New from CGD

Nation-Building 101: U.S. Outlines New Approaches to Failed States

April 24, 2006

Three years after the fall of Baghdad, senior Bush Administration officials described the evolving U.S. approach to state failure and post-conflict reconstruction at a half-day symposium co-sponsored by CGD and Johns Hopkins University-SAIS (access the agenda or download the transcripts (pdf) for the April 6 event). The discussion underscored how far the administration has come in embracing the same nation-building mission it once disdained – and how far it has left to go. Over the past two years the State Department, USAID, and Pentagon have launched reforms intended to improve U.S. performance in bolstering fragile states and supporting stabilization and reconstruction operations. But, it remains unclear whether the United States knows how to promote capable institutions in failing and war-torn states – and whether it is willing to devote sustained political will and resources to these tasks.

Francis Fukuyama, Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at SAIS, opened the symposium by reviewing the administration’s disastrous failure to plan for post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq. He lauded the Administration's renewed attention to "state-building," while expressing skepticism about its aggressive democracy promotion agenda in war-torn states as an unrealistic short term goal.

CGD Research Fellow Stewart Patrick reviewed the transformation in the U.S. approach to failed and war-torn states in the past two years. Highlights include the creation of the Office of the Coordinator of Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) at the State Department, a renewed commitment by the Department of Defense to stability operations (see the Nov. 28, 2005 Directive “Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction"(pdf)), USAID's Fragile States Strategy (pdf), and speeches by Secretary of State Condoleza Rice on "transformational diplomacy" and reform of foreign aid, including the appointment of Randall Tobias as the first Director of Foreign Assistance.

Despite all this institutional learning, "our collective understanding of how to build effective states after conflict remains rudimentary," Partick observed. “We remain far more focused on post-conflict responses than on preventing state collapse.”

Patrick chaired the first of two panels, on U.S. strategic responses to state failure. The three panelists - Jeffrey Nadaner, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations; Douglas Menarchik, Assistant Administrator for Policy and Program Coordination in USAID; and Marcia Wong, Deputy Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at State - explained that their agencies are pursuing a “whole of government” approach to failed and war-torn states. The goal of this “3 Ds” approach is to ensure that diplomacy, development and defense components of U.S. engagement are mutually reinforcing. As became clear in the discussion, a major obstacle to policy coherence and integrated efforts is the gross resource disparity between the Pentagon and its interagency counterparts. To date, neither the administration nor Congress has invested adequately in creating the sort of civilian capabilities that can make a difference on the ground. As a result, the United States continues to rely disproportionately on military instruments.

Effective coordination among the “3 Ds” is hard enough in Washington. It is even more challenging in the field, where civilian and military actors pursue – and attempt to reconcile -- their distinctive mandates in unstable, violent settings. James Schear of National Defense University, who chaired the second panel, explored the dilemmas of civil-military coordination in war-torn states with James R. Kunder, USAID Assistant Administrator for Asia and the Near East; George Devendorf, Director of Public Affairs, Mercy Corps International; and Lieutenant Colonel Richard Lacquement in the Office of Stability Operations. The panelists agreed that delivering security and meeting basic human needs were fundamental preconditions for sustainable recovery from conflict. They also recognized the trade-off, for outsiders, between doing things yourself and doing the painstaking work to build up local capacities.