Statement on the 2017 National Security Strategy

December 21, 2017
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The 2017 US National Security Strategy (NSS), issued December 18th, offers the Trump administration’s “America First” view of national security. The Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) finds some aspects of the strategy heartening, and others concerning.

Sections of the strategy are consistent with peacebuilding values. We appreciate the inclusion of language on the importance of upholding human dignity, empowering women and youth, rejecting bigotry, and promoting resilience of people around the world in ensuring America’s safety. We hope these values will be reflected in the Administration’s policies and actions moving forward.

The commitment to supporting aspiring partners from fragile and post-conflict states articulated in the NSS is an important step toward realizing a more secure and peaceful world. The critical next step is to ensure US foreign policy is designed and implemented around an organizing principle of violence reduction and conflict prevention. To quell the growing epidemic of violence, the US must leverage its position as a leader on the world stage to encourage just and inclusive societies and uphold the values of equality and freedom. Doing so will require robust commitment to diplomatic strength alongside military power.

The strategy is consistent with its predecessors on some matters: every NSS issued to date has affirmed that America must employ a range of means to prevent conflict. A deep commitment to utilizing America’s full foreign policy toolkit and a range of means to prevent conflict is especially important today, when levels of global violence are increasing at an immense cost to US prosperity, interests, and security. Violence costs the world economy $14.3 trillion a year, drives global threats like disease and trafficking, and underpins and exacerbates the most critical US security challenges, including terrorism. Therefore, AfP is heartened to see that the 2017 NSS calls for “additional flexibility to operate in complex conflict-affected areas” for diplomats.

However, we are concerned with the use of “radical Islamist terror groups” and “jihadist terrorists” to describe the general issue of violent extremism. The US risks alienating allies or undermining US efforts if it mischaracterizes the role that religion, in particular Islam, plays. Violent extremism is driven by many different factors, and the role that religion plays in motivating adherence to these groups is largely emotive rather than theological. AfP and our partners have been at the helm of research finding that key drivers of extremist violence are perceptions of injustice, feelings of isolation, exposure to violence, and the notion that violent movements are the most effective pathways to justice and fulfillment.

We also take issue with the prioritization of military action over diplomacy and development. In responding to global crises, military and civilian approaches are equal and complementary partners. Many of the greatest challenges the world faces today, whether they are violent extremism or migration, cannot be solved via military means alone. While the military will play a key role in stabilization, it must be accompanied with approaches that address the drivers of violence, namely poor governance, lack of social cohesion, weak institutions, and underdevelopment.

The inward focus of the NSS undermines the reality of national security threats. Americans cannot be safe while others suffer from injustice, violence, and marginalization. A more effective strategy would reorient the US role in the world to one of true collaboration, shared security, and global leadership to prevent violence, protect civilians, and promote long-term peace. It would address the full range of root causes of conflict, including the growing threat of climate change.

AfP and its civil society partners have ample firsthand experience working in conflict zones around the world and are eager to be a resource for the administration to translate the NSS into policy and action. We look forward to working with the administration to ensure that the United States employs its full range of violence reduction tools and approaches and that we uphold American values first.