Remarks at the Foreign Service Institute's Policy Roundtable on Global Youth, Civilian Security, and National Security

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
Washington, DC
July 26, 2012

(As Prepared Remarks)

Thank you, Joe, for that kind introduction.

And thank you, Ruth, for your remarks, and for your leadership at this premier training institute.

Good morning, everyone. Thank you all for joining us at this important seminar on global youth, civilian security, and national security. I’m pleased to see so many of our partners from civil society and academia participating today, as well as our colleagues from the interagency and the Department of State.

As you may know, as part of the implementation of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, in January I transitioned from being the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. The reorganization follows Secretary Clinton’s vision of how the world is changing in the 21st century – and the way that our foreign policy should change with it. In one of her first major speeches, she said, “Our approach to foreign policy must reflect the world as it is, not as it used to be.”

Many of these changes have taken the form of political, social, and economic challenges that are emerging from within countries as much as they are from between countries. As we face these new threats and opportunities, we need to be nimble. As we face ever-tightening budgets, we need to be efficient. We need to work more closely and collaboratively with non-governmental actors. And, if our action is to meet our ambition, we need to be effective.

In order to be all of these things, the United States needs to employ (and deploy) its civilian power, leveraging the great work by the State Department, USAID and nearly 40 other domestic agencies that work with partner governments and organizations abroad.

At the State Department, elevating our civilian power means better understanding how our diplomats and policy makers are supporting governments as they provide for and protect their citizens – in other words, how we advance civilian security.

This pursuit of civilian security is grounded in the understanding that we will only achieve sustainable peace when we resolve the underlying grievances of individuals; it also acknowledges that conflict and crisis are present in many countries around the world, and one of our foreign policy objectives should be to help prevent conflict or mitigate its occurrence.

And, to do that, we need to build government institutions that can provide for those individuals. This includes governments that respect basic rights of their citizens. It includes civilian police forces rooted in the rule of law whose mission is to protect citizens. It includes court and justice systems that are able to hold citizens accountable.

There are many parts of the State Department that are advancing some aspect of civilian security. From the protection of human rights, to the provision of humanitarian aid, to combating human and drug trafficking, to improving law enforcement and the rule of law, to efforts that counter violent extremism, to work that helps punish crimes against humanity: each of these elements is one piece of the puzzle that helps governments create more just societies for their people. By pulling them together, under one Under Secretary, we have created a mechanism for a more holistic, coherent approach to support the protection of individuals and, ultimately, the stability of nations.

Because our work centers on bringing more cohesive responses to the challenge of preventing and responding to conflict and helping countries strengthen their own “just societies,” we are now known as “J.”

Our new J family – made up of the five bureaus and three offices (CSO, CT, DRL, INL, PRM, TIP, GCJ, GYI) – enables us to work more collaboratively, build on organic synergies, and leverage resources more effectively. This is especially important in places like Syria, where the urgency of the situation demands our immediate attention and focus.

One of the cross-cutting issues that affects all of the challenges I’ve outlined is youth. Globally, 60% of the world’s population is under 30. With youth populations swelling and young people driving global events to an unprecedented extent, we cannot afford to adapt slowly to this new landscape. Just in the last year and half, we’ve seen how young men and women – the leaders of tomorrow – have changed the course of nations.

We also see that in countries where young people have opportunities for advancement in business, civic participation, and education, societies are more stable. Global youth are creative, connected, and energetic – increasingly powered by new technologies – and are one of the foremost potential drivers of economic and social progress. We know that the growing youth demographic around the world presents both an opportunity and a threat to stability, and we need to elevate how we are both interacting with young people and implementing policies that empower them as change agents.

These are the reasons why we are focused on youth issues at the highest levels of the Department of State. In September 2010, at the Secretary’s request, we convened an interagency Task Force to develop a strategy for how we engage with youth around the world. The group developed a youth policy framework that Secretary Clinton announced in Tunis earlier this year, highlighting why it is critical to engage and empower youth.

Our youth policy highlights three main pillars:

1. Elevating youth and the issues that affect them in our bilateral and multilateral diplomacy;

2. Empowering youth with the skills and networks to be change agents in their own communities. This is particularly important in the areas of economic empowerment and civic engagement; and

3. Engaging with youth directly in honest, two-way dialogue. The voices of young women and men deserve to be heard, and we want to facilitate their participation in society.

The Secretary also named a Special Adviser on Global Youth Issues to undertake youth initiatives on her behalf. We now have an office dedicated to coordinating these issues, and I am very pleased to have this office in the J family. Special Adviser Zeenat Rahman will be speaking with you shortly, and she will discuss her office’s work in more detail.

Zeenat’s work compliments a range of other youth-focused programs that our J bureaus and offices implement through a variety of partners. For example:

· Our Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement’s Gang Resistance Education and Training – or GREAT – aims to prevent gang violence through school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed classroom curricula.

· Our Bureau of Counterterrorism funds a program that provides positive alternatives to youth susceptible to recruitment and radicalization to violent extremism.

· Our Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons oversees several projects that provide protective and preventative measures for at-risk or trafficked youth.

Those are just a few examples of the work we are doing to address the challenges youth face around the world, and to harness their potential to engender positive change and contribute to global peace and security. I know your discussions today will highlight more we can do, and I look forward to hearing about ways in which we can work together to strengthen our collective response to the critical link between youth, civilian security, and national security. As Secretary Clinton has said, “the world ignores youth at its peril.”

With that, I’m available for your questions.