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Taking on a Whole-of-Government Approach

Taking on a Whole-of-Government Approach

This month, I'm analyzing a major publication, “All Elements of National Power: Moving Toward a New Interagency Balance for U.S. Global Engagement,” from The Atlantic Council.

The Atlantic Council assembled a task force of national security strategy practitioners under Chair of Brent Scowcroft Center Gen. James L. Jones, USMC (Ret), President Barack Obama's initial national security advisor, former supreme allied commander of NATO, and former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The task force insists, “To deal effectively with long-range global trends and near-term security challenges, the U.S. requires a broader application of all elements of national power or [it] risks continued disjointed efforts in U.S. global engagement.” The authors call for a “transformed interagency balance [to] hedge against uncertainty in a dramatically changing world. … The U.S. faces increased risks … if it continues to focus on the military as the primary government instrument working with allies and partners on a regional scale.” The study calls for a “whole-of-government approach” to deal with international challenges because the “U.S. government currently has only one structure, the geographic combatant command[s], to execute foreign and defense policy in key regions.” Currently, “there is no mechanism in place to integrate activities of all U.S. government departments and agencies in key regions,” therefore “U.S. government regional actions often are uncoordinated and disconnected. … The intent of this report is to … make interagency components the key integrator of elements of national power to better manage foreign and defense policy execution.” This report makes recommendations to “resource and restructure for a more balanced, forward-deployed regional approach essential in … integration of national instruments of power - diplomatic, informational, military, economic - … to advance U.S. interests at the regional level. … Although these general recommendations are Department of Defense- and Department of State-centric, we recognize the importance for all U.S. government agencies and departments to play a role in a true 'whole-of-government' approach.” The task force made several cogent recommendations:

Interagency synchronization

“The U.S. should rebalance national instruments of power by providing enhanced Department of State capacity in key regions. … Department of State regional assistant secretaries should be further empowered to set and coordinate foreign policy within the regions. … There should be an ambassador-level civilian deputy in each geographic combatant command … [who] would, on behalf of the commander, oversee and integrate security cooperation efforts with allies and partners.”

Organizational transformation

“Geographic combatant commands should be renamed to signify the importance of a whole-of-government approach … and engagement efforts [other] than strictly a war-fighting approach. … Geographic combatant commanders should be assigned for sufficient time (at least three or four years … ) to gain a deeper understanding of the region and help fortify relations with regional counterparts. … Divergence of regional boundaries among the Department of Defense, Department of State, and National Security Council causes friction and confusion; a common 'map' would enhance a whole-of-government approach.”

“The task force also evaluated three specific restructuring options [to] move U.S. regional presence toward a more effective interagency balance.”

  1. “1. An unconventional end-state would be … creation of an 'Interagency Regional Center' … [acting] as a regional interagency headquarters for foreign and defense policy. This new organization would result in [unification of] Department of Defense and the Department of State ([and] other agencies and departments) at the regional level.”
  2. 2. An intermediate approach would colocate the Department of State regional bureaus with the geographic combatant commands … to strengthen the authority of regional bureaus and allow the bureaus to operate more nimbly.
  3. 3. An alternative intermediate approach would be for the geographic combatant command civilian deputy [my emphasis] to act also as a regional ambassador-at-large who would have coordination authority for country ambassadors and other civilian-led organizations in the region. His or her mission under this authority would be to coordinate U.S, actions, issues, and initiatives within the region.”

The report argues it is critical “the U.S. think about how to adapt to emerging 21st-century realities, both strategic and fiscal, particularly as the U.S. transitions from a decade at war. Long-range global trends and near-term security challenges demand a broader use of instruments of national power. … The secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, secretary of state, and national security advisor should commission a detailed follow-on study to this report to further evaluate key insights and execution of suggested recommendations.”