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Conflict Prevention and Crisis Response: Responding to Emerging Instability Overseas

“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 violent extremism. For these reasons, in 2011 the State Department strengthened its capacity to anticipate and address emerging conflict dynamics by creating the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations to succeed the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS).

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 implement 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

CSO moves swiftly to mobilize resources and civilian response mechanisms for 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.

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:

  • Can we fulfill an urgent, unmet need?
  • Is there opportunity for strategic impact within 12 to 18 months?
  • Is the work relevant to U.S. national security?
  • Does the work integrate crosscutting issues important to the United States, such as preventing mass atrocities or empowering youth and women?
  • Are there opportunities for sustainability and local empowerment?

CSO also conducts smaller engagements to learn, establish partnerships and test innovative approaches.

CSO’s Major Engagements

CSO supports Department efforts in many countries while concentrating its work in a small group of priorities:

  • On Syria, CSO focused $27 million on transition assistance to the civilian opposition, training more than 500 activists from across the country and providing over 5,800 pieces of major equipment. The training built mass media, communications networks, and civilian leadership, and prepared civilians from diverse religious backgrounds, women and men, to counter sectarian violence and promote democratic change. These relationships continue to provide information and connection to Syria’s future leaders.
  • 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.

CSO Also Has Taken Action in:

  • Kenya: More than 1,300 people died and 660,000 were displaced after the 2007 elections. Before the March 2013 elections, CSO helped Kenyan civil society – notably youth and religious leaders – build community-police relations, engage potential spoilers, and respond to security threats. Later, Secretary Kerry said these investments “helped prevent a repeat of the violence we saw five years ago.” In 2013 there were 20 election-related deaths. Final Evaluation of CSO's Kenya Engagement (February 2012-April 2013) Public Report [1430 Kb]
  • Afghanistan: From 2007 to 2013, more than 100 CSO personnel served in Afghanistan, focusing on improving civilian-military coordination; integrating the efforts of Americans and Afghans; and promoting greater rights for girls and women.
  • Belize: CSO trained Belizeans to mediate and conduct community dialogues, helping reduce gang-related crime, and built an expanding network of action-oriented community activists.   Belize Engagement Evaluation Report [1119 Kb]
  • Central Africa: CSO is countering Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army by encouraging defections and working across four countries with local partners, militaries, governments, and policymakers.
  • South Sudan: Deploying stabilization officers across remote areas, CSO supported a peaceful transition to independence through engagement with local leaders on longstanding grievances.


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