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Ambassador John Herbst encouraged Kellogg MBAs to join a new “civilian response corps” to build stability in ungoverned states. “If you want to make order out of chaos, and you’re willing to be in a place where sometimes things are dangerous, we’re the place for you,” he said.

Jonathan Herbst

Protecting our borders

In a talk at Kellogg, Ambassador John Herbst explains how ungoverned states threaten national security — and what the U.S. government is doing in response

By Rachel Farrell

4/30/2009 - A new national security threat is causing concern for the U.S. government — and it has nothing to do with swine flu.  

Watch video of Ambassador John Herbst's presentation


Failed or failing states, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, represent a principal national security danger for the United States, said Ambassador John Herbst, coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization for the U.S. Department of State.

Herbst delivered the lecture “Meeting the Challenge of Failed and Failing States: The Civilian Response Corps and a Whole-of-Government Framework” to Kellogg students and faculty at the Donald P. Jacobs Center on April 30.

“We live in a world where you have extraordinary interconnectivity and economics and in communications,” Herbst said. “We live in a world where you have weapons that at a distance can cause great destruction. There have always been ungoverned spaces in history; there has always been chaos. But in the past, only if an ungoverned space was near the U.S. might it represent a true danger to us. That’s no longer true.”

Herbst cited the Sept. 11 attacks as an example, but noted that terrorists aren’t the only group that can thrive in failed or failing states. “Narcotraffickers can find refuge in places that are ungoverned,” he said. “Pirates, as we recently learned, can find refuge in places that are ungoverned. That’s why (our office) exists.”

That office is the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, or S/CRS, a new effort led by Herbst to develop and institute a civilian capacity that will reconstruct ungoverned states that represent a threat to national security. While there are approximately 30 to 40 states that fit this criterion worldwide, “not everyone requires our interest, so we need to be very smart about where we get engaged,” Herbst explained.

S/CRS has two missions: one, to manage the Interagency Management System, a “loose controlling structure” that will oversee civilian operations and ensure that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Department of Justice do not run conflicting or duplicate programs; and two, to develop a civilian response corps of approximately 4,250 Americans prepared for deployment to any location worldwide. The mission of the civilian response corps will be to build stability into an existing government structure that fits within local circumstances. “We’re not going to be able to make democracy bloom in the Middle East,” Herbst said. “We can, however, analyze a country in question and figure out what is needed to help the government establish minimal services and sustainable stability.”

The corps will be divided into three groups: the “Active Component,” individuals whose full-time job is to deploy to places of crisis within two to three days of request; the “Standby Component,” those who have full-time government jobs unrelated to stability operations and are deployable within 30 to 60 days of request; and the “Reserve Component,” those who do not have a job with the federal government and are deployable within 45 to 60 days of request. While S/CRS has not yet received budget approval for the Reserve Component (the office is submitting a budget proposal this week), it has been approved for the Active and Standby Components.

To fill these positions, Herbst said S/CRS is recruiting professionals from industries such as engineering, law enforcement, public health, economics, public administration and business. “We’re going to be developing our planning shop in S/CRS, and MBAs would be perfect for that,” he said. “We need generals to run these operations, and MBAs come with the right skills for that.”

However, he warns students, “We’re not sending you to Paris; we’re sending you to places that are unpleasant and dangerous. If you sign up for this, understand that there are times when things are going to be exploding around you.

“Doing peace-building is hard — really hard,” he said. “But if you want to make order out of chaos, and you’re willing to be in a place where sometimes things are dangerous, we’re the place for you.”