Not just a big Exercise - Building Civilian Operational Capabilities

7 Aug 2015

This think piece by Dr Alan Ryan discusses the value of civilians participating in military exercises to better prepare them for their real-world roles in offshore operations that range from disaster response and state stabilisation all the way to complex modern conflict. Exercise Talisman Sabre is just one test bed that prepares government and non-government agencies to interact together in the highly stressed context of modern multiagency operations overseas.

Exercises create Preparedness, and Preparedness saves lives.

Ex TALISMAN SABRE is a large scale military exercise, involving 33,000 military from Australia and the US, but it also includes significant government and non-government interagency participation. Significant humanitarian and reconstruction objectives are built into the exercise.

There is a small, but vital, civilian involvement in the exercise.

TALISMAN SABRE goes beyond the business of winning the battle, to planning for post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction.

DFAT, Defence, Federal Police, US Department of State, FBI and USAID officials worked in their real-life roles to provide civilian leadership and advice. As in real-world operations they are produced the transition plan for establishing the peace after operations. They developed the national security architecture so that after the end of the fighting the UN and host nations could rapidly establish conditions of security built on the rule of law.

Operations from Timor to Afghanistan demonstrated the necessity to practice these arrangements and to ensure that military, political and civilian leaders ‘build back better’ after a conflict.

This exercise was under development for two years. A key objective was strengthen civilian leadership for operations. This objective includes:

  • providing civilians with experience of leadership in a military-focused context;
  • demonstrating to our own, and allied, military that civilians can lead and that there are circumstances in which they must lead;
  • testing the roles that civilians will be called upon to play; and
  • providing opportunities to further develop our understanding of civilian leadership in operational situations.

As we saw on the Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands, peace and humanitarian assistance missions will be civilian led. Starting with Nick Warner from DFAT, a succession of Special Coordinators led that mission, with a police focus and the military only acting in support. UN missions are always led by civilians who are Special Representatives of the Secretary-General.

Even in higher-end conflict civilians play crucial roles in preparing for the peace. In TALISMAN SABRE these means that a 30 person Crisis Response Coordination Group of Australian and US civilians and police were embarked on the USS Blue Ridge.

They were not part of the military command structure and their leader, Ambassador Peter Tesch, a diplomat was effectively a co-equal partner of his three-star military counterpart, Commander US 7th Fleet.

This arrangement demonstrated how whole-of-government advice can be incorporated in operations.

Another successful innovation has been the incorporation of civilian protection measures into the exercise. Civilian populations, particularly women and children are particularly vulnerable in humanitarian crises. Both Australia and the US have National Action Plans to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This initiative is not window-dressing.

Practical measures to address the needs of vulnerable populations are built into the exercise. More importantly, planning includes the need to ensure that women play an active role in post-conflict reconstruction.

Again real-world experience has shown that you can’t establish a lasting peace that leaves out 50% of the population.

Lessons from this exercise have equal applicability to disaster response efforts and peacekeeping as they do to warfighting.

Operational success requires civilians, police and military to work together to produce the best outcomes. It is crucial that civilians and police receive at least the same level of preparation for operations as their military counterparts. TALISMAN SABRE is providing a valuable test bed for that.

It is too late to start preparing once operations are in train, exercises like TALISMAN SABRE are an important part of our national preparedness.