Robert Loftis
Acting Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
March 18, 2011

OPERATOR: Good morning and thank you. Ms. Place, you may now begin.

MS. PLACE: Good morning. We are pleased to have you on this conference call with Ambassador Robert Loftis, Acting Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at the State Department. Ambassador Loftis will make remarks and then open up to your questions.

Ambassador Loftis serves as the Acting Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization [S/CRS], leading the development of U.S. Government civilian capacity to promote conflict prevention, reconstruction, and stabilization efforts in countries on the brink of, and in, or emerging from crisis. The Coordinator is responsible for overseeing the Civilian Response Corps, comprised of civilian experts from nine federal government agencies. The corps is the U.S. civilian rapid response force for reconstruction and stabilization operations overseas.

Ambassador Loftis.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: Great, thanks very much, Eileen. Good morning everybody and thanks for joining this call. Given the range of crises in the world and the ongoing budget debate, we thought it would be helpful to take the time on this call to communicate our priorities and, in particular, to discuss the importance of U.S. diplomacy and development assistance in advancing U.S. interests and to focus, in particular, on the unique work of my office, the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization and the Civilian Response Corps. I’d like to talk about what we’re doing around the world, and then I’ll put that into the context of how it fits into the larger State and Foreign Operations budget picture.

If I can start with what we’re doing, S/CRS and the Civilian Response Corps are doing some new and innovative work in some very challenging environments around the world. One of the things I wanted to focus on early is that Congress has been very supportive of our mission. We’re grateful for that support and we hope that it continues. This office may be six years old; we were formally established in 2004, but we’ve only had authorization and appropriated funding for about the last two years, which has allowed us to grow and to put people out into the field. That congressional support has really enabled us to get to the point where we can use this rather unique and effective tool to promote and advance American interests abroad.

As was pointed out, we provide that key focal point for the U.S. Government-civilian capacity to address conflict prevention, stabilization, and crisis operations in fragile, failing, or failed states with a very particular focus on preventing and responding to violent conflict and its aftermath. We pull on experts from across the government, and particularly we look at specialized prevention, planning, and assessment tools that ensure civilian and military agencies work together well overseas and that civilians can operate by themselves in areas where it’s inappropriate for us to have the military out there.

The Civilian Response Corps is not only State and USAID, but also the Departments of Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and most recently, we’ve been joined by the Departments of Energy and Transportation. This really gives us the opportunity to have a sum that is greater than each individual agency’s contributions. So our goal here is to be a strategic use of scarce resources to support U.S. national security priorities, including in the fights against terrorism, against transnational trans-border crime, and against other threats to American interests.

The President’s request for the Civilian Stabilization Operations account in fiscal year 2012 is $92.2 million. This is a very smart investment – an ounce of prevention being much better than a ton of cure.

Take our work in Sudan. We have put people into the field to do a number of different things. We have about 26 people in Sudan right now. We started building a platform for our consulate general to be able to support our diplomatic activities, but very quickly shifted to institutional capacity building, in particular helping the Sudanese conduct the referendum on self-determination by supporting the efforts of the U.S. Consulate in Juba and USAID, which led to a vote for independence.

Now we are supporting the Department’s work to ensure our people living in the field are working with Southern Sudan’s state governors, country commissioners, church groups, and local institutions, to help them find ways to prevent conflict between groups that could spin out of control and have a wider impact on their ability to create a new independent nation. I think it’s really quite interesting work.

For example, before the referendum, we sent experts in subjects like demography and conflict mediation. One of the issues was the Government of Southern Sudan did not have the ability to count and tabulate the number of people who would be voting. You needed to have that kind of a basis to know when they, in fact, had a valid referendum. This was important for winning not just international support, but also the support of the Government of Sudan in Khartoum accepting those results.

We had another case where our officers stepped in and helped to defuse a dispute over cattle grazing rights. We spent a lot of time helping them make sure that voter registration materials were delivered on time and that election workers were paid. In some cases, it’s something as simple as playing mailman, ensuring that a letter is delivered between governors of two neighboring states so that they can get together and start talking about ways to defuse conflict on their mutual border. We helped the governor find a place to have safe ground, a neutral venue, between two groups who wanted to get together but could not find a way to get past mutual distrust so they could start talking.

I want to emphasize that the credit for this referendum – the success of this referendum really goes to the Southern Sudanese. They did the bulk of the work. It’s their accomplishment. But I’m pretty confident that our support helped smooth the way.

Now the cost to the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization for that Sudan engagement is about $7 million a year. This work complements our traditional diplomacy in Sudan and it safeguards our larger investment there, where we’ve spent pretty close to $1 billion over the last several years on humanitarian assistance. If you can’t stabilize the situation, if you can’t prevent conflict, your development assistance is not going to be able to take off and you’re going to be stuck in a cycle of having to provide humanitarian assistance. The S/CRS funding provides the capability for the State Department to surge diplomatic and other personnel into a situation like Southern Sudan so that we don’t have to pull people away from other crises under way elsewhere.

If I can shift gears to another part of the world, in Afghanistan, we have people who are contributing civilian expertise from State, USAID, Department of Justice, and the Department of Agriculture to a team called Joint Task Force 435. This group is helping to reintegrate detainees into Afghan society, doing a couple of things: one, training Afghans to take control of a U.S.-built detention facility by providing them the capability to not only to manage the facility but also to handle counterterrorism prosecutions in their own court system. We’re also helping to teach farming techniques and other vocational training to prisoners who can be released so that when they go back into Afghan society, they have a way of earning a living and they’re not tempted to return to insurgent activity.

In Kyrgyzstan, we’ve been building the space for political reconciliation. After the overthrow of the government, we augmented the very small staff of the U.S. Embassy with people with a lot of conflict experience. But then we established a temporary facility in the south to support personnel who are monitoring and supporting conflict prevention activities and reporting on political developments. For example, we were able to get our people out to monitor some very high-profile political trials of people who had been accused of involvement in the ethnic violence. Having our observers there helped make sure that these trials followed fair and proper procedures.

We’ve been supporting an NGO that’s reaching across ethnic lines to promote cooperation and economic recovery. The interesting thing about this group is that they started off really focusing their attention on supporting women in business and women’s economic empowerment. But because of their very broad base, they were able to reach across ethnic lines and work to build lines back across the communities. The important consideration is that we’re not in the forefront of doing this but we’re very much in the position of helping these civil society groups take the lead, and local governments take the lead, in rebuilding after conflict and hopefully preventing conflict in the future.

We’ve provided specialized conflict assessments in about 20 countries, including Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and in the Philippines. I need to emphasize that these are not just another report -- if we’re going to propose solutions, we’d better understand what’s driving the conflict. It gives us an opportunity to look beyond the U.S. Government to talk to people across all walks of society, to really identify what is driving a conflict so that we can devise the right way for the United States to help, or in some cases to step back out of the way.

Now, as I said, this work complements the work in the rest of the Department -- you can’t think of what we do without looking at how it supports our diplomacy overseas. We recognize that we’re in a difficult budget environment right now, but the United States cannot afford to disengage from the world. And what we’re doing in the State Department and USAID is an investment in America’s future. These investments help prevent war, contain conflict, reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, counter terrorism, promote trade, and respond to humanitarian needs.

Cuts to this part of the budget, the State Department budget, strike directly at our national security. Let me give you a couple of examples: As we prepare to draw down military in Afghanistan, the success of our civilian efforts hinges on State Department funds. The cost savings are tremendous. As troops draw down, the cost to replace them with civilian personnel is about 10 percent of the cost of the military deployment. In Iraq, for example, the military effort is expected to drop by $49 billion, while State has asked for $5 billion for its work there in the coming year. The military’s worldwide war budget would drop by $45 billion while the State Department’s and USAID’s would increase by less than $4 billion.

The point is that we have made a huge investment in these countries, but you can’t walk out. You can’t just say, okay, the military’s done, our investment there is done. We’ve done that in the past and we’ve seen how things have come back to haunt us. And if you want a job done, if you want the United States to be engaged and you don’t want the military to do it, you have to make that investment onto the civilian side and you can’t simply always refer to the military and ask them to do it. It’s too much of a burden on them.

And if you look at other crises like those in North Africa, the smart and effective management we at the State Department provide helps prevent and avert further instability. Because of the U.S.-coordinated humanitarian aid capacity, we deployed U.S. Disaster Assistance Response Teams, the DART teams from USAID, giving $47 million to humanitarian organizations in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and we paid for U.S. military transport for stranded Egyptians out of those countries.

As the region undergoes a historic transformation, proposals to cut this assistance would devastate America’s ability to lead the response in this kind of crisis and ease the suffering of people in places like Tunisia and Libya. I don’t think I need to tell this audience, but it’s always worth repeating – the public thinks foreign assistance spending is much higher than it really is. Polls show the public thinks we spend up to 25 percent of the budget on foreign assistance and they say 10 percent would be a much more appropriate number. And of course, we spend less than 1 percent of our federal budget on foreign assistance. Cutting that 1 percent would have a pretty negligible impact on the deficit but it would severely affect our mission, not only in Afghanistan and Iraq but in places like Yemen. It would hollow out our embassies, which protect Americans abroad as in Japan, promote U.S. businesses, and screen for terrorist threats.

The FY 2012 State Department and USAID Budget request totals $47 billion for what might be termed our regular operations and another $8.7 billion for what we’re calling overseas contingency operations. These cover the extraordinary expenses of maintaining our missions in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Pakistan. That’s a total of $55.7 billion or really 1 percent more than the comparable 2010 levels.

And it already reflects some pretty difficult choices for the Department. It would eliminate bilateral assistance to six countries and cut more than half of our development assistance in 20 others. It would slow the pace of planned expansion of the Foreign Service, the diplomats who go out and serve our country abroad, and it identifies more than $100 million in administrative savings and $175 million saved via the Administration’s pay-freeze policy.

But out of that request, it also includes nearly a billion dollars to strengthen fragile states such as Yemen, Haiti, Liberia, Bangladesh, and Sudan, and it includes $4.2 billion in humanitarian assistance to assist victims of conflict, natural disaster, and forced migration. In sum, State and USAID funding provides the President the flexibility to surge civilian expertise and its supporting infrastructure where needed quickly and at low relative cost.

I’d like to thank you and your organizations for your interest in S/CRS and the Department as a whole. We hope this briefing is helpful to you, and we’d be happy to provide more information on what we do. And with that in mind, I’d be happy to take your questions.

OPERATOR: Dihana Ziegler from A&M University, you may ask your question.

QUESTION: Yes, A&M University, and I’m a public member of the Foreign Service. I have noticed that the State Department has increased its use of technology overseas, and we have clearly seen how social networking is playing in revolution. And my question is: How can we use technology and social networking to further our diplomacy efforts and as a tool for evolution? We have seen exactly what has happened in the Middle East, and I’m just wondering how will the State Department expand its efforts to use technology to promote peace, given all of these budget situations, these budget cuts that are currently happening in many areas?

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: I have to admit, I am not an expert in a lot of this, but it is something that Secretary Clinton has put a great deal of emphasis on, in terms of U.S. Government outreach efforts. But some of the things we’re looking at are building on efforts that people have looked at around the world. Let me give you a couple of examples that are, perhaps, directly relevant to the work that my office does, and if you’ll bear with me with the example, it will become clearer in a second.

If you look at one of the drivers of conflict in some of the less developed countries of the world, one of the issues you run into is the inability to pay soldiers, for example. And when that happens they tend to either desert or they try to live off the land and victimize the local populations. One of the things you have to figure out is how to get them money. Traditionally, they’ve transported large amounts of cash out to people, which, again, is susceptible to corruption, or when the soldiers get it they tend to leave to go give the money to their families, they have no way to safeguard it.

So we’ve been working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the UN, their central bank, and others to help develop a way to use cell phone technology to transfer payments to the soldiers. It sounds like a very technical issue, but if you can get people, particularly people in security services, a way to be paid on time and securely you reduce a lot of the temptation for them to go out and victimize the people the people who they are supposed to be protecting.

If you look at what happened in Kenya during the election, the ability to use, again, cell phone technology to support reporting on human rights so that there is a very strong civil society monitoring of what’s going on, if you can help promote those sorts of activities, I think it’s very helpful. In Afghanistan, for example, we’ve been helping to secure cell phone towers that will allow people to communicate regularly with each other. Again, the more that you can tie people together through these technologies I think the better you promote the ability of civil society to develop and protect itself.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Ann Richard with the International Rescue Committee.

QUESTION: I’m glad you are where you are, because you have the perfect background for your job. But this office, S/CRS, has had just such a challenging history. It was a good idea and an intriguing idea, but – and I believe a lot of folks at the Pentagon also really like the office, a lot of the people who work there are convinced it’s filling a gap. But Congress has been really difficult in terms of funding it. Where does support for this office stand now? Where – what is the future of the office, especially in terms of the QDDR proposing a new bureau with an assistant secretary?

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: Thanks, Ann. Actually, I think we’re in a very good position. As I said earlier in my remarks, Congress has been pretty generous with getting us to where we are today. And we think if we’re funded at the levels that the President has asked for, we’ll be able to do the job that’s asked of us.

Certainly, I think within the Department as a whole, we’re being turned to do a lot more. And if you look at our activities ranging from Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, Liberia, Congo -- and we’re supporting our work in Libya right now. We just sent equipment out to our Embassy in Tokyo to help with them. I think there’s a recognition and a requirement for this type of office.

I’m actually very, very pleased with the results of the QDDR from a number of standpoints. Particularly, the idea to create a new bureau into which S/CRS would be subsumed, a Bureau for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, I think is a big move forward. It does a number of things. It emphasizes one of the things that we’ve been working on, which is conflict prevention, and makes that a core mission not only of this bureau but also of the State Department as a whole.

Most importantly, it institutionalizes S/CRS in a way that hasn’t been there before. Becoming a bureau allows us create career paths and it adds a lot more stability to what we do. We had become far too large to become an office within the Secretary’s office. At 200 people in the corporate headquarters, that just doesn’t make sense to have it as part of the Secretary’s office. Grouping us with the other members in this new Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, I think really makes a lot of sense.

So the way I see it, in the early days, the office had to go out and look for work. That is definitely not our problem right now. Work is coming to look for us. And I’m very, very encouraged by where we are and where we’re going.

MS. PLACE: Well, thanks to everyone who’s on the call today. We appreciate it. And Ambassador Loftis, thank you for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to talk to everyone today.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.