“Despite numerous undertakings, lessons are typically observed rather than learned, and with each crisis, agencies scramble to reinvent coordination and execution processes.” (Renanah Miles, “The State Department, USAID, and the Flawed Mandate for Stabilization and Reconstruction”, PRISM 3, No. 1, December 2011 at cco.ndu.edu/Portals/96/Documents/prism/prism_3-1/prism_37-46_n)
America lacks the capacity to comprehensively and successfully deter the failure of faltering states and, should such deterrence fail, return a collapsed state to stability. This paucity of American capacity to bring together all of the elements of U.S. power to meet a myriad of challenges is evident in the dearth of policy, strategy, structure, and planning. Lack of a comprehensive capacity opens an avenue to threaten the safety and security of Americans at a time when safety and security are declared to be the prime objective of federal government.
The National Security Strategy (NSS) released in December 2017 recognizes that we must assist fragile states and states recovering from conflict because “stable, prosperous, and friendly states enhance American security and boost U.S. economic opportunities.” The NSS identifies that modernized U.S. instruments of diplomacy and development will help “states mobilize their own resources to achieve transitions to growth and stability.” The NSS directs that “The United States must use its diplomatic, economic, and military tools simultaneously when assisting aspiring partners.”
The 2006 NSS first identified a comprehensive approach requirement to manage U.S. interagency reconstruction and stabilization efforts. A major concern was that regional conflicts result from a wide variety of causes that lead to “failed states, humanitarian disasters, and ungoverned areas that can become safe havens for terrorists.” The 2006 NSS directed the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstitution and Stabilization (S/CRS) to “draw on all agencies of the government and integrate its activities with our military’s efforts.” The NSS highlighted the need for a coordinated response to conflict prevention and resolution, conflict intervention, post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction, and genocide. The Department of State (DOS) office was to lead America’s efforts to coordinate Department of Defense (DOD), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other governmental and nongovernmental entities to prevent problems from becoming crises.
The effort failed for lack of bold and effective leadership within U.S. departments and agencies, political in-fighting within DOS bureaus complaining about S/CRS overreach, confusion over how the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance would collaborate with S/CRS, a lack of understanding by DOD leaders of the ways DOS does business, and the disparity between the level of DOD resources versus other U.S. departments and agencies. Within DOD, U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) became the designated agent for training and experimenting with interagency coordination and collaboration. USJFCOM developed and experimented with policies, structures, and lessons learned but, as with the rest of DOD, USJFCOM leaders were primarily focused on organizing and equipping the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
NSS 2010 again highlighted the need for “integration of different elements of American power” but distinguished the separate roles of agencies responsible for diplomacy, development, defense, and intelligence rather than calling for collaborative efforts. The DOS released a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review paralleling the DOD’s Quadrennial Defense Review but little collaboration progress was made. USJFCOM was disestablished in 2011 and efforts to pursue an interagency comprehensive approach all but disappeared. The U.S. government returned to a relatively uncoordinated, inefficient manner of conducting international engagement.
NSS 2015 relegated a comprehensive approach to “continue to work with partners and through multilateral organizations to address the root causes of conflict before they erupt and contain and resolve them when they do.”
So, where are we? We still dance around how U.S. government agencies can collaborate efficiently and effectively while engaging with each country around the world. We recognize that stability is key to the security of America but fail to address how to comprehensively build and maintain it. The same is true for reconstituting failing and failed states despite the many hard-earned interagency collaboration lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. It should not be and doesn’t have to be this way. We learned more than a decade ago that despite inherent difficulties, U.S. programs that deter instability and promote security around the globe are best accomplished with a comprehensive approach.
1 Renanah Miles, “The State Department, USAID, and the Flawed Mandate for Stabilization and Reconstruction”, PRISM 3, No. 1, December 2011 at cco.ndu.edu/Portals/96/Documents/prism/prism_3-1/prism_37-46_n