In-Depth: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to require the State Dept., United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Dept. of Defense (DOD) to coordinate on a global initiative aimed at stabilizing conflict affected areas and preventing the violence and fragility that allow terrorists, criminal networks, and warlords to take hold in the first place. This would focus America’s diplomatic, development, and security efforts on preventing the root causes of violence and instability in countries around the world:
“When we help countries become stronger and more stable, we make it harder for terrorists, criminals, and other violent groups to put down roots. That makes the United States and our partners safer. In the years since 9/11, we’ve all seen what can happen when we don’t take that preventive, holistic approach to our engagement abroad. I’m pleased to be joining my colleagues to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation to focus our diplomatic, development, and security efforts on meeting this challenge.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, adds that global conflicts have a significant implications for global prosperity and security:
“Violent conflict and instability is costing the global economy trillions of dollars annually and generating fertile recruiting grounds for terrorists and transnational criminal organizations. The bipartisan Global Fragility Act confronts these threats by targeting the root causes of fragility such as extreme poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and weak governance. The U.S. must prioritize conflict prevention and better leverage our assistance dollars to support fragile states on a path towards long-term stability and resilience. This legislation provides a whole of government approach to address the drivers of fragility in priority countries and regions. I am proud to advance this critical legislation with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to tackle the problem head on and promote stability around the world.”
The ONE Campaign supports this bill. Its North America executive director, Tom Hart, says:
“There is often a clear link between extreme poverty and fragility. Experts predict that by 2030, nearly 80 percent of people living in extreme poverty will be in fragile states and regions. Reducing instability in fragile states can save innocent lives and is an efficient and cost-effective way of advancing our nation’s foreign policy and national security interests. That’s why it’s so important for the United States government to have the right tools and strategies for reducing poverty in difficult environments, and reaching some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. The sponsors of these bills should be applauded for acknowledging the need for a long-term approach to preventing crises, one that brings together the expertise and resources of State, USAID and the Pentagon. ONE welcomes the progress that these bills represent and we will work to ensure these proposals have the necessary resources behind them to be effective.”
In a The Hill op-ed, Mercy Corps’s director of policy and advocacy, Richmond Blake, argues that this bill would strengthen the U.S. government’s ability to identify the ways in which violence and conflict spread and thereby prevent them:
“If passed and signed into law, the Global Fragility Act would strengthen the capacity of the U.S. government to identify the ways in which people are vulnerable to violence and conflict and provide diplomatic and development resources to help communities mitigate such threats. The legislation also would mandate the U.S. government to pilot this new approach in no fewer than six countries, offering a laboratory to test which strategies may be most effective for preventing violence in the world’s most fragile places, and then regularly report back to Congress and the American people on what works.”
Former U.K. prime minister David Cameron now heads a commission on state fragility, growth and development formed by the London School of Economics and Oxford University. In April 2018, the commission’s first report argued that developed nations trying to help fragile ones have been doing it wrong. The commission’s report argues that wealthy nations’ “best practices” of demanding quick multi-party elections and often unpopular, harsh economic policies backed by global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have resulted in “deeply flawed and easily subverted or overturned democracies” in post-Saddam Iraq, post-Mubarak Egypt and post-Gaddafi Libya.
This bill has passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee with the support of 15 bipartisan House cosponsors, including nine Democrats and six Republicans. A similar Senate bill, the Global Fragility Act of 2019 (S. 727), sponsored by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), has 11 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including six Democrats and five Republicans.
In the 115th Congress, this bill passed the House by a 376-16 vote with the support of 15 bipartisan House cosponsors, including eight Democrats and seven Republicans. A similar Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Coons, had four bipartisan cosponsors, including three Republicans and one Democrat, and didn’t see committee action.
This bill has the support of a coalition of over 50 organizations, the Alliance for Peacebuilding, The Borgen Project, CARE, Foreign Policy for America, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, ONE, World Vision, Nuru International and others.
Of Note: Nick Grono, former deputy president and chief operating officer at the International Crisis Group, notes that fragile and failed states have existed since the dawn of the international order. However, policymakers’ interest in such states “took on a new life after 9/11,” as that days’ events showed how dangerous failed states can be not only to their own people, but to the world.
The Brookings Institute notes, “Hard lessons have demonstrated that instability and violence are not just a security, development, political, or social phenomenon. They are all of this and more, and can only be tackled through an integrated frame that involves a range of government agencies and capabilities.” The Friends Committee on National Legislation reports that violent conflict has “forcibly displaced a record 68.5 million people” at a global cost of $14.76 trillion annually.
The Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States — a congressionally-directed, bipartisan commission charged with formulating a comprehensive strategy to combat the causes of violent extremism in fragile states — recommended a new approach to preventing the rise and spread of extremism in the Sahel, Horn of Africa and Near East. In its report, released in February 2019, the Task Force proposed a comprehensive preventative strategy to reorganize U.S. efforts and pool international resources to support partners in order to stop the spread of extremism and address its drivers.
To implement this strategy, the Task Force’s report calls for the adoption of a framework that recognizes extremism as an inherently political and ideological problem and the creation of two mechanisms: 1) a U.S. government-wide initiative to make prevention a priority and ensure coordination and collaboration across U.S. agencies; and 2) an international platform for donors to pool their resources and coordinate their activities in support of prevention.
Currently, the U.S. government spends only 2% of its assistance to the world’s 27 chronically fragile states on conflict mitigation and reconciliation programs.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / vanbeets)