Raymond Millen

Organizing for Success during Transitions

by Raymond Millen

Man appears to have a greater penchant for conflict than peace, devoting an abundance of attention to the study, preparation, and conduct of war. While the causes of war vary, history suggests that conflict escalation is far easier than de-escalation and resolution. In fact, a direct correlation exists between the level of conflict and the transition from war to peace. Devastating conflicts in particular result not only in substantial casualties and destruction but also shatter societies and governments in the process. Post-conflict states frequently suffer a period of fragility resulting in a psycho-logical loss of vitality, hope, and self-confidence, which accompanies the political, social, and economic turmoil. Because this fragility exposes the state to subversion, political upheaval, and insurgency, the issue may become a major concern for the international community.

In response, the international community conceptualized Security Sector Reform (SSR) to assist in transition. In essence, SSR is "the set of policies, plans, programs, and activities that a government undertakes to improve the way it provides safety, security, and justice."1 Even though SSR is intended as self-help for fragile states, the enterprise may include a number of external actors, working in concert, to generate critical government institutions. Accordingly, among the SSR partners, unity of effort is essential to "successfully incorporating all the instruments of power in a collaborative approach to stability operations."2 To this end, SSR attains unity of effort through two conceptual approaches—Whole of Government and Comprehensive. The Whole of Government approach is a collaborative effort of the U.S. government bureaucracy, that is to say, the various departments and agencies integrating their efforts towards a common goal. The Comprehensive approach is a cooperative effort between the U.S. government bureaucracy and external partners"—intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, multinational partners, and private sector entities"—towards a common goal as well.3

However, while SSR is conceptually sound, it lacks an organizational mechanism essential to achieving collaboration and cooperation. In view of the number of organizational bureaucracies involved in SSR, a process for integrating all viewpoints and achieving consensus is indispensable. A common misperception is the belief that common agreement on objectives automatically leads to unity of effort and purpose throughout. Ironically, dissenting views and resistance manifest from ways and means, not desired end-states. Fortunately, an organizational paradigm for policy formulation does exist, albeit ignored for decades—President Eisenhower's National Security Council mechanism.4 In describing how SSR might organize for success, this article examines the rationale for organization, and the structural framework, including implications. This article is not a critique of existing SSR procedures; rather it focuses on initiatives to achieve greater integration and un-derstanding of policy issues, more extensive consideration of issues, and greater attention to coordination and imple-mentation of policy.

The Rationale for Organization

Since all SSR activities occur in the host country, so too must the organizational mechanism. Organization does not connote meetings as the central activity. Complex policy issues cannot be settled simply through a series of meetings, in which reform initiatives are identified and doled out for implementation. Policy issues need to undergo analytical rigor before they are ready for action. Without buy-in from the host country and international partners, implementation will suffer from misunderstandings, resistance, and selective compliance. Policy issues are rarely clear-cut and substantial disagreements are likely to arise. Whenever organizational structure, procedure, and process are given short shrift, national-level policy forums can become paralyzed by bickering, personality conflicts, parochialism, dominating personalities, end run maneuvers, and throat cutting. Similarly, decision-makers might exercise poor judgment if partisan views, incomplete facts (both intentional and unintentional), pleas for exceptions, favoritism, and suppression of conflicting views dominate the forum.

President Dwight Eisenhower recognized the criticality of organization for managing enterprises involving large bureaucracies. Having served as Supreme Allied Commander in World War II and NATO, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, de facto Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and president for eight years, Eisenhower possessed profound experience and executive skills. Rejecting accusations that a reliance on organization stifled good ideas and initiatives, Eisenhower said that the purpose of organization is "to simplify, clarify, expedite, and coordinate; it is a bulwark against chaos, confusion, delay, and failure." In one of his most trenchant passages, Eisenhower wrote:

Organization cannot make a genius out of an incompetent; even less can it, of itself, make the decisions which are required to trigger necessary action. On the other hand, disorganization can scarcely fail to result in inefficiency and can easily lead to disaster. Organization makes more efficient the gathering and analysis of facts, and the arranging of the findings of experts in logical fashion. it is satisfactorily carried out.6

Without proper organization, SSR initiatives, especially in countries experiencing an insurgency, have a higher probability of floundering or becoming counterproductive. Rarely are solutions to complex problems clear-cut and without severe consequences if ill-considered. Understandably, the exigencies of a situation demands some urgency, but the detrimental impact of poor policy decisions in the long term dictates that time be given to organizational structure. The old adage that haste makes waste is especially applicable to SSR.

The Structural Framework

The structural framework embodies a systemic approach for collating and integrating SSR issues for discussion, establishing a process for decision-making, and coordinating the implementation of policy decisions. Like the Eisenhower NSC mechanism, the structure should comprise a planning board, an SSR council, and an implementation board. The intent is to have issues staffed and integrated into written products for the SSR council to discuss in an orderly fashion. Once policy decisions are made, implementation requires monitoring, coordination and feedback.

The most important step is finding the right person to serve as the SSR council chairman. Ideally, someone with an executive background, such as a former chief executive, governor, or large city mayor, is desirable. As this matter is a political issue, requiring substantial authority, the U.S. president with UN agreement should provide the imprimatur to the appointment. Accordingly, the U.S. ambassador or the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC) from the Department of State would prove most advantageous. The SSR council chairman should choose a special assistant to attend to the entire mechanism as well as chairing the planning board, managing the SSR council meetings, and monitoring the implementation board.

Planning Board

The planning board prepares written products for SSR council edification and consideration. Initially, the SSR council chairman (i.e., ambassador or USSC) and council members provide the planning board with the policy issues they want staffed for council consideration. Over time, ideas emanating from the planning board, implementation board, council discussions, or the field should be included.

The members of the planning board come from the departments, agencies, and organizations participating in SSR. They should have sufficient rank (06, GS-13, etc.) and authority to cull information from their parent bureaucracies as well as interact with their corresponding SSR council member. Additionally, a small staff (around twelve) sup-ports the board for the drafting and editing of written products. Conceptually, the planning board should meet two to three times weekly in four-hour sessions.

The special assistant has the essential task of overseeing the production of the draft papers. The papers must be concise (no more than ten pages), articulate, and factual, integrating the various perspectives from the supporting bureaucracies. Issue topics must be narrow enough for the SSR council to focus on definitive policy decisions. If the topic is too broad, the special assistant should render it into smaller, more manageable topics for draft papers. Al-though the special assistant and the planning board examines, debates, and reconciles differences as much as possible, they should not paper over irreconcilable differences in order to create some sort of consensus. This leads to lowest common denominator products which deprive the council of all views and dilutes the substance. As a solution, the special assistant highlights the opposing views in the paper, aligning them in two columns for easy comparison.

The planning board prepares three to four draft papers for the weekly SSR council meeting, even though it may take several sessions before a paper is ready for the council. Hence, the special assistant works with the SSR council chairman in the development of a long-term agenda, depicting when the SSR council will address specific topics. While the process is on-going, planning board members (including the special assistant) meet frequently with their principal SSR council members to keep them apprised of the major issues as well as the divergences of opinion in each paper. The principal council members in turn provide guidance regarding the development of the paper or direct the member to reach back to the supporting bureaucracy for assistance. This process helps educate all SSR members regarding the various factors and implications affecting an issue. Hence, even if a member does not agree with the arguments expressed by other members, at least he/she understands the other viewpoints.

For ease of reading, draft papers need a uniform format. Generally, they should be organized into sections (e.g., general considerations or background, objectives, and courses of action). Financial appendices and germane supporting staff studies may also accompany the papers for in-depth information. The special assistant distributes the papers to the principal SSR council members a week in advance of the SSR council meeting to give them time to absorb the information and confer with their organizations if needed.

This preparation process provides multiple benefits. First, issues for discussion receive extensive input and staffing from the supporting departments, agencies, and organizations. Through this process, which Eisenhower's special assistant Robert Cutler once described as the “acid bath” for refining papers, staff work yields good results. Cutler believed quality papers were the result of extensive debate and research within the planning staff: "Out of the grinding of these minds comes a refinement of the raw material into valuable metal; out of the frank assertion of differing views, backed up by preparation that searches every nook and cranny, emerges a resolution that reasonable men can sup-port. Differences of views which have developed at lower levels are not swept under the rug but exposed." Second, the principal SSR council members, being incredibly busy, have little time for extensive study of each issue, and they would likely miss key points even if they tried. The planning board allows the council members to focus on other duties, while steadily educating them on the issues as the time nears for council consideration. In this manner, the planning board, supporting bureaucracies, and the SSR council are thoroughly knowledgeable on every aspect of each issue that comes before the council. Third, policy issues are brought forth in manageable packets for deliberation and decision. This obviates the risk of making hasty decisions in the guise of expediency, which subsequently may create greater problems. Finally, if a policy exhibits flaws during execution, the SSR council has a point of reference to adapt the policy.

SSR Council. Council membership should be kept small (12-15 members) in order to promote candid debate, to enhance camaraderie among members, and to reduce the chance of leaks to the press before a policy is ready for public consumption. Consequently, the media should not have access to meetings. At the direction of the SSR chair-man, expert consultants and other officials may participate in select sessions, pertaining to their area of expertise. The council should meet once a week at the same day and time so as to permit members to reserve the space on their calendars. Naturally, if a principal member is absent, a deputy sits in. Sessions should last two to three hours, which should permit sufficient debate of policy papers.

Even though the SSR council chairman is in charge, the job of managing the meeting's agenda is delegated to the special assistant, who is supported by an executive secretary to take notes of the meeting. Generally, it is a good idea to start each meeting with a situation update on the country, lasting around twenty minutes. Thereafter, the special assistant introduces each paper, highlighting the main points and the points of contention. At this point, council members de-bate their views openly in order for the chairman to hear all viewpoints and even join in the discussions.

The purpose of these discussions is to ensure all viewpoints are aired and weighed, with the implications of each issue duly considered. Thus, both majority and minority views are given sufficient consideration. Issues might be decided in one session or returned to the planning board for more staff work. The special assistant serves as moderator to prevent members from dominating the discussion or speaking too long. It might be of value to limit a member's point to five minutes in order to permit others to speak. The end result is greater rapport among council members, greater candor in the exchange of views, and an increased capacity to address complex issues more effectively.

The authority, judgment, and political maneuver room of the chairman are subsequently enhanced by this mechanism. By making it a principle not to consider policy issues outside of the SSR council, the chairman obviates ex parte attempts to influence policy. Occasionally, the chairman may have an intimate meeting with only two or three council members because of the sensitivity of the subject, but secret sessions should be the exception rather the norm for policy decisions. The chairman need not make a policy decision in council. Often the chairman may need to consider all sides of an issue for a couple of days, perhaps conferring with other associates, before making a decision. Once made however, the decision must be drafted into a policy statement by the staff, distributed to the council members for comments which are considered by the SSR council chairman, and then approved as policy. The policy statement also designates a lead department, agency, or organization for implementation.

The advantages of process and procedures in the SSR council are as follows: SSR council members are intimately familiar with the facts and implications surrounding an is-sue before discussion occurs; policy issues are provided to the SSR council in manageable portions so as to ensure they are thoroughly considered before they become policy; the system permits the SSR council to manage a heavy workload without becoming exhausted; the process enhances rapport among SSR council members, creating camaraderie and a greater exchange of views; the process ends with a definitive written decision, which diminishes misunderstandings; finally, the mechanism permits very busy officials to focus exclusively on well-staffed issues for a few hours per week, allowing them to devote the rest of their time to other duties.

Implementation Board

The implementation board is a misnomer in that it does not implement policy, but instead coordinates, assists, and tracks progress of policy implementation. Like the planning board, the implementation board is composed of SSR representatives of departments, agencies, and organizations. The special assistant may wish to attend the weekly meetings as an observer or to answer questions regarding policy intent. Because of the difficulty in the implementation of policies, the implementation board chairman should have extensive authority, perhaps one grade below the SSR council chairman.

Due to the fact that even the best written policies are subject to misinterpretation or confusion, the board clears up questions from the lead implementing agency. Sometimes, the board may need to refer a question to the SSR council chairman for consideration/clarification. Being a lead agency for implementation does not imply sole responsibility. In the majority of cases, the lead agency will need the supporting help from other departments, agencies, and organizations. The implementation board assists in that coordination (sometimes exercising its authority with non-cooperative organizations or individuals) and also ensures new policies do not conflict with existing policies. In the course of its duties, the implementation board may develop an idea or receive one from the field for planning board consideration. Finally, the implementation board provides a monthly written report to the SSR council on the progress of policy implementation including problems encountered and side effects.

The implementation board provides benefits which are not initially apparent. Rather than viewing the implementation board as intrusive, lead agencies will grow to trust and appreciate the assistance the board can provide them regarding their tasks. Too often, lead agencies are tasked to implement a policy with no authority to persuade other organizations assist. Moreover, questions over the policy decision and bureaucratic resistance create unnecessary turmoil for the implementing agency. The implementation board's raison d'être is to help the agency towards success. Thus, the implementation board has a stake in the success of implementing policies.

Final Thoughts

Too often the idea of organization is associated with inflexibility, bureaucratic red tape, and unimaginative thinking. Inexperienced people often reject organizational structures in the whimsical pursuit of fresh ideas, decisive action, and unencumbered access to information. Unfortunately, informal systems most often result in ill-conceived policies, group think, severe infighting, selective-compliance, and misunderstandings. Because bureaucracy permits large organizations to function properly, attempting to ignore or marginalize it courts disaster and often results in illegal activities. Experienced senior executives often manage bureaucracy deftly, attaining unity of effort.

President Eisenhower recognized that his NSC mechanism was not perfect, admitting there was plenty of room for improvements.

Nevertheless, his organizational structure did create fully integrated products from the departments, agencies, and expert consultants. The process succeeded in educating administration officials on all facets of issues, permitting council members to debate issues for the purpose of reaching optimum solutions to complex problems.

The procedures permitted the president to reach decisions, fully aware of both minority and majority viewpoints. Furthermore, dominating personalities, close associates, and party politics did not have undue influence on the president's decisions. Both the process and procedures enhanced the implementation of policy, permitting the government bureaucracy to request clarifications as well as submitting fresh ideas. Finally, the administration was able to track progress and eliminate conflicts with existing policies.

Because of the intricacies involved with SSR, an organizational mechanism is a requisite to minimize errors in judgment, expose potential flaws in initiatives, and reveal pernicious consequences from policies. Fragile democracies are usually not well organized. The mechanism could serve as a model for the host government to emulate, perhaps for its own national security council. Ultimately, the goal of SSR is to transition authority to the host government, so providing an organizational paradigm for decision-making could prove to be the most enduring gift from the international community.


1Department of the Army, Stability Operations: FM 3-07 (GPO: October 2008), 6-1.
2FM 3-07, 1-3.
3FM 3-07, 1-4, 1-5.
4For an in-depth description of President Eisenhower's NSC mechanism, see Congress, Senate, Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on National Policy Machinery, Organizational History of the National Security Council, report prepared by James S. Lay Jr. and Robert H. Johnson, 86th Congress, 2d sess., 1960, 23-52.
5Dwight D. Eisenhower, Waging Peace (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1965), 630.
6Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mandate for Change: 1953-1956 (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1963), 114.
7Robert Cutler, "The National Security Council under President Eisenhower", The National Security Council: Jackson Subcommittee Papers on Policy-Making at the Presidential Level, Edited by Senator Henry M. Jackson (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1965), 115.
8Cutler was describing the end state of the U.S. National Security Council process, but left little doubt that the preparation of draft Policy Papers was integral to the whole. Robert Cutler, "The Development of the National Security Council," Foreign Affairs, 34, No. 3 (April, 1956), 442.

Raymond Millen is a retired Army officer with three tours in Afghanistan, the last as a senior mentor to the Chief of Strategic Plans department in the Ministry of Defense. Professor Millen is currently the Security Sector Reform Analyst at the Peacekeeping and Stabilization Operations Institute, Carlisle, PA.