Editor’s Note: This article examines recent efforts and calls to modernize U.S. civilian international affairs agencies. As the paper surveys recent studies and their various proposals, ranging from the elevation of effective development as an instrument of U.S. global engagement to greater investments in public diplomacy and stabilization and reconstruction, it explores the underlying smart power consensus often invoked to promote national security, foreign assistance reform and truly transformational diplomacy. This paper was written for a 2008 project of the Stanley Foundation and the Center for a New American Security called “What an Engagement Strategy Entails: Is the United States Government Equipped?“
This paper provides a thirty-thousand foot view of the various research and advocacy initiatives proposing ways of building US government civilian capacity. The purpose is to flag remaining questions about key distinctions, tensions, gaps, and opportunities presented by the various efforts inside and outside of government.
Recent years have produced dozens of high-profile reports, articles, conferences, speeches, hearings, and initiatives that call for the strengthening the US government’s civilian international affairs agencies. As one might expect, these efforts tend to define the problem and devise solutions in varied ways. Some focus on only one aspect of building civilian capacity such as improving foreign assistance, public diplomacy, or post-conflict reconstruction. Others look more broadly at capacities that cut across departments and agencies such as planning, budgeting, and coordination. Some stay at the level of grand strategy, avoiding operational prescriptions and concrete institutional fixes.