Last week the Center for American Progress (CAP) published a report, “It All Starts with Training: Crisis Prevention and U.S. Foreign Affairs Agencies,” that explores the need for improved training courses and professional development opportunities at core U.S. foreign affairs agencies. John Norris, Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at CAP, Abigail Long, associate for policy and government relations at Humanity United, Sarah Margon, Associate Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at CAP and David Abramowitz, vice president for policy and government relations at Humanity United all contributed to the report. The paper states that “without enhanced training, diplomats will continue to lack the broad range of tools they need to deal with the many complicated and challenging global issues they regularly encounter whether on the ground or back in Washington.” The goal is with improved training, diplomats and development experts can advance democracy, stimulate economic growth, and strengthen the rule of law prior to a possible emerging conflict that could end with direct military combat.
The Obama Administration has launched a series of reviews on how U.S. embassies and development offices operate. One such review, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), concluded that the U.S. is not adequate in preventing and managing crises. A few statistics included in the QDDR underscore how important conflict prevention is to the U.S.: close to 60 percent of State and USAID’s foreign assistance goes to 50 countries that are in the midst of, recovering from, or trying to prevent conflict or state failure; more than 25 percent of State and USAID’s personnel serve in the 30 countries classified as highest risk for conflict and instability; and more than 2,000 civilian personnel are currently deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. In part to turn the system around, the QDDR established an Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights and the New Bureau for Conflict and Stabilization Operations (COS) 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.”
As the authors note, looking at statistics from similar reports, it seems as though crisis prevention is a priority for the U.S. government. However, the findings from these reports indicate that significant institutional and cultural change is needed in order for the President’s rhetoric to become reality.
CAP’s key recommendations to improve crisis prevention training include:
- Tying promotions directly to conflict prevention training;
- Giving post bid preference to those Foreign Service officers who complete a certified core curriculum in conflict prevention training;
- Requiring all incoming State and USAID officers to take a basic course on conflict prevention;
- Providing for additional training for Foreign Service officers deploying to a conflict-prone country;
- Requiring Foreign Service officers to complete a year of advanced training to be eligible for promotion to Senior Foreign Service;
- Establishing the personnel capacity for civilian international affairs agencies to do better training;
- Creating a new cone within the Foreign Service dedicated to conflict prevention; and
- Synchronizing USAID’s operating expenses with its program budget.