About 100 people gathered at the Plymouth State University Welcome Center at the Ice Arena on Thursday afternoon to hear Ambassador Rick Barton speak about how the State department has been advancing national security by helping countries of conflict through peace and security efforts.
The audience included educators, PSU students, local high school students and other interested parties who had the chance to meet Barton and ask him questions. Barton is currently the assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations at the U.S. Department of State, and the Secretary of State’s senior advisor on conflict stabilization.
As noted by PSU President Sara Jayne Steen in her opening comments, Barton’s title is a mouthful, but it shows just how complex his position truly is.
Barton, a resident of Maine, has held the position since April 2012, and leads a team of 165 people. He has been an ambassador since 2009, when he began his work with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. He worked on the creation of UN Women, the advancement of the UN Peacebuilding Commission and the Millennium Development Goals summit. He was also involved in the suspension of Libya’s voting rights on the UN Human Rights Commission, helped in Haiti’s postearthquake reconstruction, and more.
Barton explained that he has been working in this capacity for about 20 years and has seen 40 of the world’s most unstable places. He developed civil- ian strategies for some of these spots, including Iraq, Sudan and Sri Lanka. He also created new measurements of progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, led independent reviews of Iraq’s reconstruction and helped create approaches to reduce conflict inPakistan and Nigeria.
Barton has a new office that focuses on civilian-led peace and security efforts in volatile situations around the globe.
On Thursday, Barton discussed advancing national security in countries like Kenya, Syria, Honduras and Burma, specifically talking about breaking cycles of conflict and addressing causes of the violence that has destabilized those nations. He said that what he does, essentially, is help the United States be more effective and coherent in conflict and crisis situations to break these cycles of violence. He explained that the bureau began two years ago under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and is now under Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Pretty big charge,” Barton said. “It came out of the feeling of dissatisfaction of what had gone on inAfghanistan and Iraq in particular — two huge efforts by the United States, without the feeling of the greater success that many would have liked to have seen for the sacrifices that were made.”
He explained that there are actually fewer conflicts now, but more complex crises. He explained that there is a lot going on around the world, but it does not always end up in war. He added that there are very few cases of people actually crossing the borders into other countries, but noted that this has been seen in the last few weeks with Russia and Ukraine.
On the other hand, he said, there are many armies in various countries in other places. He specifically noted that the United States is stationed in many countries around the world.
“It’s more internal,” Barton said. “It’s more complex. You don’t always know who the enemy is or who you are fighting. Governments have really been very, very confused by this.”
Within the U.S. government, he noted that there has been a dramatic change in approach, with the first part of the century being very militaristic. He said that prime examples are Afghanistan and Iraq. In that period of time, the intelligence community moved into the terrorist monitoring aspect. The development community was moving more towards health and feeding the future.
At a time when there were many war crises, he said, the U.S. government was stuck in a few ruts. Over the past few years there has been a larger demand for diplomacy, and solving the matter in a civilian way.
“That has become the first choice, as well, by the American public,” Barton explained.
Unfortunately, Barton said, the world doesn’t allow this to happen because instability has an inevitable way of threatening allies or even the United States itself. He said that there are 2 billion people caught up in this place, and he said that these are actually growing markets. Barton noted that capitalism runs on exactly this: growing markets.
“If we are going to thrive in that system, we obviously need to help stabilize these places,” Barton said.
Barton said that U.S. leadership isn’t something that is “God-given and something we can just sit on.” He said there are plenty of reasons for the U.S. to be concerned about these places. Through his experience in the UN from 2009 to 2011, he noticed that the world was actually happy to have them back as “their preferred partner of choice.” The key is how to make the United States more effective, he explained.
Barton said that there are three golden rules when it comes to his job, with the first being to focus on what matters most.
“What we are trying to do in this particular bureau of the state department is to say ‘let’s work in places that matter to the United States in an opportune time where we might be able to jump-start something or work with a local initiative in a way that makes it more likely to succeed,’” Barton explained. “To do that, we obviously have to have joint analysis.”
This is to understand the case and make sure there are good strategic priorities, as opposed to rebuilding an entire country. Then, build up locallydriven opportunities.
The second golden rule is the need to extend constructive U.S. influence without requiring huge security operations or militarized caravans.
“That is actually not that easy to do, because a lot of these places used to have a certain safety and immunity just by being Americans or being internationals, and that’s really not the case right now,” Barton said.
The third golden rule is to be catalytic.
“Don’t look to build things yourselves, but help the people in a place get to a point where they can make it on their own,” Barton said.
For more information about Barton, log onto http://www.state.gov/r/pa /ei/biog/187400.htm.