To bolster conflict prevention, US House passes Global Fragility Act

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Andy Feliciotti / Unsplash / CC0

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday passed the Global Fragility Act, a bipartisan bill that mandates the government develop and implement a 10-year strategy to address the root causes of violence and fragility and streamline U.S. stabilization efforts.

“We are confident that … over time Congress will see that we get a lot more return from investing earlier than simply providing assistance after conflict has already broken out.”

— Richmond Blake, director of policy and advocacy, Mercy Corps

The bill, co-sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and Ranking Member Michael McCaul, passed by a voice vote. Engel, a Democrat from New York, and McCaul, a Republican from Texas, have championed the bill as a strategy to unite the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, and Department of Defense behind a whole-of-government approach to violence and conflict prevention.

“We really need to address this right now, because time and time again when we don’t, then we have to put our military in,” McCaul said at an event in Washington, D.C., last week. “We’ve done a good job defending the United States from terror attacks, we’ve done a very good job offensively killing the terrorists. The piece we haven’t done very well in my judgement is … the prevention piece, and that’s what the Global Fragility Act is designed to do.”

The House version of the bill requires the U.S. government to launch a Global Fragility Initiative that would select five to six pilot countries or regions to employ a 10-year strategy aimed at preventing conflict in fragile states.

A coalition of civil society organizations led by the Alliance for Peacebuilding and Mercy Corps supports the legislation and says the strategy is a much-needed change in the U.S. policy approach to conflict, fragile states, and stabilization.

Laura Strawmyer, policy and advocacy manager at the Alliance for Peacebuilding, is hopeful the bill signals “a shift in coordination and roles and responsibilities as well as shifting everyone’s mindset a little bit further upstream toward prevention,” she told Devex

“There’s lots of great components throughout the U.S. government to think about conflict issues and conflict mitigation and reconciliation,” Strawmyer said. “But very few of those have the resources or capacity to really be thinking about prevention. I think it’s a combination of that as well as not having any overarching strategy.”

If the companion bill is passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the administration would have six months to submit a plan to Congress on what pilot countries or regions to select for the new approach and why. Civil society is not advocating for the inclusion of particular countries or regions into the final strategy, Strawmyer said.

“We really want to see an evidence-based decision,” Strawmyer said, adding that she could see the regional approach being taken in areas where violence and fragility is already thought about in a regional context, like the “Northern Triangle” or the Sahel.

The legislation requires the public release of the strategy and biennial progress reports to Congress, including an unclassified version. The version of the Global Fragility Act passed Monday by the House also includes a provision that asks the cabinet-level official of each implementing agency to appoint an official, at a rank no lower than assistant secretary, to be in charge of implementation. That person would be responsible for testifying to Congress on those biennial progress reports.

The House bill includes two authorizations of appropriations, although this does not guarantee the money will ultimately be included in congressional appropriations bills.

The Complex Crises Fund is an existing fund of about $30 million in recent years, but its inclusion in the bill will codify it as a mechanism for agile rapid response conflict prevention. The Stabilization and Prevention Fund is a new fund that would implement the Global Fragility Initiative and allow the executive branch to decide how to align and use any funds that get appropriated.

“We have all been advocating for the Global Fragility Act as a way to strengthen the offices within the interagency that are charged with conflict prevention and peace-building work, and also to scale up what has been relatively small investments in conflict prevention programming and programs that are sometimes not linked to the overall diplomatic strategy,” said Richmond Blake, director of policy and advocacy at Mercy Corps.

“It’s our hope that this will both enhance internal coordination within the U.S. government and also to scale programs that our organizations, the frontline implementing organizations, already know are effective.”

The Senate version of the bill also includes a third fund: A pooled multilateral fund recommended by a fragility task force out of the United States Institute for Peace that would galvanize money from international partners and encourage other countries to align behind the new conflict and prevention strategy outlined in the bill.

Ultimately, Blake said the goal would be for the new approach to see enough success in the pilot countries that the fragility initiative could be expanded to additional countries and regions.

“We are confident that … over time Congress will see that we get a lot more return from investing earlier than simply providing assistance after conflict has already broken out,” Blake said.

The Senate bill, which also has bipartisan support, has not yet been taken up by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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.