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Peaceful Prevention: Oh How Far We’ve Come!

December 15, 2010

It’s been a good week for the PPDC program.  On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee marked up S. Con. Res. 71, a resolution to improve US capacities to help prevent genocide and atrocities, with strong bipartisan support, including cosponsorship by both the chair and ranking member of the committee, Sens. Kerry and Lugar.  FCNL  helped develop the resolution as the first step of a multi-year campaign to pass substantive legislation to strengthen US civilian tools to help peacefully prevent deadly conflict, and the committee mark up, along with bipartisan cosponsorship by a full fifth of the Senate, marks a major success!

But that wasn’t all.  The next morning, December 15, Secretary of State Clinton formally released the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) in a town hall meeting at the State Department, declaring emphatically in her remarks thatwe will make conflict prevention and response a core mission of State and USAID”. While it may seem like this should have been the mission of the State Department all along, the major focus of the QDDR on improving civilian capacities to help avert violent conflict before it erupts marks a major shift in US policy.  The QDDR runs 242 pages long and covers a huge range of issues, but one of its 5 chapters is fully dedicated to “Preventing and Responding to Crisis, Conflict, and Instability”.

Eight years ago, when FCNL was just beginning its PPDC program, then-Secretary of State Powell was appearing before the UN Security Council to justify a “preventative war” against Iraq.  As we embarked on this work and urged policymakers to focus attention and resources on preventing wars instead of fighting them, we we were often viewed as unrealistic idealists.  Now, the Secretary of State herself is embracing prevention and pledging to “create a new bureau…that will coordinate early efforts at conflict prevention and rapid deployment of civilian responders.”

The theme of the QDDR is “Leading through Civilian Power, which “means directing and coordinating the resources of all America’s civilian agencies to prevent and resolve conflicts; help countries lift themselves out of poverty into prosperous, stable, and democratic states; and building global coalitions to address global problems.”  It proposes creating a new Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, and within it a new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (to encompass the current Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization).  It also calls for strengthening USAID’s principle program that works on preventing and rebuilding after wars, the Office of Transition Initiatives.  And it commits to expanding the Foreign Service and Civil Service by 5,500 new personnel; building a civilian capacity to prevent and respond to crisis and conflict; and providing better training for diplomats, civil servants, and development professionals.  These are all proposals that FCNL has lobbied for in one way or another over the years in its PPDC program.  Other proposals of interest include elevating environment work to be part of a new Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, and giving USAID direct leadership over special food security and global health initiatives.

Of course it’s still far from time for FCNL’s PPDC work to declare success and close shop.  On the contrary, these new good words on paper now need to be matched by resources from Congress and policy change that will endure beyond any one administration.  And we still have plenty of ideas to challenge in the QDDR as well, like the idea of using civilian tools to “better partner” with the military, a dangerous proposal which is repeated throughout the document. With a new Congress on the way and plenty of policy change still needed, our PPDC work will need to continue for some years to come.  What the QDDR does do is give us new opportunities to turn good rhetoric into good policy, while showing just how far we’ve come in promoting the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict as a practical, cost-effective approach that even the Secretary of State can embrace.

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