In-sourcing Stabilization and Reconstruction

Read my post In-sourcing the Tools of National Power for Success and Security at Small Wars Journal or below the fold. Comment here are there.

In-sourcing the Tools of National Power for Success and Security

Matt Armstrong

Military operations may neutralize immediate kinetic threats and strategic communications may make promises, but enduring change comes from systemic overhauls that stabilize unstable regions. Security, humanitarian relief, governance, economic stabilization, and development are critical for ultimate democratization. (1) These are the real propaganda of deeds. Without competent and comprehensive action in these areas, tactical operations are simply a waste of time, money, and life.

Bullets and bombs represent short-term tactical responses to a much larger strategic dilemma. Any text worth reading on insurgency or counterinsurgency recognizes and emphasizes the operational and strategic center of gravity is the people. Failing to address grinding poverty and disillusionment in regions creates fertile breeding grounds for extremists, terrorists, and insurgents to attack the national interests of the United States.

The U.S. must in-source the tools of national power that support and compliment reconstruction and stabilization efforts to pacify and stabilize regions. The National Security Strategy declares the need to bring all of the elements of America’s national power to bear to build the “infrastructure of democracy” and to be a champion of “human dignity”. But, instead of consistent, coherent, and coordinated, operations, the U.S. relies on ad hoc reconstruction and stabilization solutions heavily dependent on outsourcing in lieu of any substantial internal capacity. This outsourcing of national power also relies on ad hoc solutions as companies quickly assemble teams that too often operate outside of existing military and other governmental operations in the region. We all know this is a fundamental requirement, even if we do not realize it. Consider the discussions surrounding the “Phase IV” planning for Iraq that recalled the Marshall Plan for post-war Europe. Too frequently lost in those discussions was the strategic and operational planning by the U.S. in the years prior to the collapse of Germany, as well as the civil and humanitarian aid that followed the American and British forces in the march to Germany.

Today the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) is a solution to address the structural problems of America’s response to unstable regions. Based on a “whole of government” approach, this office will in-source the most essential tools of national power while centralizing the ability to effectively partner with private sector providers. However, this civilian-based requirement of “winning” the post-conflict struggle cannot move forward because of a combination of misunderstanding and domestic posturing.

What is S/CRS

Established by former Secretary of State Colin Powell just over a year after the invasion of Iraq, S/CRS was intended to provide a permanent capability for planning and executing civilian stabilization and reconstruction operations, the lack of which plagued U.S. efforts to prevail in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The mission of S/CRS is to lead, coordinate, and institutionalize U.S. Government civilian capacity to prevent or prepare for post-conflict situations, and to help stabilize and reconstruct societies in transition from conflict or civil strife, so they can reach a sustainable path toward peace, democracy and a market economy.

A recent editorial by Senator Richard Lugar and Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice described the broad and bipartisan support for S/CRS: the President, the State Department, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and both the civilian and military leadership of the Pentagon support the expansion of S/CRS. But, the most public component of S/CRS, the Civilian Response Corps, it is just one part of the larger solution to in-source the tools of national power.

Last month, I sat down with Ambassador John Herbst, the Coordinator for (S/CRS) (2), to discuss a new approach based in the State Department. This approach is intended to in-source critical tools of national power to compel and secure conflict and post-conflict regions, including failed and failing states. As the Coordinator, Ambassador Herbst is responsible for coordinating and harmonizing a “whole of government” approach to bring the tools of America’s national power that integrates with the military as required but can also operate independently to manage and support reconstruction and stabilization operations. Our conversation stemmed from the desire to get the word out about S/CRS and to cut through the misconceptions that have emerged around one element of its expeditionary capability, the Civilian Response Corps.

Ambassador Herbst discussed the architecture envisioned by S/CRS for use in future stability operations. At the top the Country Reconstruction and Stabilization Group (CRSG), a senior-level policy coordination body which includes the S/CRS Coordinator, State’s regional assistance secretary and the relevant NSC senior director, and is supported by a staff secretariat. This secretariat is stood up on demand and controls the flow of information, manages top level implementation, and writes the civilian plan. It is run by S/CRS but all relevant agencies participate.

Below this is the Integration Planning Cell (IPC) staffed by civilian planners from all relevant agencies. Operating at the theater level, it is deployed to the Combatant Commander’s headquarters to harmonize military and civilian planning.

The next level is the Advance Civilian Team (ACT). The interagency ACT implements the CRSG-approved strategic plan. The ACT operates under Chief of Mission authority if the country has a functioning U.S. embassy or could help establish a more permanent U.S. mission in the absence of an embassy.

However how the deployable components of S/CRS will be staffed has attracted the most attention by the public. There are three expeditionary components of S/CRS to meet the needs of non-functioning governments. The skill sets in these pools range from typical State Department roles like crisis negotiation and economic analysis to those more typical of other government agencies (and state and local governments and the private sector) like engineers, rule of law (police, judges, lawyers), economists, public administration, health administration, port administration, city planners, agronomists, and so on to work on sewage, water, electricity, waste disposal and other infrastructure requirements of a stable region.

The first of the three levels of mobilization is the Active Response Corps (ARC). Currently at 10 people, the Lugar-Biden Bill (S. 613) would upsize this to 250 people. The ARC would be composed of dedicated civil servants from across USG, mostly from the State Department, USAID, but also from the Justice Department, the Agricultural Department, and others. The ARC is a quick reaction force, ready to deploy within 48 hours. When they are not deployed, they are training with or on temporary duty assignment, or TDY, to military and other USG elements, including the Defense Department, to train, build skills, and create linkages for global deployments. They will team and be integrated with military units as required. Today, S/CRS has personnel on TDY to the new Africa Command (AFRICOM) and works closely with other combatant commands including U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).

The second element is the Stand-By Response Corps (SRC). The SRC members will come from virtually every agency and to augment the ARC. There will be about eight SRC members for each ARC member. Lugar-Biden would fund about 2,000 members. Unlike the dedicated personnel of the ARC, SRC members are full-time employees in other USG Agencies and this means they are not as available as ARC members and only train several weeks a year. Only 10-25% of the force is deployable at any one time with a 30-60 day call up period. Like ARC, SRC members are civil servants or Foreign Service Officers.

The third and most discussed element of S/CRS is the Civilian Response Corps (CRC). President George W. Bush referred to the CRC in the 2007 State of the Union speech. According to Ambassador Herbst, the CRC will be staffed with 500 “as soon as feasible” with the eventual goal of 2,500 members. Right now the CRC only exists on paper.

The President’s mention of CRC caused some to fear this was a move to outsource more of America’s national power when the reality is the opposite: unlike contracted resources in use today, this in-sourcing makes the CRC directly integrated with and accountable directly within the USG command and control. This corps is modeled after the military reserve system with four year “enlistments” and a to-be-determined number of weeks of training each year. Members will be deployable up to one year, but only up to 25% of the corps will be deployable at any given time. Unlike the other elements, the CRC requires a Presidential decision to deploy.

Problematic is that CRC members are not civil servants, Foreign Service Officers, or members of the military or National Guard. They are private individuals not under the protections of the Soldier-Sailor Relief Act and would acquire Civil Service status only when called up for a deployment. Even without details like pay scales and benefits worked out, however, Ambassador Herbst said that after the 2007 State of the Union, S/CRS received calls from over 70 people who sought out, found, and actually phoned S/CRS looking for a job.

In the words of Ambassador Herbst, CRC will tap into a “wellspring” of adventurous spirits wanting to change the world for the better. They are trained as civilian teams and work alongside the military. They will have area expertise, including regional and language skills. Lost in the hullaballoo over CRC is that it is really a quick reaction force of only up to 125 people to bring much needed skills to bear in post-conflict situations for strategic success.

Ambassador Herbst is confident that within one year of getting funding for CRC, he could have the CRC online and ready to serve. Ironically, due to inter-personnel management details agreed to on paper but still needing to be worked out, staffing the SRC is another story.

When it was created, S/CRS had 20 people. Two years later they were at 64. Today, they’re over 80. If the FY08 appropriation comes through, could jump to over 100. Funding issues do not impact their central staff, just project funding. Today, in some of the worst countries on the planet the U.S. is represented by S/CRS members already deployed.

The concept of S/CRS is a plug-n-play capability for quick and seamless integration of civilian reconstruction and stabilization experts with military commanders as needed. Conceptually similar to Tom Barnett’s SysAdmin, S/CRS creates a “blended” organizing entity with its own skills. It can extend American national power directly by hitting the ground running in post-conflict and conflict operations, but it can also deploy independently of the American military, such as on United Nations missions.

Why not contract out? The constant training and teamwork with all elements of USG is a significant advantage over reliance on outsourcing. Beyond crisis response and “preventative action” by S/CRS, there is an active acculturation of S/CRS by co-location and co-operation already underway.

“Americans have the wristwatches, but we have the time”

There exists a “Golden Hour” when the major combat operations have subsided or stopped and when the people are most ready for change. This is when reconstruction and stabilization operations begin to be felt by the host population (similar opportunities are evident in disaster relief operations). However, hastily organized operations like the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) scrambled to not only understand their mission, but stumbled through or simply bypassed integration and teaming with other government agencies and the military, and most notably in the case of the CPA, failed to focus on the fundamental needs the people. Operating in the Golden Hour is less costly, in terms of money and lives, than if we wait, but it takes foresight and commitment. (3)

Reconstruction and stabilization is not a new concept. In 2003, OHRA was created, followed several months later by the CPA. In 2004, S/CRS was stood up, and in 2005, the Defense Department issued Directive 3000.05 to guide “Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction Operations.” In the same year, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) opened their military liaison office. By the end of 2007, behind the scenes negotiations finally put S/CRS as the frontrunner to become the coordinator of reconstruction and stabilization. Despite this, after five years of false starts, the U.S. still lacks a clear mechanism to address the requirements of preventing and overcoming instability.

The title of the editorial co-written by Senator Lugar and Secretary of State Rice was no coincidence: A Civilian Partner for Our Troops. Beginning with his speech at Kansas State University, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates campaigned for a more civilian face on national security with an integrated approach to wielding national power. Secretary Gates made the “case for strengthening our capacity to use ‘soft’ power and for better integrating it with ‘hard’ power.” S/CRS is the hub that makes this possible.

The basic ingredients for enduring success include economic development, institution-building, the rule of law, good governance, and basic human services. U.S. reconstruction and stabilization efforts must be integrated into a comprehensive strategy encompassing all efforts of the U.S. through its various departments and agencies, and private sector, to maximize effectiveness. Measuring success is challenging, but fundamental progress on the foundation, not margins, of the pyramid of human needs will go far in denying extremists the support necessary to maintain their campaigns of hate and intimidation. The enemy knows this and targets reconstruction and stabilization efforts accordingly. Too often our response has been to drop these efforts instead of reinforcing, promoting, and integrating them into our strategy and local communication that builds buy-in and participation. We cannot buy support. We must link our success to the success of the local population and vice versa.

This is not about building ‘nations’ but creating structural capacity that leads to enduring institutions that will lead to a stable state that has a chance to become prosperous while denying sanctuary and ideological support to terrorists, insurgents, and extremists. Don’t build this capacity and the enemy will simply wait us out. Mao had shadow governments prepared to take over the administration of towns and villages when they were captured. These officials were designated for the task long before the take-over. (4) The Taliban makes it clear they are watching and will wait ten years if necessary to take control and carry-out retribution. If we fail to build the necessary capacity and structures and buy-in, the lives of our servicemen and women toward “victory” will be for naught.

Al-Qaeda and other groups have seen the inability of the U.S. to follow through on the promises of a better life in contested spaces. They attacked reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan because those were the most effective tools of public diplomacy in the struggle for the minds and wills of the population, the real propaganda of deeds.

The militarization of humanitarian aid does more than reinforce an image of a militaristic America it builds distrust in receiving populations. Allies are unlikely to support or participate in otherwise worthy missions if the U.S. only puts in its combat boots. In Africa, we can see the impact of a military-led engagement model. Promoting “our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa” through the Pentagon’s AFRICOM is a step in the right direction.

Combatant Commands are looking to emphasize civil-military cooperation and maximize the “civilian face” of U.S. engagement. AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM in particular recognize the value of S/CRS in this area.

What’s the challenge?

By in-sourcing, the U.S. builds and exploits a reach-back capability to not only capture and institutionalize best practices but to draw in and leverage other USG-wide experts. Reliance on outsourcing continues and even promotes the ad hoc responses, inhibiting or preventing required institutional learning and connections.

What happens if funding for CRC falls through? Not surprisingly, the Pentagon is prepping for its own standing service in case CRC falls through, but Secretary Gates has emphasized he wants more civilian participation not more military control. A Center for Strategic and International Studies roundtable report remarked S/CRS is a response to the failure of the Pentagon to properly prepare for future operations the U.S. is likely to face. A Pentagon solution is better than nothing, but a civilian face is required. We must appreciate the perceptions created by leading with our combat boots. Secretary of Defense Gates noted the over reliance on hard power and hard power assets. When will the rest of USG realize it?

The Congressional Budget Office estimates S. 613 will cost less than $85 million in 2008 and $629 million over the 2008-2012 period. While this would be lost in the petty cash drawer of the Pentagon, it is a noticeable amount for State and a source of resistance by those opposed to expanding what many see as a dysfunctional department. However, S/CRS is positioned as a new entity that could help push State into a new model of engagement.

It is nearly a universal given that the bureaucracy of State could prevent the flexibility S/CRS requires, but there is hope. Ambassador Herbst reports directly to the Secretary of State and has the ear and interest of Secretary of Defense and others across USG. He is also more aware of what he must do as well as his limitations than say another former direct report to Secretary of State Rice who was charged with shaping the perceptions of the U.S. and recently returned home to Texas. Secretary Rice sees S/CRS’s mission as a legacy issue and apparently stands behind it.

Prominent House support comes from Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA) and Jim Saxton (R-NJ). In the Senate, Senators Richard G. Lugar, Joseph R. Biden, and John McCain are behind it.

Only Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is opposed to it, although it seems his opposition is based only on the grounds that more government spending is bad. This narrow-minded view puts America in further danger and risks marginalizing lives already lost.

If Mao’s aphorism that the “richest source of power to wage war lies in the masses of the people” (5) is true, then the converse is also true. The population is more than a force multiplier against the “spoilers” of security and peace, they are the front line offence and defense required for implementing and protecting the solution. Information campaigns mean nothing without America’s demonstration of support for the people.

As a standing office, S/CRS not only brings skills, relationships, and high level attention to solutions, but would also monitor and direct attention to failing states. As a preventative action, this can help shore up failing states or S/CRS can design strategies that ensure a timely, effective USG response. In other words, the existence of S/CRS will allow for timelier and smarter interventions that can either prevent or mitigate a crisis. In brief, S/CRS will enable us to act in a more proactive manner and with a greater array of tools.

The U.S. needs to take a systematic, holistic “whole of government” approach to reconstruction and stabilization that puts the focus on meeting the basic needs of the people in these countries. This shouldn’t be about what the U.S. needs or wants, but what the people of the country in question need and want. Basically, when people are safe, secure, full (not hungry), engaged and comfortable, they have no need to fight or support terrorists. Terrorists work by instigating and sustaining instability, fear, and discomfort (disillusionment) and if the USG fights buys-in to this approach by fighting back with hard-power only, it just perpetuates the cycle.

The United States cannot afford to ignore the importance of reconstruction and stabilization operations and needs to champion these efforts now.

Matt Armstrong holds a Masters of Public Diplomacy and publishes the MountainRunner blog.


1. This list is adapted from the list in James Dobbins, The Beginner’s Guide to Nation-Building, Rand Corporation Monograph Series (Santa Monica, CA: RAND National Security Research Division, 2007). The only change is a re-ordering of the last two items.


3. For more on this, see Anthony C. Zinni and Tony Koltz. The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

4. David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, 2005 Reprint ed. (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1968), 56.

5. Mao Tse-tung, Selected Military Writings of Mao Tse-Tung, 2nd (Second Printing) ed. (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1967).

4 thoughts on “In-sourcing Stabilization and Reconstruction

  1. There are two very serious flaws in the Bush strategy of “nation-building”. One is that the exporting of Democracy is a dismal failure, and, in fact, was dead on arrival based on Iraq’s long experience with being on the wrong end of U.S. and British attention. The second is U.S. failure in actively enlisting support from the moderate Muslim population of Iraq, something that the 2006 NIE included as “the most powerful weapon in the war on terror, and something that’s almost impossible to accomplish as long as the U.S. insists on exporting it’s version of democracy to Iraq and the rest of the world.While your point about poverty and the general lack of reliable services and critical infrastructure is indisputable, we must repair and restore what we’ve broken WITH the support of the Muslim population, and stop doing the things that alienate and radicalize them.

  2. Wouldn’t a good test for this sort of stuff be to apply it domestically first? Try it on poor, crime-ridden areas and see how well people respond. …Just an idea…

  3. Matt,While I agree with the direction of your article (i.e., that enhanced security depends on increased stability in “unstable regions”), I do not agree that “in-sourcing” is the best approach for the long run.
    A better approach may be exactly what we see happening today in the Kurdish region of Iraq: Foreign Direct Investment, stimulated by (but not directed by) the U.S. government et al.
    My concern with an “in-sourced” developmental solution is twofold:
    (1) Legitimacy: A government-sanctioned “stabilization” effort would be (at worst) difficult to discriminate from a neo-colonial activity, and (at best) smack of Realpolitik. The best solution would be nation-neutral.
    (2) Sustainability: History has shown that toppling dictators is not a difficult undertaking for our $450B/yr national security establishment — but that growing burgeoning, self-securing, self-sustaining democracies is. Even with a fully-funded complement of 5,000 ARC/SRC/CRC personnel (or, less than half the size of a contemporary Army division), they would lack the mass to sustain prolonged operations.
    Rather than “in-sourcing”, perhaps we should look at incentives to encourage investment (e.g., tax breaks for U.S. corporations akin to economic development programs like HubZone) — sort of an inverted Keynsian approach, with the government artificially stimulating macroeconomic demand.

  4. Jeffrey, this isn’t about Bush’s strategy or about “exporting democracy.” Nor is about the Muslim world. This is about post-conflict operations. To argue, as the gentlemen from CATO did, that S/CRS would promote an expeditionary foreign policy does not make sense. They argue this while reciting an expeditionary foreign policy of nation-building. Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia all occurred without S/CRS… more to come in a response to CATO…Shane, the neo-colonialism argument doesn’t hold water, especially compared to the alternative. Further, the S/CRS model, as detailed in my post, is not that described and critiqued previously. This is not a ‘nation-building’ solution, but as you describe, nation-neutral. The numbers you’re quoting are from the 2-yr old CATO report and comingle security with reconstruction and stabilization requirements.
    As I described in my article, there is a centralizing of outsourcing S/CRS provides besides the reachback throughout government. S/CRS, unlike a military-led solution, can integrate with NGO/U.N. missions.
    More to come in a response to CATO. Note the gentlemen from CATO merely “noticed” my post and didn’t respond. In fact, if you read it carefully, you’ll see they did not respond to the Rice-Lugar op-ed either. They simply repackaged their Jan 2006 criticisms for isolation.
    Fantomplanet, there are more than a few similarities… and it would be good if we did that. Now, maybe that’s why Ambassador Herbst met with Los Angeles Police Chief Bratton immediate before I sat down with him at a Starbucks…

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