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July 2009

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The Obama Administration is undertaking measures to strengthen the ability of the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies to participate effectively in stabilization, reconstruction, and other crisis operations, though this will necessarily be a long-term process. An urgently important part of it, this paper argues, is developing and resourcing joint executive education and training programs that will bring together the military, government civilian agencies, NGOs, and the private sector. – Ed.

Transforning America's Collaborative Crisis Response Capability

The United States should rapidly develop and expand executive education and training for collaborative, non-kinetic crisis response capability. The three “cultures” that traditionally are present on the scene in post-conflict and post-disaster environments – military, civilian government agency, and private/voluntary sectors – do not collaborate very effectively. Training for most civilian agencies – with the possible exceptions of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) – is less than satisfactory or non-existent. State, USAID, the military, and the private/voluntary sectors receive education and training in their own areas of expertise, but not necessarily in collaboration with each other. Few, if any, opportunities exist currently to bring all three cultures together in impartial, non-threatening, executive education environments in which they can break down cultural barriers, and arrive at workable solutions. Developing and resourcing executive education for crisis response is all the more urgent as the U.S. government restructures its institutions and hires thousands more practitioners over the next year or two.

Given today’s globalized economy, stabilizing and revitalizing societies emerging from conflicts and disasters should be much more effective than it is. On one hand, the information technologies and logistical capabilities associated with the planet’s most powerful governments, and the rehabilitative potential of today’s global corporations, should be able to put even the most devastated nations back on the road to healing much more quickly than is the case today. On the other hand, the complexities of insurgency and asymmetrical threats complicate international and interagency planning; organizations on the ground must be more agile and adaptable, and less risk-averse.[1] Identifying solutions, and who is responsible for implementing them, is not always obvious; conflict can decrease in intensity and scope, yet not come to a definitive end, simmer for years and flare up at any moment. To maximize global capability in a post-conflict scenario multiple agencies and organizations must act in concert as the transition occurs from major military involvement towards stabilization, rehabilitation, and reconstruction, the non-kinetic aspects of crisis response.[2] These are our challenges, and we are not yet measuring up to them.

This paper is not designed to propose broader institutional reform of our crisis response capability. Rather it is to urge immediate attention to educating cadres of crisis responders, in the public, voluntary, and private sectors, whether or not institutional reform occurs. The requirement will be all the more pressing whenever reform does take place.

The Military-Civilian Imbalance in Crisis Response
Many Americans understand the urgency of transforming our international civilian-military crisis response capabilities. A severe imbalance has developed over the past decade in which, for a variety of reasons, civilian organizations have been unable to perform the missions for which they should be in the lead during stabilization and reconstruction, and the military has stepped in to do the job. Certainly the U.S. military retains specific critical roles in these crisis environments, especially to stabilize insecure locations (principally through traditional military operations), to train host-nation security forces, and to provide much of the logistical requirements for relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. Over the last several years, however, our military forces, for lack of other actors on the scene, have assumed responsibility for other essential operations that they were not trained or designed to perform. At the same time, the civilian agencies of government that have the requisite skills and established networks lack the authorities and resources – human and financial – to accomplish these missions. An additional, critical defect of this system is an inability to coordinate effectively with both not-for-profit non-governmental (or private voluntary) organizations and for-profit corporations. NGOs and the private sector generally bear the lion’s share of the burden of providing essential goods and services in crisis environments[3], but collaboration among public, voluntary, and private sectors currently is less than optimal.[4]

Several merit-worthy efforts are already underway to redress this situation at the strategic level. A few serious proposals to restructure our national security apparatus and enhance our crisis response cadres are making their way to Congress and the White House.[5] These contain key elements that would shift the center of gravity of our efforts in favor of appropriate civilian government agencies. The Obama Administration has already adopted this paradigm shift for dealing with crisis as a general matter of policy, but has not yet developed and resourced a strategy for getting there. The overall focus of the policy recommendations seems to be on hiring new personnel, reorganizing the bureaucracy, and developing new processes for devising strategies and resourcing policies.

Whatever the outcome, the effectiveness of these projects will depend in large part on our ability to educate and train American personnel quickly to apply their skills in international crisis environments, and more importantly, in effective collaboration with each other on the ground. In the last few decades in which Congress and the White House shrank some civilian agencies, most of our resident expertise has been lost, especially in USAID, and must be regained.[6] Some education and training programs in military-civilian crisis management have been underway for a few years; more are planned. The Administration has already put forth proposals to hire thousands of additional personnel – especially in the State Department and USAID, but hiring is not sufficient. We will need much more training and education, particularly across government agencies, with the military, and into the private sector and NGO communities. To date we do not see enough success in breaking down the barriers among different bureaucratic cultures – especially military and civilian, public and private. Many of these barriers have arisen from the prejudices, misperceptions, and miscommunications that have built up over the years, and we must strive to eliminate them through common education and training experiences.

In addition to improving “cross-cultural” communications, education and training programs must create opportunities for both public and private sector organizations to: (1) discuss frankly the impediments to on-the-ground collaboration, in an impartial, non-threatening environment; (2) identify operational-level solutions to strategic problems; and (3) train, plan, and exercise together before crises arise.

Why is the Imbalance a Problem?
The United States still depends excessively on the Department of Defense and our military forces to plan, resource, staff, and execute post-conflict and post-disaster stabilization and reconstruction.[7] Lead agencies of government for crisis management, especially the State Department[8] and USAID,[9] have suffered from downsizing and consolidation over the past 25 years. Other agencies, e.g., Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture, Energy, Justice, and Homeland Security, whose skill sets should contribute substantively to rehabilitation and revitalization of crisis-stricken societies, have not fully benefited from funding or mandates to step up to the challenges of twenty-first century crises.

Over-reliance on the uniformed services for civilian tasks has many deleterious effects: It undermines military readiness, risks producing inefficient and counterproductive “development” projects whose outcomes actually subvert long-term development strategies, jeopardizes the impartiality and security of NGOs and corporations trying to work in the same space, and tends to validate attempts to paint America as a militaristic hegemon.[10]

On the ground, at the tactical level, the military’s attempts to collaborate with non-military actors often founder because the military will overwhelm the civilian presence. The military will show up at a planning meeting in full force, both vertically (the principal military representative will have a complete staff in attendance, three levels deep) and horizontally (different military units having different competencies will be present, even including individual liaison officers representing military agencies at remote locations). Many of these personnel will have some experience in crisis management, some will have had a modicum of training, and all can bring more resources to the table than their civilian agency counterparts could ever dream of. The military personnel are well staffed to identify tasks, issue instructions, and execute them on time.

As for the civilian actors on the ground, seats at the table reserved for them are often empty, sometimes because the few civilian representatives available are torn among several such meetings. Humanitarian-based NGOs rarely participate in such gatherings, in part to preserve their “neutrality” and independence; however, they take strong exception to military personnel performing development tasks, especially out of uniform.[11] As a result, civilian representatives, both governmental and private sector, feel resentful and besieged when the military are able to perform tasks that civilians should do[12]

The meager resourcing of civilian capacity has other harmful consequences as well. In the 1970s and 1980s, civilian agencies, particularly USAID, had developed cadres of Foreign Service personnel highly experienced and trained in key aspects of international economic development, notably health, agriculture, and education. This capacity has all but dried up; few of these precious human resource assets are left.[13] USAID typically resorts to hiring contractors to execute projects.[14] [15] While this has been the Agency’s traditional practice for decades, the numbers have changed dramatically – few direct hire USAID personnel are overseeing many more implementing partners and contract personnel. The gross understaffing of these agencies reduces training and readiness so that staffs are thin, rotated frequently, over utilized, and in some cases “burned out.”[16] At best, government personnel collaborating with private sector counterparts pay insufficient attention to policy content and relevance, and more of their time on contracting, security, supplies, and other logistical issues. They must have the opportunity to reach a better balance between substance and process.

While the Administration is beginning to recruit, hire, and train new personnel, it will be years before we have sufficient expertise in our civilian government agencies to attend to crisis properly. Until then, we will continue to depend on private sector and NGO capacity to fulfill national interests in crisis scenarios, particularly if we do not want to continue to overstretch the military. We therefore need to redouble our efforts to manage this public-private-voluntary sector collaboration in conformity with U.S. law and policy. As noted above, administrative issues tend to dominate and crowd out proper attention to substantive issues, especially in the delivery of essential goods and services. Consequently, we as a nation should seek to broaden the private sector’s willingness to participate in crisis scenarios. Unfortunately, our crisis response procedures have acquired quite a negative reputation, and many private sector players just refuse to participate – including those who have exactly the right skill sets or products to deliver. Most of the time, the “usual suspects” in the corporate world will show up: those large corporations that have years of experience working with the U.S. government and the military in one form or another.[17]

Invariably, organizations from all three of these cultures – military, civilian government, and private/voluntary sectors – arrive on the scene, or in a neighboring country, when conflicts and disasters peak. They arrive ready to deliver goods and services, but stovepiped – each with its own decision cycles, resource base, analytical tools, database management, goals and priorities, logistical requirements and capabilities, and most importantly, a yearning to receive “credit” for what must get done in order to satisfy its own stakeholders.[18] Rarely do they collaborate on the basis of a consensus on common goals, information, and priorities. Cooperation and sharing lose their value. The result is equally predictable: unnecessary gaps and redundancies, with the victim populations paying the price of the lack of cooperation.

How to Transform our Capabilities
The good news is that the problems above are well known. Many efforts in and out of government are working on institutional transformation, including the “Project on National Security Reform,” “Beyond Goldwater-Nichols”, NSDD-44, DoD Directive 3000.05, and the State Department Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS).[19]

Similarly, some educational and training opportunities have sprung up, usually with connections to the Defense or State Departments, for example at the National Defense University, the Army War College, the Naval Postgraduate School, Joint Forces Command, the Foreign Service Institute, and at a limited number of U.S. universities.

As usual, the military is out front and leading the way in training and education, but their programs fall short of adequate preparation for effective civil-military collaboration. It is true that military officers and NCOs by the score receive relevant training in political-military affairs, economics, civil affairs, and stabilization operations/economic reconstruction issues. They attend courses at military institutions and civilian universities, but usually in the absence of a full spectrum of their civilian counterparts. Moreover, only recently have civilian institutions like the State Department and USAID placed emphasis on training and education; but welcome though it is, even that is hampered by the lack of sufficient personnel to attend training (the “training float”).[20] [21] The staffing and resource situation is even worse for other civilian agencies relevant to stabilization and reconstruction operations, such as the Departments of Treasury, Justice, Commerce, Agriculture, Energy, and Homeland Security.

Thus, most of the training and education opportunities are military-based and likely to be heavily laden with military perspectives, language, and, of course, participation. Private sector training in collaborative crisis management is limited and usually associated with courses run by and for the military. Many companies and NGOs decline to be associated with the military environment of these training centers. They assume that the courses will be intimidating and co-opting, as the military predominance will try to constrain their independence and stifle their perceptions of how reconstruction should proceed. Participants that do show up tend to be those representatives of corporations most comfortable with military, often their business development personnel, but not necessarily the units that produce the goods or services that victim populations require.

Therefore, if/when the abovementioned reform efforts produce vastly larger numbers of civilian government actors for crisis response, those new cadres of responders will require significant amounts of training and education. This executive education, in the form of workshops and seminars, must include participants from the core organizational cultures involved in crisis preparedness, management and resolution: civilian agencies, the private/voluntary sectors, and the military. The civilian participants, especially those from NGOs and reluctant corporations, must perceive the training environment as impartial, non-threatening, and conducive to open debate and discussion. Most of the participants should be non-military. Additional stakeholders, such as congressional staffers, Office of Management and Budget employees, and representatives of media organizations (corporate executives as well as senior journalists) should also participate periodically in relevant programs.

If thousands need immediate education and training over the next few years, the United States will require a diverse choice of educational institutions that can effectively shift the psychological center of gravity away from military predominance toward that of civilian actors – especially private sector – with emphases on all levels of interaction, strategic, operational, and tactical. The venue should be a setting that is open, unbiased, and stimulating.

Executive education curricula should center on targeted issues that impede effective collaboration in crisis environments. One way to ground discussions in a common contextual framework would be to select single geographic/cultural environments, since, for example, many of the issues faced in African crises will likely be different from those in East Asia, with important differences even within those regions. Most organizations have divisions responsible for discrete portions of the globe, and would send participants for training accordingly. Educational institutions should select faculty that can address the issues that practitioners will face, focusing on latest research, best practices, and viable theoretical constructs. One must keep in mind that often the classroom participants will be better informed than the lecturers. At a minimum, they will challenge the lecturers with hard questions and relevant personal anecdotes that contradict the theory.

Participating organizations from the private/voluntary sectors, civilian government, and military must help the educational process by building, maintaining, and most of all, utilizing archives of lessons-learned from past crises. Educational institutions should be able to access these archives.

After breaking down cultural barriers and miscommunications, much of the content in the classroom will involve finding solutions to impediments among the three cultures to smooth collaboration. This will include overcoming legal or regulatory constraints; security, communications, contracting, transportation, and supply requirements; the sharing of information and databases; creative management of scarce resources to achieve common goals; and most importantly, establishing trust. Each of the organizations will no doubt have its own “bill of particulars” that will improve cooperation and achieve results. Of course a large part of the solution is also cooperation to agree on overall goals and priorities.                

What is the Way Ahead?

    Increase agency human resources

The Administration and Congress must act quickly on the various proposals to reorganize and resource our international and domestic crisis response capabilities, especially the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS). Identification and hiring of personnel for its Civilian Response Corps should proceed without delay. Restructuring should also encompass Congressional committees and OMB.[22] The Administration, with authorization and sufficient appropriation from Congress, should immediately increase the human resource capacity of relevant civilian agencies and re-tool in-house long-term education and training to provide appropriate skills.

    Identify and fund existing education and training opportunities

At the same time, agencies must receive appropriations that permit outsourced education and training in crisis management. Relevant offices within newly restructured government agencies should seek out available courses that invite government officials, military personnel, and civilian private sector/NGO counterparts. When necessary, the government should also ask educational institutions to develop curricula and areas of expertise in emerging disciplines that are not readily available. To help the government identify relevant institutions and their capabilities, the Department of Defense has organized a Consortium for Complex Operations[23] and has developed a database of those organizations from which to draw for rapid training and education of newly reorganized and recruited crisis response personnel.

    Diversify and fund executive education across the United States

Some of this training will take place within agencies and military institutions. Other executive education programs – particularly those that focus on private sector or NGO collaboration – should occur in diverse locations around the United States. Not only does this diversity help appeal to a broader range of private sector participants, but it helps take government and military officials away from the pull of their daily routines. Getting away from Washington or the military base helps cleanse the mind and “level the playing field.” Diversity also helps to broaden the spectrum of lecturers and experts to prevent the “speaker fatigue” that materializes whenever the same experts are called on time and again to speak at conferences. While government agencies, through appropriations from Congress, should bear the lion’s share of the funding requirements – per the paragraph above, the private sector, especially foundations, corporate associations, and individual companies, should also contribute to the creation and sustainment of such programs at educational institutions and non-profit organizations. The corporate world will no doubt benefit from these programs as much as the public sector.

Without collaborative education and training of military, governmental, and private sector actors, improvements in our crisis response infrastructure and staffing will continue to suffer from miscommunications, gaps, redundancies, and inefficiencies. Congress, the Executive Branch, and the private sector must contribute to funding executive education programs from which all will benefit. These programs should target specific obstacles to cooperation with an eye toward improving operations on the ground. The programs should also be geographically diverse in order to enrich the content of America’s contribution to stabilization and reconstruction.

The Center for Stabilization and Economic Reconstruction, a part of the non-profit Institute for Defense and Business, based in Chapel Hill, NC, and affiliated with the University of North Carolina, is proud to be a pioneer in the field of public-private sector executive education. We intend to continue to contribute to the ability of our nation to excel in assisting crisis-affected nations in the most effective way possible.

Cabe, Delia K. “Shedding its isolationist stance, the United States begins reaching out to its global neighbors” Nation Building: Kennedy School Bulletin. Spring 2002, 14 October 2008. <http://www.hks.harvard.edu/ksgpress/bulletin/spring2002/features/nation_building.html>.

[2] Schiavo-Campo, Salvatore. “Financing and Aid Management Arrangements in Post-Conflict Situations” CPR Working Papers: Social Development Department Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Network. Paper No. 6, June 2003:46, 8 October 2008. < http://www.peacecenter.sciences-po.fr/pdf/French_cycle/Sem_5/Schiavo-Campo_Financing_in_Post-Conflict.pdf>

[3] Margesson, Rhoda. “International Crises and Disasters: U.S. Humanitarian Assistance, Budget Trends, and Issues for Congress” CRS Report for Congress. May 3 2007:11, 7 October 2008. < http://ftp.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33769.pdf>

[4] Mashatt, Merriam and Johanna Mendelson-Forman. “Employment Generation and Economic Development in Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations” United States Institute of Peace Stabilization and Reconstruction Series. No.6, April 2007:12, 15, United States Institute of Peace: Washington, D.C.

[5] Locher III, James R. “The Most Important Thing: Legislative Reform of the National Security System” Military Review. May-June 2008:9, 14 August 2008. <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBZ/is_3_88/ai_n25432643/pg_9>

[6] Mashatt, Merriam and Johanna Mendelson-Forman. “Employment Generation and Economic Development in Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations” United States Institute of Peace Stabilization and Reconstruction Series. No.6, April 2007:12, United States Institute of Peace: Washington, D.C.

 [7] Lindsay, James and Sarah Lischer. “Humanitarian Aid Is Not a Military Business” Christian Science Monitor, April 15, 2003.

[8] DeYoung, Karen. “U.S. to Cut 10 Percent of Diplomatic Posts Next Year” Washington Post. 13 December 2007; A 26.

USAID U.S. Direct hires
Percentage Change
Total number
Number Assigned overseas
Number of countries receiving USAID assistance with U.S. direct-hire presence
Number of countries receiving USAID assistance with no U.S. direct-hire presence

Primary Source: endnote 9

Additional Source: USAID Policy and Budget 2007. Table 9. <http://www.usaid.gov/policy/budget/cgj2007/summtabs.st_9.pdf>

[9] United States General Accounting Office Report to Congressional Requesters “FOREIGN ASSISTANCE Strategic Workforce Planning Can Help USAID Address Current and Future Challenges” August 2003:3, 20 September 2008. <http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03946.pdf>

[10] De Torrenté, Nicolas. HUMANITARIAN AID AND INTERVENTION: THE CHALLENGES OF INTEGRATION Humanitarianism Sacrificed: Integration’s False Promise” Ethics & International Affairs. 2004:18, 4 August 2008. <http://www.globalpolicy.org/ngos/aid/2004/falsepromise.pdf>

[11] Worthington, Samuel. “A Reliance on Smart Power- Reforming the Foreign Assistance Bureaucracy” Testimony Before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management. July 31, 2008:10, 11 October 2008. http://www.interaction.org/files.cgi/6346_Worthington_-_Senate_Testimony_7-31-08.pdf

[12] InterAction. “Monday Developments: The Latest Issues and Trends in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance” July 2008:26. 23 September 2008. http://www.interaction.org/files.cgi/6309_MD_July08.pdf

[13] United States General Accounting Office Report to Congressional Requesters “FOREIGN ASSISTANCE Strategic Workforce Planning Can Help USAID Address Current and Future Challenges” August 2003:3, 20 September 2008. <http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03946.pdf>

[14] United States General Accounting Office Report to Congressional Requesters “FOREIGN ASSISTANCE Strategic Workforce Planning Can Help USAID Address Current and Future Challenges” August 2003:7-8, 20 September 2008. <http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03946.pdf>

 [15] Zeller, Shawn. “On the Work Force Roller Coaster at USAID, Focus on FS Staffing” Foreign Service Journal, April 2004:33.

[16] United States General Accounting Office Report to Congressional Requesters “FOREIGN ASSISTANCE Strategic Workforce Planning Can Help USAID Address Current and Future Challenges” August 2003:14, 20 September 2008. <http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03946.pdf>

[17] Mashatt, Merriam and Johanna Mendelson-Forman. “Employment Generation and Economic Development in Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations” United States Institute of Peace Stabilization and Reconstruction Series. No.6, April 2007:15, United States Institute of Peace: Washington, D.C.

[18] Loyd, Paula. “Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations in Post-Conflict and Crisis Zones: The Challenges of Military and Civilian Cooperation Transcript” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, National Capitol Captioning, 7 June 2007, transcript. 11 October 2008. < http://www.wilsoncenter.org/events/docs/FinalTranscript.doc>

[19] Refer to the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. <http://www.state.gov/s/crs/>

[20] Argyros, George, Marc Grossman, Felix Rohatyn, Anne Witkowsky. “The Embassy of the Future” Center for Strategic and International Studies, Center for Strategic and International Studies Press: Washington, D.C 2007:9.

[21] USAID. “Human Capital Strategic Plan, 2004- 2008: Building a New Generation” August 2004:42, 14 October 2008. <http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PDACA455.pdf>

[22] Project on National Security Reform The Project on National Security Reform (PNSR). “Preliminary Findings, Center for the Study of the Presidency”, July 2008:61, 10 October 2008. <http://www.pnsr.org/data/images/pnsr%20preliminary%20findings%20july%202008.pdf>

[23] Zimmerman, Mary Ann. “Training & Education for Reconstruction and Stabilization” U.S. Department of State Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. August 8, 2007:15, 20 July 2008. <http://www.roa.org/site/DocServer/ca_0807_zimmerman_brief.pdf?docID=2842>


Ambassador Litt served for 34 years as a career U.S. diplomat, specializing in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. In 2005-2006 he was the third-ranking officer at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, providing policy advice to the U.S. ambassador, and serving as liaison between the embassy and the Multi-National Forces – Iraq. He served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (1995-1998) and as consul general in Dubai as well as political advisor to U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. He is currently executive director of the Center for Stabilization and Economic Reconstruction, Institute for Defense and Business, Chapel Hill, NC.


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