Today marks the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO). From the start, CSO has driven home that, of the “3D’s” (Defense, Diplomacy, and Development), Diplomacy is by far the lowest cost yet most essential avenue to address conflict worldwide. It is more important than ever that the Department has a specialized team focused on these issues.
CSO has evolved over the past decade from what originally was envisioned as a “whole-of-government czar” for reconstruction and stabilization into a functional bureau to anticipate, prevent and respond to conflict within State’s family of civilian security offices and bureaus. In 2004, then-Senator Joseph Biden teamed with Senator Richard Lugar to propose the Reconstruction and Stabilization Civilian Management Act. This legislation mandated the State Department to carry out operations in a “country or region that is at risk of, in, or is in transition from, conflict or civil strife.” In response, Secretary of State Colin Powell created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS).
Diplomacy is by far the lowest cost yet most essential avenue to address conflict worldwide.Robert J. Faucher Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations
Early on, S/CRS embraced the key lesson that stabilization requires a lot of planning – both to define goals clearly and to know whether they are being achieved. S/CRS pioneered methods of conflict analysis and planning designed to get all the players around a table to agree to a common approach to the conflict at hand. This custom of rigorous analysis and planning carried over when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton converted S/CRS into CSO in 2011 and continues today.
Ten years ago, CSO’s first Assistant Secretary, Ambassador Rick Barton, recognized the role data analytics could play in both anticipating conflict and evaluating the effectiveness of U.S. responses. He stood up CSO’s advanced analytics unit—now a full office—that today runs the Instability Monitoring and Analysis Platform (IMAP). Any Department employee can access IMAP from their desktop, putting CSO at the cutting edge of the U.S. government’s use of data analytics. CSO is currently leveraging data analytics and IMAP to focus on administration priorities, including capturing climate change’s impact on violence, anticipating where democratic backsliding will lead to instability, and providing early warning on atrocity risks worldwide.
S/CRS’s initial legislation also called for a full-time rapid deployment force of diplomats to engage in “peacebuilding.” In just a few years, this group made notable contributions to our efforts in Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and South Sudan. Ambassador Barton then refined CSO field operations away from a broad “expeditionary surge” of personnel and towards small, specialized civilian teams focused on targeted, small-scale initiatives involving diplomatic interventions and planning.
Ten years on, CSO continues its overseas presence through rapid, short-term deployments all over the world, including Burkina Faso, Burma, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan, Thailand and Uganda. This is in addition to longer-term Foreign Service Stabilization Advisors assigned to diplomatic and military posts, including various military combatant commands, Kenya, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates. New Foreign Service Officer positions are soon to come in Niger, Central Command and embassies in countries chosen to participate in the Global Fragility Act’s Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability.
Leadership at the highest levels of the U.S. government recognizes the need for conflict-specialized diplomats, just as we need diplomatic experts in trade and technology. CSO offers critical leadership and partnership with the various U.S. government agencies for implementation of the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, and the Women, Peace and Security Act. It is also standing up a Negotiation Support Unit to provide technical assistance to State’s negotiators working on some of the thorniest international disputes. CSO’s core capabilities – and policymakers’ needs – have remained constant and relevant: deep qualitative and quantitative analysis of conflict’s roots, rigorous planning to inform the U.S. government’s approach to resolving them, agile deployment of conflict-expert diplomats where needed, and honest evaluation of lessons learned from our engagements.
For more about CSO’s history and origins, see this article published in the Foreign Service Journal.
About the Author: Robert J. Faucher is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations.