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SysAdmin:Toward Barnett’s Stabilization and Reconstruction Force

September 7, 2006

Current operations have brought new emphasis to Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction (SSTR) operations in U.S. military thought and doctrine, yet for obvious reasons, this attention has tended to focus on the post-hostilities phase of a combat operation. If anything, overpowered by the immediate lessons and imperatives from Afghanistan and Iraq, conceptual examination of missions focused on SSTR operations in their own right has received less attention from those actually engaged in the profession of arms than it did before the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the American homeland.

A conspicuous exception to this is Thomas P. M. Barnett’s distinction between “Leviathan” (combat) and “SysAdmin” (SSTR) forces in his books The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action.3 Barnett’s discussion is especially salient because his is among the most compelling strategic characterizations of the global conflict in which America and her coalition partners are now engaged—making the prominent role he gives SSTR operations (and his argument for forces dedicated to them) worth careful consideration.

Nevertheless, Barnett’s focus on grand strategy naturally leaves many details of the road toward his SysAdmin force somewhat vague. What follows seeks to fill in some key blanks, where Barnett leaves them, and to explore certain of his answers that might prove problematic. In doing so, contemporary discussions of SSTR operations are examined alongside selected older works that raised enduring issues before the war on terrorism became the major focus. Conclusions are identified from this analysis, and a path forward is suggested.