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Interoperability in Complex Peace and Stability Operations

By William Flavin and Tammy Schultz, US PKSOI

Power consists in one’s capacity to link his will with the purpose of
others, to lead by reason and a gift of cooperation.

- Woodrow Wilson <>

, letter to Mary A. Hulbert, September 21, 1913 28th president of US
(1856 - 1924)

When the United States (US) Army thinks of traditional

interoperability, it thinks of working together with formations of
other Armies to fire and maneuver. As everyone who has worked in NATO
realizes, interoperability is a formidable task involving protocols for
sharing information, compatible equipment and communication networks,
common operating environment, agreed architectural C3 framework
(consultation, command and control), all supported by an exercise
program. However, complex peace and stability environments, that have
been the normal operating environments for the last several years,
demand a level of interoperability across a wide spectrum of players
that pushes traditional interoperability challenges even further. This
article examines advances in interoperability, and then identifies some
core principles that must be addressed to achieve strategic success.

Interoperability in the Balkans and Beyond

The deployment to the Balkans challenged the US Army to work closely

with other countries, a variety of non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) and international organizations (IOs). Except for the brief
period of the Gulf War, the US had exercised with allies, NGOs and IOs
rather than working with these actors in actual operations for
prolonged periods. According to former Chief of Staff of the Army
General (Retired) Gordon Sullivan, the Army had been talking about the
possibility of an intervention in the Balkans since 1992. One of the
keys that Sullivan took from the U.S. interventions in Somalia in the
early 1990s was the importance of the Army understanding and working
with the plethora of actors in peacekeeping operations, especially
NGOs.[1] As the Army prepared for the Balkan operation, it realized
that working with other nations, NGOs, and host nations was the key to

The Balkan deployment served as the catalyst to reexamine multi-

national and multi-agency operations. In 1996, the Multinational
Interoperability Council (MIC) was created among many of the nations
who had participated in Balkans “to provide a venue for exchange of
relevant information across national boundaries to support the
warfighter in coalition operations. It is intended to promote a
responsive dialogue among the key elements of interoperability:
operational planners, defense policy analysts, and experts from the
command, control, communications, computer and intelligence community.
It is not intended to duplicate or to subsume other interoperability
working groups or fora.”[2]

In 2000, as a result of East Timor and influence by the

Balkans, US Pacific Command (PACOM) collaberated with the Nations of
the Pacific Rim to establish the Multinational Planning and Assistance
Teams that wrote the Multinational standard operating procedures
(MNSOP). Its purpose was similar to that of the MIC and provided a
mechanisms to sort out the differences among nations. Because of the
need in the Pacific for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, it
also considered NGO and other international organizations. When the
Asian Tsunami struck in December 2004, creating the procedures and
networks paid dividends.[3]

The American British Canadian and Australian (ABCA) armies

program, which was founded in 1947 with similar goals of the MIC,
initiated a full review of its concepts in 2004 in response to the
ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although chartered to look
at the tactical level, its Handbook addresses operational level issues
at the command and staff level. In the summer of 2005, ABCA conducted
an extensive coalition’s lessons learned review of all operations since

The US Army has also been concerned with better addressing

these issues. The Center for Army Lessons Learn has been active in
interviewing soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The US Army
Peacekeeping and Stability Institute has conducted After Action Review
over the last ten years addressing the challenges presented in the
Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, especially focused on civil and military
relations at the strategic and operational levels. These insights are
being considered in the new rewrites of the US Army’s new doctrine
manuals being published in the next year: FM 3-0 Operations, FM 3-07
Stability and Support Operations and FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency.

Interoperability’s Basic Fundamentals

In all of these efforts, several basic fundamentals have been

identified: lead nation, common command and control relationships,
common planning and decision making processes, understanding of
operational approaches, clear understanding of terminology and the
ability to share information.

Lead Nation
One nation must assume the lead for the operation. Even in NATO
operations, each of the subordinate headquarters in the Balkans were
based around a lead nation. The Lead Nation is that nation with the
“will, capability, competence, and influence to provide the essential
elements of political consultation and military leadership to
coordinate the planning, mounting, and execution of a coalition
military operation. Within the overarching organizational framework
provided by the Lead Nation, other nations participating in the
coalition may be designated as Functional Lead Agent(s) to provide
and/or coordinate specific critical sub-functions of the operation and
its execution, based on national capability. These constructs may apply
at the strategic, operational, and/or tactical levels.”[5]

This nation should act as the single channel for strategic direction
and guidance, and provide the basic foundation for the headquarters and
procedures. In both Kosovo and Bosnia, lead nations were assigned
sectors. In East Timor, Australia provided the lead nation for peace
enforcement operation, and then the operation transitioned to a follow-
on United Nations mission.

The lead nation must provide a shared unity of purpose to focus all
members of the multinational force. When this does not exist, there is
drift and lack of a coherent approach. In a best case scenario,
interoperability requires a similar political outlook, view of the
operating environment and generally agreed vision for end state
enhances cooperation. The key challenge to the lead nation is how to
handle the junior partners who may have different operational
approaches inside of the overall guidance. This presents a challenge
in stability operation where a common approach to the host nation is

In Afghanistan and Iraq, previously established modalities from NATO

operations in Balkans have made for smoother coalition interoperability
than would have otherwise existed. That said, because of the way that
the US and the international community approached Afghanistan, there
has been no common frame of reference across the coalition for
designing, planning and conducting the provincial reconstruction team
(PRT) operations. Although the overall purpose and objective of the PRT
is clear, each nation identified its own methods, guidelines and terms
of reference. With the arrival of NATO and the UK as the lead of the
ARRC, there is an attempt to bring focus and purpose across the area of
operation. Government support teams (GSTs) in Iraq face some of the
same frame of reference difficulties of their PRT cousins.

The ability of a lead nation to orchestrate the elements of several

governments’ elements of national power to achieve strategic objectives
is certainly no small task. Having no lead nation at all, however,
guarantees confusion on the ground and a lack of synergy among
coalition participants.

Common Command and Control Relationships

Based on NATO and other initiatives, there has been great strides taken
to insure common understandings on command and control (C2). The
single largest capability gap is in interoperable automated C2 systems,
widely distributed knowledge on a secure network and the ability to
download and analyze automated intelligence, surveillance, target
acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) products by coalition partners.
In stability operations, crucial civil military relations include those
between (and among) military forces, NGOs, IOs and host nation. Who
should control the various military assets that deal with non-military
actors is a debate that began in the Balkans and continued in
Afghanistan. For the US, Civil Affairs teams work both for the tactical
commander and for the operational commander. With the development of
PRTs, however, a huge question with potentially strategic implications
centers on who controls the civil effects in an area of operation?
Does the commander in whose area the PRT works control the PRT, or does
the overall Task Force commander? Different nations have different
views. This has been a source of friction in both Afghanistan and
Iraq, and given the reoccurrence of stability operations, will
undoubtedly arise in the next campaign. The US is currently reviewing
its civil military doctrine and trying to address this issue.

Common Planning and Decision Making Processes

The various fora above have also established base lines for common
understandings of decision making process. The US battle procedure is
based on the military decision making process (MDMP). Although MDMP is
understood by those international students of US staff colleges and
those that work within the NATO context, this insight does not extend
to all members of a coalition. When deadlines are short, collaborative
planning can lead to less than ideal results due to unfamiliarity of
some coalition members with terms and processes used in MDMP (or,
indeed, of coalition partners’ terms and processes should the US not be
the lead).

Some initiatives to create a common planning and decision making

process are bearing fruit. The Multinational Planning and Augmentation
Team (MPAT) concept in PACOM brings together planning teams from all of
the participating nations to review, understand and agree to procedures
in the MNSOP. MPAT uses annual exercises and engagements to sort out
differences among members and hone the MNSOP. Again, these efforts to
further develop interoperability saved lives during the Tsunami
response. This procedural understanding aids the decision making

Another aid to the decision making process is technology and software.

The use of different software programs in support of briefings and word
processing systems within collation forces makes it difficult to
transfer many forms of information from one headquarters to another.
For example, in Afghanistan the Combined Joint Taskforce (CJTF)-180
standard for graphic presentations was Harvard Graphics and WordPerfect
for word processing. The JTF-190 staff used Power Point for graphic
presentations, and Word and Works as the primary word processors. The
incompatibility of word processing and graphics software impacts on the
ability to share information between headquarters through file
transfers. This issue is compounded when dealing with NGO and the host
nation who use different systems and different approaches to decision
making. A series of workshops conducted by the United States
Institute of Peace determined that developing a “common culture of
communication between civilian and military organizations and between
civilian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) during humanitarian or
peace operations” is key to the operation’s overall success.[6]
Interoperable technology and software are both a symptom and cause of a
lacking common culture of communication.

Understanding of Operational Approaches

NATO has developed an agree set of alliance doctrine. But as the

dynamic situation presents different challenges to the multi-national
forces, each country will rely of their traditional doctrine when
multi-national doctrine is lacking. The alliance process for updating
doctrine is slow, making the other processes identified above more
responsive by default if not design. Since doctrine should identify the
underlying fundamental principles at the strategic and operational
level (versus tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs that identify
tactical best practices), doctrinal design will take more time than
some of the other interoperability issues identified. Mutual
understanding of the coalition partners’ operational approach both
informs their doctrine as well as their approach on the ground. In the
absence of a holistic set of multi-national doctrine, countries must
strive to understand their allies’ approaches to operations.

One example of a varied national approach is how to deal with

insurgency and sectarian violence. The predilection is for each nation
to look to its own historical approach to the problem and apply what
has worked for them in the past. In Iraq, the US Army was predisposed
to offensive action while the UK favored engagement with the
population. Although a generalization this is the impression of many
officers like and affects the operational level approach to the
environment. These different approaches can be see in how (and at what
level) civil military operations exist. When the definition of US
Civil Military Operations (CMO) and UK Civil Military Cooperation
(CIMIC) are compared they seem similar but in execution they can
differ. The US CMO approach has traditionally been to use the civil
affairs officer as the primary contact with the local population where
the UK CIMIC approach has been to focus on the individual soldier as
the primary point of contact. The situation in Iraq and Afghanistan
has driven these concepts closer together. Appreciating that unique
national approaches drive everything from the individual soldier
through the highest headquarters is necessary to recognizes potential
sources of strategic and operational disconnect and, where possible,
resolve them.[7]

Understanding Terminology
Understanding basic mission terminology is critical to cooperation.
NATO, ABCA and others have developed a shared set of terminology that
is certainly a great step forward despite the fact that countries will
undoubtedly continue to use terms not in those agreements. Whilst one
of the strengths of the lead nation is the common operating language,
differences in the definition of mission verbs and battle procedure can
still cause misunderstandings and confusion. To ”neutralize the
insurgents” may mean “destroy” to one nation and ”marginalize or make
ineffective for a specified duration” to others; an order to “secure
the essential infrastructure” would tie down large formations if taken
literally by a non- US unit. This conundrum calls for tighter use of
language and/or better mission verb definition. Part of the problem can
be mitigated by increasing the attendance at each others schools and
centers and by establishing more working groups.

Ability to Share Information

No operation is successful without information sharing. Despite the

vast amount of data gathered and stored on national systems, there a
problem with automated knowledge fusion or exchange across the
coalition boundary. A plethora of stove-piped databases – none of which
follow a common architecture – are serviced largely to national ends,
and the system as a whole is unable to provide coherent automated
situational awareness within the coalition. Data that must be
transferred is done by manual transfer. There is a clear case for
mechanisms to be developed to improve the passage of intelligence from
national intelligence cells to the coalition, by constructing both
agreed architectures and using knowledge management techniques. This
is also critical when dealing with the information required for
stabilizing and rebuilding a country. Here data must also pass among
all of the national and international agencies as well as the host
nation. In Iraq, an assessment of the mission six months after the end
of major combat operations found interoperability problems,
specifically information sharing, hampered reconstruction-phase
planning among government agencies.[8] The Iraqi Reconstruction
Management Office (IRMO) has been established to try to manage and
rationalize this information across all sectors.

Compartmentalization of national information remains a challenge. The

needs of the war on terrorism has increase sharing in some sectors but
this is a continuing challenge. In the planning and execution for
Afghanistan and Iraq, the varying degrees of access to classified
information of coalition partners created problems in information
sharing. Defining different security clearances for each coalition
member’s liaison officers (LNOs) created a climate of confusion and
distrust. The LNOs felt blocked out of plans and operations as though
they were second-class participants in the overall operation.
In Afghanistan, the lack of intelligence sharing affected operations in
the field. For example, many documents that coalition forces needed
were marked NOFORN, for “not releasable to foreign nationals,” and thus
kept them out of the hands of allies and partners. In an extreme
instance, the Canadians were routinely denied access to intelligence
products in Kandahar for which they had been the primary source based
on their human intelligence (HUMIT) operations in the local villages.

This problem is especially challenging when it come to the

NGO community and the host nation who are critical to achieve a sustain
peace. During the first two years in Afghanistan, the Coalition
Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS) was the US
Central Command (USCENTCOM) coalition classified data network. Civil
Military Task Forces were not provided with this system when setting up
in Kabul. Lack of this system severely limited the information sharing
with coalition partners, and kept the Civil Military Taskforce “out of
the loop.” A truly unified coalition effort requires information
sharing across the board.[9]


All nations agree that interoperability is necessary for success in

peace and stability operations. As the nations are now working closely
together, the challenges of interoperability must constantly be
addressed through education, training, exercising, and continuous
sharing of ideas and individuals among various nations’ commands and
staffs. The key is to remain flexible keeping focus on the agreed
objectives. Striving towards true interoperability must continue for
the ultimate success of current missions, as well as those operations
coalition forces will undertake together in the future.


American British Canadian Australian (ABCA) As a means of continuing

to foster and capitalize on the close cooperation between the Allies
during World War II, the Plan to Effect Standardization was initiated
in 1947 between the Armies of the United States, Britain and Canada –
the ABC Armies. In 1954, the Basic Standardization Concept replaced
this Plan. In 1963, Australia joined the organization. With the
ratification of the Basic Standardization Agreement 1964 (BSA 64) on 10
Oct 64 by the Armies of the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK),
Canada (CA) and Australia (AS), the current ABCA Program was formally
established. By the invitation of the ABCA Armies, New Zealand (NZ) was
granted observer status in the Program under the sponsorship of AS in

C3: Command, control, communications

Government Support Teams: These preceded the PRT for Iraq and were
designed to extend the authority of the central government into the

Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance

(ISTAR) ISTAR is a practice that links several battlefield functions
together to assist a combat force in employing its sensors and managing
the information they gather. The role of ISTAR is to link the
intelligence process with surveillance, target acquisition and
reconnaissance in order to improve a commander’s situational awareness
and thus allow him to make sound plans. The inclusion of the "I" is
important as it recognizes the importance of taking the information
from all of the sensors and processing it into useful knowledge. ISTAR
can also refer to:

* a unit or sub unit with ISTAR as a task (eg: an ISTAR Squadron)

* equipment required to support the task

Multinational Interoperability Council (MIC): The Multinational

Interoperability Council (MIC) is a multinational, operator-led forum,
to identify interoperability issues and articulate actions, which if
nationally implemented, would contribute to more effective coalition
operations. While initial work focused on resolving information
interoperability problems, the scope of the MIC has expanded to cover
other strategic and operational issues considered key to coalition
operations. The MIC member nations are Australia, Canada, France,
Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States which are
nations most likely to form, lead and/or support a coalition
operations. New Zealand and NATO Allied Command Transformation (ACT)
have official observer status in the MIC. The MIC is composed of senior
operations, doctrine, logistics, and C4 staff officers from each of the
member nations as well as senior officials from observer nations and
organizations. The MIC Principal from each member nation is a
flag/general officer from the operations directorate of the national
defense staff.

Multinational Planning and Assistance Teams (MNPAT) A cadre of

military planners from nations with Asia-Pacific interests capable of
rapidly augmenting a multinational force (MNF) headquarters (HQ)
established to plan and execute coalition operations in response to
peace and stability operations.

Multinational Standing Operating Procedures (NMSOP) A program stated by

PACOM in corporation with other nations in the Pacific region to
establish a set of procedures to coordinate multinational operations.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams: Are a combined military and civil team

developed to assist with Afghanistan and Iraq’s provincial governments
with developing a transparent and sustained capability to govern,
promoting increased security and rule of law, promoting political and
economic development, and providing provincial administration necessary
to meet the basic needs of the population.


[1] Gordon R. Sullivan, “Interview with Tammy S. Schultz,” February 25,

2005, Washington, DC.

[2] Multinational Interoperability Council Coalition Building Guide

Change 1 ,( Doctrine, Plans and Procedures

Multinational Interoperability Working Group of the Multinational

Interoperability Council,17 April 2006), i. MIC is available at the
following Web Site (

[3] MPAT information available at the following Web Site(

[4] ABCA is available at the following Web site (http://www.abca-

[5] Multinational Interoperability Council Coalition Building Guide

Change 1 ,( Doctrine, Plans and Procedures

Multinational Interoperability Working Group of the Multinational

Interoperability Council,17 April 2006),, page v
[6] Richard Solomon and Sheryl J. Brown, Creating a Common
Communications Culture: Interoperability in Crisis Management, Virtual
Diplomacy Series No. 17, the United States Institute of Peace,
Washington, DC, August 2005. Available on line at:

[7] Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, British Army. “Changing the Army for
Counterinsurgency Operations,” Military Review (November-December 2005)

[8] John Hamre, Frederick Barton, Bathsheba Crocker, Johanna Mendelson-

Forman, and Robert Orr, Iraq’s Post-Conflict Reconstruction: A Field
Review and Recommendations, July 17, 2003: pp. 5-7.

[9] William J Flavin, Civil Military Operations: Afghanistan (Carlisle:

US Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, 23 March 2004)