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February 07, 2006

Is the State Department Ready for the Job?
Posted by Gordon Adams

Given the Iraq experience and the recent strategy review (QDR), DOD has made it clear that it will want a lot more interagency cooperation the next time we decide to occupy, stabilize, and reconstruct another country. It is not clear who the candidate countries are, though Iran, Nigeria, Indonesia, Syria come to mind. (That just means it will probably be a country we have not thought of.)

The interagency partner, however, is clear: the Department of State (along with USAID and other financial assistance agencies). Iraq demonstrated that America’s diplomats and assistance agencies were totally unprepared for the challenge. The question is, what lessons has State learned and what investments is Foggy Bottom planning that would correct this deficiency and give DOD the partner it seeks?

Secretary Rice knows State is in the bulls’ eye on stabilization, governance and reconstruction. She gave two speeches last week advertising “transformed diplomacy” at State and “transformed economic assistance” affecting all the aid programs in the international affairs arena.

So, the obvious question is: Has the rubber hit the road in the new budget and will State and AID be ready for the job when the next call comes? We can get some clues from the new budget for International Affairs the administration has just sent up to the Hill this week. And the answer is: not yet, so the trumpet had better not sound soon.

There is some good news. The budget rhetoric recognizes that America’s foreign assistance agencies need to prepare. More than that, as I pointed out in yesterday’s blog, State says it is seeking to bulk up the fledgling Office of Stabilization and Reconstruction it created a couple of years ago, to play a more active coordinating role for the federal government, and has requested $75 m. and statutory authority to stand up a Conflict Response Fund that could be mobilized for a future operation. 

These are worthy efforts, since OSR has been woefully understaffed and under funded for this task. The $75 m. is a drop in the bucket for an Iraq-type mission, and less than the funding the US government has already put into Haiti over the past two years. But it is not clear how much the office will be bulked up; as I noted yesterday, and other agencies will resist a State coordinating role for stabilization and reconstruction efforts. And it is far from clear Congress will allow State to administer a contingency fund for this purpose. So the jury is out on OSR.

If State is going to take the lead in such efforts, and if, as Secretary Rice has promised, economic assistance is going to be more closely tied to America’s diplomatic objectives, as the budget promises, there are some deep-rooted obstacles that have not been overcome in the new budget proposal.

The targets for a focused State Department capability are clear: programs and funding have to focus on democracy and governance, economics (infrastructure, poverty and development), ideology and problems of ethnic and religious conflict, and, above all, on security. State’s report card for each of these has to be recorded as an incomplete, based on the new budget.

The fundamental problem is that State’s programs in these areas are, for the most part, relatively small and very scattered.

- Governance and democracy is a new challenge for diplomats and assistance providers. And the funds are scattered, from $80 m. for the National Endowment for Democracy, to part of Iraq funding, to a small ($35 m.) Human Rights and Democracy Fund, to the Office of Transition Initiatives ($50 m) at AID. There are rule of law programs, some of them funded in the Economic Support Funds (ESF) account, some under the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) account (home to a proposed major $255 m. Iraq rule of law program). Bits and pieces of AID’s Development Assistance program also figure into the mix, and the budget announces a major effort to eliminate corruption through reforms in the multilateral development banks, to which the US is a major donor. Governance and democracy is, it seems, everywhere, but the coordination of all these efforts is unclear. The Iraq experience suggests many agencies are sending people into transitional situations with good governance and democracy in mind, at the risk of duplication. Grade: Incomplete in this area.

- Economic assistance programs are clearly undergoing a major transition. Funding is large, but also very scattered throughout the international affairs agencies. The fundamental issue that will be battled out this year is whether economic assistance should be closely tied to US diplomatic goals or economic development goals, independent of US strategic interests. Right now, the question is being answered step-by-step in the administration’s budgets: gradually, AID’s traditional bailiwick of development is being eaten away, every year (the FY 2007 request is down 14% from 2006). Your grandfather’s development assistance is being replaced by two other programs – the Millennium Challenge Account ($3 b. requested for 2007, up from $1.7 b. voted by Congress for this year), and the global effort to combat HIV/AIDS ($4 b. requested, $740 m. more than this year). Millennium Challenge does not focus on countries at the edge of state collapse, but rather countries that are verging on serious development. HIV/AIDS is a critical international problem, but a step away from stabilization and reconstruction, as well. Only Economic Support Funds can be said to have some focus on the countries central to stabilization and reconstruction concerns. These are fairly concentrated and increasingly focuses: nearly 45% of the total ESF budget request goes to three countries – Iraq ($479 m.), Afghanistan ($610 m.) and Pakistan ($350 m.), but Israel ($120 m.) and Egypt ($455 m.) also receive substantial funding. The underlying problem, if diplomacy and assistance are to be linked, is that the number of economic assistance spigots and separate programs is growing, not shrinking. Hence Secretary Rice’s desire to coordinate them more closely; but that task will take years. Grade: C+, but improving.

- Turning to “identity conflicts” – clashes of religion and ethnicity (much in the news today), the budget appears more reassuring. The principal spigot here is “public diplomacy,” the various educational, exchange, broadcasting and other “propaganda” activities controlled by the State Department (having absorbed USIA in 1998), and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Lots of good rhetoric in the budget about increasing broadcasting by Alhurra and Radio Sawa (with a BBG budget increase of $28 m.), and about ensuring the US government can turn around its response to news events in 24 hours (with public diplomacy funding going up $48 m., an 11% increase). Good stuff, but the Danish cartoon story demonstrates how fragile it is for a western country to imagine it can influence public opinion in the Islamic world and how quickly bad news can get ahead of any response. In the end, the answer to tensions over religion and ethnicity is not going to be public relations; it is going to be policy change, which is not clearly in the cards. Grade: A for effort; D- for impact.

- Security is the long pole in the tent. For starters, it is not clear who owns security. The Pentagon has made it clear that security is “job 1” for the military in future interventions. On the other hand, a lot of the funding for security is over in the international affairs budget, some of it executed by the Pentagon, but some of it the responsibility of the State Department. There is lots of money here – some $4.55 b. is being requested for FY 2007. But FMF funding is highly concentrated, with more than 85% going to the Peace Process trio of Egypt ($1.3 b.), Israel ($2.34 b.) and Jordan ($206 m.). Pakistan, clearly a critical country, would receive $300 m., but the list falls sharply from there. This critical pot of fund for security purposes is not well tailored to the current security environment. Here, too, the other spigots are scattered, between International Narcotics and Law Enforcement funds, the Global Peace Operations Initiative (to train 75,000 non-American peacekeepers, mostly in Africa), foreign military sales programs, and some police training. The security funding strategy is not coherent; the ability to deliver security from the State Department side is clearly limited. Grade: D, with much room for improvement.

State and the economic assistance agencies are clearly not yet up to the task of being capable partners with DOD. Programs are scattered; coordination remains thin, and the personnel are not yet in place to play their part. The risk is that the next intervention defaults to the well-funded, but ill-trained to the task Pentagon, or that State “punches above its weight,” but is unsuccessful in doing so.


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DOD has made it clear that it will want a lot more interagency cooperation the next time we decide to occupy, stabilize, and reconstruct another country. It is not clear who the candidate countries are, though Iran, Nigeria, Indonesia, Syria come to mind.

Oh my God are you out of your mind?! Occupy Indonesia or Nigeria?

Indonesia's population is over 240 million, not much smaller than our own. Judging by the Rand Corp's rule of thumb for nation building, that would require an occupation force of 2.4 million to ensure security.

Nigeria has a population of about 130 million, which would require an occupation force of 1.3 million.

Both nations are so diverse that they make Iraq look like Japan. Occupying either one would require a draft and massive tax increases, and even then it's not clear it could be done.

WE ARE NOT OMNIPOTENT. I hope the leadership of both parties learns this lesson before they bankrupt us.

(And the hawks still claim that the people in the Democratic base are the ones who are "unserious!" Unbelievable.)

Why does Indonesia come to mind? They're a consolidating democracy that cooperates with the U.S. on security issues.

Why does Indonesia come to mind? They're a consolidating democracy that cooperates with the U.S. on security issues.

the next time we decide to occupy, stabilize, and reconstruct another country...

...God help that country, and our own.

The breezy self-assurance of empire: breathtaking.

I like the reactions to this piece; seems like readers get the point.

What a lesson to learn that we cannot intervene "will you, nil you" in every country that is in trouble. And I agree - no "self assurance of empire" here, but substantial concern that we cannot do that. And there is a problem of failed states that needs to be dealt with. Nigeria may be close to one; Indonesia could easily go in a centrifugal direction (it has before). And without anticipation, we could find ourselves, God forbid, drawn in.

The real exercise of imagination will be to take the DoD awareness that it cannot act alone and needs partners, combine it with the State Department's growing awareness that it has not paid attention or configured itself to face these new challenges, and seize the opportunity of a willingness to engage other countries, to figure out how such issues can be dealt with in a way that does not tempt the US into another near-unilateral intervention.

Stay tuned for the Friday blog for some more thinking on this.

Why does Indonesia come to mind? They're a consolidating democracy that cooperates with the U.S. on security issues.

More to the point, why syria? They don't have enough oil to matter.

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