USIP leaders explain the effect that events around the world and here at home will have on the U.S., and the contributions the Institute can and does make during a time of tremendous challenge – and opportunity.

This past year offered fresh proof that the world we live in is ever dynamic. Fundamental change can come from something as extraordinary as a fruit vendor’s act of defiance in Tunisia to popular revolts by reform movements across the Middle East. At the same time, a decade of war and the weak U.S. economy dictates that there must be new ways to think about the role the U.S. will play in the world in the coming years.

We asked USIP leaders, from board members to senior staff and experts, to explain the effect that events around the world and here at home will have on the U.S., and the contributions the Institute can and does make during a time of tremendous challenge – and opportunity.

Board member Stephen Krasner is a professor of international relations at Stanford University, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research as well as a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Krasner also served as director of policy planning at the State Department between 2005 and 2007, and as a member of the policy planning staff from 2001 to 2002 at the State Department and at the National Security Council. His research has focused primarily on what drives international economic relations, U.S. foreign policy and sovereignty.

The weak American economy has helped to turn many Americans inward, and foreign policy experts fear the U.S. will become overly isolated in the years to come. How do you see America’s role in the world in the coming years?

The world is not going to leave us alone. For both economic and security reasons the United States will not be able to walk away from the challenges of maintaining our alliances in Europe and Asia and forging new relations with the rising powers of the world such as India, Brazil, China, and South Africa. Poor governance in many weak states will also intrude on American interests. We cannot walk away from the challenge of promoting economic growth and better governance. Finally, the issue of weapons of mass destruction and transnational terrorists is not going away. The small probability threat of a very bad event has not gone away. We must remain vigilant.

What is the cost of walking away from the world’s problems?

USAID was depleted of its technical expertise in the 1990s and that was very costly for us in Afghanistan and Iraq. Improving governance and security and promoting economic growth remains a major issue not only in Afghanistan and Iraq but in much of the developing world. The costs of poverty and bad governance are not limited to the citizens of poor states; they affect the security and economic interests of the United States as well. As the economic events of the last few years have made clear we are bound together in an interdependent economic world. The fate of main street and Wall Street here at home may depend more on decisions taken in Berlin or Paris than ones that are taken in Washington. The United States has to remain engaged. There would also be large reputational costs for the United States if we abandoned our foreign assistance programs, weakened our commitment to our alliances in Asia and Europe, and closed our economy. The United States would not be able to act as a world leader. American engagement in the world reduces the chances that things will go off track, even if we cannot guarantee that everything will go well.

During your career at State, you endeavored to reform U.S. foreign aid to help it be more targeted. Foreign aid is indeed a nuanced business. How can agencies be accountable for the aid they provide around the world?

In situations where you are providing a specific health benefit, say immunization, you have metrics that are clear. There, you can say: “we are making a certain investment and we can tell you exactly what the outcomes are going to be.” But in other areas, it’s like venture capital. You have to accept the fact that it’s not going to work some large percent of the time. Whether or not it works, may or may not be something you can control over. For example, USIP has supported, at least in the past, a program that brings Palestinian-Israeli kids to summer camp in New Jersey. Is this going to do any good right now? No. But could it in the future? Possibly yes. Many programs can pave the way to peace but their ultimate impact depends on many other factors.

I’m not opposed to measurable results. We must measure what we do. But honest measurement will reveal many failures. Despite the failures we need to continue to invest in our peacebuilding, peacekeeping, and foreign assistance efforts. I think it’s the right thing to do. But if we are being honest with ourselves, we have to say that in some cases we get great results, and in other cases we get no results. And you can’t forecast it.

What is the USIP role in all of this?

Having an agency that is small and flexible that can develop country expertise and work on programs over a number of years is a big advantage. Larger agencies may not be as nimble. They may have to transfer their key personnel more often. They may be forced by bureaucratic procedures and political pressure to produce short term results. USIP is different.  Our staff members conduct analytic research.  They are also out in the field. And that’s something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the U.S. government, except, perhaps, for some covert operatives. USIP has unique attributes. Having people who have real expertise in places, like in South Sudan, get to know the people and the place and get to do actual programs, plus having a connection to the analytic, academic world is a real advantage.

How is USIP unique?

The U.S. is not going to mount large military campaigns aimed at regime change, at least not for awhile; we’re not going to do big interventions. We’re not going to do Afghanistan and Iraq again for awhile. But we are not going back to some isolationist stance, we’re just too heavily involved in the world. We will do state building and development. The contribution of USIP is that it is small, flexible and able to commit resources to a problem long-term, operate in the field, and to be able to think analytically about problems as opposed to just reporting on them.

Do people have to recalibrate their concept of peace?

When we think about these challenges of governance and development, we think these countries should end up like Denmark. But they are not going to end up like Denmark, at least not in the short term. Peace is not absolute. The world is not going to look like Copenhagen, at least not for a long time. Understanding how to get better governance, more security, and greater peace in war torn societies is a big challenge for policy-makers and academics. We do not have a very clear sense of what we can aim for in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Should we be aiming for a highly-centralized government or would we be better off with greater regionalization? Should we try to eliminate all corruption or is some corruption necessary to have a patronage based political system function? Should elections be designed to ratify agreements that have already been made among elites or should they reflect the preferences of the electorate? These are difficult questions for which we do not have good answers. We need to accept the fact that in many parts of the world we have to manage instability rather than achieve some ideally peaceful condition.

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    USIP leaders explain the effect that events around the world and here at home will have on the U.S., and the contributions the Institute can and does make during a time of tremendous challenge – and opportunity.

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