An Assessment of the U.S. Army’s Civil Affairs’ Capability to Provide Commanders with Improved Situational Awareness in Population-Centric Operations

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Civil Affairs Association and Divergent Options Writing Contest which took place from April 7, 2020 to July 7, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander L. Carter is a U.S. Army Civil Affairs officer who deployed twice to Iraq as a Civil Affairs Team Leader. He presently works at the Office of the Chief of the Army Reserve as an Army Senior Strategist. He can be found on LinkedIn at Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  An Assessment of the U.S. Army’s Civil Affairs’ Capability to Provide Commanders with Improved Situational Awareness in Population-Centric Operations

Date Originally Written:  April 21, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  June 15, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active-duty Army officer currently serving at Headquarters, Department of the Army as a Senior Strategist. The author believes that the U.S. Army Civil Affairs community lacks sufficient stakeholder engagement skills needed to prepare commanders for population-centric operations in 2035 and suggests new approaches to identifying, prioritizing, and engaging with stakeholders.

Summary:  Successful population-centric operations will be achieved only when military forces understand underlying human behavior, attitudes, and predispositions of local populations. This knowledge can be taught by introducing new techniques in stakeholder engagement. Army Civil Affairs operators are the natural choice for this new training to support commanders conducting population-centric operations.

Text:  A recently published review of the U.S. Army’s involvement in the Iraq war revealed an unflinching account of significant failures in the planning and execution of population-centric operations[1]. One explanation for these failures is that the Army underestimated the physical, cultural, psychological, and behavioral attributes of individuals and groups that influenced local Iraqi perceptions, understanding, and interactions. As the Army focuses on modernization, readiness, and reform initiatives to prepare for the future fight, Army Civil Affairs (CA) are the logical choice to leverage lessons learned from recent experiences in Iraq and elsewhere and develop a much-needed capability to identify, prioritize, and engage with individuals and groups to favorably influence conditions on the ground. Specifically, CA adopting and implementing new stakeholder engagement techniques to better understand and leverage human attitudes, behaviors, and sentiments will impact the Supported Commander’s ability to accomplish the mission and achieve the desired end-state.

While certain communication or key leader engagement skills are taught at the CA branch qualification course and regularly practiced during exercises and other training events, more deliberate, comprehensive stakeholder management practices are not. In fact, such practices are absent from Army and Joint publications. To launch this new initiative in stakeholder outreach or engagement, one must start with a definition.

A stakeholder is “any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objectives[2].” To support the commander’s mission, CA operators must first identify stakeholders who can positively impact the mission. There are at least two methods for identifying stakeholders – Center of Gravity (COG) analysis and Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats or (SWOT) analysis. COG analysis begins with desired end state and identifies supporting critical capabilities needed to achieve the end state[3]. COG analysis identifies those critical capabilities that are also most vulnerable to ‘enemy’ or critical vulnerabilities[4]. Stakeholders are then identified that can either strengthen existing capabilities or mitigate the vulnerabilities of other capabilities.

Similarly, SWOT analysis can be used to generate a list of stakeholders. SWOT analysis identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats bearing upon a command or unit contemplating a proposed operation. Strengths and weaknesses are internally focused while opportunities and threats are external to the organization[5]. A re-purposing of traditional SWOT analysis focuses on opportunities and threats to identify stakeholders that help the organization capitalize on opportunities and mitigate threats. Once identified, these stakeholders are then prioritized to determine whether deliberate outreach to them is necessary.

There are different ways to prioritize stakeholders. One technique is the power/interest grid[6]. Stakeholders are plotted on any one of four quadrants, along the axes, based on a collective assessment of their relative power and interest. The degree of power for each stakeholder is assessed subjectively considering various types of power sources, such as legitimate, informal, referent, expert, coercive, connective, etc., that may be associated with an individual stakeholder[7]. The degree of interest is assessed based on the perceived level of interest that the stakeholder has on the outcome of the strategy or plan. Because stakeholders need to be managed differently based on their relative authority (power) and level of concern (interest), those stakeholders assessed as having a high degree of power and interest will be classified as “Manage Closely,” and actively managed.

Once stakeholders are identified and categorized into one of four quadrants on the grid, leaders allocate resources (team members) to engage with stakeholders deemed critical for solicitation. Stakeholders assessed as having high interest and high power (“Manage Closely”) are further assessed to determine their current and desired dispositions toward such plans[8]. Stakeholder engagements are calendared and reported through leader-led meetings. Engagements are planned with supporting goals and objectives for each stakeholder, ideally moving the stakeholder’s current disposition towards a desired disposition relative to the commander’s goals. In this process, CA operators could gauge stakeholders’ sentiments, thoughts, and feelings toward a command’s developing or proposed operations. Why choose the CA community to be the proponent for such expertise?

Civil Affairs operators are doctrinally and operationally aligned to be highly successful enablers to Supporting Commanders conducting population-centric operations because of CA’s laser focus on working exclusively in the human domain. The recently published joint concept for operating in such a contested, information environment states that commanders are tasked to gain “shared situational awareness…and establishment of relationships that reduce or eliminate barriers to the integration of physical power and informational power[9]. Through more deliberate, calculated, and, ultimately, effective stakeholder engagement, commanders will receive the information they need from CA operators to make better informed decisions that could make the difference between success or failure in population-centric warfare in the years to come.

Figure 1: Power/Interest Grid[10]

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[1] U.S. Army, (2016). The U.S. Army in the Iraq War Volume 2: Surge and Withdrawal 2007–2011, U.S. Army War College Press, 625.[2] Freeman, E. R. (1984). Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach. Pitman, 31.

[3] Kornatz, S. D. (2016). The primacy of COG in planning: Getting back to basics. Joint Force Quarterly, (82), 93.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Helms, M. M., & Nixon, J. (2010). Exploring SWOT analysis – where are we now?: A review of academic research from the last decade. Journal of Strategy and Management, 3(3), 216.

[6] Smith, P. A. (2017). Stakeholder Engagement Framework. Information & Security: An International Journal, 38, 35–45.

[7] Turcotte, W. E., Calhoun W.M., and Knox, C. (2018). Power and Influence, research paper, U.S. Naval War College. 2–3.

[8] A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 5th ed (2013). Project Management Institute.

[9] Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2018). Joint Concept for Operating in the Information Environment.

[10] Eden, C. (1999). Making strategy: The journey of strategic management. Management Research News, 22(5). 37.

2020 - Contest: Civil Affairs Association Writing Contest Alexander L. Carter Assessment Papers Civil Affairs Association Civilian Concerns