At an October 15 Director’s Forum, Andrew S. Natsios, Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development, outlined the ways USAID is working to use regular development assistance more strategically to address many of the most important causes of conflict throughout the world. One important development at USAID is the recent creation of the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM).

Carla Koppell, interim director of the Conflict Prevention Project (CPP) at the Wilson Center, opened the Director’s Forum by announcing the beginning of a cooperative effort between CPP and USAID to examine how development assistance can facilitate peace processes and security in the developing world. “We look forward very much to working with USAID over the coming months to explore the connections between efforts to foster sustainable development worldwide and the need to reduce instability and insecurity,” Koppell said. Koppell also announced the release of a new report, Preventing the Next Wave of Conflict: Understanding Non-Traditional Threats to Global Stability. Based on more than one year of research, this analysis of non-traditional threats to national security reaches important conclusions regarding the ways in which national security and global stability are compromised by economic and social disparities, failures in political and economic governance, demographic trends, environmental degradation and natural resource shortages, and health crises. The report is available for download on the Wilson Center website.

The director of CMM, Elizabeth Kvitashvili, followed Koppell by discussing the challenges that an increasingly unstable world present. “We are looking at a changed world,” Kvitashvili said. “One where there is less reason than ever to believe that stability will characterize our operating environment.” According to Kvitashvili, some of the most important and common causes of conflict and violence are widespread unemployment and alienation of youth, stagnant or deteriorating economies, weak or corrupt political institutions, and competition over valuable or scarce natural resources.

USAID currently has 85 missions around the world, including six new ones created this year, and conflicts are increasing worldwide. Between 1990 and 2002 there were 56 major armed conflicts in 44 different locations. Natsios said he created the CMM because he saw how inexpensive interventions can have a profound impact on regionalized or local conflicts.

Natsios said USAID learned a lot about conflict management from the civil wars of the 1980s, even before the end of the Cold War. For example, in El Salvador, where rebels regularly blew up electrical lines and utility plants, a system was developed to repair the utilities overnight. Such a program may be needed soon in Iraq, Natsios said, if the current levels of sabotage continue.

USAID is trying to better understand “when to intervene, how to intervene, using which tools, and under which circumstances,” Natsios said. Often in the past, the assistance from USAID has had unintended positive consequences. In the 1960s, for example, USAID began a malaria-eradication project in the southern part of Nepal, where the disease had made lush farmlands virtually uninhabitable by people. Years later, a study revealed that the success of that project, originally intended simply as a disease prevention program, helped to ease tensions from population pressures and food insecurities, thereby drastically reducing the level of conflict among the people of Nepal.

Natsios also pointed out that American foreign aid spending is on the rise. The increased spending since 2001 ($7.8 billion in 2001 to $14.9 billion in 2003) has been the largest since the Marhsall Plan. Foreign aid to Africa has increased by 35 percent. USAID also has spent two billion dollars on reconstruction in Iraq over the last five months, a total that exceeds the spending of even the Pentagon, Natsios said.

“In addition to humanitarian assistance and transition initiative programs for countries in the midst of ongoing conflict,” Natsios explained, “USAID is examining how its longer-term assistance in the areas of democracy and governance, economic growth, agriculture and the environment, and health can help reduce tensions before conflict occurs or build a more sustainable peace once conflict ends.”

Andrew S. Natsios was sworn in on May 1, 2001, as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which for more than 40 years has been the lead U.S. government agency providing economic and humanitarian assistance to transitioning and developing countries. Natsios has served previously at USAID, first as director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance from 1989 to 1991 and then as assistant administrator for the Bureau for Food and Humanitarian Assistance (now the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance) from 1991 to January 1993. Before assuming his new position, Natsios was chairman and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority from April 2000 to March 2001, and had responsibility for managing the Big Dig, the largest public works project in U.S. history.