Peacebuilding’s Vital Role in National Security: Best Value for Impact at All Levels (Fall 2013)

September 6, 2013
Type: ,

August 2013
By Deborah L. Trent

Peace would seem to be the most widely shared human interest, but ongoing political, religious, environmental and economic obstacles make it persistently elusive. Increasingly, governments recognize the value of peacebuilding as a national security function — a pragmatic, efficient way to reduce conflict with limited resources.

American taxpayers fund a limited number of peacebuilders around the world, especially in conflict zones, in roles such as trainers, facilitators and analysts. At the recent Alliance for Peacebuilding annual conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), the former president of the alliance, Charles F. “Chic” Dambach, estimated the U.S. government dedicates less than $200 million directly to peacebuilding each year. This figure fuels USIP as well as the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict Stabilization Operations, and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s offices of Transition Initiatives and Conflict Management and Mitigation.

The funding amounts to a tiny fraction of the entire federal budget and most certainly of the global costs of war. The organizations wield analysis, public education, engagement of youth and a wide range of communication tools and processes to save lives, alleviate poverty, promote freedom and bolster international cooperation. These purposes are especially compelling now, as measures for peacebuilding are being incorporated into the United Nations’ post-2015 Millennium Development Goals and New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States.

This is a moment not to retreat from peacebuilding research and development, but to maintain — and, where possible, increase — these relatively low-cost, high-impact investments in the future. In this uncertain, fluid international security environment, peacebuilding is one of a range of tools necessary to maintain national security and prepare partner countries, organizations and individuals for future challenges.

In written testimony submitted in March, USIP President Jim Marshall cited “a war-weary American public and nations throughout the globe.” Marshall told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, “America’s financial constraints dictate rebalancing its national security framework to do more with less.”

USIP is a unique, nonpartisan creation of Congress, and a quiet, consistent supporter and convener in the global network of peacebuilders. This small, hybrid, independent, quasi-governmental organization generates cutting-edge analysis, training and other on-the-ground operations to sustain peace and reduce international conflict.

With an effective blend of federal and private features, USIP convenes local and international scholars, military figures, aid experts, diplomats and civic leaders at the grassroots level to develop and deploy collaborative tools and processes to prevent conflict. USIP increasingly initiates partnerships with military and civilian government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) interested in advancing peace to amplify the U.S. government’s investment in nonviolent, cooperative relations among nations.

These efforts yield creative collaborations and diversify local participation toward peace in conflict-stricken zones around the world from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America. The alternative of lives lost in conflict and of increasing military indebtedness is not a viable option.

Peacebuilding is a way to do more with less. Most recently, USIP has facilitated discussions with the new government of Burma about the way forward for potential reforms to advance the rule of law. Intergenerational audiences worldwide have easy access to teaching and training resources online through USIP’s multi-media Global Peacebuilding Center.

In Kenya this year, social media technology was used for crowdsourcing to help prevent the kind of election-related violence that killed more than 1,000 Kenyans after the 2007 balloting. And since 2008, USIP has facilitated Asian security dialogues among U.S., Japanese, South Korean, and North Korean government and military officials. In Afghanistan, USIP is training and supporting women’s and youth organizations to strengthen their peaceful voices as the U.S.-led military coalition prepares to withdraw most of its forces at the end of 2014.

The “Return on Investment” is clear, and demand is growing for more tools of non-violent forms of intervention.

Practitioners and analysts are making strides in understanding, communicating and addressing the nuances of conflict. USIP and other U.S. government offices and NGOs support cutting-edge integration of science with practice, generating rigorous peacebuilding approaches as alternatives to more costly military-intensive approaches.

David Cortright, director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, said at the April Alliance for Peacebuilding conference that evidence shows poor policing and governance are two main factors underlying terrorism. In some contexts, mediating among insurgents helps mitigate violence among isolationist, extremist and terrorist networks.

After 2 ½ years of civil society uprisings in the Middle East, the Egyptian economy and government today are in upheaval, the Syrian civil war has taken more than 100,000 lives and Iraq is descending into violence on a scale similar to the peak of the war in 2006 and 2007.

In Africa, sectarian and other conflicts continue to emerge, e.g., Algeria, Mali. The peace between Sudan and South Sudan is holding, thanks in part to ongoing cross-training in the civilian, military, and security sectors on the ground there. But it is tenuous. The last North-South civil war lasted two decades and claimed 2 million lives, and return to civil war would cost an estimated $30 billion in peacekeeping and humanitarian costs.

Maintaining U.S. government support for peacebuilding conveys American commitment to a peaceful world and helps to counter the image abroad that the U.S. relies foremost on military intervention for human security. There is no more humane way to reduce conflict or lower the cost of homeland security and national defense than to make the world safer.

Our national investment in peacebuilding is a sure way for America to combine its strongest intellectual talent and commitment, earn international respect and build partnerships, reducing the need for and costliness of military interventions. It does take money to build peace, but not much. And certainly not much in comparison to the consequences of war and violence.

Michael Graham, senior vice president for management and chief financial officer at the United States Institute of Peace, contributed to this article in his personal capacity. Any views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of USIP.