The Foreign Service Journal, November 2006

tion activities in a country or region that is in, or is in transition from, conflict or strife.” The reasoning behind the office’s creation was put succinctly by Carlos Pascual, the first coordi- nator for reconstruction and stabi- lization, and Steven D. Krasner, director of the State Department’s policy planning staff: “Weak and failed states pose an acute risk to U.S. and global security.” Although the idea of a nation- building office has broad bipartisan support, Congress refused to grant any funding for it in the foreign appro- priations bill for Fiscal Year 2006. Undeterred, the Bush administration sought creative ways to keep the office open, re-routing funds from other departments and agen- cies. The administration similarly plowed ahead with two new policy initiatives in support of the S/CRS mandate. In November 2005, the Department of Defense released a directive establishing that nationbuilding missions were a core function of the U.S. military; and in December, National Security Presidential Directive 44 placed the ultimate responsibility for stabilization and reconstruction missions with the State Department, specifically S/CRS. Although Pascual departed S/CRS in January 2006, his replacement, John Herbst, was not announced until March, and did not take office until late May. Whether the time lapse reflects a lack of bureaucratic support or a search for the best person for the job is unclear. According to Pascual, S/CRS had requested roughly $100 million for FY 2007. As of this writing, it appears that State’s failure to provide — as directed by Congress — “a comprehensive strategy, detailing how the [office] will uti- lize these funds to respond to international crises and post-conflict contingencies” may jeopardize the office’s funding in FY 2007, much as the funding was refused for 2006. Congress has historically been reluctant to issue blank checks to executive agencies, seeing such requests as encroachments on its spending power. Still, S/CRS makes regular appearances in President Bush’s speeches about tools needed to address the foreign policy challenges facing the coun- try, and fits neatly into Secretary Rice’s call for “transformational diplomacy.” Therefore, while the office may remain on shaky fiscal ground, the logic behind its cre- ation shows no sign of having lost favor. That said, the arguments in favor of the office — namely, that instability in itself represents a threat to America and that nation- building must be the cure — are deeply flawed. Most nationbuild- ing missions are far removed from U.S. national security interests. Such operations threaten to embroil Americans in an array of conflicts abroad for indefinite periods of time, with vague or ambiguous public mandates, and with little likelihood of success. In short, this entire approach to security policy is a recipe for squandering American power, American money and, potentially, American lives. Here a Threat, There a Threat … The 2000 presidential election took place in the shad- ow of the nationbuilding adventures of the 1990s. Candidate George W. Bush seemed skeptical about the utility and necessity of nationbuilding. During the second presidential debate, Bush took a shot at the intervention- ism of the 1990s, stating, “I’m not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say, ‘This is the way it’s got to be.’” Bush pointed to the high costs and dubious outcomes, stating, “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nationbuilding. ... I mean, we’re going to have some kind of nationbuilding corps from America? Absolutely not.” After Sept. 11, 2001, however, the Bush administration changed course dramatically. The U.S. National Security Strategy, released in September 2002, made “expand[ing] the circle of development by opening societies and build- ing the infrastructure of democracy” a central plank of America’s response to the 9/11 attacks. Part of the admin- istration’s new security policy would be to “help build police forces, court systems and legal codes, local and provincial government institutions, and electoral sys- tems.” The overarching goal was to “make the world not just safer but better.” Clearly, the president had changed his mind about the wisdom of attempting to build nations. The failed-states-as-security-threat fallacy now perme- F O C U S 52 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 6 This entire approach to security policy is a recipe for squandering American power, American money and, potentially, American lives. Justin Logan is a foreign policy analyst and Christopher Preble is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.