The Kyrgyz Republic: Stabilization Through Civilian Expertise
31 January 2011
Prepared by Margaret O’Connor, Johns Hopkins, SAIS
Ambassador Robert Loftis spoke at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on 31 January. Ambassador Loftis is the Acting Coordinator for the Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) at the State Department. He provided an overview of S/CRS and discussed their efforts in Kyrgyzstan.
The Ambassador began by providing a broad overview of S/CRS, its mission and functions. Specifically, S/CRS deploys trained civilians to areas at risk of or emerging from conflict. They work to help governments realize what they can do to help stabilize and rebuild their country to maintain sustainable peace. S/CRS employees provide the “intellectual and logistical infrastructure” needed in unstable areas. Ambassador Loftis emphasized the planning and assessment framework utilized by the office, that S/CRS first sets out to determine the drivers of conflict and the resiliencies and weaknesses in the system, and that S/CRS ultimately supports a country in moving to a place of stable peace.
The recent Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review strengthens and institutionalizes S/CRS’s function within the State Department. It recognizes conflict prevention as a discipline and core mission of foreign service and a mission of the State Department as a whole. This shift in thinking affirms the efforts of S/CRS.
The office is expeditionary in nature. It offers additional support to Embassies and US diplomats by providing manpower and a presence outside of the capital as well as strategic planning and review functions. The Civilian Response Corps (CRC) is made up of active and standby components, the former includes members from the State Department, USAID, DOJ, USDA, DHS, DHHS, and DOC. The Standby component also includes the Department of Energy and the Department of Transportation. The three largest engagements are currently Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Southern Sudan.
The Kyrgyzstan engagement acts as a good case study to highlight how S/CRS can play a positive role in stabilization efforts. The US has had a partnership with Kyrgyzstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the nature of the relationship has intensified and deepened since 2001 and the war in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan has been an important ally, particularly in its housing of the Manas Transit Center. S/CRS’s involvement predates the 2010 violence and government overthrow. As with most S/CRS engagements, the US Embassy in Bishkek came to the office asking for help in developing a 5-year strategic plan. This occurred in January and by March a plan was created. However, with the April 2010 overthrow of the Bakiyev government, the team shifted focus and developed a stabilization strategy pulling together US government activities emphasizing conflict mitigation.
S/CRS expanded its involvement in Kyrgyzstan assisting in three crucial areas. An elections team was setup to help with help the government conduct legitimate elections in October 2010. Four members worked with the OSCE on police reform, program coordination and elections issues. CRC members came from DOS, USAID, DOJ, and DOC. Finally, the Temporary Assistance Coordination Unit (TACU) was setup in the south in order to better manage and see how US assistance was being handled. It also acted as the USG’s “eyes on the ground” in the south allowing the Embassy to have a better understanding of the situation there. A Conflict Prevention officer was deployed to assess US assistance programs through a conflict lens and to advise on how to ensure that such activities mitigated rather than exacerbated the conflict. For example, the TACU worked with Manas Transit Center and the Embassy on aid distribution to ensure that the aid reached all ethnic groups.
The Ambassador emphasized the collaborative role that S/CRS plays in working closely with local government and civil society groups. In Kyrgyzstan, the team not only monitored the elections but worked with local officials to ensure that citizens had access to polling stations and supplies, which helped maintain the credibility of the elections. In terms of high-profile trials related to the violence throughout the country, S/CRS has played an important monitoring role, which has helped the government fulfill its rule of law responsibilities. Further, S/CRS has partnered with existing local groups that play an important role in conflict mitigation and stabilization efforts (groups that cut across ethnic divisions and work to create jobs and opportunities for citizens).
S/CRS operations are short term in nature. Kyrgyzstan represents a good example of where S/CRS is planning to wind down its efforts.
In the Q&A, Ambassador Loftis provided more insight into how S/CRS operates generally, and some of the efforts taken in Kyrgyzstan specifically. All S/CRS engagements are initiated by Embassies. Embassy Bishkek requested S/CRS assistance in looking at the US’s whole-of-government approach and in how to better coordinate its assistance programs.
With the outbreak of violence, S/CRS’s mission shifted with an emphasis placed in mitigating conflict drivers and looking at US Government activities through a conflict lens. Additionally, S/CRS and the US government work closely with the host government of any country. In Kyrgyzstan, the TACU has allowed the US greater communication with local government in the south as well as a better understanding of the situation in that region.
The Ambassador also emphasized S/CRS’s approach to conducting conflict assessments – speaking to as many actors on the ground from as many different parts of society as possible to gain as holistic an understanding of the situation as they can. While one can never have a complete picture, this approach helps to identify the drivers of conflict and then informs their understanding of the situation and how to most effectively address it.