Friday, October 23, 2009

Slaughtering the State Department

. Friday, October 23, 2009

Spencer Ackerman sits down with Anne-Marie Slaughter to discuss her efforts (under Sec. Clinton) to reform the State Department, and take some of America's foreign policy back from the Pentagon. Clinton ordered a new planning document for State, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), and put Slaughter in charge of creating the QDDR (along with Deputy SoS Lew and senior USAID official Michael). What is Slaughter hoping to address?

Asked if the QDDR will result in institutional changes at the State Department and USAID, Slaughter answered simply, “Yes.” While she said she could not yet determine would precisely would change, the QDDR’s working groups are asking a fundamental question: “What do we need?”

Three broad conceptual lines will determine the answer. The first, Slaughter explained, is that U.S. foreign policy is beset with “collective problems” — from terrorism to climate change to pandemic disease — that require joint international action, something all the stakeholders at Slaughter’s International Finance Corporation lunch recognized. ...

Accordingly, the second concept is about how State and USAID work with the military to address “the question of civilian operational capacity to crisis.” The widespread inability of the State Department and USAID — with budgets representing a tiny fraction of the half-trillion-per-year Defense Department — to deploy to conflict zones has expanded the military’s role in stabilization and reconstruction duties broadly understood to be civilian tasks. ...

The final overarching construct the QDDR will address goes back to Slaughter’s International Finance Corporation lunch. Powerful states remain “very, very important” in geopolitics,” she said, but “the landscape of nonstate actors is so dramatically different,” requiring State and USAID to think about how to perform diplomacy and and development work in an international environment where investment banks, multinational alliances, private advocacy groups, religious institutions and other players “have the power that once only states had.”

Slaughter does not yet know how the QDDR will answer to those questions. “I think by framing the questions that way, you’re asking people to look at the capabilities that we need” and then identify existing gaps.


The fact that it's nearly 2010 and the U.S. State Dept. is just now starting to look at nonstate actors as important for global governance should scare the bejeezus out of everyone. Seriously? I know it's the "State" department, but given that nonstate actors can greatly affect states you'd think that these things might've come up before.

Another criticism of State is its sclerotic nature. Institutional decay within the department has made it difficult for State to play a proactive role in American diplomacy (Matt Armstrong's recent piece making this case is referenced in Ackerman's article). Slaughter recognizes the difficulties, but she knows that the QDDR is just a report; follow-up actions are necessary too.

I, for one, am cheering for her. She knows what needs to be done, and everyone knows that America is not well-served by having nearly all of its foreign policy run out of the Pentagon. It's an uphill slog, but Obama seems committed to it, Clinton seems committed to it, and the country needs it. So hopefully something good will come out of the QDDR.

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Slaughtering the State Department
 

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