A Tectonic Shift at State and USAID?

Oct 27, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

The long-awaited release of the first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) -- a strategic reassessment of the U.S. foreign affairs establishment -- may well yield a tectonic shift in how American foreign policy is carried out. The operative word is "may." A punch list of significant issues is still undergoing refinement as part of the overhaul. But the beginnings of a major transformation are underway to elevate a critical U.S. mission: confronting today's conflicts in a more integrated and holistic way. What remains to be seen now is how the instruments of diplomacy and development are re-tooled to meet these urgent challenges overseas.

Almost five years ago, the Department of Defense unleashed a revolutionary renovation project when it directed that stability operations be on par with combat operations as a core mission of the nation's armed forces. State and USAID began an experiment at that time as well, nested in the Office of the Coordinator for Stabilization and Reconstruction, to elevate the mission of "winning the peace". This "evolutionary" process now needs to go into high gear if the nation's foreign affairs machinery is to effectively build the peace that only well-trained civilians, working with their counterparts in the military, can bring about. It will take more than a "village," to train a generation of new conflict managers. It needs, as the President and Secretary of State have said, a whole-of-government approach to prevent, manage and resolve international conflicts through education, training and coordination of our civilians in conflict zones. It fact, it will take a "whole of community" approach inclusive of national and international stakeholders.

Like all leadership challenges, it starts at the top. The senior management of the State Department and USAID need to agree this shared mission of "winning the peace" requires elevated leadership to bring together all the agencies of government that work on agricultural assistance , rule of law, gender, economic stability, security sector reform, and other capacity building activities. As important as that is, "winning the peace" also means concentrating on the tradecraft of peacebuilding - before, during, and after conflict. Peacebuilding is hard, complex and dangerous and is a discipline that needs doctrine, planning, training and careful execution much as warfare does.

Getting "buy-in" from other parts of State and USAID will occur when this mission is mainstreamed throughout regional and functional bureaus in both State and USAID. That also means having the best of State and the best of AID work together to clarify roles and responsibilities and institute "jointness." There will be little room for inter-agency conflict or the equivalent of the inter-service rivalry that hampered our defense establishment before the passage of the landmark "Goldwater-Nichols Act."

When the QDDR produces these shifts, then State and USAID will be able to turn truly to the enormity of the task of integrating functions across the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, Treasury, and so many others who have signed up for this mission and deserve organization and leadership to lead the U.S. civilian "troops" into the heat of the battle for peace.

The State Department will be able to draw support and lessons learned from many national and international organizations like the U.S. Institute of Peace, which have operated on the ground in conflict zones and work at that critical juncture between military and civilian operations.

The time is ripe for this renewed commitment to a coordinated, comprehensive and coherent partnership between the agencies of the U.S. government to build stronger, more robust societies that are able to withstand the temptation to resort to violence to settle disputes over religion, identity, resources and culture. Best practices are out there, in the private sector, the humanitarian sector, the academic literature, and the experiences of soldiers and civilians. If the QDDR builds on these best practices and delivers this renewed commitment to coordination, the nation will be well-served.

Tara Sonenshine is Executive Vice-President of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Beth Cole is director of Intergovernmental Affairs and ran an external advisory panel for the QDDR on behalf of the Institute. The opinions here are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the U.S. Institute of Peace.