In our VOICES blog, we share regular updates from our global programs, including CIVIC’s US Program. This piece was written by Julie Snyder, CIVIC US Program Research & Advocacy Associate, and Jillian Rafferty, CIVIC US Program Research & Advocacy Intern.
On any given day, headlines focus on divisions between Republicans and Democrats on matters of national security. President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and approach to North Korea, for example, have created unprecedented levels of political polarization, as partisans disagree over the effects of these decisions on prospects for war and peace.
Despite these tensions, Congressional leaders from both parties have reached agreement on a key national security issue: the disturbing rise in violent conflict affecting millions of people around the world – and costing trillions of dollars. Through the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act, Congress sends a clear and welcome message that the stakes involved in reducing and preventing global conflict are high enough to overcome partisan division.
At the heart of the push to pass the Act rests a troubling reality. Modern warfare increasingly involves air power, combat in urban areas, loose controls on conventional weapons, and increased involvement of armed state and non-state actors – combined factors that dramatically worsen the outcomes for civilians caught in the crossfire. In 2017, an estimated 102,000 people were killed in conflict-related violence while 65 million more became or remained displaced from the effects of violence, and countless civilians saw their homes, places of work and worship, schools, and hospitals reduced to rubble.
If the human toll doesn’t shock you, the price tag will: global violence cost an estimated $14.3 trillion dollars in 2017 alone. The world is doing little in the way of prevention. According to the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, global programs dedicated to conflict prevention are a meager .04 percent of the total estimated costs of violent conflict.
Congress has taken the first step in demonstrating US leadership on global violence prevention. The Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act requires the Departments of State and Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop an interagency initiative aimed at preventing global violence. The Act requires front-end diagnosis and careful, data-driven, bases for interventions – provisions designed to boost the effectiveness and reach of programs carried out under the initiative’s mandate.
The Act will not, by itself, compel the US government to avoid policies that can fuel conflict – like continuing or expanding arms sales to volatile countries. Still, its adoption could improve US policymakers’ understanding of local drivers of conflict and the best means to leverage US and foreign resources to address and mitigate conflict around the world.
The Act isn’t without its critics: development practitioners may worry that funding will be redistributed from important programs addressing, for example, health care, governance, or access to water. But the initiative’s emphasis on prevention, rather than reaction as seen in past efforts, is worth celebrating. In time, investing in programs designed to prevent or reduce conflict will also reduce the need – and therefore the cost – of humanitarian assistance.
CIVIC has seen first-hand how prevention translates into savings – both of human lives and funds that can thus be spent on other needs.
In 2017, for example, in response to protection concerns voiced by community members, our Afghanistan team created and piloted Civilian Protection Community Councils (CCPCs) in Baghlan and Kandahar. The gender-inclusive CCPCs follow the model of Afghan shuras, a council of respected community members, such as tribal elders, religious leaders, and civil society actors, who aim to influence parties to the conflict to reduce violence. The CCPCs were formed to better identify the most urgent protection needs of civilians in areas experiencing armed conflict and to increase their capacity to engage on self-protection with both pro- and anti-government forces. The CCPCs have the potential to be effective protection advocates at the grassroots level to deter threats from armed actors. (Note: Although CIVIC does not take US government funding, many of the local organizations working in conflict-affected areas to find similar local solutions do.)
In addition to global responsibility to civilian protection and reducing global violence, investing in violence prevention is a smart business decision. For the FY18 federal budget, USAID requested $15.4 billion, while the Defense Department requested a staggering $639.1 billion, with $64.6 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget. Despite the limited funds USAID receives, it already demonstrates an excellent track record of producing results.
In short, investing in violence prevention generates returns on investment for US national security in the near term, and could reduce defense spending needs in the future.
With the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act, Congress has demonstrated that it may know good deal when it sees one.