“We value security and stability in other parts of the world, knowing that failed states are among our greatest security threats, and new partners are our greatest assets.”
– Secretary of State John Kerry
Armed conflict, weak states and transitional societies are a central security challenge for the United States. In an increasingly interdependent world, instability can ripple outward with destabilizing and devastating effects. When states are unable to control their territories and protect their citizens, there’s a greater risk of weapons proliferation, organized crime, and activity by violent extremists.. For these reasons, the State Department has enhanced its capacity to anticipate and address emerging conflict dynamics.
In 2011 Secretary Hillary Clinton launched an effort to transform the way the Department operates in crisis and conflict zones – transitioning from post-war reconstruction to a new era in conflict-prevention and stabilization.
• First, related capabilities were merged under a new Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights. The Department’s work on conflict, counterterrorism, democracy, human rights, law enforcement, narcotics, refugees, trafficking and youth is now focused around a core aim – civilian security.
• Second, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) was created to serve as an institutional locus for the Department’s conflict and crisis-response capabilities. This new bureau advances U.S. national security by working with partners in priority countries to break cycles of violent conflict, mitigate crises, and strengthen civilian security.
Capabilities to Prevent and Respond
CSO supports the Department’s conflict and crisis-response efforts through locally grounded analysis, strategic planning, and operational support for local partners.
• Conflict Analysis. CSO offers rapid, locally-grounded conflict analysis in countries where mass violence or instability looms and access can be difficult. Its data-driven products draw on diverse sources, including diplomatic and media reports, polling, local interviews and international expertise, to identify the most important dynamics fueling instability.
• Strategic Planning. Building on this analysis, CSO helps develop prioritized strategies that target the causes of instability and address high-risk periods such as elections or political transitions.
• Locally Driven Initiatives. To help operationalize U.S. government and host-nation plans, CSO provides experienced leaders and technical experts. They amplify local initiatives that connect civil society partners, media, community leaders, technical experts, and under-represented groups like women and youth in coalitions that bridge social divides.
Resources to Prevent and Respond
In its first year, CSO moved swiftly to mobilize resources and civilian response mechanisms for the next generation of conflict prevention and response.
• Civilian Responders: CSO has expanded the Department’s model of civilian response from U.S. government experts to include networks of experts from sources such as nonprofits, third-country nationals, international partners, think tanks, and state and local officials.
• Start-up Funding: CSO has shifted its own Conflict Stabilization Operations funds to jumpstart projects with local partners.
• Onsite Training: CSO’s civilian responders can conduct on-site training in bureaus and embassies to increase conflict analysis, planning and evaluation capabilities.
How Does CSO Decide Where to Work?
We consider a number of criteria when determining where to apply our effort and resources. Criteria for major engagements include:
CSO conducts smaller engagements to learn, establish partnerships, and test innovative approaches.
CSO’s Major Engagements
In its first year, CSO supported Department efforts in over 15 countries while concentrating its work in four priority countries:
• On Syria, CSO trained and equipped the unarmed opposition. Working from Turkey, CSO channeled $23 million to 1) enable the opposition to strengthen their networks and communicate internally and externally and 2) build capacity for the transition in government. CSO co-funded the Syrian-run Office of Syrian Opposition Support, the hub for an expanding network of nearly 500 Syrian activists, administrators, and journalists.
• In Kenya, where more than 1,000 people died and 350,000 were displaced after the 2007 elections, CSO is part of a dynamic, embassy-wide effort to help Kenyans prevent similar violence around the March 2013 election. CSO surged staff to help sharpen the U.S. government’s focus and build partnerships at national, regional, and local levels. CSO is helping civil society and Kenyan officials create a vast quick-response network for early warning.
• In Honduras, where homicide levels are the highest in the world outside of war zones, CSO is bringing urgency to Honduran governmental and civil society efforts to reduce criminal violence. CSO is contributing to efforts to reform the police and the prosecutor’s office, and a grant is supporting a non-governmental coalition to enable citizens to help stem violence in their communities and advocate public security reform.
• In Burma, one of the last two countries still employing anti-personnel landmines, CSO is working with the government, ethnic minorities, and international partners to assist 5.2 million people living in landmine-contaminated areas. These efforts aim to build confidence through mine-risk education programs and support for survivors of landmines.