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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at Norwegian Women and Security Network

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Peace Research Institute
Oslo, Norway
June 15, 2011


Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here at the Women in Security Network of the Peace Research Institute.

This is an important time for organizations such as yours. The events of recent months—from the democratic revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to the earthquake in Japan—remind us of the gravity of transnational security challenges. Whether motivated by the need to respond to natural disasters or democratic aspirations, governments and civil society must work together in order to promote peace and security locally and around the world. And of course, the role of women—as leaders, first responders and victims—is key to our progress.

Tonight, I’d like to share with you how the United States is elevating civilian security—and the role of women in security— in our own foreign policy, and more specifically, how we see women figuring largely in the equation to peace and security.

In the United States, we recently completed the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR, which builds on existing mechanisms in the US government to elevate critical elements of civilian power, particularly at the State Department and our sister agency USAID.

By refining and strengthening our civilian tools, the US government will better advance our foreign policy goals in concert with our military. Leading through civilian power means:

  • directing and coordinating the resources of all America's civilian agencies to prevent and resolve conflicts;
  • helping countries lift themselves out of poverty into prosperous, stable, and democratic states;
  • and build global coalitions to address global problems.

As part of the changes underway, I will oversee the reorganization of Department of State entities united under the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights to:

  • Prevent and respond to crisis, conflict and instability;
  • Promote rule of law through security and justice sector reform;
  • Manage refugee and humanitarian crises;
  • Counter transnational threats such as narcotics, crime, and insurgency;
  • Promote effective, accountable democratic governance and vibrant civil societies; and
  • Advance human rights.

Among all of these difficult challenges, we are especially focused on our ability to prevent conflict in the first place. Once conflict has begun, intervention carries extraordinary costs. Late assistance limits options and extends the conflict.

So, much of what we will be doing in focusing on countries and regions that are on the brink of instability, and helping provide the tools that establish peace and growth.

For example, in Southern Sudan, seven teams of United States conflict prevention officers engage daily with the local government and others in order to influence conflict dynamics. In Kyrgyzstan, a conflict expert led a field based analysis in the south, the site of large scale ethnic violence last June, to inform thinking about USG strategies to support peaceful democratic transition. And in Central America, we are working on civilian security by addressing the underlying causes of social dislocation and discontent that leads to violence, drug abuse, and corruption. This means investing in institutional frameworks that foster greater trust and justice in society.

Of course, no matter where our civilian security efforts take place, we are ever mindful of the role of women. Whether we are facing political repression, war, climate change, or natural disaster, women and young people are on the front lines—as both victims and first responders. Despite bearing the brunt of society’s political and economic challenges, they continue to drive democratic change and social equality.

Last October, I participated in “The Role of Women in Global Security” Conference in Copenhagen. Participants in the conference observed that ten years after the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325, some improvements have been made, but women remain underrepresented in public office, at the negotiating table, and in peacekeeping missions.

So we need to be doing a better job of incorporating women into our peace building efforts at every step of the way, including in post-conflict disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), security sector reform, and the rule of law activities. Because, as we pave a path for women to become change agents in their own societies, we tip the balance away from more violence and towards more equitable and positive solutions.

The conference in Copenhagen suggested best practices for increasing women’s participation in conflict prevention efforts, including:

  • deployment of gender-balanced peacekeeping units,
  • including more women in security sector and judicial reform,
  • and more intentional solicitation of the input of women at the community level on priorities for national budgets and international programs.

The United States is currently in the process of developing its national action to implement many of these recommendations as part of UNSC 1325. We are impressed with the work that Norway has done on its national action plan and I look forward to learning more about the details during my meetings with the MFA tomorrow.

So let me close by saying that the United States’ increased focus on civilian security, conflict prevention—and the role of women in both—is an important opportunity for increased collaboration between our country and Norway.

As President Obama emphasized earlier this year, we must confront the challenge of citizen security together, and from every direction. As we invest in the judicial systems that form the backbone of every society, so too must we invest in a future that honors all members of society and empowers the youth of our region. The violence and insecurity we face today should not cripple our hope for a better future. With that, I thank you for all that you do, and for inviting me to be here with you today. Thank you very much. I’ll open the floor to any questions you may have.

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