January 12, 2012

America's Civilian Operations Abroad: Understanding Past and Future Requirements

America’s Civilian Operations Abroad: Understanding Past and Future Requirements, authored by Dr. Nora Bensahel, CNAS Deputy Director of Studies and Senior Fellow, and Dr. Patrick Cronin, CNAS Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program, examines the history of U.S. civilian operations abroad during the past 20 years and identifies several trends that are likely to affect future requirements.

Using data analysis provided by Caerus Associates, Bensahel and Cronin demonstrate in the report that U.S. civilian agencies have conducted dozens of operations every year, that the total number has increased over time and that there are good reasons to expect that pace will continue. Yet the costs of these operations have also grown substantially, and pressures to cut U.S. government spending will almost certainly reduce the resources available for these missions.

The authors conclude that civilian agencies will need to address this growing mismatch, arguing that finding “new and innovative ways to distribute foreign assistance and conduct contingency operations may be necessary in the current fiscally constrained environment, but there is no guarantee that this will be sufficient to ensure that civilian agencies will be able to meet future requirements. Indeed, the greater the future budget cuts, the greater the chance that no amount of innovation will enable the State Department and USAID to effectively conduct routine foreign assistance and the contingency operations requested by U.S. policymakers. If and when that occurs, the ability of the United States to achieve its foreign policy objectives will be severely limited.”


  • Nora Bensahel

  • Patrick M. Cronin

    Former Senior Advisor and Senior Director, Asia-Pacific Security Program

    Patrick M. Cronin is a former Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Previously, he was the ...