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US draws up list of unstable countries

March 28, 2005

by Guy Dinmore in Washington – Published on FT on March 28 2005

US intelligence services are drawing up a secret watch-list of 25 countries in which instability might lead to US intervention, according to officials in charge of a new office set up to co-ordinate planning for nation-building and conflict prevention.

The list will be composed and revised every six months by the National Intelligence Council, which collates intelligence for strategic planning, according to Carlos Pascual, head of the newly formed office of reconstruction and stabilisation.

The new State Department office amounts to recognition by the Bush administration that it needs to get better at nation-building, a concept it once scorned as social work disguised as foreign policy, following its failures in Iraq.

But advisers say its small budget $17m requested from Congress this year and $124m in fiscal 2006 reflects a lack of commitment. They say the administration remains divided about the merits of nation-building and the international institutions that do it.

Mr Pascual told a conference last week on reconstructing and stabilising war-torn states that the NIC would identify countries of “greatest instability and risk” to clarify priorities and allocate resources. The watch-list was classified, according to a spokesperson. However, another official gave the example of Nepal, saying it was the subject of a study on fragile states by USAid, the government aid agency. USAid declined to comment.

Although Mr Pascual, a former ambassador, will lead the co-ordination between civilian agencies and the Pentagon, officials stressed the new office did not mean the US was bent on nation-building through military action.

Mr Pascual said conflict prevention and postwar reconstruction had become a “mainstream foreign-policy challenge” because of the dangers of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

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