Council Special Report

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Enhancing U.S. Preventive Action

Authors: , General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action, and , Senior Fellow

Enhancing U.S. Preventive Action - enhancing-us-preventive-action
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Publisher Council on Foreign Relations Press

Release Date October 2009

56 pages
ISBN 978-0-87609-465-5
Council Special Report No. 48


Few would dispute that preventing conflict, instability, and humanitarian disaster is preferable to confronting these problems after they arise. Preventive measures are generally less expensive than remedial ones. They also allow policymakers to address potential crises before they
threaten international stability, U.S. interests, and human lives. Building an effective U.S. government capacity to take preventive action, however, has proved an elusive goal. And the challenges to achieving it have perhaps never been greater. The urgent problems faced by the United States, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nuclear development in Iran and North Korea, and the aftermath of a deep economic crisis, make it difficult for policymakers to focus
resources and attention on potential future threats. But these same urgent challenges also make preventive action more useful. In this climate, measures that could obviate further military commitments, save money, and resolve tensions that might consume more time and resources later are a sound investment.

In this Council Special Report, sponsored by the Center for Preventive Action, Paul B. Stares and Micah Zenko evaluate the U.S. system for foreseeing and heading off crises. They assess in detail current U.S. practices with regard to different types of preventive action, examining such topics as intelligence community analyses; “watchlists” of states at risk; interagency planning processes; foreign assistance programming; and the work of the State Department office created in 2004 to lead U.S. government efforts in this area. The report cites an array of shortcomings in how the government plans and conducts its preventive activities, a situation that can leave policymakers scrambling to respond to crises after they break out. To improve this, the authors recommend a variety of steps, including revising and strengthening the strategic planning process under the leadership of the National Security Council, improving and consolidating intelligence products and connecting them more closely to policymakers, and providing additional funding for preventive efforts.

Enhancing U.S. Preventive Action is a comprehensive contribution to the debate on a complex topic. It offers detailed recommendations that could bolster the ability of the United States to identify and address threats before they erupt into crises. It also makes a strong case that given the military and economic constraints facing the United States today, such preventive action is not a luxury but a necessity.

More About This Publication

Paul B. Stares is the General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention and director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. Besides overseeing a series of Council Special Reports on potential sources of instability and strife, he is currently working on a study assessing long-term conflict trends. Dr. Stares recently led an expert working group on preventive diplomacy for the genocide prevention task force co-chaired by Madeleine K. Albright and William S. Cohen. Prior to joining CFR, Stares was the vice president and director of the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the United States Institute of Peace. Stares worked as an associate director and senior research scholar at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation from 2000 to 2002, was a senior research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs and director of studies at the Japan Center for International Exchange from 1996 to 2000, and was a senior fellow and research associate in the foreign policy studies program at the Brookings Institution from 1984 to 1996. He has also been a NATO fellow and a scholar-in-residence at the MacArthur Foundation’s Moscow office. Stares is the author of numerous books and articles, including Preparing for Sudden Change in North Korea; Rethinking the War on Terror: New Approaches to Conflict Prevention and Management in the Post-9/11 World; The New Security Agenda: A Global Survey; and Global Habit: The Drug Problem in a Borderless World. He received his MA and PhD from the University of Lancaster, England.

Micah Zenko is a fellow for conflict prevention in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, he worked for five years at the Harvard Kennedy School in a number of research positions, and in Washington, DC, at the Brookings Institution, Congressional Research Service, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Veterans for America, and State Department’s Office of Policy Planning, where he was a contributor to the department’s Kosovo History Project. He has also published on a range of national security issues, including op-eds in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Boston Globe, and articles in Parameters, Defense and Security Analysis, and the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Dr. Zenko received a PhD in political science from Brandeis University, where he completed a policy-evaluative dissertation on U.S. uses of limited military force in the post–Cold War world.