Once More, with Feeling: Time to Regroup and Refocus on Management of Post-Conflict Response

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By Laura Hall – Fragile and failed states and states in conflict remain a threat to US security.  They are unable to provide for their people, be responsible regional actors, or address transnational problems like crime, drugs, and terrorism.   As the long-awaited Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) proceeds through its summer schedule, there has been a lot of speculation about the future of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS). This office was created six years ago in the wake of Iraq to coordinate all parts of the government – civilian and military – in planning for and responding to future crises overseas, in places such as Somalia, Haiti, or Sudan. 

Assessments of the record of S/CRS have often concluded that “the model” has failed, when in fact they failed to apply the model.  This has not stopped “official” and “shadow” Washington from proposing changes to the organization.  The instinct to redesign is typical, but uses a lot of energy.   At some point, a decision – any decision – is preferable to continuing speculation.  This prolongs the bureaucratic stalemate begun during the Bush Administration.  Administration decisions remain hostage to the ongoing QDDR process- as well as the stalled Presidential Study Directive on development (PSD) – and Congress has a poor record of completing action on this issue.  Defining Requirements There are three main functions that S/CRS was created to perform:

  • Coordinate and manage planning and operations that include participation of a range of government departments/agencies, including the military;
  • Collect lessons learned and ensure they are applied by developing a core body of knowledge and being a center of excellence; and·
  • Provide a ready, trained, and deployable response corps of technical experts and managers.

These are still needed functions which appear in nearly every report or study on the requirements. 

Maintain and Sustain Management of Planning and Operations as a Separate Organization

There are “steady state” responsibilities for development policy and for providing technical assistance.  They should remain in place within bureaus, USAID, and other departments and agencies.   However, an organization responsible for planning and managing operations for crises anywhere in the world should remain separate and distinct.  S/CRS needs to sit apart from line operational bureaus because motives for intervention overseas are rarely either for strictly security or for development purposes.   It also needs to be separate from regional bureaus so that it can maintain a body of knowledge about post-conflict countries and apply it to any region (in partnership with those who maintain regional and country knowledge).   S/CRS should continue – as in current law – to report to the Secretary of State in order to maintain the Secretary’s responsibility for coordination of all USG foreign policy activities and to provide sufficient clout.

Senior leadership at State and the White House needs to ensure regional bureau cooperation and merging of political/diplomatic leadership with operations capabilities provided by S/CRS in order to manage an integrated operation.  To successfully operate on behalf of the Secretary, S/CRS must work closely with the Secretary’s Policy Planning office, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, and the staff of the National Security Council and be tasked with convening contingency planning efforts for likely crises and response planning for specific events.  S/CRS must also manage a process that supports senior policy makers so that guidance and decisions are given. The central planning function must also be tied to the Department’s overall strategic planning and budgeting processes, to the call-up of the Civilian Response Corps, and to the use of contingency funding. 

Integrate Personnel and Deployment Management into Department Structures

S/CRS has had some success with the Civilian Response Corps (CRC), which includes “expeditionary diplomats” as well as development experts from seven other departments and agencies of the USG.  This is the most visible and tangible capability around which there is universal consensus.  There are over 100 full-time, trained first responders now on board.  The CRC requires central management by the Department of State and co-location of individual experts within their home departments/agencies. 

While many have deployed around the world, the CRC has not been utilized fully.  The reality is that new staffing requirements for emergency situations are first met by Embassies in the country in crisis or by their regional bureau back in Washington, rather than using the services of the CRC.  The QDDR should consider fully integrating CRC management and deployment support into the management bureaus of the Department of State so that is considered a resource and its unique skillsets are applied appropriately alongside other assets.  This is analogous to functional commands providing forces to regional combatant commands.  This would put all of the management issues within the purview of the Under Secretary for Management.

Building on a Foundation and Moving Forward

The complexity of the mandate and the bureaucratic requirements to more effectively respond to conflict and fragile and failed states make it difficult to conceive of the “right” model.  It would be a mistake for those newly wrestling with this challenge to assume that only a completely new organization can be successful and magically avoid the difficulties others have already experienced of building new structures.  At the same time, the challenges of this mission area are not completely new, nor is it new for State and USAID to deal with crises.  So those who are charged with this coordination function must leverage existing structures. 

The QDDR has a chance to clarify the approach this Administration will take and settle bureaucratic questions.  Making a formal recommendation through the QDDR will, by definition, require a decision on organizational structures and renewed leadership, providing some of the critical focus that has been missing.  However, if that leadership and focus is not consistently applied, the organization will still fail to achieve the vision of greater integration of efforts and better strategy for success in building peace. 

Read the full-length briefing here (pdf)

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official discusses his agenda with Italian and British Majors at the embassy.

U.S. Department of Defense:

Laura A. Hall is a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow from the U.S. Department of State, in residence at the Stimson Center’s Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense program.

She was a founding member of S/CRS and was the director for stability operations at the National Security Council from 2006-2008. The views of the author do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Department of State

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