Stability and Support Operations (SASO) Background
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the restraint of superpower influence on local conflicts has largely disappeared. Local conflicts, long submerged in east-west rivalry, have reemerged in greater number, intensity, and variety of cause. Most of them do not directly affect the interests of the United States. Others affect the U.S. humanitarian interest in the amelioration of human suffering. Some of these conflicts impinge on United States trade interests, access to markets and materials, the safety of our citizens, and the stability necessary for democratic life. These require a response in the form of stability and support operations.
The military instrument of national power alone cannot "win" in stability and support operations, but it can lose. War is sometimes said to be simple in its concept but complex in its execution. Stability and support operations are complex in both concept and execution.
Stability and support operations provide the United States government with an alternative to war. They are not merely the road to war nor a cleaning up afterward. They are a way to achieve national policy objectives without entanglement in an unplanned, undesired, and unnecessary war. They are used in peacetime and in the political-military state of conflict, a middle ground that is neither peace nor war, either because no other means will work or because the values threatened, while important, do not justify the high cost of war.
Peace is the state which countries presumably seek. Peace is not totally free of violence, but the violence that exists is not politically directed and organized.
Conflict on the other hand, is distinguished from peace by the introduction of political violence. Conflict is neither peace nor war, at least not as the United States defines war. Conflict is a political struggle in which organized violence serves political and psychological purposes. In the world today violence is a constant factor. In stability and support operations, the carefully limited threat or application of force reduces violence, influences the political environment, and facilitates diplomacy.
Not being war, stability and support operations are primarily political processes, sometimes accompanied by violence. Therefore, the role of the armed forces is to support the political, economic, and informational instruments of national power. It is those elements of power and the government agencies responsible for them that take decisive action in peace and conflict. Policy matters are very close to the surface in these operations.
Whether in peace or conflict, success in stability and support operations is governed by its own principles, which derive from the nature of the endeavor. The most important of these is primacy of the political instrument of national power.
There is a fundamental difference between stability and support operations and conventional war. The goal in war is to destroy an enemy's will and capability to fight. Decisive victory in war enables the United States and its allies and coalition partners to demand an outcome consistent with their national interests. By contrast, military stability and support operations act as a dampener on political violence, reducing the intensity of conflict and establishing an environment of security conducive to settlement through political, economic, and informational means. In stability and support operations, the carefully limited threat or application of force influences the political environment, contributes to suasion, and facilitates diplomacy.
There are compelling reasons for using the political-military methods of conflict rather than the chiefly military methods of war. First, there are situations in which the methods of war will not work. These include many conflicts within a state, such as insurgencies and separatist movements. In some of these, both sides compete for the loyalty of the same people. They seek to mobilize human and material resources from the same domestic pool. In all of them, their methods deny a conventional force appropriate targets for its firepower. The combatants are not readily identifiable. They do not wear uniforms. They live, work, and fight among the people. They avoid contact with their enemy except when conditions are favorable to themselves. Terrorists and drug traffickers use many of the same methods. These situations require a combination of political, economic, informational, and military techniques.
The other reason for using the political-military methods of conflict relates to the inequality of military capabilities. A weak country or political movement cannot hope to defeat a major military power by direct means. It has no choice but to use a combination of means. On the other hand, a large power may find that its interests are challenged but the values at risk do not justify the costs of war. The political-military methods of stability and support operations stand a good chance of success and are less costly than conventional war.
In conflict, the primacy of the political instrument grows out of the intent to solve a problem without war. If success is not to be achieved by defeating an enemy's military power, it must be obtained through political means. Stability and support operations use diplomatic, economic, and informational means to change behavior. Military power protects those means and establishes the conditions in which they can function effectively. At times, military operations add a measured amount of coercion to reinforce political means.
The methods of war violate the purpose of stability and support operations and are self-defeating. Tactically, this means that large-scale military operations aimed at destroying the enemy's fighting capability should not be used. When violence is required, it should be sufficient to the purpose, but no more than that. Excessive violence undermines the legitimacy of the party that uses it, negating the value of political, economic, and psychological programs.
Civilian agencies and organizations are not structured to operating in a hostile environment. Likewise, the armed forces are not used to severe restraints on the use of their destructive power. In stability and support operations, both must adjust to the environment and its special requirements. The Army must realize its potential for many useful but nontraditional activities to support an integrated national effort. This requires thinking in terms of small, long-term operations using imagination and ingenuity. Each participating organization must accommodate the national and organizational cultures, values, and methods of all the others.
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