Chairman of the Joint Chiefs endorses SysAdmin Force

Stephen DeAngelis

February 09, 2009

For long-time readers of this blog or Tom Barnett’s Weblog, the topic of a new kind of “force” for dealing with post-conflict situations or fragile states is not a new one. For example, you can read my past posts entitled The Economist Looks at the System Administration Force, Soft Power, SysAdmin, and Development-in-a-Box™, A Manual for the SysAdmin Force, Shocked and Awed, and SysAdmin Force comes of Age. Although Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, were both originally appointed by President Bush, both men seem to have settled comfortably into the Obama administration. Secretary Gates has been a vocal supporter of a less militarized foreign policy and Admiral Mullen is apparently in full agreement [“Foreign Policy Beyond the Pentagon,” by Walter Pincus, Washington Post, 9 February 2009]. Pincus reports:

“Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes that the United States’ foreign policy has become ‘too militarized.’ But Mullen said in a speech last week that it could take 10 years or more before government departments other than Defense, such as State, Commerce, Treasury and Agriculture, are prepared to send employees overseas to assume roles now being played by the military in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots. Echoing a theme stressed by his boss, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Mullen told an audience at Princeton University last Thursday: ‘You’ve heard us, some of us and certainly me, talk about our foreign policy being too militarized. I believe that. And it’s got to change.'”

Before accepting that Mullen has become fully enlightened about a new approach for dealing with the world’s hotspots, Pincus notes:

“One reason, he said, is that such tasks have ‘stretched’ the military, and as such, ‘we’re doing things that we had not planned on doing, had not trained to do.'”

That sounds eerily like the early 1990s complaint that the military was suffering from “mission creep.” The difference now is that Mullen recognizes that until some other kind of “force” is trained to assume functions now being performed by the military, they will remain military responsibilities by default. As I wrote in one of the early posts mentioned above, over a decade “ago Bradd Hayes, Enterra Solutions’ Senior Director of Communications and Research — who was then working as a professor at the U.S. Naval War College — and his colleague Jeffrey Sands, wrote a book titled Doing Windows: Non-Traditional Military Responses to Complex Emergencies, in which they encouraged the military to pay more attention to nation-building missions. They wrote:

“When a military operation fails to understand the connection between its activities, humanitarian assistance actions, and future requirements, it ultimately fails to achieve its objectives. By focusing on long-term objectives, the military has a better chance of ‘getting it right’ when it must intervene. If the military wants to help win the peace, it must prepare for peace.”

Seven years later, Tom Barnett, Enterra Solutions’ Senior Managing Director, who was then also working at the Naval War College, wrote his New York Times’ best seller The Pentagon’s New Map in which he recommended creation of a System Administrator (SysAdmin) force to conduct nation-building and help secure the peace. Tom wrote:

“America’s gift to the world is not military empire but economic globalization and the collective security it both engenders and demands. Kant’s world is expanding, while Hobbes’s world is ever shrinking. War and peace as we have known them across the twentieth century will not survive long into the twenty-first century. A new American Way of War emerges, remaking the world in its image much as the American Way of Peace provided the template for globalization’s rebirth following World War II and its expansion ever since. Our side is not just winning, it is growing.”

What Admiral Mullen is talking about is an interdepartmental organization that can implement a new “American Way of Peace.” Pincus continues:

“In Iraq and Afghanistan, the military is carrying out traditional State Department functions, such as funding local school-reconstruction projects, as well as information programs, such as running Web sites and producing radio and television broadcasts. Another example, he said, is that National Guard soldiers from Texas, Missouri and Iowa with experience in farming are being sent to Afghanistan to work on agriculture projects ‘because that’s the economic base for future economic health in Afghanistan.’ He praised those doing this, saying: ‘They’re very adaptive, very creative, very innovative. And they do it unbelievably well. But we need to back off of that over time.’ Although the problem is recognized, Mullen said, ‘We’re a good decade away before we’ve created … the capacity and the career paths [for] young people who will come into the Agriculture Department and say, “Part of my life is, I expect to go to Afghanistan for a year out of every four or five.” …That is not what they thought their career path would include at this point.'”

Although Mullen in principle is complaining about “mission creep,” unlike his predecessors of a decade ago Mullen is calling for positive change and is saying that the military will continue to bite the bullet while those changes take effect.

“[The Admiral] made a strong pitch for the Princeton students to think about the future and their roles. Mullen said that the strength of the country is that ‘when we’re in trouble’ Americans are inclined to ‘rise up and serve and make a difference.’ ‘Here in our own country, you can serve,’ he said. ‘Or you can serve globally.’ He stressed that military service is not the only avenue. ‘But it’s going to be a world that you inherit and you live in,’ he said, ‘and I seek your assistance to serve in it, to help us all make it better.'”

As I wrote in another of the posted cited above, “the lower you go on the spectrum of conflict the more emphasis one should place on non-kinetic activities. The focus should not be winning the war but securing the peace. Tom’s SysAdmin force would include security forces, but it would concentrate on activities that build rather destroy local capacities.” Elsewhere I wrote, “In Tom’s discussions of his SysAdmin force, he stresses that the force is best hosted outside the Pentagon. He recommends the establishment a new cabinet-level department whose objectives are to secure the peace and foster development. For want of a better term, he calls this department the Department of Everything Else. Without such a department, the mission of securing the peace will likely remain in the Pentagon.” Gates and Mullen have finally reached the destination that Tom hoped they would. They clearly see the need for a civilian-driven organization whose mission is to secure the peace — an organization that includes elements from the Departments of “State, Commerce, Treasury and Agriculture” supported, as necessary, by the Department of Defense. Admiral Mullen is probably correct that establishing such an organization will probably take a decade or longer, but the sooner that task is started the better off we’ll be. Enterra Solutions has worked closely with the Pentagon in implementing its Development-in-a-Box™ work in Iraq; but, there would be a much more natural relationship for Development-in-a-Box™ activities with a SysAdmin organization.