Smart Power and Fragile States

March 8, 2011 By John Glenn

Is Yemen the next Egypt or the next Afghanistan?   In the wake of recent protests across North Africa, the debate on fragile states has re-emerged with new questions.  The Bipartisan Policy Center recently released a report on Yemen highlighting the “smart power” challenges of fragile states.  As the QDDR observed, fragile states pose a potential threat to U.S. national security when their inability to control their territory and provide security for their citizens creates opportunities for violent extremist groups seeking havens, weapons proliferation, and organized crime. 

Former National Security Advisor General Jim Jones (Ret.) opened the event by emphasizing the need for prevention and strengthening fragile states before a potential threat requires military intervention.  He called on the United States to provide “the full spectrum of security and governance assistance, not simply the traditional reliance on military aid as the all-encompassing band-aid.” 

Panelists at the conference highlighted the need for a wide range of foreign policy tools to deal with the challenge in Yemen, stressing the importance of good governance.  The panel, which included former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Thomas Krajeski, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism Garry Reid, Freedom House Executive Director David Kramer, and policy analyst Jonathan Ruhe, highlighted the complexity of U.S. strategic interests in Yemen.   The discussion covered the Yemen’s geographic, resource, and tribal fault lines, the challenges of Yemen’s leadership, successes in “low visibility” counter-terrorism programs, and, of course, the recent protests in the north and south calling for change. 

The situation in Yemen highlights the need for a strong and effective International Affairs Budget with adequate funding for the U.S. civilian programs of development and diplomacy necessary for strengthening fragile states.  Admiral (Ret) Gregory “Grog” Johnson (co-chair of the project and a member of the USGLC National Security Advisory Council) concluded the panel by calling for “East Bank, not West Bank solutions”– by which he meant the banks of the Potomac River — emphasizing that the State Department, not the Pentagon, should lead U.S. efforts in fragile states like Yemen.