Smart Power and Special Envoys

April 8, 2011 By Jane Kaminski

In the midst of the noisy budget debates last week, President Obama appointed a new Special Envoy to Sudan, Ambassador Princeton Lyman.  With budget proposals in Congress containing deep and disproportionate cuts to the International Affairs Budget, Ambassador Lyman’s appointment highlights the need for the State Department and USAID to have the capacity to address the complex challenges we face in today’s world, such as in Sudan.

The challenges Ambassador Lyman will face when he arrives in Sudan embody the need for the United States to adopt a “smart power” approach to foreign policy that uses all our tools of national influence, diplomacy, development, and defense.  In January, following two long, brutal civil wars rooted in conflicts over land, ethnic rivalry, religion, water, and oil, the southern half of the country overwhelmingly voted to secede from the north.   Ambassador Lyman will need to be able to coordinate U.S. policy toward Sudan across agencies to ensure a peaceful separation and mitigate the potential for further violence.

Currently, there are eleven special envoys serving U.S. interests on an array of complex, modern transnational issues.  Ensuring coordination between special envoys and regional bureaus at the State Department, as well as other government agencies, was highlighted in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).  There are reports the State Department will reintegrate the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan into the Bureau of African Affairs and, similarly, the Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy into a new Bureau for Energy Resources with a permanent structure.

At the same time, such efforts aren’t immune from the budget debates.  With the cuts envisioned in some of the budget proposals, the State Department may lack the personnel and resources to implement many of the proposed reforms as outlined in the QDDR, making efforts to modernize our interagency structure difficult at a time when it remains ever more critical.