For a long long time, Army doctrine was relatively straightforward. There were two central tasks: offense (defeating a foreign enemy) and defense (protecting the country from attack). Then, beginning subtly in 2005 and accelerating in February 2008, came the elevation of a third role: stability operations (basically everything else, from partnering with a host nation’s police force to presiding over a district council meeting halfway around the world to repairing an irrigation system). Many, if not most, of the tasks of stability operations are not traditional military roles.

Yesterday, the Army issued its first-ever field manual for stability operations, FM 3-07. My Washington Independent piece on the manual was practically preordained.

Speaking on a bloggers’ conference call Monday, [Lt. Gen. William] Caldwell said the stability operations field manual derived from the revision to FM 3-0. “This is a significant mind-shift,” Caldwell said. He pointed out, “We have always conducted stability operations in our Army’s history” and the manual’s first section subtly reinterprets Army history to be “characterized by stability operations, interrupted by distinct episodes of major combat” — but never before has that history been “codified into doctrine.”

This doctrine recognizes a mission for the Army that is far less clear than in major combat. It may be the first time the Army considers one of its central tasks to be a subordinate role to other agencies or partners.

“Through stability operations, military forces help to set the conditions that enable the actions of the other instruments of national power to succeed in achieving the broad goals of conflict transformation,” the manual states. “By quickly dictating the terms of action and driving positive change in the environment, military forces improve the security situation and create opportunities for civilian agencies and organizations to contribute.”