed CA forces assist in – shaping the [operational environment] OE; Mitigating friction between military forces and the civil component; and setting the conditions for stability.”[22]  These sound more like CA competencies, than CAA, CASA, and MGO.  Other Army doctrinal terms that describe nominative CA competencies include consolidating gains,[23] engagement, and developing situational understanding.[24]

A key deficiency in the CAA, CASA, and MGO construct of CA core competencies is the minimization of CA as an information related capability (IRC).  Rather than contort and transform the role and core competencies of CA to satisfy the Army’s focus on lethality, a more cogent argument is to describe what the branch contributes during LSCO to enable lethality.  As former Defense Secretary James Mattis stated “[c]apturing the perceptions of foreign audiences will replace seizing terrain as the new high ground for the future joint force.”[25] CA provides the Army and the Joint force with the capability seize the “high ground” with the perceptions of foreign populations. 

CA provides the Army, and ultimately the Joint force, with the capability to be lethal with legitimacy.  While a more lethal force is required for the U.S. to achieve strategic objectives, our Nation and our standing in the international community requires we execute lethality legitimately and not indiscriminately. CA provides the capacity to plan and execute consolidation throughout the conflict continuum. This also ensures the Army maintains positive civil-military relations with the American people and civilian leadership in the U.S. Government.

CA is one of the only IRCs that is employed at the maneuver battalion and below.  Given our adversaries advantages in information warfare CA is a combat multiplier.  It is naïve to presume that combat operations against peer opponents won’t include misinformation such as false flag attacks or contrived news reports portraying U.S. forces committing atrocities against foreign civilians.  CA provides a civil reconnaissance capability to refute threat information warfare at the contact layer.  Focusing on civilian populations at the local level even during LSCO, enables the Army to understand information vulnerabilities based on cultural perceptions and respond faster to misinformation.[26]

Adaptation requires facing reality.  Army CA doctrine fails to provide a coherent, logical basis to explain the branch’s contributions to Army and Joint force operations and broader strategic ends.  The circular logic of the core competencies is dissonant and fails to provide a common lexicon for CA professionals to communicate their value to supported Commanders.  This forces each CA Soldier to contextualize their role and core competencies individually based on this dissonance. CA practitioners at all echelons deserve a logical operating construct to integrate successfully with Army and Joint force commanders.

End Notes

[1] (Heckerling, 1985)

[2] Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership and Education, Personnel, Facilities, Policy (DOTmLPF-P) is the Department of Defense acronym that describes the eight possible non-materiel elements involved in solving warfighting capability gaps.

[3] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019, pp. 2-4, 4-1)

[4] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019, pp. 4-1)

[5] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019, pp. 4-1)

[6] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019, pp. 4-1)

[7] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019, pp. 4-1)

[8] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019, pp. 4-1)

[9] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019, pp. 4-2)

[10] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019)

[11] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019, pp. 4-1)

[12] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019)

[13] Personal conversation with Dr. Adam Silverman, September 7, 2018

[14] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019, pp. 4-1)

[15] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2019)

[16] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2014, p. iv)

[17] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2014)

[18] (Nordquist, 2019)

[19] (U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Defense, 2018)

[20] (Paparone, 2013, p. x)

[21] (Paparone, 2013, pp. 76-77)

[22] (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, 2018, pp. 1-5)

[23] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2017)

[24] (Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army, 2018)

[25] (Brunetti-Lihach, 2018)

[26] (Gangware, 2019)


Brunetti-Lihach, N. (2018, November 14). Information Warfare Past, Present, and Future. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from The Strategy Bridge:

Gangware, C. N. (2019, September 20). The Complicated Truth of Countering disinformation. Retrieved September 22, 2019, from War of the Rocks:

Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army. (2014, April). Field Manual 3-09. Field Artillery Operations and Support. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army. (2014, April). Field Manual 3-34. Engineer Operations. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army. (2017, October 6). Field Manual 3-0. Operations. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Publishing Office.

Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army. (2018, December 6). TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1. The U.S. Army In Multi-Domain Operations 2028. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army. (2019, July). Army Doctrine Publication 1-01. Doctrine Primer. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Headquarters, Department of the U.S. Army. (2019, April 17). Field Manual 3-57. Civil Affairs Operations. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Heckerling, A. (Director). (1985). National Lampoon's European Vacation [Motion Picture].

Nordquist, R. (2019, July 7). Circular Reasoning Definition and Examples. Retrieved September 2, 2019, from

Paparone, C. (. (2013). The Sociology of Military Science: Prospects for Postinstitutional Military Design . New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

U.S. Army. (2014, September 2). Army Doctrine Publication 1-01. Doctrine Primer. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. (2018, December 6). The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from United States Army Training and Doctrine Command:

U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Defense. (2018, April). SAR Stabilization Assistance Review. U.S. Government Printing Office.

Categories: civil affairs - US Army

About the Author(s)

LTC Donald “Tony” Vacha currently works in the U.S. Army Reserve Command at G-3/5/7 Force Management.  Previously he served as the Director of Force Development at the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command.  As a Civil Affairs Officer, he served at every echelon of CA, from CA Team Leader to Deputy G-3 of the 353d Civil Affairs Command. He is currently a student in the U.S. Army War College Distance Education Program. Twitter: @TonyVacha1



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