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To build peace, the U.S. needs to lead with responses that prevent, reduce, transform and help people recover from violence in all forms. Since 2001, FCNL has worked to move U.S. foreign policy in this direction. We have made progress: the U.S. now has some infrastructure in place to prevent violence and build peace. The rhetoric of peacebuilding is starting to penetrate.

To build peace, the U.S. needs to lead with responses that prevent, reduce, transform and help people recover from violence in all forms.

Over the past 15 years, FCNL has worked to move U.S. foreign policy in this direction. We have made progress: the U.S. now has some infrastructure in place to prevent violence and build peace. The rhetoric of peacebuilding is starting to penetrate.

But this infrastructure is still young and fragile. Our work today is to fortify the structures of peacebuilding and, along with colleagues in and outside of the government, to institutionalize peacebuilding as a priority approach for our country.

Burundian children
Attribution
David Proffer / Flickr
Burundian children in Southern Burundi

Where We’ve Been

In the days after 9/11, as our country rushed towards war, FCNL emphatically stated that “war is not the answer” to violence.

In the days after 9/11, as our country rushed towards war, FCNL emphatically stated that “war is not the answer” to violence. Instead, we took to the Hill to develop and advocate proactive ways for the U.S. to build peace and prevent violence from breaking out in the first place.

At first, congressional staff were unreceptive — but, gradually, we started to hear them adopting the language of peacebuilding and prevention. These ideas have now taken root at the highest levels of government: in its 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, a major planning document, the State Department stated that ”preventing mass atrocities is a core national security interest and moral responsibility of the United States.”

Where We Are

Our lobbying has helped create and fund critical pieces of peacebuilding infrastructure in the U.S. government. The State Department and USAID are at the forefront of this work, but peacebuilding needs to involve people throughout government, from intelligence officers to military leaders to development experts, to be successful.

Here are some of the ways that the U.S. is starting to focus on peacebuilding at every stage in a conflict.

Before a crisis emerges: Looking for warning signs. The interagency Atrocities Prevention Board provides a forum for military, intelligence and diplomatic leaders to collaborate, share information and develop prevention policy responses. First convened in April 2012 and now meeting monthly, it is part of a comprehensive U.S. strategy to better prevent genocide and mass atrocities.

The coalition of human rights, religious, humanitarian and peace organizations that make up the Prevention and Protection Working Group has been a key advocate for the Atrocities Prevention Board. FCNL co-founded this coalition in 2008 and continues to coordinate its work.

In the midst of violence: Finding resources. Most money that Congress appropriates is designated for a specific project, which presents a challenge when a crisis erupts. The Complex Crises Fund is a flexible fund that provides money to USAID, in coordination with the State Department, to respond to emergencies.

Planning for the future: The State Department plays a critical role in the planning and policy analysis that is needed to anticipate, prevent and respond to conflict and to promote long-term stability. FCNL’s advocacy helped lead to the creation of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, which acts as the peacebuilding hub in the State Department.

Peacebuilding’s Potential

Although this infrastructure is relatively new, it is already showing its potential to help the U.S. to identify and respond to threatening violence.

In 2013 the U.S. was able to respond rapidly to violence in the Central African Republic. In advance of 2013 elections, the U.S. helped support locally-led peace networks and early warning systems in tense areas throughout Kenya. Similar activities are now underway in Burundi. In Sri Lanka, U.S.-funded projects helped communities resume basic farming and agricultural production as people return to the country following the end of its civil war in 2009.

In Guinea, the U.S. is supporting work in an area recently affected by violence and the Ebola outbreak to help build conflict resolution skills and promote peacebuilding.

Challenges Ahead

These programs, while beginning to show their effectiveness, are still precarious. Congress does not always see their value, and their existence and funding is in doubt year to year.

Peacebuilding is long-term work. It will take time for these non-militarized strategies to be seen as viable, first-resort options in potential conflict situations. Unless Congress acts soon, however, these programs may not have that opportunity. Without permanent authorization, these programs may not outlast the current administration. The Complex Crises Fund and Atrocities Prevention Board are particularly vulnerable.

These programs are also hampered by the environment in which they exist: in parallel to a counterterrorism doctrine that often works against attempts to build long-term peace and stability.

Our advocacy in support of these programs is critical. U.S. foreign policy remains largely militarized, yet the skeleton of a successful peacebuilding infrastructure are in place. The actions Congress takes in the next year can move U.S. foreign policy in the direction of our shared security, or it can reverse the gains of the past decade. As we work for authorization of and funding for these programs, we are keenly aware of the stakes of this debate. Changing the direction of U.S. foreign policy is not easy, nor will it happen quickly, but our experience working to advance peacebuilding over the past decade shows that it can happen.

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