Funding Civil Affairs Forces for Gray Zone Competition
By Alan Goodman
The Gray Zone Problem
In late 2021 thousands of middle eastern migrants were shepherded to the Polish border by Belarus to manufacture a crisis for the European Union
Each state took illegal, immoral, or unethical actions in the above examples. These nefarious actions within the gray zone make it difficult for the United States and its allies to respond in kind while maintaining their values. There are, however, a limited number of resources that the country has to counter gray zone operations. One of these resources is Civil Affairs Forces. Civil Affairs (CA) are military forces that engage and leverage civilian institutions and populations while enhancing, enabling, or providing governance in contested environments
Civil Affairs Forces in Context
To understand why Civil Affairs Forces need a dedicated funding source for operations, it is essential to understand the historical evolution of Civil Affairs. The US military has been conducting military governance and administration over occupied territories since the 1846 Mexican American War
In the last two decades since September 11, 2001, the Global War on Terror (GWOT) has highlighted the importance of a whole government approach to conflict. The Department of Defense (DOD) leans heavily on its Civil Affairs Forces (CA) to address governance issues when other interagency partners do not have access and placement or where engaging with civil society gives the United States a military advantage. The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review increased CA forces in response to the GWOT
Current CA Operations
Rapid changes in response to the GWOT have shaped the current CA force structure. As of 2021, 76% of US Civil Affairs forces are reservists under the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC), a two-star general headquarters
…the activities performed by military forces to establish, maintain, or exploit relationships between military forces and indigenous populations and institutions (IPI). CMO supports US objectives for host nation (HN) and regional stability
As the GWOT wanes, the United States finds itself in a new paradigm where it will have to address growing competition for global influence from rising powers known as Great Power Competition (GPC). The National Defense Strategy (NDS) classifies countries such as China and Russia as strategic competitors
…exists when two or more actors in the international system have incompatible interests, but neither seeks to escalate to armed conflict. The Joint Force will have a great deal of utility in securing strategic objectives in competition, but it will typically offer support to other USG departments and actors
The strategic shift in the operating environment leaves CA forces uniquely suited to address Great Power Competition as their ability to interact with local populations, indigenous governments, the US interagency, and international actors below the threshold of armed conflict gives the US Government options to counter the myriad of non-traditional tactics that competitors use in gray zone competition. The Joint Special Operations University has published an influential study on how CA can be used in great power competition. The study envisions CA as an initial entry force to set conditions for follow on forces, conduct reconnaissance to provide information on an adversary's influence, and engage and influence populations to inoculate them from an adversary's information operations when competing below the threshold of armed conflict
Rationale for funding Civil-Military Operations
DOD Directive 5100.01 directs the Military Service Chiefs to organize, train, equip, and provide special operations forces, doctrine, procedures, and equipment for Civil Affairs Operations (CAO)
The ever-changing and often ad-hoc evolution of Civil Affairs Operations has left the current force navigating a mish-mash of funding sources with different intents other than gray zone competition and CAO. Some of the funding sources available included clauses for Civil Affairs to access them. The historical CA missions related to humanitarian assistance or development are included in these clauses, not competition. Current funding sources are also slow to approve and disperse funds reducing the CA force's ability to rapidly adapt and counter threats or keep pace in an environment with a high operational tempo.
Many current funding sources may not be appropriate for the mission at hand. One of the most popular funding sources is the DOD's Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster Assistance, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) funds. While these funds are appropriate to alleviate human suffering, they may not be suitable for funding other CA operations, such as countering disinformation or assessing civil infrastructure. A 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the use of OHDACA funding recommended clarifying the role of the DOD's humanitarian assistance efforts to ensure the appropriate use of resources and to prevent overlap in programs conducted by USAID and the State Department
The varied and narrow funding sources in existence are also slow to implement. OHDACA funds are requested through the complicated Overseas Humanitarian Assistance Shared Information System (OASIS), requiring approval from various actors at USAID, Chief of Mission concurrence, and accounting offices at the combatant commands parallel to the overall mission approval process, leading to delays in distributing funding
Amend US Code title 10 to allocate CMO funding through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Amending title 10 to include a CMO funding allocation administered through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) would provide CA forces across special operations, the Army Reserve, and the Marine Corps Reserve access to dedicated funding. It would detach CA forces from relying on funding through the cumbersome Overseas Humanitarian Assistance Shared Information System (OHASIS) and associated slow approval process.
DOD Directive DODD 5100.01 directs service chiefs to organize, train, equip, and provide special operations forces, doctrine, procedures, and equipment to conduct civil affairs operations and civil-military operations
Cost of Implementation
Not utilizing OHASIS would allow CA forces to draw funds before an operation to be used as the mission's operational tempo dictates in a model similar to a special operations forces operational fund
The 2021 Interim National Security Strategy calls for developing capabilities to better compete and deter gray zone actions
This work was inspired by the difficulties that the author experienced when funding Civil Affairs Operations. The funding sources that the author had access to were too narrow in scope, slow to administer funds, and were unable to adapt to rapidly changing environments reducing mission effectiveness.
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