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The Army Lawyer


Peacetime Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific



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(Credit: istockphoto.com/dikobraziy)

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There are three types of people: Those who wonder what happened; those who watched what happened; and those who know what happened. 1

Indo-Pacific Operational Environment

United States Army leaders have recognized the importance of developing regional intelligence among the Joint Force. Regional intelligence includes understanding one’s unified combatant command (UCC) mission and the organizational architecture of their UCC; understanding the military capabilities of our allies, partners, and regional adversaries; studying the history of our allies, partners, and regional adversaries to develop an informed perspective and better understanding; and, perhaps most importantly, intentionally building strong personal relationships with sister services, and allies and partners who operate within an assigned area of responsibility (AOR).

As warfighters and judge advocates, developing an understanding of another nation’s history and paying attention to current events are skills that continue to prove beneficial as our nation engages in conflicts in the Middle East, especially peace-time relationships become increasingly complex. The complexity of peace-time relationships is ever truer in the Indo-Pacific region as nations attempt to disrupt U.S. national security objectives. United States Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) is the geographic combatant command assigned the responsibility of achieving national security objectives in the Indo-Pacific region—spanning from the western shores of India through the Pacific Ocean. “The 36 nations comprising the [Indo]-Pacific region are home to more than 50% of the world’s population, 3,000 different languages, several of the world’s largest militaries, and five nations allied with the United States through mutual defense treaties (Australia, Japan, the Philippines, the Republic of South Korea, and Thailand).”2

Beyond the demographic makeup of the Indo-Pacific region, nations today are striving to revise long-standing international norms upheld by the United States. The National Security Strategy underlines China and Russia’s goals,

China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor. Russia seeks to restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence near its borders.3

Throughout China’s history, China has been actively involved in the maritime land territory in the South China Sea. Today, China has been actively militarizing outposts and constructing airstrips on man-made islands within the South China Sea under the doctrine of sovereignty, while disregarding the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling to the contrary.4 China has no qualms in expressing they will react in what their leaders deem is a necessary response to the provocative actions of others toward their claim to the land territory in the South China Sea.5 Indeed, China’s recent military modernization program lends credence to their strong stance regarding the maritime lands in the South China Sea. The People’s Liberations Army (PLA) maintains the ability to execute joint operations, such as amphibious landings and joint fire strikes, all the while restructuring their military organizational command similar to the U.S. UCC structure. Such military modernization allows China to quickly respond in the Indo-Pacific region, all the while creating the ability to efficiently counteract U.S. involvement in the Indo-Pacific.6

Russia attempts to restore its power and establish its sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific by selling arms and equipment to countries in the region, undermining U.S. alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. Indeed, of the thirty-six nations comprising the Indo-Pacific, the United States does not have a formal union that articulates a shared defense arrangement with thirty-one of such nations.7 This lack of structured relationships allows Russia operating space to leverage their own influence while limiting U.S. influence in the region. Russia’s interactions with the Philippines, a longtime U.S. ally, evidences that point: in 2017 Russia and the Philippines signed a defense agreement consisting of a bilateral defense cooperation and the sales of Russian weapons.8 National strategic guidance from the National Security Strategy (2017), National Defense Strategy (2018), and INDO-PACIFIC Strategy Report (2019) articulate the growing influence of China and Russia in the region; various U.S. command echelons are acting in accordance with this guidance to respond to such growing influence.

(Courtesy CPT Asare)

Leaders Act

To that end, General (Retired) Robert B. Brown, while Commander of United States Army Pacific (USARPAC), the Army Service Component Command of INDOPACOM, created the Regional Leader Development Program (RLDP) in 2017.9 The RLDP’s goal is to train from all Department of Defense (DoD) branches, mid-level officers (first lieutenants to senior captains; warrant officers), senior enlisted, and Department of the Army (DA) civilians in strategic leadership, Indo-Pacific history, public speaking, and critical thinking. The program’s intent is for participants to become more knowledgeable about issues facing the INDOPACOM area of responsibility, operate in ambiguous scenarios, develop the skill set of synthesizing voluminous information to succinctly communicate well thought-out options to superiors, and develop a habit of lifelong learning. Regional Leader Development Program cohorts are offered multiple times throughout the year (participants must apply or be nominated by their command), with each cohort receiving instruction on a specific focus-area, allowing participants exposure to the issues and challenges enveloped within such focus-area.

Regional Leader Development Program-Defense Urban Studies (DUS), Cohort 19-02, received instruction on the concepts of complex warfare in Dense Urban Areas (DUA), an operational environment with specific challenges currently being explored by numerous DoD and governmental organizations.1011 Regional Leader Development Program–Pacific, Cohort 19-01 and19-03 exposed participants to U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) electives, where participants received lectures in Indo-Pacific military capabilities and gained in-depth insight into country-to-country and regional relationships across the Indo-Pacific. Each cohort immersed participants in operational environments they studied in the classroom allowing participants to receive practical experience in these environments while challenging the assumptions developed in the classroom. Also, RLDP cohorts visited locations such as Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand. Each cohort benefited from senior officer and senior non-commissioned officer mentorship. Former RLDP cohort mentors included: Major General (Retired) Clarence K.K. Chinn (Commander U.S. Army South, 2015-2017), Command Sergeant Major (Retired) Frank Grippe (Senior Enlisted Advisor, U.S. Central Command, 2010-2014), Colonel (Retired) Pete Curry, and Lieutenant Colonel Eric Marshall.

The importance of RLDP is such: participants are exposed to a level of strategic thinking generally reserved for instruction at the U.S. Army CGSC or Intermediate Level Education.12 Modeled programs and RLDP assist captains and senior enlisted with the skills to think critically through issues, regardless of the subject matter, and provide well thought-out recommendations, so superiors can make better decisions. Moreover, service members build professional relationships across the joint force—a necessary relationship as the DoD continues to refine and utilize the joint force. For judge advocates, receiving strategic leadership training is invaluable: our primary clientele are commanders, a position judge advocates are detailed to advise on legal issues, and at times social and cultural issues. Having a broad awareness of the issues affecting the command provides judge advocates the background to deliver well-thought out recommendations considering second-and third-order effects so commanders can make the most informed strategic decisions.

To date, six judge advocates have participated in an RLDP cohort. These judge advocates are: Captain (CPT) Marshall J. Greenberg, CPT David W. West, CPT Aaron S. Wood, CPT Jeff M. Mock, CPT Elizabeth (Grace) Smitham, and CPT Benjamin A. Asare.13 Each judge advocate was assigned to a USARPAC subordinate command during their cohort; currently, many of these judge advocates are assigned to different combatant commands. These judge advocates were interviewed for this article and answered questions about their cohort experience. Captain Smitham attended RLDP-Pacific (RLDP-P), Cohort 19-01—she is the first judge advocate to ever attend an RLDP variation; CPT Greenberg and CPT West attended RLDP—DUS, Cohort 19-02; and CPT Wood, CPT Mock, and CPT Asare attended RLDP-P, Cohort 19-03. While these judge advocates may have developed different perspectives from their cohort, one theme is consistent among their shared experience: it is critical that service members develop regional intelligence of their operational environment to provide insightful recommendations to commanders; and it is imperative to develop professional relationships with service members across the Joint Force.

Regional Leader Development Program–Pacific is an Indo-Pacific-centric course with the intent participants become regionally intelligent and culturally fluent in the Indo-Pacific region. However, the crux of the program—exposure to issues facing a geographical or functional mission— can be tailored to meet an OSJA’s support mission.

Sharing Experiences

What was the mission of your RLDP cohort, and how long was your cohort?

CPT West: I attended RLDP-DUS, Cohort, 19-02, from 24 March 2019 to 14 April 2019. The mission of the cohort was to explore and understand: (1) the critical infrastructure and urban geography and flow of cities; (2) the technological and physical connectedness of city networks; and (3) the culture and behavior of people and their environment.

CPT Greenberg: The RLDP I attended focused on dense urban areas (DUAs). We examined military conflict in areas with large urban populations, e.g., cities. Dates were 24 March 2019 to 14 April 2019.

CPT Asare: I attended RLDP-P, Cohort 19-03. My cohort’s mission was to provide participants with Indo-Pacific instruction and strategic development with the intent participants excel in positions of greater responsibility in Pacific-aligned positions. The cohort occurred from 4 August 2019 to 13 September 2019.

CPT Wood: Educate and develop leaders to thrive in complex environments associated with the Indo-Pacific Theater, and prepare them to serve in positions of greater responsibility throughout the INDOPACOM AOR.

CPT Smitham: I participated in RLDP-P, 19-01 from 9 October 2018 to 11 November 2018. If I recall correctly, the program was still in an evolving state and we didn’t have a “mission,” per se, beyond developing regionally-aware personnel. I know now that [RLDP planners] are now alternating between megacities/urban studies and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) focused programs.

Our program was broadly focused on developing regional leaders and was organized into three phases. Phases 1 and 2 were conducted over three weeks in Hawaii and consisted of senior leader engagements/self-assessments/critical thinking development, followed by two CGSC courses. Phase 3 was cultural immersion in Seoul with a megacity focus. Upon return to our units, we were required to complete a capstone project (group paper) in order to receive an additional skill identifier (6Z, Strategic Studies).

When you attended RLDP, what was your rank and duty position; what is your current duty position?

CPT West: During RLDP-DUS I was a captain, detailed as a national security law (NSL) attorney to 2d Infantry Division, ROK, U.S. Combined Division. Currently, I am detailed as an administrative law attorney to U.S. Army Africa/Southern European Task Force (SETAF).

CPT Greenberg: During RLDP-DUS I was a captain, detailed as an NSL attorney to 8th Theater Sustainment Command (TSC). Currently, I have moved into a trial counsel role to 8th Military Police Brigade, 8th TSC, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

CPT Asare: During RLDP-P I was a captain detailed as an administrative law judge advocate to 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. My current duty position is the same.

CPT Wood: While in RLDP I was detailed as a captain detailed to NSL, 8th TSC. I am currently in the same duty position.

CPT Smitham: I attended RLDP-P as a captain when I was serving as the Chief, NSL for U.S. Army Japan at Camp Zama, Japan. I was in that position from July 2017 to July 2019. I’m currently the Student Detachment Commander at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School.

What was the professional demographic of your cohort?

CPT West: Mostly U.S. Army officers in the grade of O-3 to O-4; some senior nton-commissioned officers in the grade of E-7 to E-8. One Marine O-3. One or two Army Warrant Officers. One Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) Infantry O-3. Most officers were around the Company Commander level; that is, recently finished company command or soon going to be a company commander. Most officers were current staff officers at division level or higher.

CPT Asare: My cohort consisted of a diverse professional demographic of approximately 35 service members. From the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps and Warrant Officer Corps, service members came from various service component commands within INDOPACOM such as Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), the Air Force Service Component Command to INDOPACOM; and the Marine Force, Pacific (MARFOPAC), the Marine Corps Service Component Command to INDOPACOM. The Officer Corps consisted of participants from a variety of branches within the Army: logistics, aviation, infantry, armor, Army acquisition, and judge advocates, to name a few. Our cohort also consisted of two foreign officers, a Singaporean and an Australian.

CPT Smitham: My cohort consisted of thirty-eight individuals that were primarily active duty Army personnel, but also included Air Force and Coast Guard personnel, as well as an officer from Singapore. Ranks ranged from sergeant first class through captain and included four DoD Civilians (GS 12-14).

What was the importance of interacting with such a professionally diverse group?

CPT West: I believe that everyone who participated in the RLDP-DUS brought rich diversity in professional and personal experience to the table. By bringing different people with different perspectives to work together to analyze problem sets, we increased our chances of producing the most comprehensive analytic results. The diversity of the group helped increase both my critical thinking skills and my knowledge base in the specific subject matter examined in the RLDP-DUS.

With additional knowledge and more sharply honed critical thinking skills, I am now able to effect progressive change and growth in every area that I am put to work. Being a forward and progressive thinker and doer is one of the keys to effective action, leadership, and progress. As someone who aspires to one day be a division staff judge advocate, I know that participation in the RLDP is something that will help me along the path to achieving that goal

CPT Asare: RLDP-P, Cohort 19-03’s diverse professional demographic, coupled with the numerous small-group projects, created a multi-faceted learning environment; that is, I was not only learning from the assigned material, but I was also learning from my classmates. In my cohort, participants were exposed to complex and open-ended problem sets. For example, my cohort participated in DisasterSim, a game-based training tool focused on international disaster relief where participants take on the role of a joint task force whose mission is to restore essential services while taking multiple stakeholders’ advice into consideration.

My cohort was divided into small groups, consisting of approximately seven people per group, to participate in the game-based training tool. While participating in DisasterSim my small group shared their individual knowledge and experience to assist our group—the knowledge shared became our knowledge, and the experience shared our experience.

CPT Wood: Prior to RLDP-P, I did not have exposure to as great a variety of military professionals. But RLDP-P gave me the opportunity to learn how different military professions and ranks think through discussions and interactions with the large variety of individuals. I think I am better prepared to serve as a staff officer, as I now have some understanding of the views of the different military professions and ranks and can consider them when I interact with other staff sections and provide advice to commanders. 

What were the learning objectives of your cohort?

CPT West: Understanding the complex dynamics of urban areas; special considerations for training, planning, and operating for an urban environment; building better leadership skills and enhancing connections; understanding multi-level urban operations (surface, subsurface, super-surface (high-rise buildings), and cyberspace; developing new strategic and tactical approaches to conventional warfare; and understanding neutralization of superior technology and low-technology solutions.

CPT Greenberg: The fundamental objective of the cohort was being able to think differently and develop leadership skills; DUAs are the problem set we used to achieve these objectives, and DUAs are a relevant and complex problem. There are over forty-seven megacities with populations of over 10 million in the world, thirty of which are in Asia. Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. The U.S. Army will need to operate in DUAs in the future. The RLDP-DUS course goal was to instill the cohort with the knowledge to provide better options, better decisions, and better connections for when that time comes.

CPT Asare: Approximately six weeks in length, RLD-P can be divided into three phases. Phase 1 consisted of CGSC electives taught by CGSC professors. Phase 1 learning objectives were: critically analyze U.S. military capabilities in the USINDOPACOM AOR by reviewing its component organizations, locations, missions, and forces; critically analyze strategic direction and guidance for USINDOPACOM; critically analyze historical military campaigns and battles in the Indo-Pacific; and, critically analyze the military capabilities, capacity, readiness, and modernization efforts of designated nations in the Indo-Pacific.

Phase 2 consisted of classroom instruction on red-team tools from the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMCS) and classroom instruction from the East-West Center Leadership Program on non-military regional dynamics affecting the Indo-Pacific. Phase 2 learning objectives were: exploring methods of decision making and techniques to improve organizational understanding and achieve better decisions, identifying techniques to avoid organizational decision-making pitfalls, such as groupthink and biases; and, examining paradigms of power, identity, knowledge, and social ties that underlie the calculations of Indo-Pacific countries.

Phase 3 consisted of a cultural immersion in Singapore and Bangkok, Thailand with the intent participants view the Indo-Pacific countries from the visited countries’ perspectives, and potentially challenge participants’ perspective regarding Indo-Pacific actors.

CPT Wood: RLDP-P students completed courses on the military power in INDOPACOM and in Indo-Pacific Strategic Studies. Strong emphasis was placed on the U.S. National Security Strategy, the U.S. National Defense Strategy, the INDOPACOM Posture Statement, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific to U.S. national security. Students compared these documents to similar policies and documents from countries in the Indo-Pacific region, such as those from Japan and China. Additionally, instructors taught the students to analyze the operational environment using the Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic (DIME) construct and the Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, and Information (PMESII) construct.

CPT Smitham: My cohort took two CGSC classes—A551 (Asia-Pacific Strategic Studies) and A557 (Military Power in USINDOPACOM). Each class required multiple short papers and presentations and focused heavily on analysis using the DIME construct. Both courses were broadly focused on the entire INDOPACOM AOR and served to give us a strong overview
of the history and geopolitics shaping the region.

Coming from an assignment in Japan where many of our day-to-day efforts were directly focused on the bilateral U.S.-Japan relationship, I could have easily completed my assignment without having any real appreciation or understanding of the intricate powers at play across the broader region, had it not been for this program. Taking a step back from daily operations to look at the region from a strategic and academic perspective was invaluable.

What activities were you required to perform during your cohort to meet the learning objectives?

CPT Greenberg: Our RLDP-DUS was presented through a combination of classroom discussion, terrain walks, and scenario analysis. Dense Urban Areas come down to three factors: people, infrastructure, and the economy. These factors vastly differentiate between each DUA. My cohort occurred in two phases. Phase 1 was held in New York City. During the first phase, there were thirty attendees; fifteen assigned to units within the USARPAC AOR, and fifteen from other AORs.

During the second phase, the fifteen from USARPAC went to Korea, while the other fifteen went to Israel. The reason for the split was to focus on different objectives for our different missions. My cohort spent the first two weeks learning how New York City operates and having our assumptions thrown out when we went over to Korea. During the two weeks in New York, the cohort learned how the city functions. This includes how the infrastructure is designed, communities interact, and economy works.

Once we started seeing how these different systems operated in concert with each other, we started analyzing how a military operation would look in a city. Our cohort would identify problems, and we would come up with solutions using each individual member’s skill set. Once the cohort got to Korea, the problems we expected to encounter were no longer there, but were replaced with a completely new set of issues.

CPT Asare: Phase 1 learning objectives were achieved through CGSC classroom instruction, daily readings of unclassified sources on current issues facing INDOPACOM, individual and group presentations, and staff-writing exercises. In Phase 1, I gave a 20-minute regional analysis presentation on Bangladesh to my class, with analysis focusing on the PMESII components of the country. Phase 1 also consisted of me delivering a twelve-minute group presentation and writing an individual paper on a historical military campaign in the Indo-Pacific region. My partner and I presented on the U.S. covert war in Laos and the Vietnamese-Khmer Rouge War, focusing on the historical background leading up to both conflicts, the strategic lessons learned, and regional relationships developed subsequent both engagements. My paper focused on the background and regional consequences of the Vietnamese-Khmer Rouge War.

Phase 2 learning objectives were achieved through an interactive classroom environment consisting of group work problem sets and personality dimension assessments; and, interactive panel-led discussions with East-West Center alumni on non-military regional dynamics and horizon trends of conflict in the Indo-Pacific region, coupled with small-group assignments and daily class reading.

Phase 3 learning objectives were achieved by our cohort immersing into countries within the Indo-Pacific. The cohort traveled to Singapore, where we visited, among other strategic sites, the Singapore Strait, a key shipping channel running adjacent to Singapore. In Singapore, our cohort was also exposed to lectures from international think tanks such as the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, a research institute located in Singapore, and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), a leading think tank and graduate school in the field of international relations. During Phase 3, our cohort split into two groups, with one group traveling to Thailand, the other group traveling to Japan. I traveled to Thailand to participate in the Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC XI), Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS XLIII), and Senior Enlisted Forum (SELF V), all three conferences attended by senior land power commanders and enlisted Service members from various nations to promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Participation in this country syndication exposed me to observe and experience first-hand the interpersonal relationships of country leaders within Indo-Pacific countries, which at times served as a microcosm to regional dynamics within the region.

CPT Wood: Students were required to write several papers and give multiple briefings on the course subjects. Students were instructed to complete these assignments as if they were staff officers presenting to a general officer/ flag officer (GO/FO). Students received feedback on their writing and presentation styles to further prepare them to advise a GO/FO.

CPT Smitham: During the first phase of the course, several teams were brought in to administer different self-assessment tools. I found these to be significantly more in-depth than the standard personality tests we often take online or elsewhere. The results were broadly shared with the class, which through the next two phases were required to work together closely on a number of group projects.

Understanding the various personality traits, identifying personal strengths and weaknesses at the beginning of the program, and being able to contrast our individual styles with the leadership talks we were having with senior leaders and guest speakers was a unique opportunity.

Phase 2 (CGSC courses) provided a unique opportunity to experience a “big Army” academic environment early in my career. As a direct commissionee with fewer than four years of service when I started RLDP-P, I knew that I had (and still have) much to learn about the Army. Participating in these classes as the only Judge Advocate in my cohort put me in a position to share my legal perspective while reaping the benefits of learning from my fellow classmates and the CGSC instructors. 

What did you take away from these activities?

CPT West: There were three lessons drawn from my cohort: (1) DUAs are the battlefield of the future; (2) successful warfare in DUAs will revolve around controlling critical system flows; and (3) controlling system/flows will require relationship building and integration with the civilian leadership/populace.

The Military Operation in Urban Terrain (MOUT) site training models of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are no longer cutting-edge. Lessons learned in recent conflicts indicate that our most dangerous enemies have found ways to neutralize and defeat our sophisticated weapons and technology using low-tech countermeasures. In the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s if we could see it, we could hit it. Our enemy knows this and has reduced our effectiveness by: (1) going underground; (2) using smoke/fire as an obscuring agent or weapon; and (3) hiding in plain sight within DUAs.

The Special Forces instructors who shared their training and operational experience highlighted the extreme inadequacy of our military’s current DUA warfare training program doctrine and training facilities. The reality is that Army doctrine is not changing to meet the rapidly changing battlefield and enemy tactics. Gone are the days of looking at DUA as terrain to be besieged and cut off. We need to start looking at DUAs as organic entities with three primary systems of organic flows. Water, power, and communications are the primary “flows” through a DUA. Many subsequent systems flow through and from these top three. Control of terrain and freedom of movement through a DUA requires: (1) an understanding of the flow, (2) relationship building with handlers of the flows (be they state or non-state actors); and (3) adaptive thinking.

Civilians on the battlefield (COB) is not a new concept, but in the context of warfare, in DUAs we must look at it differently. Most of the civilian populace will likely be unwilling or unable to evacuate during an intense conflict in a DUA. In cities with millions or tens of millions of potential COBs we must consider how to both protect and leverage the civilian element. Civilians are the formal and informal leaders and control points of the control systems within DUAs.

To control the city, we must control the flows. To control the flows, we must build relationships with the civilians who manage and run those systems. Evaluating this problem set through the legal lens, I considered the potential changes to rules of engagement (ROE) and rules for the use of force (RUF) that may need to be considered when preparing for extended warfare in DUA. One question to explore is, “How does military necessity change with respect to commandeering of civilian property and equipment in DUA?”

CPT Asare: There are three points I took from RLDP-P. First, the importance of pursuing and maintaining a holistic perspective. One question posed by Major General (Retired) Chinn, a senior mentor for our cohort, was, “Do we see things as they are, or do we see things as we are?” This question positively impacted me because in attempting to answer it, I recognized the root of my perspective, to include the resulting paradigm and the limitations I would be susceptible to if I do not challenge my perspectives with another viewpoint. This lesson can be applied to my role as a judge advocate, where I am constantly having to balance multiple priorities and positions.

Understanding the perspectives of parties and seeing issues from their point of view assists in effective communication and better results for commanders when they consider strategic options.

Second, the importance of brevity in briefs. When leaders and supervisors are receiving information from subordinates, more often than not, they are more familiar with the information than the briefer. What leaders or supervisor want are clear and concise recommendations as opposed to a laundry list of facts and, even worse, issues without recommended solutions. This lesson learned is important because judge advocates are in the role of advising commands and Soldiers, so the skill of understanding what our audience seeks is critical.

Third, the speed in which countries within the Indo-Pacific region have reached economic and military relevance. From 2002 to 2012, China’s economy quadrupled; in that same period, China grew from the world’s fifth-largest exporter to the world’s largest.14 China’s influence can be felt nearly across the globe, from Africa to Europe, a reality that has only become apparent in the twenty-first century.15 India, a Major Defense Partner of the United States since 2016, continues to make advancements in their military modernization program with a concerted focus on maritime strategic orientation.

Furthermore, India continues to strengthen their geostrategic position by conducting bilateral naval exercises multiple times throughout the year. “The Indian Navy significantly strengthened its presence of warships in the Indian Ocean region, and carried out a total of thirty-five multilateral and bilateral maritime exercises in [2018].”16 Learning about China’s economic development and India’s military modernization is important because it helps in understanding the operational missions of units in INDOPACOM.

CPT Wood: These courses provided me with a solid understanding of the history in the Indo-Pacific, how that history impacts current events, the current national strategies in the Indo-Pacific, and how to operate as a staff officer.

How have you grown professionally from your experience with RLDP?

CPT West: I have increased critical thinking skills and an understanding of strategic interagency military operations.

CPT Greenberg: Regional Leader Development Program has helped me become more knowledgeable in NSL, build connections with Army officers, and learn the thoughts and concerns of other staff sections concerns in military operations.

(Courtesy CPT Asare)

CPT Asare: After RLDP-P I am more culturally empathetic with a deeper understanding of country-to-country relationships within the Indo-Pacific region, more confident in my briefing and presentation delivery, and more knowledgeable about Army strategy in INDOPACOM and organizational leadership tools. The RLDP-P exposed me to such a wide variety of learning objectives in different environments. Besides gaining more knowledge about issues facing the Indo-Pacific region, I developed professional relationships with service members across the Joint Force, which may arguably be the most rewarding takeaway from the program.

CPT Wood: The RLDP-P course was extremely useful for my development as an Army officer and leader. As a direct commission officer, my training in military leadership and decision-making was limited. The courses offered and the guidance given by the senior mentors as part of the RLDP-P has greatly increased my understanding of military leadership and has better prepared me to serve as a staff officer and advise commanders. Additionally, I made many friends with the other students, both officers and NCOs. The discussions I had with them helped me better understand how the military operates and how Soldiers think outside of the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. Consequently, I am now better prepared to interact with non-JAGs and to provide military leadership within my own OSJA. Additionally, RLDP-P sparked my interests in international relations and military and national strategy. As a result, I am enrolled in a Master of Arts program in International Relations, to further my education in this area.

CPT Smitham: Sitting in an overseas NSL position at the time of my RLDP experience, I was able to immediately take back some of the lessons learned in strategic thinking and analysis to my position. In addition to the practical application, the leadership development portion of the program continues to provide sources of self-reflection even eighteen months later, as I find myself serving in a leadership position and strive to continue the self-awareness, self-analysis, and adaptive leadership styles we studied. Additionally, seeking out a development opportunity outside of traditional JAG Corps experiences gave me new contacts and resources I would not have otherwise met, and I think ultimately made me a better and well-rounded staff member to my unit. 

Why is it important for judge advocates and army officers to develop regional intelligence?

CPT West: This is a critically important skill to learn because each region has its own unique dynamics that must be intimately understood to maximize the ability of leaders and Soldiers on the ground to tap into, manipulate, and leverage/exploit those dynamics. Failure to understand and leverage these unique region-based dynamics means operational failure, period.

CPT Greenberg: Different regions operate differently. Judge advocates and army officers developing a mastery in a region makes us better prepared for our mission. The three factors I identified in DUAs (people, infrastructure, and the economy) differ vastly throughout different regions. If we spend the time to understand our operational environment better, we will have better solutions to the missions we will face in the future.

CPT Asare: Judge advocates can be detailed to advise commanders on legal issues. At times, our advisory role may touch on social and cultural issues. In developing regional intelligence, judge advocate will need to have an understanding of cultural and social norms, and their second- and third-order effects, to provide well-informed advice to commanders who need to make a strategic decision.

CPT Wood: Judge advocates and officers do not operate in a vacuum; we work in the real world and must take real-world issues into consideration when advising commanders. Additionally, our legal advice should be tailored to accomplish the United States’ goals, both from our command and from national strategies. Judge advocates who understand the region in which their command operates are better prepared to offer practical, applicable legal advice that is designed to accomplish the mission. Judge advocates who do not have this knowledge run the risk of offering legal advice that has consequences in the real-world that is counter to our national plan.

CPT Smitham: As lawyers we like to look to source documents, but when operating bilaterally, the answers can’t always be found in writing. I spent two years assigned to U.S. Army Japan practicing NSL, and the learning curve was steep. I would not have been able to accomplish my job without the face-to-face discussions and ongoing dialogues that we had with our bilateral counterparts on a wide array of issues. It often took multiple meetings to come to a common understanding on any given point. 

When given the time and opportunity to develop these relationships and build regional intelligence, we can finally advance the mission. If cultural fluency and past assignments to a region aren’t taken into consideration, we risk falling into a cycle of new individuals rotating through and never fully developing and advancing the partnerships because they are re-learning lessons of their predecessors. At the same time, those who have served in such assignments have a duty to document and distribute the lessons learned accordingly and to continue to share knowledge even when they move on. 

Although I have never been assigned in Korea, many of my colleagues in Japan had previously worked in Korea, and it was a hard paradigm shift for many to realize that two countries in such close proximity could operate in such different ways. Combine that with the broader competing interests in the region, and it’s easy to see how complicated the situation becomes. Once you start to develop some competency in understanding a specific region or culture, it becomes clear how far your knowledge can be used. For example, I often was utilized to brief incoming units rotating through for exercises who have only a matter of days to get spun up on the bilateral relationship before [the start of exercise]. More recently, Japan sent a unit to the National Training Center for the first time, and I was able to liaise directly with the observer-controller trainer on the ground to facilitate a discussion on unique constitutional constraints in Japan. Once you develop some understanding of the region, the opportunities to help share the knowledge abound, which only strengthens and eases our efforts as a force. 

How can judge advocates increase regional intelligence in their formations to benefit their units?

CPT West: First, understand the specific, unique, and region-based mission requirements of the units they support. Second, study and view those requirements through the operational (primarily) and the administrative legal lens. Third, develop tailor-made operational legal support to help commanders lean forward. Finally, go out to their units and teach these strategies.

CPT Greenberg: Judge advocates will need to reach out to regional local authorities as needed. Already, one of our tasks is to be familiar with local rules, but we should have open channels with local experts. This will allow us to have pinpoint knowledge of how the population will receive an action, instead of just a general sense. We can pass this along to other staff sections. Our role is to look for legality, but also good judgment.

CPT Asare: Judge advocates can create programs and learning opportunities across their formation in an OSJA that enhances regional intelligence. One method is using Leader Development Programs (LDP) that focus on the geographic or functional mission of their assigned command. The LDP can be taught through the Socratic Method by judge advocates not necessarily assigned to an NSL section. One lesson can be the legal assistance attorney providing a presentation on the organizational structure of the combatant command. The next lesson can consist of the Administrative Law Attorney presenting the historical background of nations within the geographic command or how U.S. Transportation Command is addressing cyber defense concerns.

Service members benefit from such a program because they will become developed and knowledgeable about the region or function in which they serve, potentially leading the officer to write and publish a paper on an area of interest. In addition, a formalized LDP would allow senior leaders an opportunity to share any experiences or insights they had in a region or function to help shape a service member’s thinking, allowing the service member to speak competently and confidently in the subject matter.

CPT Wood: First, they must increase their own regional intelligence through self-study and through attending programs like the RLDP. Then judge advocates can offer to share this with their formation through LDPs, email updates to their OSJA on strategic news in the region, etc. 

CPT Smitham: Being conscious stewards of knowledge can benefit not only your assigned unit, but your successors to your position. The Regionally Aligned Force repository is a wonderful tool for the JAG Corps that only gets better when individuals take time and effort to submit best practices/info papers/lessons learned. I also learned first-hand that sometimes taking the time to craft a concise info paper or one-pager for your fellow staff members could go a long way in cutting through the haze of complicated bilateral issues. These often served as great tools to send as read-aheads to incoming units rotating through for exercises or incoming personnel. 

Finally, don’t pigeon-hole yourself into focusing purely on what you perceive to be the legal issues—every team needs someone who is intellectually curious, ready and willing to develop a comprehensive understanding of the political, economic, and historical factors that influence any given bilateral relationship.

Any stories from the program you are willing to share?

CPT Wood: The unique perspectives offered by a judge advocate was appreciated in the RLDP-P. Multiple times, I had instructors, RLDP-P cadre, senior mentors, and other students state that they appreciated the “legal” input into the discussions. As one example, during Phase 1 there was discussion regarding countries’ strategic limitations on the use of force. One student stated that he did not understand why countries should care about limiting the use of force, when force can be used to obtain a goal. I offered some input, which led to a discussion of jus ad bellum and how resorting to force without a legal justification has implications on the international relations of the aggressor.

After this discussion, the course instructor, other students, and Major General (Retired) Chinn each told me that they appreciated my comments, and that they helped provide an understanding of the strategic concerns in the region. The unique perspective offered by a judge advocate with some regional expertise appeared to be valued by Soldiers of all ranks, both enlisted and senior leadership. 

CPT Asare: The RLDP-P occurred on Oahu, Hawaii. The course curriculum included activities on some of the most scenic and historic parts of the island. One Friday, our class was tasked to hike Koko Head Mountain, a one-and-a-half-mile round trip hike. For anyone who has done this hike, you know this hike is no joke! Our class met up around 5 a.m. on the day of the hike at the base of Koko Head. We suffered and sweated immensely during the hike, but each student climbed and arrived at the summit. At the summit, a student provided a history of the U.S. activity on Koko Head during World War II, allowing us all to reflect. The history lesson was informative and the panoramic view of the island incredible. The shared suffering in climbing Koko Head followed by reaching the summit as a class is one story that will always stick with me.

CPT Smitham: Look for opportunities outside of the norm of typical JAG Corps career development. I got the opportunity to participate in RLDP because I was sitting in our [operations and intelligence briefings], listening to our staff brief that the command needed to send nominees up for this program, and all talk focused on potential candidates in the G3, so I asked if I could submit an application. While a unit’s default isn’t always to think of the lawyer when it comes to development opportunities, throwing your name in the hat for unique opportunities never hurts!


Regional dynamics and changing operational environments necessitate judge advocates to develop and maintain regional intelligence. Today, China and Russia engage in contentious activities to reshape the international rules-based order; the Middle East continues to pose state and non-state actor challenges, keeping the U.S. Armed Forces engaged; and the complexity and rather novel new battlefield horizon of urban areas and mega-cities posed toward the U.S. military serve as noteworthy dynamics and changes. The RLDP was created for service members (mid-level officers, senior non-commissioned officers, and DA Civilians) in strategic leadership billets with the intent participants can critically think through complex issues and provide leaders with recommendations. Currently, six judge advocates have participated in an RLDP cohort, each judge advocate attested to the importance of regional intelligence across the joint force. As the U.S. Army maintains a global presence, it only makes sense that judge advocates, whose primary mission is to advise commanders, fully understand the regional issues around the world. TAL


CPT Asare is currently assigned as an administrative law attorney with the 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.


1. Remarks from Major General (Retired) Clarence K.K. Chinn, Commander, U.S. Army South to Regional Leader Development Program–Pacific, Cohort 19-03 (2015-2017).

2. INDOPACOM Area of Responsibility, United States Indo-Pacific Command, https://www.pacom.mil/About-USINDOPACOM/USPACOM-Area-of-Responsibility/ (last visited Dec. 27, 2019).

3. National Security Strategy of the United States of America 25 (2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf.

4. Philippines v. China, PCA Case Repository, Case No. 2013-10 (2016).

5. China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China (Jan. 11, 2017), https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1429771.shtml.

China resolutely opposes certain countries’ provocations of regional disputes for their selfish interests. China is forced to make necessary responses to the provocative actions which infringe on China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, and undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea. No effort to internationalize and judicialize the South China Sea issue will be of any avail for its resolution; it will only make it harder to resolve the issue, and endanger regional peace and stability. Id.

6. Joel Wuthnow & Phillip C. Saunders, Chairman Xi remakes the PLA, in Chairman Xi remakes the PLA—Assessing Chinese Military Reforms 4 (Philip C. Saunder, et al eds., 2019).

7. INDOPACOM Area of Responsibility, United States Indo-Pacific Command, https://www.pacom.mil/About-USINDOPACOM/USPACOM-Area-of-Responsibility/ (last visited Dec. 27, 2019).

8. The New Realignment Between Russia and the Philippines, The National Interest (Oct. 25, 2019), https://nationalinterest.org/feature/new-realignment-between-russia-and-philippes-90901.

9. Army Pilot Program Immerses Troops in Pacific Region, Army Times (Oct. 8, 2017), https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2017/10/08/army-pilot-program-immerses-troops-in-pacific-region/; General Robert B. Brown, Commanding General, United States Army Pacific, Ass’n. of the U.S. Army, https://www.ausa.org/people/gen-robert-b-brown-0 (last visited Mar. 2, 2020).

10. Army Wargames Shape the Future of Urban Warfare, U.S. Army (Jan. 3, 2019), https://www.army.mil/article/215731/army_wargames_shape_the_future_of_urban_warfare.

11. “According to the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, social scientist predict that by 2050 about 90 percent of Earth’s projected population of more than eight billion people will likely live in highly dense, complex urban areas.” Id.

12. Army Leader Development Strategy 2013 U.S. Dep’t of Army, 7-9 (2013), https://usacac.army.mil/sites/default/files/documents/cal/ALDS5June%202013Record.pdf.

13. A special thank you to all who made this experience possible.

14. Vaunting the Best, Fearing the Worst, The Economist (Oct. 27 2012), https://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21565132-china%E2%80%99s-communist-party-preparing-its-ten-yearly-change-leadership-new-team.

15. Id.

16. Significant Steps Towards Modernization of Armed Forces, but Challenges Remain, The Economic Times (Jan. 6, 2019, 3:32 PM), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/significant-steps-towards-modernization-of-armed-forces-but-challenges-remain/articleshow/67405882.cms.