Civil Defense

We need a hybrid civil-military organization for our reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

Under the rubric of "smart power," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argues for revitalizing the capabilities of the State Department-getting more specialists into the field and out of the embassies, especially in support of stabilization and reconstruction missions. In her efforts, she is supported by Defense Secretary Gates, who is concerned about the militarization of America's foreign policy, who once stated:

If we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power, both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad. 

Gates believes that having more robust and effective civilian capabilities might even decrease the need to have to deploy U.S. armed forces.

Building on the efforts of the last administration, the State Department now has the "Civilian Stabilization Initiative." (CSI) The CSI envisions an "Active Response Corps" of trained civilian personnel who would be full-time employees of the State Department, USAID and other federal agencies and who would be assigned to service with military units. There would also be a "Standby Reserve Corps" made up of federal-government employees who might be asked to serve, as well as a Civilian Reserve Corps-civilians who could be called up for duty.

Yet the numbers of personnel are quite minimal. For instance, the Active Response Corps would only have two hundred fifty members and the Civilian Reserve Corps would number no more than two thousand. As of summer 2008, there were only thirteen positions available in the Active Response Corps-with two vacancies. The Standby Response Corps only numbers some five hundred active and retired FSOs. A congressional research report raised the question as to "whether qualified experts will sign up in sufficient numbers to make the corps an effective replacement for military troops in S & R operations." There remains a major gap between plans and reality; for example, there are currently one thousand two hundred military members in the noncombat zone country of Djibouti engaging in stabilization operations.

One option is to let the trends of the last decade accelerate by turning to the private sector, both nonprofit and commercial, to bridge the gap. Already, nearly half of all humanitarian and assistance funds provided by the United Nations are administered by NGOs. But neither approach may be satisfactory. Contractors can be quite expensive, while NGO agendas may conflict with governmental priorities-and in both cases, the personnel are not government employees. There is also no guarantee that private-sector employees will remain in country to see the mission through to its completion.

But perhaps the State Department, oriented toward diplomacy, is not the best venue these days for a stabilization and reconstruction office. Maybe we need a separate service within the U.S. government, one that would be composed of professionals with training and experience in diplomacy, development, defense and intelligence. This cadre would deploy with military units, be assigned to embassies and embed with sub-national groups. More importantly, such a service would be up front about its conditions of employment-including deployment to failed states or areas with security risks-and so drastically reduce what has been a perennial problem in getting civilians into reconstruction missions in dangerous areas: the argument that "this is not what I signed up for." It would also reduce the current attractiveness of using the military for such missions on the grounds that "soldiers obey orders."

At present, the core mission of the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization is "to lead, coordinate and institutionalize U.S. Government civilian capacity to prevent or prepare for post-conflict situations, and to help stabilize and reconstruct societies in transition from conflict or civil strife, so they can reach a sustainable path toward peace, democracy and a market economy." It is a tall order. Having a "Reconstruction and Stabilization Service" might give this office more of an operational capacity. Yet, current and future staffing plans are not sufficient to meet current operational requirements, let alone adding future ones.

This is a direction the Europeans have begun to explore. Faced with the challenge of how best to provide reconstruction assistance to conflict zones within Europe where state capacity was weak (and security was an issue), the European Union created the European Agency for Reconstruction (EAR) in February 2000. In contrast to previous European efforts, particularly in Bosnia during the 1990s-where competing national and EU agencies combined with overlapping and unclear lines of authority to slow down and complicate reconstruction efforts-the EAR was placed in charge of the "nation-building" missions in Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia. Significantly, the EAR was given the ability to recruit its own dedicated staff and personnel who worked directly for the agency (as well as the right to hire its own local contractors). These people were not "drafted" from other agencies and joined the EAR with full knowledge that they would be working in potentially dangerous areas-thus avoiding the "not in my job description" phenomenon.