New Logic For Leaders During Military Operations Other Than War

What are some of the dangers of using the military instrument of power in Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW) and how might they best be avoided?

Military Might is No Longer Just a Thor’s Hammer

Thor was probably the most popular of Vikings gods, protecting the world by fighting giant enemies with his mighty hammer. The U.S. military, like ‘Thor’s Hammer’, has fought big wars, massed enough military might to fight major wars on two fronts, fought giants such as Germany and Japan, and staved off Russia during the cold war. While preparing for such warfare, U.S. forces have increasingly engaged in smaller-scale operations such as fighting insurgencies and counterinsurgencies, combating terrorism, rescuing noncombatants from war zones, supporting friendly governments, rendering humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, participating in peacekeeping operations, as well as other challenges other than war. Currently there are no giants to fight or global wars to win. Operations other than war have moved to center stage and political-military leaders must give more attention to preparing for these types of operations.

“Following over a decade of substantial and extensive American military involvement, peace operations have passed from a position of strategic irrelevance to one of strategic importance.” (Bhatia, 2003, p. 2). Typical deployments today are large-scale peace operations that tend to be operationally complex, protracted and politically volatile. The U.S. military’s growing role in peace operations raises concerns regarding the dangers of using the military instrument of power in operations other than war.

Noticeable Trends

The military has normally played a supporting role during crises, helping relief agencies provide assistance rather than taking the lead. Relief agencies are often better able to carry out assistance tasks due to past experience. The military should accomplish tasks unrelated to its core mission only on an exceptional basis, (i. e., when no civilian agency can do the job quickly or well enough under the circumstances). But exceptions can be the rule during the first phases of complex contingency operations, while the situation remains unstable and civilian agencies are not yet fully able to carry out their responsibilities. If preparations are limited to only the initial tasking, military forces may not be prepared for subsequent, more ambitious objectives.

Education, Training, & War Fighting Capabilities

As the peace operations environment requires different skills and methods than those required for fighting wars, training and education becomes very important. Bhatia (2003) observed “…units and soldiers deployed on peace operations all too often find themselves performing unanticipated tasks for which they have neither been trained nor given specific guidance. A sound military education can pick up where the unit training program left off and provide leaders with the intellectual skills to improvise successfully.” (p. 132). As these types of operations become more prevalent in this post cold war society, military leaders should “…rely on their knowledge of war fighting and training doctrine, but must understand the demands of MOOTW and be prepared to tailor war fighting skills to meet the MOOTW situation.” (JP 3-07, 1995, p. IV-14).

Coordination & Planning

Manwaring (2000) discussed how planning engages military leaders and key civilian agency heads in mission planning and analysis, potential range of tasks that military units should be prepared to perform, as well as those tasks the military should not perform. (p. 82 – 83). However, coordination between the military and relief partners can often be uncertain due to the organizational culture gap that exists. Additionally, the number of dissimilar actors involved in an operation can complicate efforts to improve coordination. The military is familiar with planning and considers the planning process as indispensable, if only to produce an operational framework. NGOs often confuse plans with schedules and consider plans not worth the effort.

“Interagency coordination forges the vital link between the military instrument of power to the economic, political/diplomatic, and information entities of the U.S. government.” (JP 3-08, 1996, p.I-2). NGOs can be difficult partners, especially for the military. It’s important that military leaders recognize and address the barriers that prevent interagency coordination. Pirnie (2000) noted several differences between organizational cultures that create barriers to NGO-military coordination to include: The use of force, Hierarchy vs. decentralization, Uncertainty regarding force protection, and Secrecy. (p. 100 – 103). In MOOTW it is important that Commanders rely heavily on consensus building to achieve unity of effort. Commanders must also establish procedures for liaison and coordination. Joint Pub 3-07 (1995) suggests that one method to help improve coordination is to improve Unity of Effort which can best be accomplished by establishing Civil Military Operations Centers (CMOC). (p. IV-7).

Specialized Functions

The military contains a wide variety of specialized functions, making it a self-sufficient community. The military may have to perform some of these functions for civilian populations until other agencies can meet local needs. For example the military may have to provide Communications to host countries and NGOs in countries whose telecommunications systems are inadequate or devastated by war. The military may have to conduct extensive Medical Operations, including inoculation, triage, first aid, hospitalization, and medical evacuations or Health Care Operations such as sanitation and water purification.

Civil Affairs (CA) units have become a consistent and increasing part of MOOTW, assuming responsibility for the reestablishment of public utilities and liaison with humanitarian and UN agencies. The concern regarding CA is that these units are largely drawn from reserve units and have quickly become major contributors to mission success. Improper deployment or overuse of CA units runs the risk of units not being available to fill wartime requirements and/or a higher than normal op-tempo.

Similar to civil affairs, the quality and local coherence to Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) will be directly affected by the degree of area expertise. The Department of Defense may not be well-prepared to successfully battle contemporary armed insurgencies for the hearts and minds of locals. For example, an oral culture should not be addressed through leaflets and other printed matter. Bhatia (2003) asserts that “Beyond the development of an individual skills base, in terms of technology, the military needs to improve the range of its broadcasting capability and develop small rather than large platforms for monitoring and broadcast.” (p. 133).

The military can also help coordinate vital Logistics effort, particularly in the early phases. Pirnie (2000) maintained “One of the most important forms of assistance is transporting relief supplies to crisis regions.” (p. 28). Ground transportation during operations other than war can normally be coordinated using local NGO and host nation assets. The U. S. normally provides sealift through the Military Sealift Command to the military components of a contingency operation, such as NATO forces in Bosnia. However, it may employ military sealift for humanitarian purposes, as in Somalia.
The U. S. Navy and Coast Guard may also improve, operate, and provide security for seaports and Protection of Shipping, as in Mogadishu during Operation Restore Hope. Pirnie (2000) continued this discussion in that the military can also be used to improve Airflow as well as Sea Lanes by providing air traffic controllers, navigation aids, and other support personnel and equipment. (p. 28 – 29).

The military provides a myriad of extensive capabilities until civilian agencies are able to perform these functions adequately. The implication for planners is that all of the units previously mentioned can be deployed outside their normal military roles, beyond their ability to maintain sustained operations, or be unavailable for re-deployment. During initial preparation, planners must consider that “…overextending such forces may jeopardize their ability to support combat operations.” (JP 3-07, 1995, p. IV-9).

Termination of Operations

There are no handbooks to guide the leadership or lists of situations that identify when to terminate operations. It’s important that military leaders plan for transitions and termination. “As in war, MOOTW operational planning includes actions to be taken as soon as the operation is complete… Planners should schedule redeployment of specific units as soon as possible after their part in the operation has been completed.” (JP 3-07, 1995, IV – 12). Termination may include transition to civil authorities, marking and clearing minefields, closing financial obligations, pre-redeployment activities, or redeploying forces.

In MOOTW there are no easily identifiable enemy military formations to attack and destroy, no single credible government or political actor with which to deal, no formal declaration or termination of conflict, no specific territory to take and hold. Also, there is no guarantee that any agreement between contending authorities will be honored, and thus, how you end and operation is just as important as when you end it. “The manner in which U.S. forces terminate their involvement may influence the perception of the legitimacy of the entire operation…” (JP 3-07, 1995, IV – 12).

The New Logic of MOOTW

The increasing trend toward military engagement in small operations has raised concerns which revolve around reduced capabilities and sufficient units of the appropriate types. Military leaders must understand the challenges of MOOTW and develop a broader strategy for shared engagement with the civil-political dimension. Military leaders must be sensitive to the level of future operations, which is highly uncertain. Current forces can meet peak demands but they may encounter serious difficulties such as forces committed to these operations not being immediately available for theater warfare and high demands might fall very unevenly on the armed services or upon certain types of units within the services.

In this post Cold War society, small operations other than war are inevitable. The goal for political-military leaders should not be whether the military instrument should be used in operations other than war, but rather, what considerations must be made for future military make-up and preparations for the uncertain increase of such operations? The one thing that is certain is that the U.S. military will be involved in such operations. Cimbala (1998) asserts that “Politics (the end of the Soviet Union, the removal of threat of global war) compels more attention to the development of capabilities and doctrine for fighting smaller wars, and for the use of military power in support of operations ‘other than war,’ including peacekeeping.” (p. 12).


Bhatia, Michael V. (2003). War and Intervention: A Global Survey of Peace Operations. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, Incorporated.

Cimbala, Stephen J. (1998). Coercive Military Strategy. College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press.

JP (Joint Publication) 3-07. (1995). Joint Doctrine for Military Operations Other Than War. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Washington, D.C.

JP (Joint Publication) 3-08. (1996). Interagency Coordination During Joint Operations. Volume 1. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Washington, D. C.

Manwaring, Max G. (CB). (2000). Beyond Declaring Victory & Coming Home: The Challenges of Peace & Stability Operations. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated.

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