On May 11, the Bipartisan Policy Center hosted an event , “A Stitch in Time: Stabilizing Fragile States”, to roll out its new report by the same name. The event featured former President of Colombia Álvaro Uribe and two panel discussions on the findings and recommendations contained in the report. President Uribe’s unique accomplishments in reversing Colombia’s slide toward state failure during his unprecedented two terms as president from 2002-2010 have been largely underappreciated, despite his close partnership with the United States.
He highlighted forcefully his administration’s efforts to reform the country’s security services to combat extremist groups and gain the trust of the citizenry. His speech also underlined the determination required not only to implement successful reforms, but to improve governance through a sustained process of close consultation and trust-building with local communities. President Uribe repeatedly underscored how far Colombia had come, but also how tentative such accomplishments would be without a continued partnership with the United States, first and foremost the ratification of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. His remarks also illustrated the monetary value to the United States of preventive action in dealing with fragile states.
The first panel focused on what the report terms “civic resilience”—a society’s ability to address citizens’ grievances through peaceful processes and legitimate institutions—and the U.S. government’s capability to promote this. Panelists reiterated the importance of shifting emphasis away from “deliverables,” such as bricks laid and asphalt poured, to the processes of government-citizen interaction emphasized by President Uribe.
The second panel addressed “building partner security capacity,” which the report defined as training, equipping and mentoring a partner country’s security services to create more effective and efficient institutions. Panelists noted the tension between the Department of Defense, which often assumes these missions by virtue of its large budget and the military’s presence in many conflict or post-conflict zones, and the State Department and USAID, which are better-trained and -equipped to meet these challenges but often suffer from a lack of capacity.
Overall, the commentators agreed on the imperative to place greater emphasis on fragile states, the cost-effectiveness of preventive stabilization efforts, the importance of coordinating and burden-sharing with international partners, and the desirability of reforming and rethinking how the U.S. government organizes itself to meet these challenges.