The U.S. Response to Precarious States: Tentative Progress and Remaining Obstacles to Coherence

July 20, 2007

The Bush administration has declared fragile states to be a threat to international security and an obstacle to global development. Unfortunately, the United States is still struggling to craft the strategies, mobilize the resources and align the policy instruments it needs to help reform and reconstruct failing, failed, and war-torn states. Improved U.S. performance in prevention, crisis response, and the long-term process of state-building after conflict will require a more integrated approach that goes well beyond impressive military assets to include major investments in critical civilian capabilities. Ingredients for a more successful approach include embracing prevention as an operating principle; achieving a common vision about the goals of U.S. action; establishing criteria and methods for determining when and where to engage; clarifying interagency leadership within Washington and in the field; improving civil-military planning and coordination; developing a standing civilian surge capacity and relevant technical skills; and providing significantly higher funding to support U.S. civilian engagement in failing and post-conflict states. Reconciling the conflicting cultures, mandates, operating procedures and time horizons of government departments and agencies will be a recurrent challenge.

This Essay will appear as a chapter in a forthcoming volume published by the Bertelsmann Foundation titled International Responses to Precarious States. For more information, visit their website at:

Rights & Permissions

You may use and disseminate CGD’s publications under these conditions.