U.S. State Department

Background Briefing on the Establishment of the Department of State's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations

Press Release   •   Nov 23, 2011 05:33 EST

MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. It’s [Moderator] from the Press Office. Thank you all for joining us. As many of you are aware today, we announced the launch of the Department of State’s newest bureau, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, or CSO for short. Today’s call is on background. For your information and not for attribution, [Senior State Department Official] is with us today to discuss CSO in greater detail.

And from this point on, our briefer will be referred to as Senior State Department Official, and with that, I turn it over to our Senior State Department Official.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks very much, [Moderator]. It’s a pleasure to be with you today. And what I thought I’d just do is take a minute or two to describe what we’re doing right now and look forward to the conversation with you.

As many of you know, I’ve worked in this space for 17 years in over 30 countries, and during that time, I think we’ve seen many good initiatives, but perhaps larger frustrations. And I think that that has led Secretary Clinton and the QDDR process and many others – some of her predecessors, others here in Washington like Senator Lugar – to really seek a way to bring greater coherence and effectiveness to this space, the space of conflict-prone countries, of fragile states, of dramatic transitions. And I think that’s especially important coming off of the past decade, but also as we look at a rather – a new phase of transition cases that are really quite different than what we’ve seen in the first 10 years of this century.

So the establishment of the bureau is really a way to bring new heft to the system within the U.S. Government, within the State Department, and really to – not to create a huge new bureaucracy, because it’s both the merger of an existing office and then the startup of a new bureau – but to try to introduce new leadership, the integration of existing talent and some of the existing products in with a bureau that will try to really connect the analysis and the strategy, the ideas, the resources, more closely than they have been before. So that rather than answering the question of are we doing everything that we can, or everything that is needed, we’re answering the question of what is most needed. So moving into a more analytic framework, but also that’s driven by facts on the ground and by the voices of local people. And then make sure that the strategies are tightly tied to a couple of top priorities, and that the resources really flow to those priorities, rather than everybody doing their own analysis, coming out with their own strategies, and then kind of a proliferation of programming.

I think in this, we have really about a year to sort of prove the concept. I think there’s an impatience for this to move ahead. We’ve – we’re talking about working in two to three places of real significance to the United States. We have, as a result of the S/CRS merger, we have fifteen or so legacy cases, but they will be of less significance for proving our worth than probably the two or three cases that we’ll be working this coming year. And probably the other element is to put together a talented team that the U.S. Government looks to in these kinds of cases that we’re describing. So I think if we do those things, we can get ahead of change, we can drive an integrated response, and we can really leverage partnerships and have the U.S. Government work in a much more coherent way. So I hope that provides a little bit of background, and I look forward to your questions and comments.

OPERATOR: Thank you, and are you ready to begin the question and answer session at this time?

MODERATOR: Yes, Operator. We’re ready to go to the Q and A.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We’re now ready to begin the question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1. You will be prompted to record your name. Again, press *1 to ask a question and one moment for our first question.

Our first question comes from Nicole Gaouette. You may ask your question.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. Just wondering if you can give us a little more detail – concrete detail about these two or three places. Where they are, what you hope to do there.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think it’s going to depend quite a lot on, sort of, what develops in the next few weeks and months. But I think you could have a pretty good sense that we’ll undoubtedly work in one of the Arab Spring countries, but perhaps one that’s not quite as developed, not as far along, one that might be evolving in the coming months. Probably a sub-Saharan African country, where there might be division occurring within the country. You could look at – just for example, you could look at Nigeria or Kenya, they would both be places of real significance to the U.S. Again, I think there’s quite a lot of conversation that has to take place before we lock in there.

The same thing, I think there’s probably going to be an opportunity with a very different flavor in north Central America. You could look at the region there, perhaps, of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, where there’s a great deal of violence. It has real national security implications for the U.S. Then you could look at a country that’s sort of on the front pages right now. It’s unclear whether it will continue to move in a promising direction, but Burma will be – would fall into that category. So that would be one of the ways you’d do your – we’re doing the analysis right now, and talking with other parts of the U.S. Government to make sure that we’re, again, to deliver that coherence.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you again. If you’d like to ask a question, press *1 and record your name clearly. And please stand by for our next question.

And at this time, I’m showing no further questions. Again, if you’d like to ask a question, please press *1 at this time.

And one moment, please.

And our next question comes from Nicole Gaouette. You may ask your question.

QUESTION: Hi. I just wanted to follow up on my earlier question.


QUESTION: Is there going to be any economic development component to your approach or the team you assemble?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Absolutely. And I think that one of the keys is to let the situation drive the response. So that if we get in with a four or five person team, that’s really a joint – that’s there to do joint independent analysis, and the economic arguments are at the forefront of the instability or of the drive for change that’s stirring up the country, we should move to those issues. I think there – I think you can – usually that’s the case. It’s not always about the youth bulge, or bad governance, or of one sector of the government getting out of control. It’s usually – there’s almost always an economic dimension to it.

So – but it should be driven by what we find out in the case rather than by our having a pre-packaged idea of what is most needed. And I think we’ve seen that that’s been sort of the chronic problem, and in an awful lot of these cases is that people come in with their existing portfolios, and so the answer, if your portfolio is a humanitarian portfolio, then the answer is – it’s humanitarian. If it’s a health portfolio, that’s your answer. And there are plenty of people who do that work well, but what’s really much more important is that we focus on what is most needed at this time, and then what is the U.S. capable of helping in a catalytic fashion, as opposed to taking full ownership. So I think the economics will always be a factor. Any appropriate analysis should have economics, anthropology, sociology, politics, the full mix, but not a predetermined outcome.

QUESTION: And can I ask – I would imagine that in some situations that this could be quite sensitive, having a group of U.S. observers/analysts coming in and speaking to people who might be seen as, I don’t know, promoting unrest, maybe, or associated with it in different places. How are you going to manage the potential hostility of host countries or groups?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think it is a really good question, and it’s a point of great sensitivity. There are several ways they’re doing it. One is that if you do start out by listening, rather than – and you’re listening to multiple voices, you’re not just taking the official-ese, you’re not just taking the street, but you’re actually trying to get a range of voices. Probably the analysis will be – it’s almost a luxury now, within our system of having crises unfold so quickly and having to move as dramatically as possible to show that you care – but if you don’t do it, then you’re oftentimes moving in the wrong direction. And that doesn’t, obviously, have a pay off.

I think there’s – I think – so if it’s clear that you’re there in a listening mode because you seek to help, but there’s no guarantee of involvement, there’s no guarantee of what you’re going to do, that can minimize some of that initial resistance. I think another thing is just to make sure that you don’t come in with too big a team. The U.S. Government, not unlike the UN, has a lot of people who could help, and these situations have an infinite number of problems. So everybody has a right to say I want to go in there and help, but if you can come in there with a somewhat smaller team – four or five people – and they can over the course of a few weeks conduct several hundred conversations, as journalists often would do, then you also don’t have such a big footprint that it makes the embassy nervous, or it makes the people of the country nervous.

But you have to be very careful not to disadvantage the change agents, because in many of these places, they’re not very strong. They can be easily isolated or targeted. And so that extra level of sensitivity is something you absolutely have to be aware of. And so I think your concern is an appropriate one, but I’m pretty familiar with this approach, because we’ve done – I’ve done it so many times. And we’re able to conduct measure of progress studies, and when I was at (inaudible) in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are very difficult places to get around because of the insecurity – but we were able to meet with – oftentimes using local people who we trained to do interviews – with over a thousand people all over Afghanistan. So it’s possible you can do it, but you’ve got to be sensitive and make sure you’re not raising people up so they’ll become targets as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.