State Dept.: “Building an Effective Civilian Capacity to Address Crises, Conflicts, and Countries in Transition”

Posted on March 24, 2010

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Jeez, more State Dept. folks gathering intelligence and generally mucking things up around the world. This plan should produce a knock-down, drag-out fight between State and Defense. 

U.S. Must Strengthen Civilian Expeditionary Capacity

Dane F. Smith | 24 Mar 2010

The State Department is close to winding up the initial phase of a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Mandated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the QDDR aims at creating a more robust civilian capacity for U.S. global engagement. As part of that effort, the review’s fourth working group addresses the task of “building and deploying an effective civilian capacity to address crises, conflicts, and countries in transition.”

The review provides a historic opportunity to strengthen the expeditionary capacity of civilian agencies to deal with overseas conflicts. In 2005, after bungling stabilization and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration vested the secretary of state with responsibility for leading and coordinating the civilian agencies in those functions. National Security Presidential Directive 44 formalized that decision, designating the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), which had been created the previous year, as the secretary’s action office for her new responsibilities.

The S/CRS soon built up to over 100 persons, and during the Bush administration, it played a major role in devising a “whole of government” protocol for new crises (the Interagency Management System) and in planning for specific countries like Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia. It launched the Active and Standby components of the Civilian Response Corps and put officers into the field for short-term assignments in Sudan, Nepal and Haiti. In total, S/CRS has managed more than $300 million in reconstruction projects in more than a dozen countries.

Unfortunately, the office did not succeed in carving out a leading crisis role. During the war in Lebanon in 2006 and the outbreak of new violence in Somalia in 2007, the coordinator was elbowed aside by State’s powerful geographic bureaus, which resented its “meddling” on their turf. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stood aside. Perhaps more serious, S/CRS never got involved in Iraq and only assumed a marginal role in Afghanistan. Moreover, not until Congress responded to the Bush administration’s 2009 “lame duck” budget request did S/CRS begin to secure significant levels of funding. Even then, in 2008 and 2009, Congress decided to split funding for civilian response between State and USAID, allocating a total of about $70 million to the coordinator’s office.

The weaknesses of S/CRS have in turn generated alternative proposals. Some in the Bush-era Pentagon — especially those associated with Directive 2000.05, which elevated stability operations to the level of combat operations — have taken the position that the civilian agencies lack the manpower, the budget, and the operational capability to implement stabilization in highly insecure operational environments like Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, they argue, the task should ultimately be taken over by the Defense Department, perhaps drawing on its own civilian cadre. Opponents of that view contend that such a powerful Pentagon role would disastrously tar reconstruction and stabilization with the brush of military occupation.

Meanwhile, some partisans of USAID, insisting that the State Department is inherently “non-operational,” would prefer to see such operations turned over to USAID, in collaboration with the military. Although USAID developed some capacity to deal with conflict — particularly in its Bureau of Democracy Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs — during the Clinton and Bush administrations, peace-building remains a decidedly secondary priority for the agency compared with development.

The latest high-profile option comes from Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq Reconstruction, who calls for a U.S. Office of Contingency Operations, guided by and accountable to the National Security Council. USOCO would be staffed primarily by State and Defense officers, with seconding from additional agencies like Justice. Bowen argues that “creating USOCO could catalyze . . . development of a new culture of civilian-military expertise, the integrated application of best practices, and the concentration of a new capacity to tackle [stabilization and reconstruction].” However, the Defense and State Departments have responded coolly, unenthusiastic about a competing agency, and there appears to be little interest on Capitol Hill in creating a new structure.

Such an office might possibly be justified if the U.S. government were seriously contemplating the possibility of more projects along the lines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the near future. That is unlikely. Instead, as the Quadrennial Defense Review recently concluded, the U.S. is likely to face narrower scenarios requiring select elements of the stabilization/reconstruction toolkit. Such a conclusion argues not for erecting a new agency, but for housing an enhanced capability close to the secretary of state. In other words, the Bush administration got it right when it gave the secretary responsibility for coordinating reconstruction and stabilization.

S/CRS provides a major crisis-response tool for the Obama administration. To strengthen that tool, Secretary Clinton should restructure the coordinator’s office as a fully integrated State/USAID office. Besides Carlos Pascual, the first coordinator, and one deputy, the office has had virtually no other USAID officers. Staffing up to a third of the office from USAID, with some seconding from the military and other civilian agencies, would advance its capacity as a “whole of government” instrument with operational clout. Integrating the office could also eliminate some current duplication between State and USAID. USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, the executive branch’s flagship conflict prevention unit, could take over that function. USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, a well-tested expeditionary group which distinguished itself in both Afghanistan and Iraq, could become the foundation of a Civilian Response Corps in which the USAID and State elements are integrated.

To make sure the restructured integrated office works properly, the secretary of state will need to ensure it is accepted as a partner by State’s geographic bureaus. State’s senior leadership should make clear its expectation that both partners will work together when crises erupt and should referee significant bureaucratic clashes, if they arise. Secretary Clinton should seize the opportunity to transform the office into her chosen instrument for conflict management.

Dane F. Smith is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of “U.S. Peacefare: Organizing American Peace-Building Operations” (Praeger/CSIS, 2010).

Posted in: CIA, Coups, Haiti, Imperialism, NED, US