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American Forces Press Service

Defense Science Board Report Recommends New Focus on Stabilization, Reconstruction

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2005 - A new Defense Science Board report recommends that the U.S. government tap into strategies the military uses to plan and prepare for combat, and to extend them to peacetime activities, stabilization and reconstruction operations and intelligence.

The board's study, "Transition to and from Hostilities," also recommended building and maintaining fundamental capabilities critical to success in stabilization and construction, but currently lacking.

The study, requested by DoD last fall, reviews conflicts dating from Roman times centuries ago to current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and recommends ways to enhance U.S. effectiveness during peacetime and for stabilization and reconstruction missions, explained Craig Fields, a senior fellow for the board who co-chaired the study group.

The 120 people involved in the study - Defense Science Board members, retired flag officers, academics and industry experts among them - came to a common agreement early in their review: The military has "a superb management structure" that surpasses that of most U.S. companies, Fields said.

That management talent has historically been focused on the military's No. 1 mission of planning and executing combat operations, he said.

What it hasn't focused on, he said, are peacetime activities and stabilization and emergency reconstruction missions that are putting ever-increasing demands on the military's time and resources.

And no other branch of the federal government involved in these activities has used that kind of management structure to focus on these areas either, Fields said.

In response, the Defense Science Board report recommends that DoD and all other branches of government involved in these operations adopt the military's management discipline. The report recommends that the National Security Council coordinate this process by organizing task forces that focus on specific countries and regions "of interest and concern" to the United States, Fields said.

Just as U.S. combatant commanders come up with wartime contingency plans, these task forces of subject-matter experts would develop strategic plans for achieving U.S. national objectives in the area, Fields explained. And while military plans would be part of that planning process, military goals would be "a means, not an end" toward accomplishing national goals in that region, he said.

But Fields was quick to point out that planning alone won't prepare the United States for the challenges of peacetime operations and stabilization and reconstruction activities without boosting the country's ability to carry out those plans.

"I can put together a great management scheme for participating in the Olympics, but I'm just not good enough," Fields said. "I'd also have to develop some capabilities."

The Defense Science board cited four general areas where the United States remains lacking:

  • Stabilization and reconstruction capabilities. The report recommends that both the Defense and State departments dedicate enough people with the proper training to carry out these missions. "If we don't have them, we can't succeed, no matter how well-organized and planned we are," Fields said.

  • Strategic communication. The report points out the need for a unified vision that communicates U.S. objectives and ideas to the world. Fields said the British-government-funded BBC World Service is "spectacularly effective in telling the truth around the world, and in doing so, in promoting British values." The United States has "simply fantastic capabilities" in the media world and should be able to work as effectively, he said.

  • Knowledge, understanding and intelligence for the 21st century. The report says better coordination is required to promote information sharing. "If you don't know what's going on, you're not going to succeed," Fields said.

  • Identification, location and tracking for asymmetric warfare. Traditional high-tech intelligence-gathering methods simply don't work when trying to track down individual enemy leaders or combatants who look no different than other civilians, or when attempting to uncover weapons of mass destruction. The report recommends a "Manhattan Project" of scale, intensity and focus to boost these needed capabilities.

Of the four areas, Fields acknowledged that increasing stabilization and reconstruction capabilities is the most challenging, particularly in light of the intensive resources required. The issue becomes even more complicated, he pointed out, due to overlapping requirements: Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military has engaged in one of these operations every 18 to 24 months and continued to support it for five to eight years.

"If you do the math on this, it means you have to staff three to five of these simultaneously," he said. "You start getting into some very, very large numbers."

Despite some challenges in implementing the board's recommendations, Fields said he's seeing positive momentum taking place surprisingly quickly.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "was a very attentive and understanding audience" when he received the results in August and has already ordered up a directive implementing the report's recommendations, Fields said.

The State Department established an office to address issues raised in the report. And Congress too appears to support the report's findings, Fields said.

If the U.S. government followed through with the report's recommendations, better orchestrating its powers to accomplish its political goals in peacetime, Fields said the United States could feasibly avoid some combat operations.

But in cases where that's not possible and combat is necessary, Fields said the nation will be better poised to succeed in stabilization and reconstruction operations, and to achieve its political objectives.

Fields said the stabilization and reconstruction challenges being faced in Afghanistan and Iraq have happened before and will happen again. "A military success, which is almost assured, isn't the end. It's the means," he said. "You have to look at the big picture. And the question is, how can we increase the likelihood of succeeding and accomplishing our national goals?"

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