printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

EU Rendez-Vous: Transatlantic Symposium on the EU's Common Security and Defense Policy

Rick Barton
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations
Washington, DC
May 8, 2013


As delivered

Thank you, Steve [Pifer]. Thank you, Maciej [Popowski]. And a special thanks to Jim Schear – it’s been a pleasure working with you for as long as I have. It’s always been constructive and just exactly what the interagency should look like.

I think we all agree on the importance of this relationship. Thanks to our European colleagues for bringing together this conversation. We’re definitely solid partners, but we also have room for improvement.

I’d like to maybe focus very briefly on three areas that I think fall within the smart power, comprehensive approach space where we could make some significant steps forward if we concentrated our efforts even better than we have up until this time.

We’ve come through a period where our engagements haven’t been particularly successful, even though they’ve been sincere and just about as robust as any of us could have imagined. But, we don’t have to move to isolationism either. There’s a tremendous space available to us. And I think we’re struggling with that a bit. But we shouldn’t be because, in fact, these opportunities are out there.

First, I think we need to be more effective in the analytical space. Jim mentioned it as well. I would just add that joint, independent analysis allows us to come to a common understanding of a particular problem which will thereby focus our response on the true priorities that need the greatest attention.

What historically has happened is that all of our governments send out every form of our representatives. So whether it’s the humanitarians or the counterterrorist people or the AIDS program they all go out to see what’s going on and they come back and tell us that there’s a problem with terrorists, with AIDS, with whatever their charge Date: 05/08/2013 Description: Assistant Secretary Rick Barton - State Dept Imagehappens to be. And so we’ve missed the common definition of the case and then we get into this rather expansive effort to try to do everything.

Now, I don’t know how you are, but if I get up in the morning and my list has many more than three or four things on it, there’s a really good chance that there’s going to be more than three or four things still on that list at the end of the day and I will have made minimal progress.

I don’t think that our institutions, and the complexity of our organizations, make any of that work simpler.

I’ll give you one quick example. In Kenya, we found when we got there that everyone was going about business as usual. We were there to address election-related violence. We started to ask people who were running the $800 million AIDS program, what do you think is the most important thing that’s likely to happen in your country this year? It wasn’t surprising to hear them all say “election-related violence.”

The natural next question was, well, are you doing everything that you could to help prevent election-related violence?

Well, no, we’re not because we have 24/7 jobs that are rather consuming. We’re visiting in Rift Valley alone 200,000 households a week to monitor how they’re dealing with their medicines and what not and so we don’t really have much time.

Would you like to do more? Yes, we would love to do more.

Ah ha! Here’s the smart power opportunity.

Of course they would like to do more. And do we have contact with 200,000 households a week in the most volatile area of the country? Of course we didn’t have that. Analysis matters because it can focus our efforts on the true priorities and it can uncover key communities – like this one – that will give us a real test as to whether we’re having an impact in a place.

Secondly, we obviously have to maximize local ownership at the earliest possible stage.

In Afghanistan, our predecessor office had over 100 people that had worked there over a few years. Since many of them are still around, we asked them, what did we learn from this experience? What is the number one thing that you would do differently? They comfortably and quickly came to the conclusion that we should have engaged the local people much earlier in the entire effort and we should not have internationalized the way we did.

We thought we were being pretty clever because we franchised – the Italians were going to take care of this, the Germans were going to take care of this, the Japanese were going to take care of this, the Americans were going to take care of this. That kind of franchising doesn’t really work in these places.

When we think of this comprehensive approach it has to obviously balance – as the other speakers have cited – with our own integration as well. If you don’t have integrated teams that are dependent on the local people from day one, we’re not likely to win.

The final thing I’d say is there are lots of new tools in this market. There are so many tools that aren’t necessarily the comfortable tools of our trade. So for example, social media and the use of independent communications allow us to tailor messages more effectively.

But, for example, on the Syria case. Right now we’re finding that the Syrian opposition is incredibly sophisticated in its ability to communicate ideas, but they’re not particularly cohesive. And communications can be used not only to amplify their messages but also to suggest that there’s greater unity of purpose than perhaps they are showing in some of the political negotiations. So it can really advance the classic, diplomatic work and perhaps even help some of the military stuff. But it’s not about controlling their messages. It’s about getting them into the market in a way that allows them to reach back into their country through highly-portable FM radio stations, or by the use of regional satellite broadcasters, or Facebook, or other mechanisms that are readily available.

So I would say that even in these three areas – and of course there are more – that those are places that we could definitely improve our understanding of the subject matter, and really, at the end of the day, produce much better results and a sense of effectiveness that I think our taxpayers are asking for in these cases – what am I going to get for this? And, is the intervention really going to be something that’s going build peace over the longer term.

Thank you very much.

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.