Disaster in Haiti: Preparing for a Long Mission
With a Keynote Address by Ambassador Raymond Joseph
About This Event

In response to the recent earthquake in Haiti, the international community—with the United States in the lead—is once again rushing to provide humanitarian relief to the desperate Caribbean nation. Yet even as initial rescue and recovery operations were unfolding, analysts and observers noted that the tragedy represented an opportunity, after Listen to Audio

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years of poverty and corruption, for countries to commit to a comprehensive, long-term development program in Haiti in partnership with the country’s struggling government. As President Barack Obama has noted, “our longer-term effort will not be measured in days and weeks; it will be measured in months and even years.”

For its part, the U.S. military, which responded to the crisis in characteristically swift fashion, also appears prepared for what could be a protracted, dangerous mission. In the past week, the U.S. military presence in and around Haiti has swelled to over 13,000 personnel, and additional forces are on the way. Though the military’s relief efforts in Haiti are both a moral and strategic obligation for the United States, they will no doubt further strain a force that is already stretched thin in the face of commitments elsewhere.

At this event, AEI hosted Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph, for an address on the Haitian government’s plans to rebuild in the wake of the earthquake. Following the ambassador’s remarks, Robert Perito of the U.S. Institute of Peace and Johanna Mendelson Forman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies joined AEI scholars Roger F. Noriega, Thomas Donnelly, and Tim Sullivan for a panel to discuss whether the U.S. military has the resources available for an extended mission in Haiti and what steps the United States should take to lay the groundwork for the country’s long-term reconstruction.

Event Summary

WASHINGTON, JANUARY 27--Following the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti on January 12, the Obama administration committed approximately 10,000 U.S. troops to assist in providing security, distributing aid, and rebuilding critical infrastructure. A group of experts, including Haitian ambassador Raymond Joseph, gathered at AEI on January 27 to discuss the American-led rescue and relief operation.

In his keynote address, Ambassador Joseph outlined both the extent of the devastation in Haiti and the opportunities this tragedy presents for the reconstruction of the country. He expressed hope that the destruction of Port-au-Prince would be followed with the reconstruction of the city on a smaller scale, citing the need for the population to disperse throughout the countryside rather than concentrate in Port-au-Prince. He also expressed his gratitude for the rapid response of the international community to his call for assistance and urged the United States and the international community not to forget about Haiti after its plight ceases to command the front pages of the news.

Joseph ended his remarks with measured optimism: if the new spirit of unity and inclusiveness that enabled the Preval administration to weather numerous storms from 2006 to 2010 continues, Haiti will be able to rebuild and will reemerge from the earthquake even stronger than before. In response to a question from AEI resident scholar Roger F. Noriega on how to build and strengthen Haitian political institutions, Joseph focused on the need to continue to strengthen the Haitian National Police and reform the justice system, which he characterized as "too slow" and "not impartial enough."

Noriega praised the Haitians' ability to run their own internal affairs and warned against approaching the reconstruction mission with a paternalistic attitude. Speaking about the current mission, Noriega highlighted existing partnerships to coordinate international donations to Haiti. He praised the leadership role the United States is taking at this time but cautioned that current levels of military involvement are not sustainable. He further emphasized the need to develop a comprehensive reconstruction plan before rushing headlong into immediate reconstruction projects in order to ensure an accountable and transparent use of international support.

Noriega also suggested that the mobilization of private capital, perhaps through a program similar to the Polish Enterprise Fund, would empower individual Haitians to start businesses and generate private property that would have a far greater impact than a multiplicity of aid programs.

Robert Perito of the United States Institute of Peace highlighted the security concerns in Haiti. Perito argued that the primary security threat in Haiti is violence perpetrated by members of armed gangs operating in Port-au-Prince, many of whom escaped from prison as a result of the earthquake. Since Haiti does not have an army, the country depends on its police force (HNP) to provide security. The earthquake destroyed the Ministry of Justice, damaged police headquarters, killed at least thirty HNP officers, and destroyed much of the HNP's equipment.

Despite these setbacks, the HNP has been cooperating with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti and U.S. forces and has been providing security for banks, gas stations, and food distribution centers. Perito argued that officer welfare is a pressing concern; the members of the HNP need a place where they and their families can live so they can focus on providing security for the public. In addition, officers need new uniforms, as criminals have gained access to uniforms and have been posing as officers. Finally, because the major prison in Port-au-Prince has been destroyed, the aid mission needs to rebuild courts and detention facilities. Perito recommended that the HNP be reorganized along the model of a gendarmerie, with the capacity to control the border, maintain port security, and combat terrorism.

Johanna Mendelson Forman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies concurred with Perito's recommendations regarding the HNP. She presented three recommendations of her own for measures that should receive priority: first, decentralize the country away from overcrowded Port-au-Prince; second, increase availability of educational opportunities and focus on rebuilding schools; third, return to the agricultural base by using renewable energy to modernize Haiti's agricultural sector.

Finally, Tim Sullivan of AEI's Center for Defense Studies outlined the U.S. military response to the disaster, stressing that the United States has both a humanitarian and strategic interest in Haiti. America's ability to take the lead in this critical mission is an important test for the United States in the Western Hemisphere. While he praised the Obama administration's energetic response, Sullivan warned of the strain of deploying 4,700 ground troops and 11,000 navy and coast guard personnel on the U.S. military as a whole and stressed that U.S. strategic airlift capacity and U.S. reserves are likely to become strained by such a mission over an extended period of time.

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Speaker biographies

Ambassador Raymond Joseph is mostly known as a journalist. When he was nineteen years old, he established the first print shop and founded Reyon Limyè (Rays of Light), the first monthly Christian newspaper in Cayes, Haiti. Reyon Limyè still exists. He went on to become a radio personality in the 1960s, having founded the first radio broadcast in New York beamed against the Duvalier dictatorship. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was at the Wall Street Journal in New York as a financial writer and cofounded, with his brother Leo Joseph, the Haiti-Observateur, the first crusading commercial Haitian weekly. The Observateur remains the premier organ abroad of the Haitian community. In 1990, Mr. Joseph was called to be Haiti's chargé d'affaires in Washington and his country's representative at the Organization of American States. After helping with Haiti's first democratic elections in December 1990, he returned to the Haiti Observateur, where he remained until he was called back to Washington in March 2004, where he is currently the ambassador.

Thomas Donnelly is a resident fellow in defense and security policy studies and the director of the Center for Defense Studies at AEI. He is the author, with Frederick W. Kagan, of Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power (AEI Press, May 2008); the coeditor, with Gary J. Schmitt, of Of Men and Materiel: The Crisis in Military Resources (AEI Press, 2007); and the author of The Military We Need (AEI Press, 2005), Operation Iraqi Freedom: A Strategic Assessment (AEI Press, 2004), and several other books.  From 1995 to 1999, he was policy group director and a professional staff member for the House Armed Services Committee. Mr. Donnelly also served as a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He is a former editor of Armed Forces Journal, Army Times, and Defense News.

Johanna Mendelson Forman is a senior associate with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where she works on renewable energy, the Americas, civil-military relations, and postconflict reconstruction. A former codirector of the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project, she has written extensively on security-sector reform in conflict states, economic development in postwar societies, the role of the United Nations in peace operations, and energy security. In 2003, she participated in a review of the postconflict reconstruction effort of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq as part of a CSIS team. Ms. Mendelson Forman also brings experience in the world of philanthropy, having served as the director of peace, security, and human rights at the United Nations (UN) Foundation. She has held senior positions in the U.S. government at the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Bureau for Humanitarian Response, and the Office of Transition Initiatives, as well as at the World Bank's Post Conflict Unit. She has been a senior fellow with the Association of the United States Army and a guest scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Most recently, she served as an adviser to the UN mission in Haiti. She holds adjunct faculty appointments at American University and Georgetown University. Ms. Mendelson Forman is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the advisory boards of Women in International Security and the Latin American Security Network, RESDAL.

Roger F. Noriega is a visiting fellow at AEI, coordinating the Institute's program on Western Hemisphere issues. Twice appointed by President George W. Bush (and confirmed by the U.S. Senate) and with a ten-year career on Capitol Hill, Mr. Noriega's breadth of experience offers strategic vision and practical insight on the Americas. As assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, he managed a three-thousand-person team of professionals in Washington, D.C., and fifty diplomatic posts to design and implement political and economic strategies in Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. As U.S. permanent representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), Mr. Noriega coordinated complex and sensitive multilateral diplomacy in a thirty-four-member international organization to bolster OAS efforts to promote trade, fight illicit drugs, and defend democracy. Mr. Noriega has held various other positions, including senior policy adviser with the U.S. mission to the OAS, many program management and public affairs positions with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of State, press secretary and foreign policy adviser for former representative Robert Whittaker (R-Kans.), and research assistant for the secretary of state of Kansas.

Robert Perito directs the U.S. Institute of Peace's (USIP) Initiative on Security Sector Governance under the Centers of Innovation. He is also a senior program officer in the Center for Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations, where he directs the Haiti and the Peacekeeping Lessons Learned projects. Mr. Perito came to USIP in 2001 as a senior fellow in the Jennings Randolph Senior Fellowship Program. Before joining the institute, he was a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State, retiring with the rank of minister-counselor. He served as deputy executive secretary of the National Security Council (1988–89). He was a congressional fellow in 1980. Mr. Perito received a Presidential Meritorious Service Award in 1990 for leading the U.S. delegation in the Angola peace talks. Mr. Perito served as deputy director of the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program at the U.S. Department of Justice, which trained police in international peace operations (1995–2001). As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Mr. Perito served as a rural development officer in Nigeria (1965–67). Mr. Perito has taught at Princeton, American, and George Mason universities. He is the author of Where Is the Lone Ranger When We Need Him? America's Search for a Post Conflict Security Force (U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2004); The American Experience with Police in Peace Operations (BPR Publishers, 2002); and coauthor of Police in War: Fighting Insurgency, Terrorism, and Violent Crime (forthcoming).

Tim Sullivan manages AEI's new Center for Defense Studies (CDS), which produces commentary and analysis on a range of strategic, programmatic, and budgetary issues. In addition to his work for CDS, he researches governance and security issues in Afghanistan. In his prior capacity as a research assistant in AEI's foreign and defense policy studies department, Mr. Sullivan contributed to studies on NATO's efforts in Afghanistan and U.S. security force assistance programs. He is a member of the Center for a New American Security's Next Generation National Security Leaders Program, and he was a 2009 fellow in the German Marshal Fund's Manfred Wörner Seminar.

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