Hillary Clinton's vision for foreign policy on a tight budget

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday unveiled a 150-page QDDR, or Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. The goal, she said, is to 'lead through civilian power.'

Chris Wattie/Reuters
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (r.) speaks during a news conference with Canada's Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon (.) and Mexico's Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosaon Dec. 13.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday unveiled a foreign-policy road map for the 21st century, which elevates the role of development in pursuing national security and envisions a civilian lead in addressing the rising challenges associated with fragile and failed states.

Taking a cue from the Pentagon, which has a Quadrennial Defense Review, or QDR, for reviewing America’s defense priorities and setting military doctrine, Secretary Clinton directed her policy staff to come up with a QDDR, or Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. In presenting the 150-page document at a State Department town-hall meeting, Clinton said the goal is to “lead through civilian power” – by making better use of and coordinating more effectively the expertise that exists in the State Department and across government agencies.

American diplomacy in all its forms, from conflict prevention to humanitarian assistance, “must be more nimble, more effective, and more accountable” to the taxpayers who pay for it, Clinton said.

Three key factors made a rethinking and reorganization of US diplomatic and development efforts crucial at this moment, she said:

• An era of limited financial resources that demands better use of every taxpayer dollar.

• A “rapidly shifting global landscape” defined by a diffusion of power among more countries and different kinds of actors.

• The need for a broad and flexible corps of civilian expertise – what Clinton calls “civilian power” – that can respond to the challenges of weak states, either stopping or mitigating conflict.

“Leading with civilians saves lives and money,” Clinton said.

The policy review reflects two things: President Obama’s elevation of global development to a “core pillar of American power” – a designation he made in a White House policy directive in September – and Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s push for a strengthened and expanded civilian component of US international intervention to complement and even replace the military.

Secretary Gates has long advocated the deployment of larger numbers of civilian experts who could take over such work as humanitarian assistance, community building, and infrastructure development. In recent years, the military has taken on these tasks by default.

But the State Department’s blueprint for raising the civilian role in national-security pursuits – and in particular its objective of revitalizing the US Agency for International Development (USAID) – comes even as some leaders of the newly elected Congress are advocating a sharply reduced foreign-aid budget.

State Department officials would not go so far as to say that the directive is “revenue neutral,” but they underscored the review’s focus on efficiency and accountability. While many of the review’s organizational changes and streamlining steps can be carried out on order of the secretary of State, some changes will require congressional approval.

For example, a new undersecretary for economic growth, energy, and environment, and another for civilian security, democracy, and human rights, will better reflect 21st-century challenges and make for more efficient diplomacy. But creation of a new bureau for counterterrorism, which the review calls for, would require congressional approval.

“What we’re trying to say to Congress is, we get it,” says Anne-Marie Slaughter, State Department policy-planning director and Clinton’s lead architect on the review. “We realize we’ve got to prove to you and to the American people that we are good stewards of your money.”

One proposal is for “regional hubs” in key areas of the world focused on issues and needs of interest to that region, Ms. Slaughter says. “We realize you can’t have a rule-of-law expert at every foreign post,” she says.

The review also calls for naming a coordinator for cyber issues. The new post, it says, would be charged with “efforts to protect a critical part of diplomacy – the confidentiality of communications between and among governments.” But officials insisted that the proposal was made before the recent WikiLeaks release of thousands of State Department cables.

The revision and reorganization of US diplomatic and development strategies have been eagerly awaited by nongovernmental development groups and other private organizations and were generally received with positive appraisals. “The QDDR represents a bold step toward implementing a smart-power foreign policy by elevating our civilian power and ensuring effective, results-driven programs,” says Liz Schrayer, executive director of the US Global Leadership Coalition.

At the State Department town-hall meeting, Paul O’Brien, Oxfam America’s vice president of policy, asked Clinton how the new directive would address the tension between short-term, pragmatic diplomatic goals and longer-term development goals that might require a very different response.

Such tensions are not about to disappear, Clinton said, but she also said that elevating the place of development among US priorities was an important first step.

Other experts, as well as some military officials, have pointed out that the concept of “civilian power” sounds good, but that the US diplomatic corps is not prepared and doesn’t have the numbers to take over many tasks from the military.

Clinton acknowledges that the shift in priorities and organization is “a work in progress,” but she also emphasizes that someone will be designated at both the State Department and at USAID to oversee implementation. “I am determined that this report will not merely gather dust, like so many others,” she said. And she wants Congress to approve making the QDDR a regular and required State Department policy-review process.

Slaughter echoed those words in a humorous sum-up with reporters. “I’m pretty sure you’re thinking, ‘I’ve heard this before,’ ” she said – a big plan to change the way a government agency works. “But this is different.”

The big difference, she insisted, is that Clinton has given the reorganization top priority: “She knows ... we can’t afford to continue working in the way we have been.”

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