dodging the bullet: balancing civilian and defense in conflict prevention


Sifting through a recent State Department programmatic briefing, FP’s Josh Rogin reported Tuesday on a joint State/Pentagon emergency crisis fund, which will pool civilian and defense resources to strengthen U.S. government participation in stabilization, conflict prevention, and crisis response efforts. According to Rogin, the emergency crisis fund has its origins in former Defense Secretary Gates’ prior thoughts concerning civilian/defense coordination on institution-building, security reform, and conflict prevention. Gates used the United Kingdom’s cross-cutting pooled funding structure for conflict prevention as a model for State/Pentagon collaboration on conflict mitigation efforts:

Building on the UK’s concept, [the “Shared Responsibility, Pooled Resources” (SRPR)] approach envisions pooled funding mechanisms for (1) Security Capacity Building, (2) Stabilization, and (3) Conflict Prevention. Each department would seek funding within its budget to contribute to the funding pools. Each pool would operate with joint formulation requirements in the field and dual-key authority to achieve their purposes. Each department would be able to add funds to the pool to meet a departmental imperative, although the use of these funds would be subject to the dual-key approval requirements.

The Global Security Contingency Fund, as the new, $2 billion dollar initiative is called, builds on extant preventative initiatives within U.S. civilian agencies, specifically the joint State/USAID Complex Crises Fund. As civilian foreign policy efforts, both initiatives have come under significant scrutiny from Congressional budgeting processes, which view productive, sustainable, and longer-term preventative investments with a skeptical eye. In FY 2011, a year after the initial inception of the interagency Complex Crises Fund, the House threatened to zero out the funding pool, only to have the Senate restore the initiative at eighty percent of its initial $50 million budget. With discretionary foreign policy spending on the chopping block, such initiatives remain in constant flux, despite their evident–if not necessarily primary–importance to U.S. national interests.

The new Pentagon/State crises fund is, therefore, a savvy attempt by the Obama administration to maneuver around the messy (and generally preposterous) politics of discretionary, non-military foreign policy funding. Pentagon/State resource coordination is an essential component of an effective conflict prevention strategy, as the Genocide Prevention Task Force’s conclusions on the “Interagency” indicate. The Pentagon has occupied an important role in U.S. policy approaches to conflict prevention and stabilization; four years before the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) highlighted the State Department’s new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review identified early warning and preventative response as a Defense Department policy priority. The Defense Department’s Office for Rule of Law and International Humanitarian Policy, departing Undersecretary Michele Flournoy’s brainchild, has played a decisive role in crafting the military’s approach to humanitarian action. While the complete policy impact of DoD’s bureaucratic policy shifts remain unclear, the military’s persistent presence in organizational discourse on conflict prevention and stabilization is evident.

At the same time, the new emergency fund–as a microcosm of civilian/military policy collaboration–leaves a number of questions unanswered. As Rogin suggests, civilian power advocates possess real and entirely justified concerns about the militarization of conflict prevention and mitigation efforts. Stability operations play an important role in Army doctrine, but the U.S. military has a problematic, muddied history of encounters with institution-building and stabilization in weak/failed states. Military actors can stabilize neighborhoods, but mediation, inclusive political facilitation, and conflict negotiation are fundamentally civilian-based initiatives. Deterring the militarization of stabilization will necessitate a more credible commitment to and investment in civilian foreign policy approaches.

The emergency fund may provide a greater degree of fiscal flexibility for civilian foreign policy institutions, but it cannot function sustainably in the absence of interagency-wide cultural shifts in conflict prevention and stabilization institutions. An excellent new report by the Center for American Progress and Humanity United, released in tandem with the QDDR’s first anniversary, highlights an essential gap in civilian preparedness for conflict prevention:

So on paper, crisis prevention is a U.S. government priority. Translating the administration’s rhetoric into reality, however, is tremendously difficult, and it would likely require far more disruptive changes to current systems than any of these reviews acknowledge. The USAID policy framework is an important start, but unless significant institutional reform occurs in the near future no meaningful
change will happen…

…Training is a good place to start. Our research for this paper made abundantly and sometimes painfully clear that the state of conflict prevention training at both State and USAID remains shockingly limited, ad hoc, and uncoordinated. Training has little or no link to career advancement, as opposed to our military branches, and it is often seen as an inconvenience rather than an asset.

More flexible funding is an important foundation for institutional change. However, in order to reverse the perpetual cycle of civilian impotence in conflict prevention and stabilization initiatives, policymakers need to commit themselves to overhauling severe civilian/military disparities in institutional capacity, policy knowledge, and training on conflict prevention. Unfortunately, Congressional politics will continue to dominate the interagency’s ability to facilitate such institutional reconfigurations. However, as the CAP/HU report notes, U.S. government institutions can form more sustained, strategic partnerships with civil society organizations working to build civilian preventative capacity, gradually lessening the destructive civilian/military gap on crisis response.

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