Panel Remarks at USIP's Conference on Preventing Violent Conflict

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Washington, DC
June 1, 2011

Thank you.  It is indeed a pleasure to be here, in this beautiful building which I had the honor of seeing first as a blueprint while I was on the board of USIP—and now I see as a neighbor from across the street.

This is a timely conference for my office and for the United States Government.  With the completion of the first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, conflict prevention has taken on new precedence within our broad scope of foreign policy priorities. 

Even in the absence of active conflict, weak and failed states present acute security challenges.  And of course, once conflict has begun, intervention carries extraordinary costs.  Assistance delivered late limits our options and extends the timeline to reach stability.  Recognizing these factors, the QDDR recommends strengthening the US government’s ability to prevent conflict—particularly using the civilian resources and expertise in our foreign policy toolkit. 

Our approach to conflict prevention spans a wide-array of government activities, often executed in concert with the private sector.  Through democracy assistance, security sector reform, and social-economic development activities, we work to create space for local-level actors to play an assertive role in the interest of muting the threat of violence before, during and after it is happening.

It is fitting that I am sitting next to Nancy Lindborg on this panel, who oversees the significant operations of USAID in conflict prevention.  Part of our mandate from the QDDR is to better align the work that Nancy directs at AID, and the work that I direct at State.  In order to strengthen our conflict prevention operations, there is no doubt that we must more effectively coordinate and implement all of these resources—and those of our sister agencies in the field—recognizing the unique contribution that each government agency brings to this work. 

In order to unite and streamline the State Department’s capabilities, the Office of Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs will become the Office of Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Human Rights and Democracy, and my role will include overseeing:

  • the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs;
  • the new Bureau for Conflict and Stabilization Operations;
  • the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; 
  • the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; and
  • the Office to Combat and Monitor Trafficking in Persons.

It will also potentially include other offices, such as the Office of War Crimes Issues. 

This new configuration will provide a cohesive and expansive approach to our conflict prevention activities, including the protection of human rights, the reform of rule of law and judicial sectors, the promotion of inclusive, democratic institutions, and the pursuit of economic and environmental security.  Each of these aspects reinforces the next, all of them forming the strong fabric of national and global security that we seek through strong civilian power. 

But the QDDR also takes this work one step further, by elevating the significance of crisis and conflict prevention and resolution, especially in fragile states.  As part of our core mission, we will promote sustainable, responsible and effective security and governance.  And we will seek to more effectively foster security, rule of law, and reconstruction in the aftermath of conflict.  As we’ve seen in recent weeks and months, our world is ripe for this effort. 

Let me share several examples of how the State Department is contributing to U.S. conflict prevention efforts in the field:

  • In Southern Sudan, seven teams of conflict prevention officers and an analysis unit in Juba engage daily with local government and civil society actors.  These teams observe and report on local conflict trends, providing diplomatic and programmatic recommendations to USG leadership, to help us reshape conflict dynamics. 
  • In Kyrgyzstan, we’ve addressed conflict prevention and response as part of an unbroken arc, linking humanitarian assistance to our development work.  In the south, a conflict expert led a field-based analysis at the site of intense but brief violence in June 2010, which then informed US government strategies to support reconciliation and peaceful democratic transition. We also worked closely with the international community and local NGOs to deliver humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations while rebuilding trust in local communities.  And we are supporting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as it provides preventative “protection by presence,” including a highly visible office in Osh and a 24 hour call center where victims can report human rights violations.
  • And, based on the experience of police abuse during the revolutions in the Middle East, we are supporting police and criminal justice sector reform—as opposed to basic train and equip programs.

Of course, challenges remain—foremost among them the need to better systematize knowledge and operations across government and beyond, especially on the causes and dynamics of conflict where multiple efforts are underway. 

We also need to prioritize new innovations in prevention operations, including linking early warning systems to prevention planning and response, increasing flexible spending and making conflict assessments a standard component to long-range planning. 

So, let me close by saying that we look forward to working with all of you to address conflict prevention as an imperative and priority for this Administration.