The international community is failing at preventing and reducing violent conflict. It can’t be “business as usual,” and we need to reorient the U.S. diplomatic and development approach to conflict-affected and fragile states. From Central America to the Middle East to the Sahel in Africa, violence, instability and deadly violent conflict wipe out development gains, destroy lives and threaten our national security.
The Global Fragility Act is a pilot strategy that would redirect the U.S. government’s diplomatic policies and assistance for conflict-affected and fragile states by shifting resources to prevention. It would require a sustainable, evidence-based approach and ensure that diplomatic policy is linked to development assistance.
Roughly 2 billion people live in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence. Recent wars and violence also have triggered the worst displacement and refugee crises recorded since World War II, displacing over 70 million people. According to the Institute for Economics of Peace, violent conflict also fuels violent extremism. Over 99 percent of all deaths caused by terrorism in 2017 occurred in countries involved in violent conflict or with high levels of political terror. U.S. prevention funding for conflict-affected and fragile states is woefully inadequate. Our partner, Mercy Corps, in 2016 found just 2 percent of that spending is dedicated toward reducing violence — 0.9 percent on peacebuilding and development and 1.1 percent on peacekeeping — while the other 98 percent goes to containment.
Since the early 2000s, the U.S. government has developed conflict assessment frameworks and conducted dozens of assessments that meticulously outline the causes of violent conflict and significant conflict dynamics. However, nearly two decades later, U.S. development assistance does not adequately address the conflict dynamics its experts identify.
Bangladesh, despite making significant progress in reducing poverty and improving life expectancy in recent decades, is facing growing extremism and instability. According to a USAID evaluation, “The best salve for Bangladesh’s violent democracy is transparent and accountable governance.” However, according to Foreignassistance.gov, less than 5 percent of the U.S. government’s assistance to Bangladesh is used for conflict prevention and governance programming. Additionally, while U.S. government strategies aim to promote peace and security, the measurement requirements simply don’t exist, so programs are not designed, monitored and evaluated towards discerning “what works and why — and more importantly, what doesn’t work.”
The Global Fragility Act would change the status quo in three key areas. Within six to nine months of enactment, the lead foreign affairs agencies must establish a whole-of-government “Global Fragility Initiative” and submit a plan to Congress outlining its components. This plan must include the priority countries on which the initiative will focus for at least 10 years. By the end of the first year after enactment, the interagency must submit to Congress 10-year plans to align and integrate all diplomatic, development, security assistance and cooperation with respect to each of the five or six priority countries or regions.
Additionally, no later than two years after enactment, and every two years thereafter for a decade, the State Department must submit to Congress an unclassified report on progress made and lessons learned in each of the priority countries through the Global Fragility Initiative. The annual report will allow for public and expert engagement and feedback to improve U.S. government efforts.
Eighty percent of U.S. humanitarian funding is used for countries experiencing violence, including countries such as Syria and South Sudan. The goal of the Global Fragility Act is to reduce U.S. humanitarian aid expenditures by providing real solutions to resolve violent conflicts. The bill has strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate, and its sponsors are influential foreign policy leaders from both political parties. Thanks to strong bipartisan sponsorship, the bill has moved quickly through the legislative process; the House passed the bill without opposition in May. A similar bill in the Senate enjoys strong bipartisan support and was voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July.
The Global Fragility Act offers a way to reorient our foreign assistance to more preventative approaches. It would provide for diplomatic and sustained implementation rooted in evidence, local leadership, partnership with civil society and accountability to the goals of reducing and preventing violent conflict. By reducing and even preventing violent conflict, we can save lives and taxpayer dollars. It is time to pass this legislation.