The Country Team: Restructuring America's First Line of Engagement

Article excerpt

Expansion of Engagement

U.S. Embassies face unprecedented challenges. The kinds of issues that confound governments today--from organized crime, drug trafficking, and terrorism to nuclear proliferation, human rights, ethnosectarian conflict, global disease, and climate change--no longer fit within diplomacy's traditional categories. (1) Just as nonstate actors everywhere are becoming more powerful, regions of geostrategic importance in the developing world find themselves beset by weak or dysfunctional governments and increasingly perilous socioeconomic situations. While some might reasonably question the categorical quality of the 2002 National Security Strategy's assertion that "America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones," there is still plenty of reason to be concerned about the trends. (2)

What does this mean for Embassies? First and foremost, Embassy staffs--our U.S. Country Teams--must continue to engage with allied, partner, and competitor countries, even as the terms of these engagements grow more complex. Indeed, the number of programs operated out of Embassies is expanding. A Country Team in Paris, for example, must partner with local authorities on counterterrorism, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the European Union, as well as country-specific operations such as Afghanistan and Kosovo. The team must also further commercial interests and cooperation within regional and international financial institutions. In Moscow, the Country Team must promote democratic reform efforts while enhancing opportunities for U.S. businesses in a dynamic emerging market, as well as improve nuclear security initiatives and monitor avian flu. It must do this while working on global and regional energy problems as well as traditional diplomacy. In Abuja, Nigeria, the Country Team must monitor and help to deal with instabilities in the Niger Delta, engage in HIV/AIDS relief and economic development programs, and assist in the first civilian transfer of political power. In Bogota, Colombia, the Country Team faces major counternarcotic and counterinsurgency problems as well as regional political problems.

All of these tasks must be coordinated and deconflicted, and the Country Team must work with unified purpose. In practice, this often does not happen. This is especially true in the area of stabilization and reconstruction missions, where the wars in Afghanistan and, more acutely, Iraq, revalidate the sacrosanct principle of unity of effort. However, this principle can be applied more broadly. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice notes, "More and more, solutions to the challenges we face lie not in the narrow expertise of one agency acting in one country, but in partnerships among multiple agencies working creatively together to solve common problems across entire regions." (3)

Despite some positive steps toward this objective, senior policymakers in and out of office in both the executive and legislative branches lament the continued inability of the United States to integrate all elements of national power. Their frustrations apply not only to the national level, but also to the Country Team, the critical intersection where plans, policies, programs, and personalities all come together. The Country Team builds the American image abroad and implements strategy. Without an effective Country Team, there can be no prospect of success in achieving national security objectives. The question is whether Country Teams are structured properly and resourced sufficiently to be effective. A brief examination of the Country Team's evolution helps dispel some common misconceptions about the answer to this question.

Evolution of the Country Team

The struggle to gain control over unwieldy interagency activities at the country level is not of recent vintage. (4) As the United States emerged from World War II, it engaged in massive nationbuilding and foreign assistance efforts to reconstruct European states and to counter Soviet influence. …