Two cheers for Transformational Diplomacy -- and State-Building

February 16, 2006

In testimony yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave a spirited and largely persuasive defense of the Administration’s FY06 Foreign Affairs budget of $35.1 billion. At a time of budgetary austerity (aside from DoD’s obscene and apparently untouchable half a trillion dollar budget) we owe kudos to Secretary Rice for securing OMB agreement on a 4% increase in spending on the State Department and foreign aid programs such as USAID.But beyond the numbers, the Secretary deserves praise for her determination to transform the ossified tools of U.S. global engagement to address some of the main national security and foreign policy challenges that face the United States in the twenty-first century. As she testified yesterday:

The greatest threats today emerge more within states than between them, and the fundamental character of regimes matters more than the international distribution of power. It is impossible to draw neat, clear lines between our security interests, our development goals, and our democratic ideals in today’s world. Our diplomacy must integrate and advance all of these goals together.
What Rice recognizes is that many of today’s major transnational threats – from terrorism to disease to proliferation to organized crime – originate in or are exacerbated by state weakness in the developing world. This was of course a central theme of On the Brink, the 2004 report of the Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security, co-chaired by Stuart Eizenstat and John Edward Porter and ably shepherded by my predecessor and non-resident CGD Fellow Jeremy Weinstein. Taking this work further, I recently wrote a CGD working paper, Weak States and Global Threats: Assessing Evidence of Spillovers that shows how different sorts of weak states generate different sorts of threats. (A modified version will appear in the Spring issue of the Washington Quarterly. )Two elements of Rice’s strategic vision are particularly noteworthy:First, she recognizes that the United States must put new emphasis on the core challenge of State-Building: Increasingly, the role of U.S. diplomats and development professionals will be to assist the long and laborious tasks of promoting effective and accountable institutions in foreign countries. Of course, this will require a huge cultural shift, particularly from the State Department, where diplomats must shift from cable-writers to doers and implementers on the ground. And it will require a lot of on-the-job training and learning, because it’s obvious we don’t yet have any clear idea about how to do state-building effectively, as Frank Fukuyama pointed out in a recent article for the Atlantic Monthly titled Nation-Building 101. But at least Rice is getting the administration to start asking the right questions.Second, Rice understands that state-building is not something that the State Department can do alone. It will require new forms of what the British government terms “joined-up government” – involving greater integration and coordination across the “3ds” of Diplomacy, Defense, and Development – as well as with the Treasury Department, USTR, the Intelligence Community, Justice, Commerce, HHS and others. Getting unity of effort implies more than breaking down bureaucratic stove-pipes and consolidating aid spigots. It will entail reconciling mandates and accepting inevitable trade-offs between priorities, if the United States is to create truly integrated policies toward particular weak and failing states. This shift will be a painful and protracted process, if the example of the U.S. military is any guide. It took more than a decade starting in the 1980s to improve coordination across the various branches of the U.S. military. It may take far longer on the civilian side. (To help assist this process, we at CGD are working with the International Peace Academy to compare how the U.S. and other countries are tackling the problem of interagency coordination when dealing with weak and failing states.)Why only two cheers – rather than three? Two reasons.One, it’s unclear whether increases in foreign assistance will improve our response to weak and failing states so long as the U.S. aid budget is hamstrung by countless congressional earmarks. The Administration needs to bite the bullet with a long-deferred reform of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act.Two, I’d prefer that the strategic approach to weak and failing states not come at the expense of resources for non-strategic poor countries that are making slow but steady progress in poverty reduction. There’s a whiff of this in the decrease of the core Development Assistance account. With such a large and growing proportion of the aid budget going to other purposes (like foreign military financing, strategic allies, the drug war, good performers (MCA), and HIV/AIDS spending (PEPFAR), there’s not much left for broader development objectives that are also ultimately in the U.S. interest.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.