Capabilities, not clothes

Posted on June 20, 2011


Capabilities, not clothes
Distinctions between military and civil services are unnecessary

via AFJ, June 2011

Talk about the whole-of-government or comprehensive approach to complex operations such as post-conflict reconstruction often emphasizes that lasting success requires capabilities beyond those provided by the military. Indeed, a comprehensive approach is based on not only recognition, but also an embrace of this understanding of the engagement space. Yet the insight that the military alone cannot solve all the complex problems in fragile, failed or post-conflict states and regions is often conflated into a claim that civil-military coordination is the main concern. In this view, there are civilian capabilities on the one hand and military capabilities on the other, and with a comprehensive approach, they work more smoothly together. From this perspective, a comprehensive approach is fundamentally a method for adding necessary civilian capabilities to the military effort to manage complex international challenges through optimized international community interaction.

However, capabilities, except for a few exceptions involving the use of organized violence, are neither civilian nor military in essence. NATO, for example, is not simply a military actor — NATO is a political and military organization, fundamentally dedicated to, as Article 2 of the Washington Treaty says, “promoting conditions of stability and well-being.” It does not say “via military means.” NATO, as an alliance of nations, has many capabilities to bring to bear, and the military or civilian designation adds no value. The point is the promotion of well-being, not limiting the means of promotion to civilian or military. In this light, emphasis on the civil-military divide (even as a way to emphasize the need for bridges) and talk of “civilian” versus “military” capabilities, is of extremely limited utility.

A comprehensive approach is not simply the optimization of civil-military interaction, nor is it an internationalization of central planning in an effort to improve the efficiency of international community inputs.