First Steps on Human Security and Emerging RisksFebruary 7, 2011 By Chad M. Briggs
The 2010 Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review (QDDR), the first of its kind, was recently released by the State Department and USAID in an attempt to redefine the scope and mission of U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century. Breaking away from the Cold War structures of hard international security and an exclusive focus on state-level diplomacy, the QDDR recognizes that U.S. interests are best served by a more comprehensive approach to international relations. The men and women who already work with the U.S. government possess valuable expertise that should be leveraged to tackle emerging threats and opportunities.
As in the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), issues not previously recognized as “high politics,” such as environmental change and energy security, are recognized as underlying the security and well-being of the United States and its allies. Only by addressing emerging threats to stability such as these in advance and from the ground up can the State Department and USAID engage multilateral diplomacy.
An Integrated Approach to Security
The QDDR is a commendable step toward improving U.S. policies abroad. By giving increased recognition to human security to include energy, health, the environment, non-proliferation, terrorism, and cyber-security, the United States can increase its strategic capacity for foresight and action, rather than reacting to world events after they occur. From a military perspective, such changes are welcome and will likely assist DOD efforts to provide security in critical regions. DOD has already been working closely with USAID in reconstruction efforts, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but also previously in Bosnia and other regions. The DOD shift to provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) reflected a similar recognition that approaches to security needed to be comprehensive and could not be accomplished without interagency and local engagement. DOD has likewise acknowledged the strategic importance of emerging risks, involving reorganization of traditional authorities at times. The recent creation of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) included both military and civilian authorities in the command hierarchy, allowing agencies like USAID to be involved in addressing security-as-development in Africa.
Yet as pointed out previously by Fred Burkle, the government must still clarify the relative roles played by DOD, USAID, and State in foreign development policies. The United States risks over-militarizing foreign relations if too much funding and expertise are drawn out of USAID and related agencies, placing additional burdens on DOD and perhaps diverting attention from the military’s primary skills and mission priorities. The development of PRTs and policies like Focused District Development (FDD) are improvements in DOD capacity but also responses to earlier political failures to employ the expertise of State and USAID in the lead-up to foreign engagements. Recognition of this need is a first step, but more is needed, as events of the past 10 years have actually strengthened organizational stovepiping.
The Challenges Ahead
The QDDR lays out some organizational changes that should take place in order for its priorities to be realized. Other experts, such as Anthony Cordesman, have already commented on the organizational difficulties of achieving goals expressed in the QDDR. Among these concerns are institutional biases against functional bureaus in favor of regional desks and how to leverage additional resources in the current political climate. At the risk of repeating similar arguments, it is worth mentioning the primacy of organizational change to allow cross-department and cross-national information sharing among experts. The complex challenges that the QDDR correctly identifies require new forms of discussions in order for actionable information to be available for State and USAID, as translation of global problems cannot be accomplished by regional or functional teams alone. Environmental issues, for example, are both closely tied to energy and commercial activities, as well as having regionally specific impacts that can only be foreseen by those with on-the-ground experience.
The ability to translate complex global issues into workable information poses three significant challenges to State and USAID:
- Relevant bureaus and agencies must be able to work across organizational lines, an immense difficulty when so much of Beltway culture is determined by stovepiped structures. History is unfortunately replete with examples of where foresight intelligence was available but could not be communicated to the proper agency or authorities. The QDDR addresses interagency cooperation, but often, wider communication beyond executive agencies is necessary.
- Even when communication channels exist, problems tend to be defined in unique ways by various experts, and few common frames of reference are available to tackle complex global risks without overly simplifying them. Droughts may be defined as a food security issue by one agency, an environmental resource issue by another, and an energy security risk by a third; all three with ready solutions that only fit their own office’s perception of causes and effects (which may contradict the others).
- Rules of secrecy and classification often prevent sharing information, even when it comes from open-source channels, or prevent U.S. government officials from engaging with foreign nationals who possess key data or local knowledge. These are hurdles far larger than the State Department itself, but without recognition they may discourage the operation of functional bureaus or provide false evidence to detractors that cross-cutting issues are not worth addressing.
Considering the existing responsibilities of the United States overseas and the potential for future risks and crises that will need to be addressed, the QDDR’s recommendations to strengthen engagement abroad can only be a positive step for U.S. interests. If the various hurdles enumerated above and elsewhere can be addressed, the QDDR’s focus on emerging risks may also ease the burden on DOD resources and force deployments, recognizing that not every engagement abroad should be resolved by the military alone.
Chad M. Briggs is the Minerva Chair of Energy and Environmental Security for the Air University, USAF, and a principal consultant with GlobalInt. His comments do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Air Force or the Department of Defense.
Sources: Center for Strategic and International Studies, Foreign Policy, The New York Times, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. State Department.