Spanning “Bleeding” Boundaries: Humanitarianism, NGOs, and the Civilian-Military Nexus in the Post–Cold War Era


Nancy Roberts is a professor of defense analysis and codirector of the CORE (Common Operating Research Environment) Lab in the Defense Analysis Department, Graduate School of Operational and Information Sciences, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. Under the auspices of the lab, she leads teams in the investigation of the geospatial, temporal, and relational dimensions of terrorist networks and the development of strategies to counter them. She has published extensively in leading public administration and management journals on such topics as strategic management and planning, stakeholder collaboration, complex networks, and policy deliberation. Her current research focuses on “wicked problems” such as the tracking and disrupting of terror networks and the organizational challenges of postconflict reconstruction.


How do nongovernmental (NGO), international (IO), and military organizations cope with their dependencies and address their perceptual and real differences in order to coordinate their field operations? This question is addressed through the creation of a matrix grouping civilian (NGOs and IOs) and military operations into four general types: peacekeeping; disaster relief; complex humanitarian emergencies/warfare; and stabilization and reconstruction. Second, using Galbraith's information processing approach to organizational design, a range of formal coordination mechanisms that organizations use at the strategic and operational levels to help them cope with their dependencies in different field operations is identified. Third, the author underscores how communities of practice are emerging as informal mechanisms of coordination among civilian and military organizations. And finally, a framework of organizational forms that views communities of practice as an alternative to hierarchy and markets is offered. Believing communities of practice hold the most promise for coordination in the human security domain when hierarchies are politically untenable and markets lack accountability, the author concludes with implications for interorganization coordination research and practice.