An Interview with Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy Studies of the Brookings Institution: Carlos Pascual

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JFQ: Why did the Department of State create the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization?

Ambassador Carlos Pascual: The office came out of the recognition that the U.S. Government needs to have the capacity to deal with issues relating to conflict: preparing for it ahead of time and responding to it afterward. The United States has been involved in major conflicts around the world for decades, but we have never institutionalized the capacity to deal with them. We've built forces up, and we've surged in specific situations--but we haven't paid attention to lessons learned, and we haven't retained experienced personnel. After the major conflict issues are over, we stand down, and then we have to learn it all over again. Too often, we not only relearn the positive things, but we also repeat the mistakes. We haven't had the people prepared, trained, and exercised to be able to engage in these activities.

So the National Security Council (NSC)--at the principals committee level and particularly on the part of then-Secretary [Colin] Powell and Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld--recognized that we needed to establish this kind of capability and institutionalize it in the State Department. This office had to be centrally tied with U.S. foreign policy objectives, but everyone involved also realized that it needed to be an interagency office that could draw on the capabilities across the civilian world and that has the capacity to work effectively with civilians and the military. So that really became the foundation for the NSC approving creation of this office in August 2004.

JFQ: As coordinator, your mandate was to lead, coordinate, and institutionalize US. Government civilian capacity to prevent or prepare for postconflict situations. Have we made much progress toward this institutionalized response?

AMB Pascual: We have made significant progress toward institutionalization. If we reflect back to where we were 18 months ago, we now have a Presidential directive that establishes the Secretary of State and the State Department as the coordinator for stabilization and reconstruction activities to bring together the entire interagency community. In the Department of Defense (DOD), there's a directive that explains how DOD will relate to that broader Presidential authority, and how its functions then can be integrated with the civilian world. USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] has developed a "fragile state" strategy that becomes the foundation for how they're going to operate, and they have now an office of military operations that will coordinate with the military parts of our government.

We have been able to put together a draft planning framework which is under review and testing by both the civilian and military parts of our government. For the first time, we have a framework that allows us to look at stabilization and reconstruction and, within the military and civilian worlds, be able to have a common vocabulary about how to plan and talk about these issues. We are testing it now across the combatant commands and the civilian world on Sudan and Haiti.

I don't want to say that all of this works smoothly; we're learning, we're testing, and we're getting better. But we have the basic ideas on paper, we're actually working through them, and we're seeking to get resources for them. So, in comparison to where we were 18 months ago, we've come light years. In comparison to where we need to be, we're still years away from the goal that we should ultimately attain, but I think we're going in the right direction.

JFQ: How has the role of the Department of Defense in postconflict resolution and reconstruction changed since the establishment of your office?

AMB Pascual: What's changed most is the recognition that we have to have a comprehensive U.S. Government approach and that each individual agency has a role in that and has to build up its capabilities to undertake that role. …