No trend has been more closely scrutinized in the wake of the
cold war than the proliferation of crises.
From Zaire to Bosnia to Rwanda, the international community is
reeling from a series of vicious civil wars, refugee emergencies,
and human catastrophes. The international system structured around
the cold-war diplomatic notions of containment and detente is
scrambling to adjust to the demands of peacekeeping and
One of the greatest challenges of this new world disorder is how
best to assist nations emerging from conflict. The successful
transition from crisis - the process of moving an entire society
from conflict to enduring peace - is an extraordinarily difficult
one. There are countless instances - Liberia, Afghanistan, Angola -
where promising moves toward peace have quickly dissolved into
shattered cease-fires and renewed conflict.
Nations emerging from conflicts confront daunting obstacles.
Their governments are usually weak or nonexistent, and they often
face corruption, rising public expectations, and immature political
leadership. They typically operate with barely functioning
economies, scant resources, scores of former combatants lacking
peacetime job skills, a proliferation of land mines, and lingering
tensions that can quickly reignite into conflict.
Four years ago, when I came to the US Agency for International
Development (USAID) - the agency responsible for delivering United
States humanitarian and development assistance abroad - the US
government was poorly equipped to help nations during the tenuous
interlude between war and peace. For foreign policymakers, this
weakness was an Achilles' heel in a world where failed states and
sweeping change were everyday realities.
Donor conferences that commit millions of dollars but fail to
quickly address on-the-ground problems do little to create an
expectation of peace. In post-conflict situations, opportunity is
fleeting, and if people don't see instant results, political
violence and repression reemerge. I remember former Secretary of
State Larry Eagleburger telling me, "If USAID can't deliver that,
we need something that can."
The Clinton administration decided to try a new mechanism to
bring fast, direct, and overt assistance to priority countries
emerging from conflict.
With the support of Congress, USAID's Office of Transition
Initiatives (OTI) was launched in early 1994 to help countries move
beyond conflict by addressing fundamental needs of emergency
rehabilitation and democratic development. Since the office worked
in crisis situations, it was given special legal authorities
attached to international disaster assistance funding.
Early success stories
The early results are promising: OTI has shown it is a lean,
flexible operation capable of targeting the key bottlenecks that
prevent post-crisis societies from moving forward.
In Guatemala, in support of the December 1996 peace accords, OTI
is helping implement the demobilization plan for the Guatemalan
rebel force, known as the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity -
or URNG. …