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The Future U.S. Organization for Peace Operations April 22, 2010

Posted by Laura A. Hall in Analysis.
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by: Laura A. Hall

Note: This is adapted from remarks given at the book launch for U.S. Peacefare.  Audio of the full event including remarks by the author Amb. Dane Smith, former USAID Deputy Administrator Jim Kunder, and LtGen John Sattler (USMC ret) as well as Q&A is available here.

With the publication of his book, Ambassador Dane Smith has compiled the first and most comprehensive account of the US perspective’s on the recent history of  international peacebuilding.   Having spent the last six years at the Department of State’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) and the NSC, I would like to build onto the book’s recommendations.

  • Lead Agency Model: It is appropriate and important that interagency coordination be vested in a “lead agency” and that it be the Department of State.

The Secretary of State needs to maintain responsibility for foreign policy direction.  In drafting the NSPD-44, there was little debate that the Secretary of State needed to maintain responsibility for foreign policy direction including for coordinating across civ-mil lines.  State’s having a leadership role does not suggest collecting all the operational parts of State, USAID, and the interagency into one office that would take over and run post-conflict operations.  Having State in a lead role on policy and coordination and developing more operational and expeditionary diplomats is not a threat to USAID’s responsibilities.

From a management perspective a consolidation would be a disaster.  It would separate personnel from one another across somewhat fuzzy boundaries between crisis response and conflict prevention and between early recovery and long term development.  The personnel would also lose the benefits of being part of larger organizations with broad responsibilities which provides much of the advantages of calling on the larger US government capabilities.  In addition, policy makers would never agree on criteria for shifting responsibility from the steady-state actors (regional bureaus and embassies) to the crisis response actors.  The process of transferring policy and operational responsibility would be severely handicapped by bureaucratic turf battles.

  • Elevate and empower the NSC: To ensure effective processes, the NSC must take responsibility for directing interagency decision making.

In the deliberations about how to meet the need for crisis response, NSC leadership was clear that the NSC should not become operational.  However, there is a need for greater authority and responsibility than is currently provided.

The past and current position of Director of Stability Operations is one person, buried within the org chart, who gets minimal attention and support from above.  The NSC should be providing direction and guidance on contingency planning priorities, demanding better planning products, enforcing decision making, and insisting on integrated efforts.   A higher level position for the lead officer on stability operations, additional staff who can support regional directorates in their planning efforts, and a coherent NSC structure connecting development, humanitarian response, stability operations, international organization affairs, and defense would improve the ability of the NSC to exercise these responsibilities.  A greater role doesn’t mean doing all of the planning and taking responsibility away from line departments.  Doing so would decrease the responsibility they would feel and leave the NSC conducting planning in a vacuum.

  • Decision Making, Planning, and Integration: Recognize the importance of effective processes and the need for management arrangements, personnel, and doctrine.

There remains a deficiency in the policy community’s understanding of what is needed for more effective operations.  Most critics focus on the need for greater civilian capacity for deployments and that need is in no dispute. S/CRS has made progress in this endeavor.  However, one of the primary reasons behind the creation of S/CRS was to address the need for better management and organization of complex operations.  Managing complex operations requires identifying clear responsibilities for integration of efforts (civ-mil, interagency, and international), providing support to decision making processes, and coordinating planning and execution of operations.

These are not typical functions and require different kinds of personnel who are trained and can apply lessons learned from other operations, who are prepared and available to immediately start supporting the Regional bureau and Embassy decision makers in planning processes and setting up staffing.  It also requires a common operating “doctrine” that guides the process so that the many moving parts know how to work together.  This coordination function requires something more than meetings to de-conflict efforts and it cannot be done in an ad hoc manner.  Complex operations require something more formalized, based in lessons-learned, to be effective.  Even a special envoy, which can be useful in many circumstances, needs a staff and eventually must develop more standardized processes.

What is most striking is that no one with decision-making authority has enforced an effort to overcome the disorder and attempts by S/CRS have not been applied, nor has any other version been identified and used.  Any organizational approach to this management challenge – and we await the QDDR’s version – will surely fail without clear decisions on how to provide this integrated management function.

  • Leadership and Commitment: Consistent leadership is needed to allow capabilities to develop. 

Many have outlined the gap between the high hopes held out in 2004 as S/CRS was created and the reality of the following five years.  The Bush Administration at the NSC and State did not fully support what it had created and did not ensure that funding was provided by Congress.  The failings within the bureaucracy flow from this signal of ambivalence.  In 2007, the State of the Union called for creation of a civilian reserve, but the President’s budget released days later had no request to fund it.   Congress severely cut budget requests for the office, rapid response funding, and the response corps until FY2009 and failed to push through authorizing legislation until four years after it was introduced.  These delays meant that the military continued to do without – or create their own separate mechanisms – and the regular State/USAID system had to manage with the old ways of staffing.  Even when funding arrived there was no push from senior leaders to ensure the capability was stood up quickly across all departments and agencies and no serious focus was given.  The future of U.S. capabilities will depend on both Executive and Congressional leadership and a shared purpose.

  • Core capabilities: Focus on State and USAID first while involving all stakeholders.

The prevailing wisdom on the concept of “whole of government” suggests that it should be standard practice to involve the full range of USG departments and agencies in stability and reconstruction operations.  There are indeed capabilities throughout the US government that are relevant to reconstruction efforts.  Mechanisms must be developed to access the other department capabilities.  But focusing on adding more departments and agencies to the roster has taken energy away from building the State/USAID capabilities, which must form the core of USG efforts.  The role of primarily domestic departments in the policy and planning for operations must also be clarified.  In this era of globalization of both opportunities and threats, there are domestic impacts of international engagements and a value in engagement with international counterparts.  This should be balanced with the overall foreign policy priorities and the lessons learned about post conflict response so that other considerations do not distract from stabilization and reconstruction goals.

Coming policy debates: It is always easy to assume the past is prologue and build on recent experiences.  However, creation of standing capabilities must be based on an assessment of future requirements. 

  • What is the nature of the enduring mission?

The policy community is still trying to determine whether stability operations are the “new normal” or a niche operation. The answer has profound implications for workforce planning and structures.

  • What is the future role of DoD?

DoD’s strong support for development of civilian capacity is strongly influenced by their current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  When those operations wind down, DoD will not have the same imperative.  Most places, most of the time, U.S. diplomats and development professionals confront crises and conflict without the presence of U.S. combat forces.  The future role of the U.S. military in supporting primarily civilian operations remains unclear.   It would be imprudent to leave development of logistics, support, and security dependent on forces that may not deploy or to allow the military’s interest in developing capabilities for ‘reconstruction’ to crowd out development of civilian capacity.

  • What is the role of the United States in multilateral operations?

U.S. efforts to develop a unilateral capability will be insufficient.  We must rely on international allies and partners who also have civilian capabilities for post-conflict response.   How we develop our new models for multilateral operations and the use of US personnel in them will affect what role we play and what capabilities we must develop.



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