Foreign Aid Go Big—or Long and Deep?


There is currently much debate about the future of USAID: the nexus of Defense, Diplomacy and Development; how to better administer stability and reconstruction in conflict and post conflict environments; and how to rebuild the staff capacity of the State Department and USAID so that they may be effective expeditionary partners to our military forces. These are all serious issues, but they beg the question of how civilian agencies and partners should operate and what is the most effective and viable model for overseas stabilization, reconstruction and long-term development. How we operate—the model—will drive organizational structure and size. Dick McCall, Alexandra Simonians and I published an article entitled Not in Our Image in the National Defense University’s Prism magazine, that speaks to the “how” of stabilization in conflict environments. Recently, the Kauffman Foundation and the Command and General Staff College Foundation invited me to write a paper and participate in a summit on “Entrepreneurship and Expeditionary Economics” and sit on a panel on “Current Post-Conflict Planning and Execution.” The “how” has been much in my thoughts of late.

After the defeat of the Taliban in late 2001, U.S. forces and the Pentagon were dissatisfied with the State and USAID response to rebuilding Afghanistan in terms of personnel and resources. This led to President Bush’s order to place Iraq Reconstruction under DOD. The Coalition Provisional Authority, under J. Paul Bremer, decided to go “big” with a massive infrastructure program to rebuild Iraq, using a staff of thousands of civilian and military personnel. When the State Department inherited the CPA program in 2004, the program was realigned, but staffing remained in the thousands and State embarked on building the largest embassy in the world for a staff of 1,500. Last year, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, and State began implementing a staff increase in Afghanistan from approximately 300 to more than 1,200. Civilian and military operations are integrated.

James “Spike” Stephenson

My experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans and El Salvador dictates to me that we have met “Big Army” and been captivated and intimidated into forgetting who we are and where we have been. We are going “big” with an unnecessary, ineffective and fiscally unsustainable business model. Our strength in El Salvador—one of the great counterinsurgency successes of the last century—was what many thought was a weakness: Congressional limitations on numbers and actions of US military advisors, and limitations on the number of personnel assigned to the Embassy. We could not go big, so we went long and deep—over a 12 year period we enabled the Salvadorans to create the conditions for peace, a democratic government and a strong economy. In the Balkans, we used large peace-keeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo; but our civilian efforts while large in funding, were modest in staffing. Building on our experience in the rest of Eastern Europe, we enabled the transition—we did not do it for them. We are successfully using a similar model in Colombia.

We must and should be able to work closely with the military; but if we are to emulate them, then we should look more to special operations forces, which use limited but highly trained manpower, often to enable indigenous forces to protect their population. The military—even “Big Army”—will understand and support a leaner business model. We just have not made the case.

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