Burden of battling extremism calls for new multilateral fund, US task force says

A convoy of Chadian soldiers passes by a signboard painted by Boko Haram in the retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria, in March 2015. Photo by: REUTERS / Emmanuel Braun

WASHINGTON — A new multilateral fund should be created to finance country-led plans to prevent extremism in fragile states, a congressionally mandated task force has recommended in a new report.

The Partnership Development Fund, possibly held at the World Bank, would be an international platform for donors and the private sector to concentrate their financial resources and coordinate programs focused on preventing extremism. The mechanism is needed because the United States says it cannot be held solely responsible for addressing the problem.

“We’re not talking about nation building here, we’re talking about deterrence and prevention.”

— Lindsey Graham, U.S. Republican senator

The fund would provide a shared pot of money that would ensure burden sharing, as well as create a shared framework to prevent extremism, said Nancy Lindborg, president of the U.S. Institute of Peace and member of the task force, at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

“What we see particularly in some of these more fragile environments is we have various donors coming in with different visions and requirements, and it creates a kind of chaos,” Lindborg said.

Led by former chairs of the 9/11 commission, former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean and former Representative Lee Hamilton, the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States comprises of 15 policymakers and national security experts and is mentored at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The bipartisan group examined the nexus between fragile states and extremism, and how U.S. and international intervention can be more effective in deterring people from joining extremist groups.

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The task force started its work in 2018 at the request of Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, who sought recommendations for a new approach the U.S. government could take in addressing root causes of extremism and preventing violence in the Sahel, Horn of Africa, and Near East. Graham recognized that the U.S. counterterrorism approach wasn’t successfully stemming the growth of extremist groups abroad.

“Without security, there is no hope. Security alone is not the goal. You literally cannot kill your way into winning this battle against extremism,” Graham said on Tuesday. “We have to offer a hopeful life to compete with a glorious death. We’re not talking about nation building here, we’re talking about deterrence and prevention.”

A new fund

The Partnership Development Fund, which would need to be authorized by the U.S. Congress, should have a mandate to support five-to-10-year partnerships based on country-led plans to strengthen ties between the state and its citizens, the task force said. Priorities should be based on local assessments and should encompass both short-term stabilization activity and longer-term efforts to empower marginalized groups including women and youth, the report found.

The task force said that providing a single stream of assistance to prevent extremism could help prevent fragile states from getting financial support from other sources. The fund should mobilize international donors, fragile communities, civil society NGOs, and the private sector, it recommended, with an emphasis on public-private partnerships. The task force suggested the U.S. contribute 25 percent of the pot, contingent on support from other sources.

The task force also recommended creating a coordinator, housed at the National Security Council, to lead a strategic prevention initiative. From the White House, that person would be responsible for coordinating interagency efforts from the Department of State, which will develop strategy and policy; U.S. Agency for International Development, which is the lead on implementation; and the Department of Defense, which will play a supporting role.

“We’ve got to take all these various agencies and departments and all these parts of government and get them to work together in a new way around a new strategy, one that has a chance of working,” said task force co-chair Kean.

The task force engaged multiple outside stakeholders in developing its recommendations, including the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, European donors, the g7+ grouping of countries facing conflict, and fragile states. It also conducted listening sessions with NGOs and experts to vet the recommendations and ensure they were inclusive.

The group found that there was a growing consensus for a new approach to addressing the challenges of extremism in fragile states. Plans must be country-led, according to the task force, which emphasized the need for country governments to listen to their citizens and effectively address grievances.

The goal is to escape from what the task force’s report calls “the unsustainable costs of the cycle of crisis response,” which left the U.S. and other Western governments constantly reacting to terrorist threats with no strategic approach to preventing the groups from growing and thriving in fragile states and beyond. A prevention model would not concentrate on stopping individual terrorist attacks.

“Nearly all U.S. policy tools, both hard and soft, aim to dismantle terrorist networks, thwart attacks, or stop individual radicalization,” the report found. “These responses, even when successful, do little to prevent, and at times even lay the groundwork for, further extremist eruptions.”

When a government collapses or has little control over territory, the population can turn to extremist groups, which often provide an alluring alternative to basic government services their capital cannot. The upstream approach recommended by the task force would focus more attention on strengthening countries’ political systems so they are able to withstand the threat from extremist groups.

From reaction to prevention

The report acknowledges that this new approach will not eliminate the need for other counterterrorism activities, including countering violent extremism. But the idea would be that a stronger upstream approach would cut down on time spent preventing immediate acts of extremism. This would “shift the paradigm from reaction to prevention,” the report said.

A successful approach includes admitting where intervention is unlikely to yield intended results, according to the task force. Calling out failed U.S. policies in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Mali, members of the task force recognized that building successful prevention partnerships will require political leaders who are engaged and willing to cooperate to address the challenges in their countries.

“Bitter experience teaches that where such leaders are lacking, the United States stands little chance of furthering its long-term interests. In such cases, it must seek to seize opportunities where possible and always mitigate the risk that its engagement, or that of other actors, could do more harm than good,” the report said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Elliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, said he will be incorporating the recommendations from the task force’s report into the Global Fragility Act, which passed the House in 2018. Engel plans to reintroduce the bill in the House this week, and Graham and Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, will introduce a version in the Senate.

Lawmakers said they also hope to identify countries in which to perform a pilot study to prove the new approach works.

“I am hopeful that we will quickly move it forward,” Coons said. “It will provide the framework for us to take this tremendous report and take these insights and make them real. We’re going from studying and understanding, to enacting a framework, to then funding what I think will be a groundbreaking initiative to promote the stabilization of fragile states.”

About the author

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    Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh is a Reporter with Devex based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa wrote about Latin America from McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She worked as a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.