Conversations With America: Diplomacy in the 21st Century

Robert Loftis
   Acting Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization 
Cheryl Benton
   Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Mark Quarterman, Senior Advisor and Director of the Program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
Washington, D.C.
February 25, 2011

MS. BENTON: Good morning and welcome to the United States State Department. My name is Cheryl Benton, and I’m the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs. Thank you so much for joining us for Conversations with America, a series of video discussions that enables you to watch and participate in a live discussion between a top State Department official and the leader of a nongovernmental organization.

Today’s topic is on diplomacy in the 21st Century. We will discuss the U.S. response to fragile states, which pose some of the greatest national security challenges of our time. Our blog, DipNote, has received many questions and comments on today’s topic from around the world. We have selected some of them for this broadcast.

Before we begin, however, let’s meet our guests. Ambassador Robert Loftis is the Acting Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. He retired after a distinguished career as a Foreign Service officer where he served in Mozambique, Switzerland, New Zealand, Brazil, and Guinea-Bissau, and was U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho.

Ambassador Loftis, welcome.


MS. BENTON: Also joining us is Mark Quarterman. Mark is the senior advisor and Director of the Program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he focuses on effective multilateral responses to global issues. Prior to joining CSIS, Mark served at the United Nations in a number of capacities. Most recently, he was chief of staff at the UN Commission of Inquiry into the assassination of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan.

Mr. Quarterman, welcome.

MR. QUARTERMAN: Pleased to be here.

MS. BENTON: Please give our viewers your opening remarks.

MR. QUARTERMAN: Thank you.


MR. QUARTERMAN: Well, I’m very pleased to be here to talk with you and to Bob about the question of fragile states and the U.S. response to that. We have found over the years that fragile states are a major cause of instability in the world. And because of globalization, fragile states – not only the effects of fragile states are not only felt within those states, and maybe within the regions in which they’re found, but effects can be felt far beyond and even as far as the United States. They have a number of things in common, including potential terrorism, organized crime, trafficking, and a range of other issues, including infectious disease as well. And so it’s extremely important to work on fragile states and I’m very pleased to talk about S/CRS’s work there.

MS. BENTON: Okay, great. Ambassador, can you talk a little bit about your role and make some introductory remarks? And I know you have just launched a great web site, so if you can let our viewers and our listeners know about that, that will be terrific as well.

AMBASSDOR LOFTIS: Great. This is a – thanks very much for the invitation. It’s good to be here with both of you.

We are launching today the new web site It is a very comprehensive web site that talks about our job openings in the Civilian Response Corps, but as importantly talks about the sort of activities that we are undertaking around the world. It gives people a chance to write about what their experiences are and how when you take on these activities in the field what it actually means. I mean, we can talk about conflict prevention and working in fragile states, but if people say, well, all right, what do you do, this is a great place to look and see what it is that we do in the field.

As Mark mentioned, fragile states are a very challenging issue for us, and the Civilian Response Corps and the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization were created to deal specifically with these issues, to support our embassies in the field, and to work with host governments and with host nations in helping them either get through or prevent or recover from the very complicated issues that arise from fragile states in conflict.

MS. BENTON: Launching into the discussion, Ambassador, exactly why was the Civilian Response Corps created? And what is its impact, not just here at the State Department but as you move around the globe in some of those very fragile states that you talked about? What was the emphasis, the genesis, for the creation of this?

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: The Corps was first conceived of and authorized in 2004, and it was really to look at a way to bringing people not just from the State Department and USAID, the Agency for International Development, but other members of the federal civilian agencies who have expertise to bring. So right now we have about 140 people in our active component. These are people who are employed by us working in State, USAID, and our partner agencies to go out on very short notice to work in these fragile states. And we have another 1,200 people in our standby component who are people who are volunteers but have day jobs and who also volunteer to be available to go out and be part of these missions.

Right now, we’re operating in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, are our three largest, but we have people in Iraq. We have people in Liberia, Timor-Leste, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And the idea is that you bring expertise that’s not necessarily resonant here in the State Department, but people from law enforcement, people from Agriculture, people from Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of Commerce, all of whom are contributing to our efforts in these states to help people out.

MS. BENTON: And I know, Mark, you are involved all around the globe as well. How does CSI work with our Civilian Response Corps?

MR. QUARTERMAN: Well, one of the things that we try to do at CSIS and especially in the program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation is to provide research, information, events, really to provide policy alternatives and ideas for the people who are actually making policy and carrying it out. So we don’t work on the ground with S/CRS, but we do work to try to bring new ideas and approaches. And I’m actually intrigued by that, because in some ways the work that S/CRS does and your people in the field are carrying out is a new kind of diplomacy. It’s a diplomacy that’s more expeditionary than we might have seen in the past.

And Bob, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: I’m not sure that I would say it’s necessarily a new way of doing it. I think it’s a more systematic approach to it and it’s a better resourced approach to what we’ve done in the past. I mean, I think if you’d ask anybody who’s worked in the Foreign Service or the State Department or AID for the last 50 years, there’s no shortage of experience in dealing with conflict in fragile states. The problem is that when we’ve done it in the past, we’ve had to cannibalize other embassies, other offices to do that. The lessons that we’ve learned from that tend to get a little bit dissipated.

So on the one hand, we’re taking a more systematic approach by using this. But we are developing some additional capabilities, and I would use our operation in Southern Sudan as a great example of that, where we have stabilization teams – two to three people from State and USAID who have been spending the bulk of their time working out of the state capitals and county capitals in Southern Sudan. The first part of their efforts was dealing with the referendum, preparations for the referendum and carrying it out. And now they’re working with these local officials, with church groups, with travel groups on helping them resolve some of the various conflicts that might flair up and derail the process of moving towards independence and establishing a new state that can provide what it needs to provide for its people.

MR. QUARTERMAN: So you’re getting the diplomats out of the capital, out into the field, and not just working with representatives of governments when they get out into the field as well. It sounds as though there’s –

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: Well, the majority of the work that they do is with local institutions, whether it’s with the governor or a county commissioner, with a church group, with tribal groups. I have an example of one of our officers from the Department of Commerce, for example, who – his original goal, original job, was to go out and help them establish the census baseline for how many people they needed to participate in the vote to make it a valid referendum. Well, once he did that, he’s out in the field. He ended up brokering a deal between two tribal groups that had been fighting over water rights. And when you start getting AK-47s and other weapons involved, they can become quite deadly. A very concrete example of that, almost diplomacy on a retail scale, I guess I would put it.

MR. QUARTERMAN: That’s interesting because one of the things we found in our research is that a sole focus on government doesn’t really cover what’s needed in a number of places, and I think that that’s an interesting example of that. We believe and what we found is that governance doesn’t necessarily equal government, and that even if there isn’t effective government in a number of places, people find a way to govern themselves and will do so through a number of different means. It sounds as though you’re addressing that question through the way you go about your work.

AMBASADOR LOFTIS: Yeah, I would say it’s an expansion of things that have been going on for a long time. I mean, if you go back to the 1940s, the creation of the labor attaches and the recognizing the importance of dealing with unions around the world, the focus on human rights issues that have been going on for the last three decades, the increased importance that we’ve placed on public diplomacy in reaching out to publics. All of this is part – this, to me, is another step in dealing with those issues and pushing us out even further, where you’re not just simply working in the capital but you’re working out well beyond that.

MR. QUARTERMAN: Mm-hmm. One of the things that we grappled with when I was at the United Nations, and we’re continuing to try to look at as we develop and expand our program at CSIS, is how to go about the work of conflict prevention. I mean, it’s one thing to respond to an armed conflict that’s already existing or a crisis, but how to carry out conflict prevention. And it’s a conundrum, in part because if you do your work effectively, the bad thing doesn’t happen and no one knows that it didn’t happen.


MR. QUARTERMAN: I was wondering how you go about this. (Laughter.)

MS. BENTON: Good question.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: Well, all of the bad things that have not happened, we’ll take credit for them.

MR. QUARTERMAN: Exactly. As well you should.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: No, but to be more serious, we do have a tool; it’s called the Interagency Conflict and Assessment Framework. And it’s – not to get too deeply into the details, but the idea is you pull together a group of people here in Washington at first. And it includes people from the Department, people from outside – experts, academics, people from the country – and you have a discussion about what’s going on in a country. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a place that you think is at – in imminent danger of falling into either being a failed state of having a conflict, but where the potential is there and you want to take a look at it.

And you identify what are the weaknesses, what are the strengths, what are the underlying causes of the conflict, and really use this time in Washington to understand what you don’t know. And then that’s followed up by a trip out to the field, usually two to three weeks, where you work with the embassy and you go out and fan out and interview people from taxi drivers to market workers to university professors, journalists, whomever you can talk to, to get a fuller picture about what’s going on, and deciding how and even whether there is a role for the United States to play in supporting various activities that are undergoing in that country, to help them come together in finding ways of peacefully resolving their conflicts.

I think one of the key points is that we’re not trying to end a conflict; we’re trying to make – because in politics there’s always going to be competing ideas – but we’re trying to help people find ways to channel that into normal peaceful political activity that takes place in a democracy.

MS. BENTON: I was curious; how would you describe the difference between development – folks are very familiar with that – and what you do with the Civilian Response Corps?

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: Okay. We are definitely working – certainly trying to work, and I think succeeding in working in a complementary fashion with USAID and other development agencies. We are not there for long-term development issues. We’re there to help in a transition, to help set the stage where a normal development can take place. So in the sense of, we – when we bring in, let’s say, an expert of Department of Justice to work with the host country, it will be as sort of a mentoring, advising on how to set up their systems. In other areas, we might bring in somebody from the Customs Department, for example, to help them set up a system of monitoring and controlling border crossings in a way that you don’t have illegal transit of things. And that helps provide that basic infrastructure, that transition for what a normal development agency can do.

The other thing that I think we bring is that when we send our people out to the field, they speak for the United States Government. They are there to represent the United States Government. In a lot of our aid programs, they are carried out by our implementing partners, usually people who are locally – who are employed locally and who come from that. Now, they bring a lot of advantages. They speak the language, they know the culture, they’re deeply imbedded. But there are times that they run into roadblocks, and we can help break those.

So I’ll give you an example. There was – one of our people who’s in Southern Sudan right now, worked for an NGO before he came onboard working for us was working in the health area, was trying to get into local hospitals to help do some work there, was denied entry. They just wouldn’t even let them in the door. Flash forward; he’s now part of our organization, goes to the same locations. He’s there from the consulate, the U.S. Government, those doors open. And then that allows our implementing partners to have the access that they need to get in to do their work as well.

MR. QUARTERMAN: Fragile states have a number of things in common, we’ve found, at base, weak, very weak governance, governance that often doesn’t stretch out to ensure that the government’s writ runs throughout the territory of the country, poor service delivery to people, and non-responsive governance, authoritarian government often. I was wondering if there are issues that you target when you carry out your work in the field that – is rule of law a court issue, or security, or is there a template or a way that you look at the work you do when you go into a place for the relatively short period of time that your people will be on the ground for?

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: Mm-hmm. Well, I mean, as we were just discussing, there is a difference between what we do and long-term development work, and a lot of that really does get carried on by those people. But you hit on a couple of the key points that we do try to focus on, which is the rule of law issues and security sector reform, and then sometimes just being there to help prod local governments, particularly at that provincial or state level – say, look, you really need to be thinking about how you deliver services and that you expand your base out, that you’re constituency is more than the people who elected you, it’s the broader community, and really kind of focus on those sorts of issues.

But it really – our main focus is really on that transition, and it’s really on helping to set the stage so that the larger development community can come in and help work on these longer-term issues. We don’t have a real timeframe for how long we’re involved, but we don’t anticipate being anywhere for 10, 15, 20 years.

MR. QUARTERMAN: And we’re not just talking about a few fragile states out there either. There are up to, by a variety of different counts, 55 fragile or weak states around the world, all of which could fall into the failed state category if situations turn out the wrong way. So you must be watching a number of different places as well and thinking about where the next – your next activity might occur. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: As we can tell, it’s a little hard to predict sometimes, but –

MR. QUARTERMAN: Yes, it is. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: We’ve been active in about 30 different countries, to one degree or another. Certainly, we view ourselves as a very much part of the State Department as a whole and recognizing that and the U.S. Government have resources in a lot of different places. I think what we help bring to the table is really recognizing where areas are of interest to the United States but where we have not been able to dedicate as many resources as we would necessarily want to, and that we’re able to have that flexibility to ramp up, to support an embassy. And then as the situation resolves itself, we pull out and go back to normal operations within that embassy. But it’s always looking into where are the areas that are of key importance to the United States. I mean, one could easily say there were 60 or 70 places we should be operating. Unfortunately, we would not be able to do that.

MS. BENTON: I want to hearken back to something that you talked about a little earlier, Mark, where you mentioned the involvement with – not just with government but with civil society. I know recently the Secretary launched her strategic dialogue with civil society, and that’s such an important component, but as you said, Ambassador, oftentimes, if you don’t have the moniker of government or the legitimacy of government or a government agency, civil society runs into a problem out there often times, breaking through those barriers. So talk a little bit about what you do to move that forward for that particular segment of society and how important civil society is to your efforts.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: I guess I would take it back to another point, which is that ultimately, the responsibility for finding peace within a society or resolving these conflicts responsibly does not rest with us. It rests with the people in that country and that society. And our job is to help be a catalyst, to help be a facilitator, sometimes to be that honest broker, or even simply to provide a venue for things to happen, where people feel safe talking to each other. And if you’re going to do that, then obviously, civil society has to be involved to a very deep degree.

I’m not sure that there is a single formula that we would follow for this. I think a lot of it depends on the openness within those countries. Certainly, when we look at some of the things that we’re working on, we try to identify – not elements – example, in southern Kyrgyzstan, we’ve been working with a number of NGOs who were already there, who have been doing a lot of work reaching out between the two communities. Our job is not to get in the middle of that; our job is to support that and to find the people who will play that role and help get them connected, and in some cases, provide some small amount of resources to help do that. It’s really one of the focal points.

As I mentioned, the conflict assessment framework, I mean, what we look for are those elements within that country who are playing that role, who we can support.

MS. BENTON: Very good.

MR. QUARTERMAN: And often, that’s what they need, we’ve been finding too, that – just that little bit of support or that degree of protection by having the U.S. Government take notice of them, or helping to bring people to sit around the table, which isn’t a magical formula.


MR. QUARTERMAN: You don’t make peace suddenly by being around the table. But you certainly can’t resolve conflict not by being at the table.

MS. BENTON: If you’re not there. That’s right.

MR. QUARTERMAN: So that’s an extremely important aspect of it. I wanted to go back to what – something you said earlier about bringing different aspects of the U.S. Government to bear as well. And I know that the Civilian Response Corps pulls from different aspects of the U.S. Government, and you were – you mentioned that in a more systematic way than was done before. I was wondering if you could talk about that a bit.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: Sure. I really try to avoid the jargon that we use here – (laughter) – but, I mean, one of the things that you want to look at, for example, is say you’re planning to work in a country – I’ll just keep it at the hypothetical level – and their economy has been ravaged by civil strife. And you want to look at the different kinds of things that you would do to help.

Well, one of the things you want to look at is if you help in one area, what are the effects that that would have somewhere else? Let’s say, for example, you’ve got a problem where you’ve got illicit trafficking in arms and drugs, so your first response is to say, okay, well, let’s shut the border down. Well, that’s great from a law enforcement perspective, but you want the health perspective in because somebody might say, you know what, when they shut the borders down, you actually create situations where prostitution starts to flourish, and now you’ve got an – AIDS and other problems. Or you’ve now cut off your source of revenue for the government because they get a fair amount of their revenue from customs, and so now you’ve diverted that into other areas.

So when you want to bring people in at the early planning stage to say, okay, let’s look at everything that we’re doing across the full panoply of options that we have out there, and whether it’s Department of Justice or Transportation or Energy or Commerce or Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, you really try to get that full perspective from a very early stage.

I also want to focus that we have – we talk a lot about the civilian agencies here, and that’s who make up the Civilian Response Corps. But we also have a very strong working relationship with the U.S. military as well because they’re a very strong player in all of this. And so it is – it’s looking at where – in some sectors, like in Southern Sudan, it’s been entirely – almost entirely civilian. In places like Afghanistan, obviously, we’re deeply embedded with the military. So I don’t want to lose that piece of what we do.

MS. BENTON: And I think that’s been something that the President and, certainly, the Secretary of State have stressed – let’s look at a whole-of-government approach to tackling some of the vexing issues that are going on around the globe, and that leads me to my next question. When your engagement ends in a country – or maybe it never ends – what are your hopes for that host country?

And I’d like to get your comment on that as well, Mark. When you feel like your job is done, you’ve helped with the stabilization, the reconstruction is moving forward, what do you hope to leave there?

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: I guess I would hope to leave two things. One would be within our embassy, within our mission there, an additional capability at looking at the problems within that country through that conflict lens and through a much more integrated approach. We’ve worked with some of our embassies to help bring their country teams together in a way that really helps them focus on doing that and making sure that they don’t stay in their cylinders of excellence.

With the host country, what we’re hoping to leave behind is the confidence and the ability to deal with some of these inherent conflicts on their own, or with minimal support from the outside, that they have the structure and the confidence to be able to do this. I don’t anticipate that when we decide that our involvement is ended that everything is magically going to be solved, but that the ability – their ability to deal with these will be much strengthened from when we arrived.

MS. BENTON: That makes sense.

MR. QUARTERMAN: And I would say that we tend to look at it from a longer-term perspective. I mean, clearly, S/CRS is there for a particular period of time. As Bob pointed out, it’s not a development agency. It’s – it has a focus on stabilization and conflict prevention. The – I suppose what I would hope is that what would be left behind is a country that is poised to be able to effectively deal with the issues that created the fragility in the first place, that has some tools in particular areas – for example, rule of law and maybe a few others, health – to begin to address some of the most important concerns. But certainly, the country is not out of the woods at the point of the informal handover to – from the work of the stabilization corps to the work of development agencies.

The hope is that both the U.S. Government and other actors will be available to help the government through the next stages, whether we’re talking about elections or solidifying gains made in the security sector, or improving healthcare delivery, or a range of issues. And it’s a long-term process. I mean, the World Bank has done some research recently that shows that transitions to democracy can take up to a generation, and that the shorter transitions can be up to – can be as long as 10 years over multiple elections with governments coming – leaving peacefully after losing and other governments replacing them.

So this is an extremely important phase that S/CRS works on, the phase of helping to stabilize, to prevent the slide to further conflict, to put some of the building blocks in place that can be worked on both by the government and by other external actors in the future.

MS. BENTON: Great. This is a great discussion but I wanted to get to some of our viewer questions. But before that, could you tell us your website again?


MS. BENTON: Okay. And we encourage folks to go and sign onto that and see all of the wonderful things that are being done and being accomplished. And so, go right to our questions.

Neil in Connecticut writes: “Congress recently passed a funding bill for the remainder of 2011 that cuts the Civilian Stabilization Initiative by a whopping 74 percent over the President’s request. How might these cuts affect your ability to prevent conflict in Sudan and other countries? And is there anything that can be done to restore the funding?”

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: Let me tackle that question in two parts. One is the overall question of the State Department and USAID funding, which is less than 1 percent of the entire federal budget. And if the United States is going to be engaged in the world, it does require a certain amount of resources. You can – we all recognize that this is a difficult budget environment, and we’re all prepared to do everything we can to use the money wisely. But unless we’re prepared to just kind of pull up the walls, fill them up with crocodiles, we need to be engaged in the world, we need the tools to do that. And having an adequate budget is very much part of that, and it’s a very cost-effective way that I think the Department and our development assistance as a whole is a very cost-effective way of promoting and projecting American interests abroad.

Within the Civilian Stabilization Initiative, the cuts represents a drawdown in our ability to expand. Where we are right now is at the limits of being able to continue to do the work that we have been required to do. If we were to get a major new requirement, it would require additional funds. But where I am right now with the money that we have, I think that we can manage what we’re doing in Sudan, but it doesn’t leave us very much margin for error.

MS. BENTON: Right.

MR. QUARTERMAN: If I could just add, we live in an increasingly complex world, and in some ways dangerous world. The defense of the country – needless to say, the first responsibility is the Department of Defense. But the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development play a crucial role in that as well as partners, so much so that the Secretary of Defense has urged greater funding for the civilian power that the U.S. can deploy, that is a partner and an important component in the overall power that the U.S. has and influence that it can have around the world. So support for these initiatives and for State and USAID overall are absolutely crucial as we try to negotiate our way through this increasingly complex and multipolar world that we live in.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: And we shouldn’t expect our military to take on these roles. I mean, it’s not fair. I mean, and it’s inappropriate because some of these roles are things that need to be done by civilians. And I would hate to see us in that position where you cut funding to the civilian agencies and then you still need a job to be done, so then you turn to the military that’s already stressed, and you say, well, the civilians aren’t there so we’ll turn to the military, then you cut the civilians and you put even more stress. You need to make the investment in the civilian side of the house to be able to deal with these issues across the board.

MR. QUARTERMAN: We – I’m sorry to interrupt, but we spend a lot of time at CSIS with the military as well, and one of the key things I hear from military officers all the time is: What can we do to prevent conflicts? What can we do to prevent having to put our boots on the ground to respond to these situations? Or others – I mean, I’m a UN person. I’ve come from the UN. There really shouldn’t be a need for peacekeepers in the range of places that they’re deployed to as well. What can be done before the military response?

And this isn’t about competition between the Department of Defense and the Department of State. The officers I talk to – the senior officers I talk to – want to have more activity on the civilian side to prevent that activity on the military side being carried out, exactly as Bob said.

MS. BENTON: Yeah. And particularly as we draw down our armies and our military from various hot spots, that responsibility is going to shift to the State Department. So I think that you’ve made some very valuable points here.

I wanted to go on to take another question. William in California writes: “The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review” – here at State we lovingly call it the QDDR – “is a great document. Transitioning U.S. response from military-led to civilian-led can produce massive budget savings. Putting it into practice will be a major challenge. Please comment on State and USAID efforts to achieve the needed reform, especially the use of modern technology and social networking to the American public.”

(Laughter.) To you, Bob.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: All right. As you say, the QDDR – I’m not sure that we would call it beloved, but it’s -- (laughter).



But it’s an absolutely necessary and incredibly useful exercise to go through, because it does give us direction for the next four years. And I hope subsequent administrations take them up on it. I have friends who worked on the Quadrennial Defense Review for years, and it is painful, but it is, as I say, very necessary.

We are – I think everybody is in the process of digesting all of the recommendations right now and looking at ways to implement that. In the meantime, certainly we have – we are in contact with USAID on a daily basis on the things that we’re doing around the world, because so many of the areas that we work in overlap. And we need to be making sure that what we’re doing is complementary and not competitive, and certainly that’s one of the things that the QDDR does is delineate how the two agencies work together much more clearly. And I think that’s a very helpful thing to do.

In terms of social media and other things, I mean, our focus is working on outside of the United States, and so looking at things of Facebook and Twitter and some of these cell phone technologies of getting messages out are things that we work on. One of the most interesting things we’ve been working on lately is on mobile banking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the major problems you have with soldiers in some of these countries is that they have a hard time getting paid, and you have to move large amounts of cash around, which is temptation for corruption, disappearing, bogus payrolls, that sort of thing. And it leads to depredations of local populations because they’re looking – they’re trying to live off the land.

If you can set up a mobile banking system where soldiers are getting paid through their cell phones, there is far less of an incentive for them to go out and do the sorts of things in terms of trying to get money or food or lodging or even care for their families. I mean, people will get paid and then they’ll disappear for two weeks because they’ve got to take the money home. So that’s just one of the innovative uses of these two new technologies that we’ve been involved with.

MS. BENTON: Very good.

MR. QUARTERMAN: I think the technologies are very exciting, and we’ve seen them at work in recent weeks in different parts of the world. One thing that I’d like to point out, though, is it still comes down to basic rights for people: the right of free expression and the right of association. They might – people might not be associating in the same space or they might be associating in a cyberspace, but it’s about basic rights. And the United States, from the beginning of the human rights movement, has been a leader of that movement in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of inserting the words “human rights” into the UN Charter, which was a U.S. initiative. And it seems to me that this is an important continuation of that in ways that are effective in the 21st century.

MS. BENTON: Very, very good. Another question. Judy in Washington, D.C., writes: “What support, if any, from the private sector will your office be seeking in the coming years? Is there anything you can pinpoint to help you achieve some of the short-term or long-term goals?”

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: Let me address that on two points. One is the direct support to our operations, and certainly some of the things that we do we contract out to the private sector to support us. The two biggest examples would be – we actually have an aircraft that we’ve chartered to run around Southern Sudan, and we contracted with an American company to build living and working containers that we’re placing into these state capitals so that our people can stay there. That’s sort of the direct support.

On the larger side, I would say that one of the things – that international development assistance has a strong role to play, but if countries are going to develop, what they need is direct foreign investment. They need the private sector to get in there and to make those investments to get people the jobs that provide for a future. I mean, if you look at what’s happening across North Africa and the Middle East, it’s a lot about the fact that people don’t feel like they have an economic future; it has not delivered for them. And to the extent that the private sector can get more involved in these areas that they have not perhaps traditionally looked at, that would be, probably more than many other things that we could do, would be a huge help.

MS. BENTON: Do you see the private sector poised to be able to do just that, to get involved?

MR. QUARTERMAN: It depends a bit on the private sector, what private sector you’re talking about. I think that there’s a wariness of U.S. and other businesses to invest in fragile states. At the same time, just as people find ways of governing themselves and making sure that things happen in their local areas, business also finds a way to operate, too.

We had a very interesting event at CSIS a few months ago, where experts had studied local business operations in Afghanistan in some of the more violent parts of Afghanistan. And you would think that businesses would shut down; local businesses, they wouldn't want to operate. They find a way to operate. They find agreements they can make with local actors for security. They will – they’ll find their ways to operate and to carry out their businesses, because it’s a matter of survival. What they often need, as Bob described in other areas, are very small inputs to unblock blockages or to just facilitate them operating in certain places, or a little bit more security to enable them to reach a little wider. Because that’s where jobs will be created, too, with – by local businesses as well as by direct foreign investment.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: I’ll give you an example of that. In Liberia, we’ve just sent somebody from the Department of Commerce to work with the Ministry of Commerce in Liberia on helping them rewrite their small business regulations and rules so that it’s easier for people and much more streamlined for people to be able to start businesses and keep businesses running, again, to open up that space for the private sector to be able to operate in in a country like Liberia, where the potential is there.

MS. BENTON: So using the innovation, it certainly facilitates that kind of set up and operation.


MS. BENTON: We have another question from Mark in Japan. He writes: I am a U.S. Army veteran currently serving as an International World Peace fellow in Japan. I’ve attended really great civilian response training in the past, and was just wondering if your present budget would indicate being able to hire more permanent employees in the future, .i.e. not contractors or those seconded from other U.S. Government departments and agencies. What do you think?

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: There will be a small increase in the permanent hiring for the Civilian Response Corps. For that – for more of that, though, we will need a bigger budget. But, I mean, we have right now about 230 people working in the office of the coordinator. About 90 of them are contractors. So we will be looking at converting most of those over into full-time employment.

The office grew very, very quickly, and now it’s time for us to consolidate and build that up into a much more permanent institution. But, I mean, I do want to emphasize that the contractors that we’ve had working for us have performed invaluable service.

MS. BENTON: That’s great. I would think your – even though we don’t know yet what’s really going to be the end game in the Middle East right now, I would imagine that you’re looking at those being the next set of fragile or vulnerable states once it shakes out over there – anticipation.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: Well, I mean, we are looking at them and how we would support our embassies in the area. We recognize Cairo, for example, is one of our largest embassies in the world. There are quite a few people there. I think, for us, it’s also important not to keep our – not to take our eyes off of these other potential areas out there where a judicious input of resources and people will pay huge dividends in terms of being able to prevent a conflict or states sliding into greater fragility.

MS. BENTON: Right. Right. That has to be the ongoing challenge for you. Well, I think we’re just about out of time, and I want to thank you very much, Mark, for joining us here in studio. It was a very fascinating discussion.

And Ambassador, as always, the fine work you’re doing is totally not going unnoticed, and it’s much appreciated here at the State Department.


MS. BENTON: And I’d also like to thank each and every one of you for joining us. Please note the video and transcript will be available on very shortly. We hope that Conversations with America will continue to inform citizens about the Administration’s efforts to address the challenges of the 21st century. We look forward to engaging with you again very soon. Thank you so much for joining us.