In October 2012 our shortened URL ( expired and was purchased by spammers before we were able to reclaim it. Part of their misuse includes redirecting this URL to an imposter site that has advertisements posted in the comment boxes. Stimson is working to take down that site and reclaim the domain name. In the interim, please update your bookmarks accordingly to Thank you all for your patience as we work through this issue.

Picture This



“Modest reforms to pay and compensation will improve readiness and modernization. It will help keep our all-volunteer force sustainable and strong. Keeping faith also means investing sufficient resources so that we can uphold our sacred obligations to defend the nation and to send our sons and daughters to war with only the best training, leadership and equipment. We can’t shrink from our obligations to one another. The stakes are too high.”

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

« “Trillions to Burn?” asks new Project on Defense Alternatives report | Main | Anticipating the national security priorities of the 112th Congress »

Once More, With Feeling: Time to Regroup and Refocus on Managing Peace Operations

By Laura A. Hall

Assessments of the record of the organization created in 2004 to prevent the post-war chaos of “another Iraq” have often concluded that “the model” has failed.  This is not the case.  They did not try and fail; they failed to try.

This has not stopped official - and shadow - Washington from proposing changes to the organization and mandate of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS).  Lack of resources and lack of leadership prevented the initial concept from being tested; but a new focus, with resources and leadership, may result in concepts designed primarily to be new.  The instinct to redesign is typical, but uses a lot of energy.   Think tanks and pundits develop new org charts to remake the entire Executive Branch.  Congress is making noises about legislating solutions.  Everyone inside State and USAID has their own charts, whether official or doodled in meetings or hatched at happy hours.

At some point, a decision – any decision – is preferable to continuing speculation.  The fact that there has not been an appointment of a new Coordinator suggests there is not sufficient vision to attract the next champion[1].   The lack of clarity about the future and confusion on roles and responsibilities of USAID and other government departments continues to sap energy that should be devoted to better planning and response.  Administration decisions remain hostage to the ongoing Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) [2] and Presidential Study Directive on development (PSD) processes.  Congress has a poor record of completing action on this issue.  This prolongs the bureaucratic stalemate begun during the Bush Administration.

Making a formal recommendation through the QDDR will, by definition, require a decision and provide some of the critical focus that has been missing.   If leadership and focus is not consistently applied, the organization will still fail to achieve the vision of greater integration of efforts and better strategy for success in building peace.

Defining Requirements

There are three main functions that S/CRS was created to perform.  These are still needed functions which appear in nearly every report or study on the requirements.  Remarkably, all the new proposals being floated also include these basic functions, suggesting a continuity of mandate.

Coordination of Planning and Response

  • Coordinate and manage planning and operations that include participation of a range of government departments/agencies;

Managing complex operations requires identifying clear responsibilities for integration of efforts (civ-mil, interagency, and international), providing support to decision making processes, and coordinating planning and execution of operations, including resources and personnel.  These are not typical functions.  They require a new capacity to start immediately supporting Regional bureau and Embassy decision makers in planning processes and setting up staffing.  This coordination function requires something more than meetings to de-conflict efforts and it cannot be done in an ad hoc manner.[3]

Developing a Knowledge Base

  • Collect lessons learned and ensure they are applied by developing a core body of knowledge and being a center of excellence

Complex operations require a common “doctrine” that guides the process so that the many moving parts know how to work together.  Coordination of doctrine development and the collection of lessons-learned are needed to develop real capabilities that go beyond relying on ad hoc personnel and their personal capabilities.  This “how to” of post-conflict response must be promulgated, trained, and evaluated.  This is a clear central requirement for a “center of excellence” much like there is responsibility in functional bureaus for security assistance policy, arms control, and trade.

Response Capabilities

  • Provide a ready, trained, and deployable response corps of technical advisors, planners,  conflict experts, and managers.

Responding quickly and effectively to post-conflict environments requires expeditionary capabilities that are trained, ready, and able to deploy quickly.  There is a need for more than just additional numbers of personnel – so that they are not being taken away from “day jobs” – but for different skills, particularly in conflict assessment, planning, and civ-mil operations.

Form Follows Function

Determining what type of organization is needed should be based on several basic management considerations.

  • A clear sense of future post-conflict missions: to the extent there are continuing security interests in responding and these missions remain outside the mainstream of diplomatic and development responsibilities, the organization should be separate.

  • A differentiation between steady-state and surge responsibilities: steady state requirements should drive the overall organization of the departments with surge responsibilities delineated in separate units and processes.

  • A rational alignment of organization, resources and authorities around that mission: organizations must have resources and authorities - formal and informal - that support their mandates.

  • Clear management processes for the inevitable coordination required across the interagency: nothing will fall neatly into one structure so the authorities must include those to enforce integration of efforts.

Assessing the required functions for managing post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction against these considerations suggests there is still a need for a separate entity.  Early proponents of S/CRS argued that a new office had to be established as a separate entity in order to incubate ideas and to grow new capabilities that did not otherwise exist.  If you want to institutionalize something, you need an institution.  Therefore, the most obvious approach is to resource and provide serious leadership to the existing organization and give it a fighting chance, rather than reorganize to provide the appearance of action.

Central Responsibilities

The organization responsible for the first two functions (developing doctrine, managing planning and operations) should remain a separate, distinct organization.  It needs to sit apart from line operational bureaus because motives for intervention overseas are rarely either for strictly security or for development purposes.   It also needs to be separate from Regional Bureaus because there is more in common between post-conflict countries than between peaceful and conflicted countries in the same region and we will never know into which region a surge of effort will be needed.  A nucleus of planners and staffers with experience in conflicts would be available to support any regional bureau or post.

While the mandate is consistent with the original intention behind S/CRS, to be successful, the organization needs additional connections and support.

  • This organization should have the support of the Secretary’s Policy Planning office in tasking contingency planning efforts for likely crises.

  • It should be given clear guidance from the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and the National Security Council on convening response planning for specific events.

  • The organization must be tied to the Department’s overall strategic planning and budgeting processes and to the use of contingency funding as well as the deployment of CRC personnel.

  • Providing a framework for planning and operations management, skilled personnel to staff it[4], and additional funding is a powerful capability.  It must be matched with a process for supporting decision makers in providing guidance.  Using the existing NSC-led system is reasonable and senior leadership at State and NSC need to enforce Regional Bureau cooperation and merging of political/diplomatic leadership with operations capabilities provided by S/CRS.

Determining where to situate such an organization should be consistent with broader decisions on the responsibilities of State, USAID, and other departments and agencies.  This organization should continue – as in current law – to report to the Secretary of State in order to maintain the Secretary’s responsibility for coordination of all foreign policy activities.  As the QDDR and PSD conclude, it is possible to imagine a range of options to assign policy oversight and management responsibilities and implementation and response capabilities.   Whether the official responsible for post-conflict response should also manage response capabilities[5] for humanitarian crises would depend on whether they are consolidated within State or USAID.  A decision on the role of USAID should be made cleanly and dual reporting should be avoided.

Full Integration: The Civilian Response Corps

S/CRS has received the most resources, attention, and success with the Civilian Response Corps (CRC), which includes “expeditionary diplomats” as well as development experts from seven other departments and agencies.  This is the most visible and tangible capability around which there is universal consensus.  However, the CRC has not been utilized fully.  The Department of State failed to turn to the CRC to staff Haiti and Afghanistan or to ask S/CRS to lead the staffing process, has allowed separate expert deployments by other Departments outside negotiated CRC agreements, and has not institutionalized the “standby” concept of calling on existing staff for deployments.  The reality is that a range of response capabilities from existing staff in place to the CRC are utilized to meet emerging staffing needs and that the primary responsibility of responding to those needs falls to bureaus/embassies supported by central personnel offices.  To address this reality, there is a need to increase the sense that the CRC capability belongs to the Departments and is an integral part of the toolkit, rather than a competing arrangement.

The CRC requires central management by the Department of State and co-location of individual experts within their home departments/agencies.[6] The future management of the CRC should be fully integrated into the management bureaus of the Department of State.

  • A new Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Human Resources bureau would exercise responsibility for interagency hiring standards, training requirements, and call-up procedures for deployment.  This official would coordinate with other departments/agencies’ Chief Human Capital Officers on their CRC and work with embassies and bureaus to deploy the CRC - and other personnel - to support their work.

  • The responsibility for deployments, logistics, and sustainment for the CRC and others in difficult locations would be given to the Bureau of Administration, which is already responsible for overseas operations for all USG personnel.

  • The training development responsibility would be housed at the Foreign Service Institute which conducts existing CRC training.

  • Security responsibilities would remain in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

This would put all of the management issues within the purview of the Under Secretary for Management[7] who is already dealing with a world that is considerably more complicated and dangerous in many different areas.

Just Because It's New to You, Doesn’t Mean It’s New

The complexity of the mandate and the bureaucratic requirements to respond more effectively to conflict and fragile and failed states make it difficult to conceive of a simple solution.  There are many perspectives and many experiences that have littered the landscape of the last six years.  It would be a mistake for those newly wrestling with this challenge to assume that only a completely new organization can be successful and would magically avoid the difficulties of building new structures and new staffs.  But, the challenges of this mission area are not completely new, nor is it new for State and USAID to deal with crises.  So those who are charged with this new coordination function must be integrated with and respectful of existing structures.

If there is a need for something new to show change, the Administration should follow a time-honored strategy with a relatively low cost: a new name.

Note: the views of the author do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Department of State.


[1] Amb. John Herbst has served since mid-2006; a longer tour than typical in positions at this level.  The position has since been designated a Presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed position.

[2] The fact that the QDDR has an entire task force working on developing proposals indicates the level of interest among the career and political staffs and the seriousness with which State and USAID officials treat the responsibility to provide leadership on the challenge of failed, failing, and post-conflict states.

[3] Even a special envoy, which can be useful in many circumstances, needs a staff and eventually must develop standardized processes.

[4] In addition to full-time staff for HQ responsibilities, the State Department members of the Civilian Response Corps would be on the staff of this central organization as would detailees from other Departments.  To bolster planning capabilities, trained CRC and S/CRS staff members should spend time assigned to regional bureaus’ planning offices and supporting planning efforts in regular budget cycles for fragile states.

[5] The capabilities currently housed in State’s PRM, DRL, INL bureaus or in USAID’s DCHA bureau.

[6] The PSD and QDDR need to address the relationship between USAID and domestic agencies for implementation of development assistance; the distribution of CRC positions should follow from that decision.  At a minimum, USAID should consider consolidation of its CRC, OTI, and OFDA personnel; other departments/agencies may also need to reassess the appropriate management and locations of their CRC members as they relate to other rapid-response capabilities they maintain for other purposes.

[7] A strong senior advisor function to the Under Secretary would also be needed to provide policy guidance and visibility over the range of issues posed by increasingly difficult overseas environments.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>