Our country’s global war on terror has failed to reduce terrorism. Congress needs to fully invest in conflict prevention. This is the conclusion of a taskforce on extremism in fragile states which released an interim report early in September.
The report, Beyond the Homeland: Protecting America from Extremism in Fragile States, stated “the time has come for a new U.S. strategy.” The report was written by a panel mandated by the U.S. Congress in 2017 as a follow up to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
Despite U.S. counterterrorism efforts, violent extremism has grown steadily over the last decade. While no new large-scale attacks have occurred within U.S. borders, violence has increased across the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel.
According to the report, violent extremism emerges primarily in fragile states. In these states, preventing violent conflict requires increasing citizens’ trust in government. The taskforce said that attempting to defeat individual terrorists using military force will not end violence.
In fact, as we have written before, the United States’ militarized counterterrorism policy leads to increased violence and instability. Airstrikes, drone attacks and military aid have failed to create sustainable security. They have instead increased poverty, poor governance and corruption, which give rise to violence.
What is needed instead is a peacebuilding approach that addresses the root causes of violence. The taskforce report calls for a strategy to help fragile states become more resilient.
“Effective measures to reduce extremism,” the report states, “should both make people’s lives better and demonstrate that their government is actively working to improve their lot.”
Such measures include “alleviating real and perceived injustice,” fostering political inclusion, and involving communities in efforts to prevent violence. This approach is more effective and far less expensive than military intervention, saving $16 for every $1 invested.
A follow-up report detailing how a preventative strategy can be implemented will be released in January 2019, but with this week’s preliminary report, the message to Congress is clear: prevention works.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan coalition of representatives and senators introduced the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act (H.R. 5273, S. 3368). If passed, the bill would strengthen the capacity of the United States to address root causes of fragility and violence by developing a long-term, government-wide prevention strategy.
We call on our legislators to heed the conclusion of the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States: it is time to prioritize prevention.