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Monday, October 22, 2012

In Brief: State Department Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO)

Nina M. Serafino
Specialist in International Security Affairs

Established in November 2011, the State Department Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) is the U.S. government’s second attempt to promote more effective civilian efforts to prevent and manage crises and conflict under State Department leadership. The 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) recommended the creation of the bureau with a mandate to provide the “institutional focus for policy and operational solutions for crisis, conflict, and instability.”1 CSO’s current concept of its mission—while still a work in progress—is more limited than that mandated by statute for its predecessor organization, the Office of the Coordinator of Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), or for that matter specified in the QDDR. Under Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations Frederick D. Barton, CSO currently focuses on improving the ways and means that the United States provides assistance to prevent the occurrence or reoccurrence of conflict in unstable environments. CSO has deemphasized S/CRS’s preparation for sizable state-building post-conflict missions, in particular by substantially downsizing the interagency Civilian Response Corps (CRC) originally designed for stabilization and reconstruction (S&R) missions.

Members of Congress may raise concerns, including CSO’s potential contribution to U.S. foreign policy and national security; its overlap with other agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); and the utility of S/CRS’s CRC model of a large interagency civilian capability for S&R missions. Key U.S. documents emphasize conflict prevention and management efforts as crucial to U.S. interests,2 but some policymakers also view such efforts skeptically. Members may look to CSO’s activities as indicators of the feasibility and utility of such missions. Given the potential overlap of many U.S. government agencies’ and offices’ activities in these areas, Members may also look to the CSO experience for guidance in clarifying interagency relations in such efforts and the appropriate nature of a State Department leadership role. They may also wish to assess whether a downsized CRC could respond to future needs.

Intended as a primer on CSO, this report provides a brief overview of the bureau. It begins with short descriptions of CSO’s origins, organization, functions, challenges, and missions. It then highlights CSO’s changes to S/CRS’s interagency stabilization and reconstruction arrangements. It concludes with a brief discussion of major areas of congressional concern. This report includes information on CSO funding levels.

Date of Report: October 10, 2012
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R42775
Price: $29.95

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