Making Foreign Aid Count in Conflict Areas

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By Peter Quaranto, Vickie Ellis on November 8, 2018

Despite global gains in prosperity, violent conflicts in many parts of the world remain as complex and intractable as ever. The dire human consequences include mass population displacements, the corrosive influence of organized criminal networks, and the threat of international extremist groups. Gang violence in Central America affects U.S. national security, while civil wars in the Middle East and Africa impact our national security as well as that of our European partners. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) States of Fragility report, international donors to fragile and conflict-affected states provided nearly $70 billion in official development assistance in 2016: constituting 65 percent ‎of all such assistance. Yet, the OECD's report notes that only 10 percent of that assistance went toward peacebuilding and efforts to address the drivers of instability.

A Framework to Maximize the Effectiveness of U.S. Efforts to Stabilize Conflict-Affected Areas

In response to the growing epidemic of violent conflicts and lessons learned in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources, and the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, along with USAID and the U.S. Department of Defense, completed the landmark interagency Stabilization Assistance Review earlier this year. The Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and USAID Administrator approved and endorsed the resulting report, A Framework to Maximize the Effectiveness of U.S. Government Efforts to Stabilize Conflict-Affected Areas. The Stabilization Assistance Review recognizes violent conflicts fundamentally require political and diplomatic resolutions. This means employing an approach that ensures that political goals are connected with assistance and security efforts combined with international coordination and burden-sharing.

The Stabilization Assistance Review calls for more selective, targeted use of foreign assistance to support locally-legitimate political authorities to peaceably manage conflict and prevent violence. To do this, it lays out clear roles and responsibilities with the U.S. Department of State as the overall lead federal agency for stabilization efforts, USAID as the lead for implementing non-security stabilization assistance, and the U.S. Department of Defense as a supporting element. The report also outlines steps to establish greater discipline and accountability in how the U.S. government aligns and sequences diplomatic, military, and foreign assistance resources to advance defined and time-bound political goals in conflict areas.

A wide range of different entities have positively recognized and highlighted the Stabilization Assistance Review’s effort, including a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders, the Government Accountability Office, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, ‎a bipartisan high-level taskforce convened by the U.S. Institute of Peace, and a wide coalition of think tanks, non-governmental organizations, and private sector actors.

Engaging with Allies and Partners to Maximize the Impact of U.S. Foreign Assistance in Conflict Areas

One of the Stabilization Assistance Review‘s key findings points to the need to engage and coordinate with our allies and partners in a purposeful way to maximize the impact of U.S. foreign assistance resources in fragile and conflict-affected countries. The review highlights the importance of greater coordination among international donors to establish a division of labor that can optimize our respective strengths and limited resources. This approach has been well-received by our closest partners and allies in Europe, many of whom have undertaken parallel efforts and arrived at similar conclusions. The European Union (EU), France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (UK) have all recently completed or are in the midst of efforts to update their own stabilization policies.

Building on the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations- -led Stabilization Leaders Forum, we had the privilege of leading an interagency delegation from State, USAID, and the U.S. Department of Defense to meet with counterparts from the EU, France, Germany, and the UK last month. In meetings with our European partners, we agreed to take steps to better coordinate our planning and assistance efforts in key areas ranging from the Lake Chad Basin to Libya to Somalia to Yemen. We also agreed to work together to enhance our analysis of the political drivers of instability and more effectively evaluate the effects of our collective interventions.

Our partners’ efforts are wide-ranging and complementary to our work. The UK, for example, is analyzing the role of informal power bargains in negotiated peace processes, while France is analyzing the role of non-state armed actors in stabilization initiatives. Germany and the EU have strong analytical capabilities that align well with the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations and USAID’s advanced analytics, including ways of predicting where violent conflict may emerge. Our partners and allies can complement our efforts and together we can more effectively direct resources, share information, and coordinate efforts to address the many violent conflicts affecting our national security interests.

The Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations will continue to lead the Stabilization Leaders Forum to promote greater coordination and burden sharing on key stabilization policy priorities. This will be one of the topics at the annual forum's meeting hosted by France in spring 2019. The forum also offers a mechanism to coordinate advocacy for critical reforms at multilateral bodies, such as the UN and World Bank.

‎To facilitate better coordination, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations and the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance are also working to better track how and where our international donor partners are prioritizing their efforts and focusing their assistance. This will enable us to make smarter decisions about how to target U.S. foreign assistance resources in ways that can be catalytic. By coordinating more proactively with our partners and allies, we can maximize American taxpayer resources and more effectively address the drivers fueling global conflicts and fragility.

About the Authors: Peter Quaranto is the Senior Advisor for Peace and Security in the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance (F) and was lead author of the Stabilization Assistance Review. Vickie Ellis is a Strategy Advisor for the Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations (CSO) and is now leading CSO’s efforts to implement the Stabilization Assistance Review.