21st Century Conflict: From “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA) to “Revolution in Civil-Military Affairs” (RCMA)

The U.S. and its allies need to take account of the radical changes taking place in 21st century conflict and what has now become a “Revolution in Civil-Military Affairs,” or “RCMA.” One only has to look at a given day’s headlines to see how urgent this topic is, how much national security threats are changing, and how important cooperation can be in enhancing security and stability.

The Need for a Revolution in Civil-Military Affairs or “RCMA

This need to redefine security is being driven by a wide range of factors. They include the new uncertainties in Europe, the rising tensions in Asia, and the brutal ongoing civil-military conflicts in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Each region is experiencing new threats and the need for new forms of security.

It is violent religious extremism and international terrorism, the new roles of non-state actors, and the new emphasis on asymmetric warfare, however, that are now doing most to make us rethink almost every form of cooperation in national security, the tools we use in meeting these threats, and the way in which we train and educate.

The rise of non-state actors and the linkages between growing civil problems and civil conflicts force us to rethink the role of national security force and the need to link civil-military operations. It forces us to think, educate, train and act far beyond the limits of what we once called the “Revolution in Military Affairs,”, or RMA.

The U.S. and its allies now face threats from failed states, civil conflicts, non-state actors, and religious extremists that are civil-military in character and require a much broader approach to cooperation in national security. This means we need to think and act far beyond the beyond the RMA’s emphasis on conventional warfare, and deal with a Revolution in Civil-Military Affairs (RCMA) that responds to the new role of national and transnational non-state actors, the systematic exploitation of divisions and tensions within the population of given states and regions, the shift to need kinds of civil-military warfare, and the need for more flexible and adaptive partnerships in security.

The Changing Structure of Civil-Military Operations and National Security Forces

National security efforts, military forces, strategy and tactics, and internal security forces must have civil partners, and take a “whole of government” approach, to deal with the causes of both religious extremism and the broader upheavals that have taken place in the world since 2011. These are all struggles where any effort to produce lasting security and stability must have a major civil and political dimension.

They are struggles where governments must support their national security forces by seeking to heal the divisions within their society, deal with the reasons their populations take sides, and address the factors that are exploited by extremist groups and facilitate their funding and recruitment of volunteers. Repression alone cannot resolve these issues, and the actions and strategies of security forces must be tied to the rule of law, new approaches to detention and prison sentences, and efforts to win back volunteers and supporters of extremism.

Looking Beyond Ideological Extremism, Terrorism, and Insurgency

Every major insurgency, civil conflict, or case where terrorism has taken a major foothold is a warning that governments and security efforts must not concentrate on religious extremists as if they were the only source of such threats.

Nations – and their national security forces – must examine the impact of internal demographic pressures, urbanization and population movements, limited economic development, poor distribution of income and government services, unemployment, corruption, and other structural threats to internal security that divided states and push them into civil conflicts. National security forces must objectively assess such factors, and ties their tactics to civil-military efforts that honestly assess them.

There have already been all too many cases where conflicts, ideology, and the actions of violent non-state actors steadily divide nations along sectarian, ethnic, tribal, and regional lines. If these divisions go too far, even the best internal security efforts cannot prevent political upheavals that can destroy the structure of governance and political norms and prevent the emergence of new national leaders and forces for national unity.

Strategic Partnerships Based on a Civil-Military Approach to National Security

In short, the need for a broader civil-military approach to national security really does require as much of a revolution in military affairs – or more properly a revolution in civil-military affairs – as the changes in the more conventional forms of warfare.

It requires new forms of international cooperation in finding the best civil and military approaches to the problem. It requires new forms of planning that integrate civil-military efforts, use the best methods to actual implement them, and assess the effectiveness of the rest and the ways in which resources are spent. It requires new forms of formal training as well as the development of suitable case studies to uses in national security education.

It means expanding the role of intelligence far beyond simply identifying terrorist and insurgent threats, and it means military forces must do far more than achieve tactical success and find civilian partners that can actually implement “win, hold, and build” to counter extremist and insurgent influence and create civil-military efforts that can earn the lasting support of the local population.

It also requires a new approach to cooperation, analysis, training and education, intelligence, net assessment, planning and operations that focuses as much – or more – on the civil dimension, ideology, asymmetric warfare, and non-state actors as on conventional warfare and military technology,

These issues are explored in depth in an analysis presented to the Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes at the Austrian National Defence Academy in Vienna on July 2, 2015. This analysis is entitled 21st Century Conflict: From “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA) to “Revolution in Civil-Military Affairs” (RCMA), and is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/publication/21st-century-conflict-revolution-military-affairs-rma-revolution-civil-military-affairs-.

The factors that drive the need for such changes in strategy, tactics, national security structures, and the nature of civil-military affairs are summarized in a separate graphic analysis entitled The Revolution in Civil-Military Affairs: Case Studies in “Failed State Wars” in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. It is available on the CSIS web site at https://www.csis.org/analysis/21st-century-conflict-%E2%80%9Crevolution-military-affairs%E2%80%9D-rma-%E2%80%9Crevolution-civil-military-affairs%E2%80%9D.