Interviews with 44 officials at USAID, the State Department, the Defense Department, and federal contractors indicate that the U.S. government’s existing guidance documents on foreign civil conflict do not play a key role in the formulation and implementation of U.S. policy addressing such conflict. Some of these officials, especially at USAID, praised the guidance documents as helpful in preparing formal conflict analyses, but none said they were used in preparing policy recommendations.
Except for the DOD officials, most interviewees had MA degrees in conflict-related fields. However, interviewees said such academic training did not provide clear policy guidance, so their work for the U.S. government was guided more by their professional experience. During their careers, they have received little formal U.S. government (USG) training on conflict – typically less than two weeks and often only a single day.
Most officials reported little interagency coordination in addressing foreign civil conflict. Many also said they resisted using guidance documents originating in other departments or even other offices of their own department or agency.
As the United States updates its tools to address foreign civil conflict, in the wake of the government’s December 2020 “Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability,” it should pursue the following: new guidance documents that link causes of conflict to policy options; more robust training on the causes of and potential remedies for foreign civil conflict; and increased interagency coordination based on common guidance documents.[Full report available here.]