Op-Ed: U.S. Congress Ushers in a New Era of Violence Prevention

Opinion: Richmond Blake is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Mercy Corps, one of the leaders of more than 70 organizations in support of the new legislation.

Last week the United States Congress adopted the bipartisan Global Fragility Act (GFA), a significant reorientation of U.S. foreign policy that will better prioritize peacebuilding and conflict prevention at a critical time when 70 million people around the world are on the run from violence, persecution and war.

For too long foreign assistance globally has been spent on treating the symptoms of violence rather than the causes, with just 2% of official development assistance to fragile countries going toward conflict prevention. Yet we know that violence results in trillions of dollars in lost economic activity. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, violence cost the world $14.1 trillion last year, more than 11% of total global economic activity.

In the years since 9/11, fragile states like Afghanistan and Iraq have been at the center of U.S. and international counter-terrorism challenges, and are some of the largest recipients of military spending and humanitarian aid. Yet there has never been a coordinated and comprehensive policy bringing U.S. defense, diplomatic and development agencies together to coordinate engagement in fragile countries and, importantly, prioritize violence prevention and peacebuilding efforts.

The GFA will mandate the U.S. government create the first-ever U.S. government strategy to reduce violence in high-priority, fragile countries over a 10-year period, dedicating $1.15 billion over the next five years to build peace, prevent conflict and address violent extremism. It will save U.S. taxpayers’ money by preventing the outbreak of conflict rather than the costlier approach of containing it. The inter-agency coordination the GFA requires will lead to better effectiveness for American aid investments. There is value for money in prevention: research has shown that every $1 spent on peacebuilding and conflict prevention would reduce the costs of conflict by $16.

After more than two years navigating the legislative process and a divided Congress, the GFA’s passage with overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans is a huge achievement and signals growing bipartisan support for conflict prevention. But that is just the first step. The GFA must now be implemented by the Administration, with strong congressional oversight, to fulfill its promise. In the first year after the GFA’s enactment, the Administration must present a comprehensive government strategy to Congress that prioritizes five countries or regions as well as deliver 10-year plans to operationalize the strategy across the priority countries. It is important that a diverse group of countries is selected to ensure that evidence collected can help identify which programs and policies can be most effective at preventing violence in different contexts.

Civil society and international organizations also have an important role to play in ensuring the GFA’s success. In fact, Congress recognized this, requiring that as the strategy is developed, the administration consult with organizations that have experience implementing programs in fragile states. It is critical that these groups share research and field-based programmatic evidence to inform the development of the government’s strategy, as well as publicly advocate for transparency, oversight and accountability. The GFA requires the Departments of State and Defense as well as USAID to provide regular updates on implementation of the GFA through congressional briefings. Biennial reports to Congress and the American people are mandated.

My organization, Mercy Corps, along with the Alliance for Peacebuilding has led a coalition of nearly 70 organizations in support of the legislation. Our coalition will now work with the Administration to deliver on the Act’s mandate. We will work closely with the Administration and Congress to ensure that the biennial reports deliver what Congress has asked for: evidence about the diplomatic policy and development programs that are most effective at preventing and resolving conflict. These reports, which include thorough research, monitoring and evaluation evidence, are essential for guaranteeing transparency and accountability to the American public as well as for improving the quality and effectiveness of development programs.

With the GFA, we can begin to reverse the frightening 25-year-peak in violence our world is experiencing, and turn the page on outdated and short-sighted approaches that treat the symptoms after violence erupts and not the causes. This is one of the most critical national security and development challenges of our time, and with this landmark legislation signed into law, the U.S. is finally charting a path to a more peaceful world.

Photo: Nuru International applauds the introduction of the Global Fragility Act of 2019 (Photo supplied).