Frederick Barton, Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, told an SIS audience
that the United States is entering a “golden era of American diplomacy”
as it moves away from a “terrorist-heavy narrative to an understanding
that conflict resolution has an extremely heavy political, diplomatic
Dean Jim Goldgeier explained in his introduction that the Bureau Of Conflict And Stabilization Operations
that Barton heads was created in November 2011 in an effort to bring a
more systematic approach to conflict prevention and response. The
bureau's mission is “to advance U.S. national security by driving
integrated, civilian-led efforts to prevent, respond to, and stabilize
crises in priority states, setting conditions for long-term peace.” The
talk was facilitated by SIS Professor Charles "Chuck" Call, who is on a two-year sabbatical from AU to serve in Ambassador Barton's office.
Barton explained that the increasing complexity of conflicts
precipitated the creation of the new bureau. “Bosnia, Iraq, and
Afghanistan underlined to us the complexity of all of these cases,” he
said. It seemed that a lot of smaller conflicts were becoming bigger and
thornier, so it became crucial to bring together policy and practice.”
The bureau’s work is mostly focused on Syria, Kenya, and Honduras, with
additional efforts in Burma, Nigeria, and Bangladesh.
He summarized the tri-fold strategy of his bureau as: “1. Where—make a difference in two to three places of strategic importance to the United States; 2. People—create a team; 3. The nature of the work—bring agility to the U.S. response.”
Barton conceded that the State Department did not yet have the
agility to move into conflict situations as quickly as humanitarian
organizations. “We have tried to be much more agile and build a strong,
reliable civilian response network. We also work closely with the
military community, who are eager to find civilian partners,” he said.
Barton outlined five elements to successful conflict resolution: “1.
Sophisticated understanding of places and an advanced level of analysis;
2. A common view of the problem—for example, the United States would
get involved only in areas of strategic importance; 3. Being
opportunistic about who does the work; 4. Real-time evaluation; and 5.
Improved public communication.”
Politics are also important to conflict prevention and resolution
efforts. Namely, which conflicts the United States chooses to involve
itself in is a strategic and political decision. “Basically, we are
concerned about whether the place matters to the United States, whether
there is that moment of ripeness for an intervention, and whether there
is something we can actually do,” he concluded.