IAP 16W (June 2015) Losing Lessons at the Water’s Edge

IAP 16W (June 2015) Losing Lessons at the Water’s Edge

by Benjamin Cabana

Interagency coordination for complex contingency operations is an extremely difficult challenge. Bringing together the various tools of American power in a holistic manner is widely recognized as a serious roadblock to successful stabilization and reconstruction operations. Defense, development, and diplomacy are all required for a successful stability operation; however, the U.S. government has largely failed to incorporate all these tools in operational settings.

The domestic complex contingency operations faced by the emergency management community are surprisingly similar to stability and reconstruction operations abroad, and this paper seeks to demonstrate the utility of the domestic emergency response model for complex stability operations. The author also calls for academia and foreign policy practitioners to consider the application of this largely untapped yet extensive and useful field of study to improve interagency coordination during complex contingency operations that take place outside U.S. borders.

Interagency coordination in complex stability operations can be problematic for many reasons. For instance, an organization may resist coordinated efforts that could inhibit their autonomy, while others may not be equipped to participate in expeditionary missions. Interagency coordination is not a problem unique to international stability and reconstruction operations, yet the primary actors in these operations, the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of State (State), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have attempted to fix this problem through internal knowledge and know-how, largely failing to establish binding doctrine or apply lessons learned from other sectors or from past experience.

The analysis in this paper will demonstrate that the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and National Response Framework (NRF) doctrine for interagency management of domestic contingency operations is far more advanced than the parallel efforts of foreign policy civilians to manage the interagency in foreign contingency operations. Further, it will contend that the interagency management problems and nature of operations faced domestically and abroad are so similar that the complete absence of academic literature related to the application of NIMS/NRF to an international setting is tragic.

IAP no. 16W - June 2015

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