A Confusion over Stability Operations

During a regular review held in 2014 of DoDD 3000.07, the directive guiding IW development, concern was expressed by some that the proposed definition of IW unduly characterized Stability Operations as an IW activity, vice a traditional military activity. The following attempts to identify and address the concerns with the inclusion of “stability operations” as one of the examples within DoDD 3000.07 (2014) of DoD activities that comprise an IW campaign.

The offending text was proposed to read: “IW can include any relevant DoD activity and operation such as counterterrorism; unconventional warfare; foreign internal defense; counterinsurgency; and stability operations that, in the context of IW, involve establishing or re-establishing order in a fragile state or territory. While these activities may occur across the full range of military operations, the balance or primary focus of operations gives a campaign its predominant character.”

While the specific issues with the text were not explicitly stated, except that the text made stability operations seem to be too closely aligned with irregular, vice traditional warfare. We were able to identify several possible areas of contention, most prominently including whether stability operations is a core activity of IW and whether stability operations is categorized as an exclusively IW activity. However, neither of these contentions stand up under close scrutiny.

Contentions over Stability Operations as an IW activity

Taking first the possible issue with stability operations as a core activity of irregular warfare, current stability operations and IW doctrine are in accord with the proposed text’s characterization of IW activities as those “establishing or re-establishing order in a fragile state or territory.” According to the IW JOC 2.0, stability operations are one of the five core activities or operations “undertaken in sequence, in parallel, or in blended form” to “prevent, deter, disrupt and defeat irregular threats.” These five activities are focused upon because IW’s “contest for legitimacy and influence over a population will be won primarily through persistent effort to enable a legitimate and capable local partner to address the conflict’s causes and provide security, good governance, and economic development.” These core activates meet that requirement “because they are typically sustained activities that focus on the population and are conducted with other partners.”

Stability Operations is one of IW JOC 2.0’s five core activities due to the need to “establish or re-establish order in a fragile state” and the role of the military in providing “a safe and secure environment to support other government agency programs to build host nations capacity” or in which the military will conduct such activities itself.

Stability operations doctrine aligns with that of IW in that both seek to “neutralize and isolate irregular actors by winning the contests in both the physical domains and the information environment of the operational area.” (JP 3-07 pg. II-26) Concordant with the IW concept, JP 3-07, Stability Operations, notes that “The HN government must provide a more attractive, credible vision of the future than the adversary. Without security, the development of adequate governance, sustainable local economies, and delivery of essential services is significantly impeded and unlikely to succeed.”

The second likely concern is also unwarranted. The DoDD 3000.07 proposed language does not unduly characterize stability operations as “an IW activity,” since it also states that “IW can include any relevant DoD activity and operation,” of which stability operations is one example. This is appropriate, since in current doctrine, stability operations is not characterized as an activity in support of either traditional or irregular warfare. In fact, none of five doctrinal core irregular warfare activities are perfectly unique to irregular warfare. IW JOC 2.0 “recognizes that [the] five IW activities may also be applied outside the arena of irregular threats.” This includes as much to stability operations As any of the other core activities, if not moreso. Moreover, JP 3-07 also envisions stability operations being conducted in support of an IW campaign, in addition to traditional warfare (see JP 3-07, pg. I-4).

Possible reasons for confusion

There are two likely reasons for this either-or confusion regarding stability operations. The first is a belief evident within the military community that irregular and traditional warfare are in some way mutually exclusive, despite multiple pronouncements throughout US military doctrine to the contrary. Joint military doctrine and policy is very clear that irregular and traditional warfare are not mutually exclusive, but coexist in nearly every conflict in some proportion.

The precise reason for this insistence on bifurcation of irregular and traditional is unclear, but very likely is rooted in the fear of change and preference for simplicity that is inherent in human logic. Military officers and defense professionals, as with any type of professional, are easily enamored with evolutionary changes in their craft which make their current job easier, but reflexively reject changes which challenge their assumptions about the nature of their work or require entirely new modes of operation.

Another likely reason for the confusion over stability operations as either traditional or irregular is introduced by a sloppy classification system used within joint doctrine itself. Under this system, warfare is described as “offensive,” “defensive,” or “stability” operations, or some blend thereof (e.g. “Traditional warfare is characterized by a series of offensive, defensive, and stability operations.” JP 1 pg. I-5; see also JP 3-07 pg. I-4). While not explicitly stated, this appears to be an entirely separate classification system from that which defines types of operations. Notably, while stability operations is clearly defined in the joint lexicon and has a joint publication devoted to it, “offensive” and “defensive” operations do not appear to be defined in JP 1-02, the joint military dictionary, or other relevant documents.

However, the definition of stability operations is provided in JP 1-02 and JP 3-07, and according to this definition, stability operations is capable of being classified as a core activity of IW (see the above discussion), which is not included in the offensive/defensive/stability classification.

Stability Operations vs Stabilize

In addition, stability operations may be confused with operations during the “stabilize” phase of a conflict (see, e.g., JP 3-0 pg. V-8). However, DoDD 3000.07 and several joint pubs make clear that stability operations are carried out throughout all phases. (See, e.g., JP 3-0 pg. V-36). The stabilize phase is merely the notional point of the conflict in which stability operations are the predominant military concern. Stability operations is neither the exclusive activity during this phase, nor is it relegated to this phase. In fact, in the vast majority of modern conflicts, the stabilize phase is purely notional in that it begins before major combat operations are actually over, and even once they are over, they will likely be employed again at several points in an attempt to crush strongholds of insurgent activity, as in Fallujah, Korengal and a multitude of other examples.

In the end, as students of military theory, it is important to be able to be clear about the types of operations we are discussing, and to ensure that the classification systems we use are internally coherent. Moreover, it is vital that we not allow biases to dictate our understanding of the issues involved in our craft. Unfortunately, these problems abound in the study of irregular warfare. Through this blog, we hope to elucidate some of these problems, but caution the reader that vigilance is required at all times when reading any analysis related to irregular warfare topics.

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