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U.S. Department of State

Developing Tools for Transition

Arthur E. Dewey, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration
Remarks to the Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Prize
New York City
October 28, 2004

(As Prepared for Delivery)


When we talk about development today, we are talking about transition.  Much of what was once called the developing world is now a world in transition--getting better or getting worse--from some previous condition.  Those getting worse include failed states, needing to become viable again and to rejoin the community of nations.  And equally, they include once viable states plunging into failed state status.  For these failed and failing states, sustainable development cannot be achieved without prior, effective transition support operations. Transition know-how is the essential ingredient for both nation-building and nation-salvaging.


There are few, if any, surprises in a state on the path to failure.  The road to chaos is predictable, reliable, and inevitable once a series of well-known thresholds have been crossed.  These thresholds include:

  • The rise of leaders and warlords driven by greed for money and power, who are oblivious to the rights and needs of their people.
  • Discrimination, by race, class, ethnicity, politics, or religion.
  • Increasing human rights violations, leading to civil strife and breakdown in public order.
  • Economic hardship, communicable disease, malnutrition, starvation, ethnic cleansing.  In the most extreme cases, as in Rwanda ten years ago, and Darfur today – genocide.
  • Movements of large numbers of people from their homes, internally and externally, to places of refuge, or to places where they are less of a minority.
  • Finally, too late and too little intervention by the international humanitarian and/or peacekeeping community.

All of this leads to a failed state whose people become the wards of the international community.  Their survival, and revival, depend upon the uneven capabilities an international community only beginning to awaken to the realities of development today.  This international community is even farther behind in developing a literacy, and a know-how, to shape and conduct transition support operations. 


Donor nations need to think long and hard about how to do prevention right.  And these states need a more intelligently instructed capacity to handle them when prevention fails.  There’s a new office in the State Department devoted to this post-conflict transition task.  The head of that office, the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, will lead and coordinate U.S. Government planning to help stabilize and reconstruct societies in transition from conflict or civil strife so they can reach a sustainable path toward peace, representative governance, and a viable economy.


We’re also altering our personnel system to better tap the skills of our people.  State Department employees are being asked to describe themselves not just by where they have served or what languages they speak, but by competencies--election monitoring, infrastructure development, law enforcement, and human rights monitoring--that are needed in post-crisis situations.  We are cataloging these capabilities now, so that we can quickly locate the right people when they are needed.


The best solutions to crises, however, do not come from individual states. The best transition support comes from harnessing the competencies of multilateralism.  Multilateralism works better for the victims, and it works better for the donors because of financial burden sharing. The new post-conflict office at the State Department will work with other governments and the UN system to try to bring the full range of resources and capabilities to bear in post-conflict situations.


These multilateral organizations are themselves just starting to become literate in the realities of our new and strange transition world.  Much more needs to be done to shape and hone their relevance to this new world’s needs.  International organizations have to identify existing transition competencies and develop new ones they have barely thought of.  Donor states must engage these international organizations and help shape their competencies to be relevant transition players.  Who will step in to ensure public safety after a crisis, run the transportation system, monitor human rights, and administer justice?  Many of these competencies exist in the multilateral system, but they have to be cataloged, improved, tailored, and readied.   


This identification of multilateral transition competencies will also help us identify gaps in the system.  For example, we know that no multinational institution is well-equipped to provide civil police.  Therefore, individual nations must fill the gap.  The Italian Carabinieri, the French Gendarmerie, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, all have stepped in to provide protection in unstable situations.   


We have developed a good model of how to conduct transition support using multilateral institutions.  I believe we have seen the future for transition operations in Afghanistan--and it works!  In Afghanistan, after the coalition operations removed the Taliban from power, the State Department deliberately made the UN the center of gravity for transition for humanitarian needs and reconstruction.  We recognized the potency of the Program Secretariat structure and system, through which specific UN agencies are paired with equivalent Afghan ministries.  The World Health Organization is helping the Ministry of Public Health develop the nationwide healthcare system.  UNICEF works with the Ministry of Education to rebuild schools and ensure that children can and do attend.   The UN High Commissioner for Refugees builds capacity in the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation.


Improving civil-military cooperation is another important aspect of transition support.   By definition, transition support operations often involve the process of moving from a coalition military operation or UN peace support operation to an indigenous political authority.   The military has a key role to play in creating a safe and secure environment in which humanitarian action, and near simultaneously, reconstruction, can take place.  The military can increase the value of and resources allocated to humanitarian and reconstruction efforts.  The military should however improve planning and communication with civilian agencies, including international organizations and non-governmental organizations, in order to avoid confusion, manage expectations, and better utilize the comparative advantage that IOs and NGOs can bring to humanitarian relief and reconstruction.  The designated civilian agencies perform these functions far better and at about one-tenth the cost of military implementation.  While military personnel often like to deliver humanitarian relief and light infrastructure projects, the usually temporary nature of military deployments often creates unsustainable results and failed expectations on the part of needy beneficiaries. 


What are the essential ingredients of civil military cooperation in transition support operations?  On the civilian side of the equation it works best to have a truly integrated civilian humanitarian task force built around a U.N. agency with primary operational responsibility.  This task force organization for the civilian humanitarian battlefield is far preferable to the so-called collaborative approach in which the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator now tries to make it work with a committee.  By making one agency the humanitarian center of gravity and have the other relevant agencies come alongside with operations support, two key results occur:  one, the operation works better, both on behalf of the emergency victims and transition beneficiaries; and two, national taxpayers who pick up the heavy tab, benefit from overall lower costs because the operation is more streamlined and better organized.


Putting the operational center of gravity in charge of the civilian component of a transition support operation also provides a valuable symmetry with associated military forces that traditionally work in combined joint task forces with a lead element exercising operational control of supporting military units.


Today’s buzzword of integrated military missions means a tight integration on the civilian side -- and not an attempt to integrate and fuse together the civilians with the military structure.  These structures need to be distinct from each other, but operating in full communication and mutual support.  The buzzword for this cooperation is “interoperability”. 


We must also develop a new concept of Total Force Protection.  Afghanistan and Iraq dramatized for us what real force protection is all about.  It is about finding a way for the total effort--especially the humanitarian and reconstruction IOs and NGOs--to function in a risk environment where the total force works together to manage the risks. 


The Office of the UN Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is responsible for pulling together the civilian integrated humanitarian task force, and assigning the agency with primary operational responsibility, along with the other agencies that will provide operational support.  OCHA can also facilitate the steps that will improve civil military coordination for emergency response.  Following are building blocks to facilitate successful civil-military interoperability:

  • Establish UN liaison offices at the military command headquarters, and military liaison at OCHA.  (As was done for Afghanistan.)
  • Use joint civil-military humanitarian planning teams to accomplish
    • overall mission definition and mission planning
    • determine from the civilian humanitarian and reconstruction players the full range of implied and specific tasks that the military could be called up to provide in support of the civilian operation, and
    • get a reading from the military planners prior to deployment--an up, down, or maybe both--on each item.  (This was done for Iraq.)
  • Conduct a pre-deployment missions readiness exercise with the key civilian and military players (performed regularly for military players at the Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, LA, with civilian subject matter experts.)  This is needed to train the key elements of both groups in readiness to perform the mission.
  • Conduct a rigorous pre-deployment “rock drill,” or interactive participatory workshop, for the key leaders and planners to analyze, trouble-shoot solve problems before getting to the field, and identify “show stoppers”.
  • Above all, develop a civil-military comprehensive campaign plan that defines the critical path together with what agencies need to be on the path, and when, to achieve the desired end-state.

Achieving these changes--improved coordination between military and civilian agencies, and improving total force protection--will require innovative leadership and willingness for cooperation in the military, civilian agencies, UN and NGO community.   Much more discussion, training, and doctrine development with military unit commanders, is needed. 


 My Bureau at the State Department is proud to be a leader in using all venues possible to advocate and support interoperability among all the key players.   More broadly, we are pushing all actors in the humanitarian sphere to work together to develop the right tools to provide crisis response and humanitarian assistance.


Terrorism sprouting in failed and failing states is today’s major threat.  Nation-building, nation-repairing, and nation-salvaging through effective transition support operations is our major mission.