The President’s Civil Reserve Corps

In his State of the Union speech (SOTU), President Bush made a reference to something he called the “Civilian Reserve Corps”, also known as the Civilian Response Corps:

And one of the first steps we can take together is to add to the ranks of our military so that the American Armed Forces are ready for all the challenges ahead. (Applause.) Tonight I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. (Applause.) A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. It would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time. [emphasis added]

I found it very odd that some heard & read the President’s statement above as part of plan to increase the privatization of our foreign policy. David Phinney suggests this and the listserv on private military companies started buzzing with the same thought.

My first thought was it sounded very similar to General Petreaus’s testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee immediately prior to the SOTU:

Counterinsurgency warfare requires a total commitment of the government – both military and civilian agencies – and unity of effort is crucial to success.

My second thought was it sounded a lot like Thomas Barnett’s SysAdmin composed of “older, married, with children” civilians who fall under ICC and military law outside of traditional military structures and focused on longer term commitments. 

See also Kris Alexander’s post on a briefing he gave at the US Army Combined Arms Center Combat Studies Institute’s annual symposium last summer on the CRC: 

The military has tried some solutions to this problem like requiring that all reservists register their civilian skills with the military. This is a good idea, but a band-aid at best. In effect, we are relying on a crapshoot to determine if we have the skilled professionals we need in the military to rebuild war-shattered nations. We are hoping that the officers and enlisted men who joined the Army in the 80’s and 90’s have matured into the fire and police chiefs that we brag about having today.

I proposed that we create a standing force of skilled civilians as an augmentation to the military reserves. The same legal protections that apply to military reservists would be extended to these civilians. They would train like reservists and be available for deployment like reservists. They would join with the understanding that they could be put in harm’s way. Many in the blogosphere scoffed at the idea that we would be able to recruit people for this mission, but I believe that in the post 9-11 world many Americans are looking for a way to get in the fight besides going to the mall.

Having this standing capability might also ease our reliance on contractors or the ad-hoc nature that characterized the establishment of the CPA in Iraq. If we are truly engaged in a “generational struggle”, then we need to configure our government for it. We wished away “nation building” with political rhetoric in the 2000 election, and now it is time to face reality and enhance our capacity to do it right.

State’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization is supposed to be headed in this direction, but I have little confidence that State’s leadership can pull off this unifying bureaucracy. As someone wrote about S/CRS:

S/CRS was basically chartered to draw up plans for such a reserve system (among other things), and one of the things they have been doing since they obtained a smattering of funding has been to draw up lists of available expertise in several areas related to stabilization ops (rule of law in particular, is my feeling). But the report is vague (and so is the state of the union quote) because S/CRS is mired in a number of problems: lack of adequate funding, intense bureaucratic infighting with other state department bureaus & USAID, lack of legitimacy to effectively coordinate, etc. But the fact that this was given enough priority to appear in the state of the union address probably means that Rice is serious about it, and that no matter what happens to S/CRS institutionally, some form or another of civilian reserve will be put into place, although I would not count on something substantial within the next… 5-10 years? S/CRS piloted some of this stuff in Lebanon recently, where they sent a small team, but that’s about it…

I suppose I shouldn’t be amazed that some watchers of private military companies want to “watch” where this CRC goes because they think it means more privatization. No, I don’t see it that way. I see it as addressing the issues Kris raised and, incidentally, as a way of re-engaging the civilian population into the effort.

We talk about national power and yet we mobilize only a small fraction. A byproduct of CRC would address this and partially correct the problems of the AVF. CRC has the potential of having a significant impact beyond the Peace Corps, especially in the age of militarized humanitarian aid. It also avoids posse comitatus for domestic US deployments (Katrina).

In short, this isn’t a new concept. It’s not out of the blue and the fact it was in the SOTU is great. Let’s move on it.

One thought on “The President’s Civil Reserve Corps

  1. I think Gen Tony Zinni also captured the need for an interagency task force including a civilian reserve corps of sort in his book “The Battle For Peace.” I thought it might even be better than the Barnett and Alexander concepts, because Zinni was suggesting that the civilian experts are actually there – they’re just not working hand-in-hand with the military as they should. The military’s already working these JTIAGs (Joint Task force Interagency Group) in SOUTHCOM on drug smuggling cases.

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