Day: June 16, 2012

More new wine into old bottles

Gregor Nazarian reports from Friday afternoon’s discussion of the QDDR at USIP (I’ve already offered some general reflections on what I heard in the morning): 

Friday afternoon the US Institute of Peace and Webster University took a closer look at “The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR): Complementary or Cooperation between State, AID and the NGO Community.”

The central question was how the development community should move forward after the QDDR released 18 months ago by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A review designed to identify long-term strategic goals of US diplomacy and development efforts as well as match priorities to limited resources, the Review represents an important opportunity. Ambassador Robert Pearson, IREX president, believes that the QDDR was bound to happen in some form or another, because the community was ready for a serious conversation about diplomacy, development, and defense. According to USIP’s Marcia Wong, this conversation will be long and sustained. The division of labor between the State Department, USAID, and the military remains contentious and will require creative thinking to perfect.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor defended what appears to some as simply bureaucratic reorganization by stressing the value of centralized strategic planning. Diplomacy and development policy has often been put together by teams on the ground across the world, responding to short-term needs and often working at cross-purposes. American interests will be better served with closer communication within the State Department, between State and AID, and with NGOs for both. Cooperation allows bureaus and organizations to work as “force multipliers” for each other. The new model of strategic thinking involves defining vital interests (to be found in a series of major speeches by the secretary of state) and weaving them into local programming. Issues like protection of women, LGBT individuals, religious minorities, and human rights more broadly are being emphasized at all levels now that they are officially issues of policy. One positive effect of the changes has been better project integration between State and AID, limiting the turf battles of the past.

The QDDR also yields a host of challenges.  Michael Svetlik of IFES noted that it may highlight (and perhaps ameliorate) but will not solve the underlying problem of insufficient budgetary appropriations, which is likely only to get worse. With luck, it will provide State the opportunity to demonstrate its financial accountability to Congress. Any major changes that come out of the QDDR will have to go through Congress, so USAID’s Kevin Brownawell recommended more civil society and executive branch engagement with congress. He also suggested doing more to explain development and its importance to the American people in order to build up sustained popular support.

For John Norris of the Center for American Progress, the QDDR falls short of fixing what is essentially a broken system. It tinkers at the edges of fundamental problems that can only be addressed by going through Congress. Search for Common Ground’s John Marks echoed some of these concerns: most of our agencies are Cold War leftovers no longer equal to the challenges of modern diplomacy.

One often-repeated concern was the integration of development with conflict prevention. Several panelists suggested that State, USAID, and NGOs are woefully undertrained in conflict prevention and management. The QDDR addresses this problem but doesn’t go far enough in finding solutions.

Panelists turned frequently to other issues that went unmentioned or unstressed in the QDDR. There was a lot of talk about the missing D’s: defense and democracy. Marcia Wong criticized the neglect of the civil-military dimension, given the increasing presence of the military in humanitarian relief. The PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) model employed in Afghanistan and Iraq will not be viable in lower-level conflicts but does suggest the increased importance of integration between military and civilian instruments.

Ambassador Pearson and John Norris both pointed to examples where small numbers of unarmed civilians achieved success in situations where military options were not only prohibitively expensive but also unresponsive to the problems on the ground. State and USAID must actively improve their capacity in this sphere, taking on more responsibility for conflict prevention.

The panels suggested that the impact of the QDDR is still very much undecided. It is not assured that there will even be another one, especially given the possibility of a change in administration. Many speakers were skeptical of the possibility of bringing about serious improvements without more fundamental change. But the greatest value of the review, it seems, is the discussion it has sparked within the government and the NGO community on directions for change in how America approaches diplomacy, development, and defense.

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New wine into old bottles

USIP yesterday morning hosted a meeting on the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).  I heard a lot of good things in the first hour or so.  Breaking down stovepipes, a concept of national security that requires peaceful and prosperous democratic partners abroad, a commitment to elevate development and civilian capacities generally as a means (equal in importance to military means) towards that end, a shift in emphasis to conflict prevention.  These are all good things.

Unfortunately they are also things we’ve been hearing about for some time.  The QDDR is now more than one and a half years old.  Secretary Clinton has only recently created an office to monitor its implementation.  The USAID Office of Transition Initiatives and Bureau of Humanitarian Response have not received the increased resources hoped for.  The State Department Bureau of Civilian Stabilization Operations, proud offspring of the QDDR, is cutting back its Civilian Response Corps because of budget pressures.

Let me be clear:  I have no doubt about the sincerity and determination of the people pushing for stronger civilian foreign policy instruments.  They are desperately needed.   The Arab Spring has demonstrated the limited utility of military instruments and the vital importance of American civilian capabilities to help with democratic transitions.  Only in Libya, and only in the early stages of the revolution, have conventional military instruments been decisive.  Preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons is requiring a large dose of diplomacy just to get to the point of considering seriously the use of military instruments.  Our understanding of the Iranian domestic political scene is clearly not as comprehensive as it should be.

Civilian requirements are clear enough to me.  But America’s political system is not responding by providing the resources required.  To the contrary, State and AID are facing potentially large cuts to their budgets, cuts far bigger than those being contemplated for the U.S. military.

But I would not suggest that we weaken the military to strengthen the civilian side of our foreign policy.  The first thing that needs to be done is for State and AID to look within themselves for the resources.  State is configured more for the past than for the future.  It has overgrown embassies in places (I’ll mention Rome, since I was deputy chief of mission there) that don’t need them.  AID, shrunken from its Vietnam heyday, still runs most of its programs from headquarters rather than the field.  The division of labor between the two organizations is often unclear.  Rivalry rather than cooperation the norm.

What the QDDR did was to pour new wine into old bottles, something the New Testament discourages:

else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

I won’t go farther than that, as this is the punch line of my book manuscript. But even the not very perspicacious among you will understand that I’m suggesting we need new institutions, not only good intentions, more staff and new procedures, in order to fulfill the promise of the QDDR.  That though is for another day.

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