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International Law News

International Law News, Summer 2023

U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability Under the 2019 Global Fragility Act

Steven Edward Hendrix


  • On March 24, 2023, President Biden transmitted to Congress ten-year plans to implement the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (SPCPS) in and with priority partner countries and region.
  • These plans integrate the U.S. government's diplomatic efforts, development programs, and security assistance initiatives.
  • This is part of a transformative U.S. government effort to prevent conflict, stabilize conflict-affected areas, and advance global peace in line with the Global Fragility Act.
U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability Under the 2019 Global Fragility Act
Craig Pershouse via Getty Images

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Prepared report for the Council, American Bar Association, International Law Section Annual Meeting, May 5, 2023, New York

On March 24, 2023, President Biden transmitted to Congress ten-year plans to implement the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (SPCPS) in and with priority partner countries and region: Haiti, Libya, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, and the Coastal West Africa countries of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo. These plans integrate the U.S. government’s diplomatic efforts, development programs, and security assistance initiatives. They reflect local conditions in our priority partner countries and will be adapted as conditions on the ground evolve over the course of implementation and as our ongoing and in-depth partner consultations yield new insights and solutions.

The plans fall under the landmark, bipartisan Global Fragility Act of 2019. That legislation set forth an innovative long-term approach to addressing conflict, violence, and instability globally. It recognized that America’s prosperity and national security depend on peaceful, self-reliant, and stable economic and security partners. The Act mandated cooperation with five priority countries or regions for implementation. In conjunction with the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, the Administration is now moving forward with partnership-based implementation plans for the coming 10 years.

The October 2022 U.S. National Security Strategy highlights the Administration’s commitment to this effort. It states that we are addressing the root causes of fragility, conflict, and crisis, including through the Global Fragility Act. This includes using our humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding tools more cohesively. It also calls for investment in women and girls; responsiveness to local voices and focus on the needs of the most marginalized, including the LGBTQI+ community; and steps toward broader inclusive development.

The ten-year plans are cross-cutting and connect Administration priorities to promoting stability in our partner countries. They represent a significant U.S. investment and serve as an important milestone to support our partners’ progress toward resilience and a more peaceful future. The plans will guide increased U.S. assistance to these countries and region, including through the Prevention and Stabilization Fund. They further reflect extensive discussions with stakeholders and partners, including the U.S. Congress, experts from across the U.S. government, civil society organizations, multilateral and regional organizations, the private sector, and leaders and institutions in partner countries.

These ten-year plans are designed to guide efforts across U.S. administrations to deepen partnerships around the world to prevent conflict and promote stability. Going forward, the plans will provide a framework and opportunities for the United States to engage with – and within – countries striving to escape or entirely avoid costly and dangerous cycles of conflict and instability. Each plan tailors a shared approach to the unique challenges and opportunities of the local and regional context, including specific resiliencies for peace. Through ongoing consultative processes, the U.S. will seek to elevate local voices and solutions to prevent conflict and promote stability. The State Department and USAID will regularly review the plans as they learn from their implementation and as on-the-ground circumstances evolve. This will allow the plans to adapt over time.

Beyond this, these plans represent a commitment to enhance how the U.S. government works to address conflict-related challenges overseas. It is a reform of how U.S. government departments and agencies work abroad through a whole-of-government approach that integrates U.S. diplomatic, development, and security sector engagement. The Department of State, USAID, and the Department of Defense are united in this purpose, with support from the Department of the Treasury and other agencies for a whole-of-government approach.

These institutions can build upon previous U.S. experiences to identify lessons learned and apply resources intentionally, innovatively, and strategically. The plans will be further shaped and implemented in coordination with the many other actors who can help achieve the common objectives of more peaceful, prosperous, and stable communities and nations.

Besides a new standard for bilateral engagement, the U.S. also commits to multilateralism that addresses instability and enhances global peace. The strength and impact of initiatives are multiplied when partners and allies coordinate and combine efforts. A core component of implementing these plans will be working with partners on the ground, to include the United Nations and local civil society organizations. As such, this represents the Administration’s commitment to work together as an international community.

The U.S. is taking seriously the need to integrate civil society organizations into shared efforts moving forward. The continuing support of our civil society partners – and the bipartisan backing received to date – are pivotal to success in both the short and the long run.

In this way, the goal is to elevate whole-of-government efforts in pursuit of a broader whole-of-society approach. Besides partners in the U.S. Congress and civil society, the SPCPS affords means and scope to engage broadly with the private sector, academia, the faith community, foundations, multilateral and regional organizations, governments, and diaspora communities, among other key stakeholders in each of the partner countries.

The plans are innovative in several ways. First, specific areas of innovation vary across the plans, yet several themes are consistent. The plans prioritize opportunities to increase U.S. engagement with local communities, especially in marginalized areas, to elevate the participation of those often living on the precarious front lines of fragility. Their lived experiences are central not only to understanding the impact of conflict and instability, but also to identifying ways that U.S. assistance can effectively mitigate the challenges they face.

The plans align U.S. support to the national-level plans of our partner countries, incentivizing the leadership and commitment of national government actors to tackle these challenges. he plans promote greater cooperation among international donors and partners to better align our cumulative support and resources toward shared objectives and metrics.

The SPCPS identifies the Department of State as leading strategy execution; USAID as leading implementation of non-security assistance; the Department of Defense supporting security-related efforts; and the Department of the Treasury and other agencies as providing support. The result will be a whole-of-government approach over a 10-year time horizon for our priority countries and region. The plans integrate learning and planning, strive for greater flexibility and adaptability based on local context, and improve joint coordination to multiply each other’s efforts.

So how do the plans entail the U.S. government doing business differently? The plans institutionalize the application of U.S. government research, analysis, planning, messaging, prioritization of funding, and execution of activities toward prevention and stabilization. While interagency coordination and collaboration are not new, the scope and scale of this effort are unprecedented. For example, we have teams spanning Washington and our posts overseas, a high-level Prevention and Stabilization Steering Committee, and a new working-level Secretariat. All these new structures are composed of representatives from across the interagency.

The interagency is also placing new emphasis on elevating the voices of local partners in the development of their communities and countries. Hundreds of consultative meetings and diverse perspectives have informed the plans’ development and will continue to inform their implementation. This represents a huge step forward for fostering local ownership from the start.

The plans also emphasize particularly rigorous monitoring, evaluation, and learning that will help ensure their implementation is informed by data and adapts to evolving conditions.

The four countries and one region were selected based on the legislation. In line with the Act, the U.S. government engaged in a rigorous process to identify priority partners. It utilized quantitative comparisons, qualitative assessments, and prioritization criteria based on U.S. national security interests and feasible opportunities for partner country engagement. This process also included consultations with partner country governments. Local civil society, as well as the GFA Coalition- a body of over 100 civil society organizations who pushed for this legislation- were also consulted.

The resulting partner countries and region illustrate our commitment to partnering in a variety of geographic locations to respond to a wide range of emerging and persistent challenges that can weaken state capacity and legitimacy. The plans will aim to foster locally driven solutions grounded in mutual trust and long-term accountability.

To develop the plans, U.S. embassy-based colleagues in each country collaborated with counterparts across the Coastal West Africa region. This reflects the vision for a field-led approach. They conducted broad-ranging consultations with partner countries’ national and local leaders, academia, civil society, media, bilateral partners, the private sector, and representatives of multilateral and regional organizations. The Administration also leveraged the support of U.S. diplomatic, development, and defense personnel in Washington.

Congress was consulted during the development of these plans. At multiple stages in the process, there were briefings for key Congressional stakeholders. Briefings included participants from the relevant Congressional committees named in the legislation (House Foreign Affairs Committee - HFAC, United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations - SFRC, House Committee on Appropriations for Foreign Affairs - HACFO, and Senate Appropriations Committee for Foreign Affairs - SACFO), as well as other member offices with a policy interest in the SPCPS. Congressional and staff delegations also visited several partner countries during the consultation phase.

Funding for implementation of the SPCPS will be aligned with each country or region’s 10-year plan to best reflect on-the-ground needs. Congress made available $100 million in foreign assistance in Fiscal Year 2021, $125 million in Fiscal Year 2022, and $135 million in Fiscal Year 2023 for the Prevention and Stabilization Fund. The fund supplements existing bilateral and other centrally managed U.S. assistance benefiting these partner countries, which will be further aligned with these plans as appropriate.

Additional foreign assistance resources beyond the Prevention and Stabilization Fund may also be committed to these plans. Additional foreign assistance resources may include other bilateral funding managed by USAID and the Department of State for the priority countries and region, as well as Department of Defense resources and those resources and tools available through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. With these plans, the Administration is also committed to engaging more closely with other international donors and partners to identify opportunities for complementary programming.

Since the April 2022 announcement of the priority countries/region, there has been and continues to be a considerable amount of work to advance the SPCPS’s implementation. Within the priority countries and region, our diplomats conducted hundreds of consultations at the regional, national, and local levels with partner governments, as well as with civil society and private sector representatives. These conversations informed the planning process and established an ongoing dialogue to meet the GFA’s “locally led” vision. The Administration engaged in high-level diplomacy with partner nations. Diplomacy has reinforced the focus on peace and stability in high-level dialogues with partner countries, including at the recent U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

The initiative is at the formative phase of a decade-long effort to reform how the United States engages abroad through a whole-of-government approach to promote peace and prevent conflict. Ultimately, these plans will integrate all relevant diplomatic, development, and security assistance activities in partner countries over the course of the ten-year timeframe. The Administration has moved forward with programming $100 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Prevention and Stabilization Fund (PSF) resources to carry out activities supporting the SPCPS and are planning activities for $125 million in FY 2022 PSF, which will be aligned with the ten-year plans. Examples of PSF-funded activities underway include grants in the Coastal West Africa region to build community-level resilience to violent extremism and support the role of youth in countering extremism. In Mozambique, grants for sports and arts diplomacy activities engage youth in Cabo Delgado and, with the Islamic Council and Christian Council of Mozambique, establish peace clubs to sustain community-level harmony as the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of former Renamo combatants concludes.

The Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) strategy is integrated into these plans. WPS tenets are central to the SPCPS and integrated into the country and region plans, as seen through our efforts to align the SPCPS with the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security. The initiative acknowledges that security cannot be achieved without the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women. In Papua New Guinea, for example, the ten-year plan focuses on addressing gender-based violence, promoting gender equity and equality, and supporting women peacebuilders. In Mozambique, the plan similarly aims to integrate gender equity and equality and empowerment as key components of recovery, reconciliation, and resilience by recognizing the potential for women and girls to serve as agents of peacebuilding.

The climate crisis is also integrated in the plans as a core feature of the SPCPS, in recognition of the fact that the climate crisis is both a stressor and a risk multiplier. The plans are iterative and incremental and include consideration of direct and indirect climate hazards and key vulnerabilities – and how these drivers may be linked to fragility and conflict. The plans also consider the benefits of addressing climate impacts and taking adaptation actions in efforts to build long-term peace and security.

The plans further align with the U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, which identifies the deep linkages that exist between corruption and fragility, conflict, and instability. Depending on the precise context, the overseas teams engaged relevant interagency experts, including USAID’s Anti-Corruption Task Force and the Department of State’s Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption, to understand, address, and wherever feasible account for the implications of corruption.

Similarly, violent extremism is interwoven with conflict dynamics and drivers in several of the priority countries and region. Overall, the analysis found that dangerous ideologies predicated on violence can take root and fester in communities that have been under- or ill-served by their governance and security institutions. Porous borders can also serve as conduits for the proliferation of illicit groups and activity. The plans reflect the belief that effective prevention requires investments in the economic, social, and political health of historically marginalized communities. The plans also leverage U.S. security assistance to support partner countries as they build and enhance the capabilities of their institutions and security forces to enable sustainable solutions to countering terrorism and other violent extremist activities.

U.S. Combatant Commands also play an important role. In line with the Global Fragility Act and the SPCPS, the Department of Defense is supporting the ten-year plans including by fostering civil-military engagement, building defense institutional capacity, and professionalizing security forces. Combatant Command-based personnel have been directly involved in the drafting of each plan and are incorporating the ten-year plans into theater campaign plans and additional regional strategies. The Department of Defense is reviewing planning and programming processes to incorporate SPCPS objectives and align initiatives supporting the security and military needs in our priority countries.

To measure results toward SPCPS goals, the State Department and USAID will work closely with stakeholders to monitor progress, identify best practices for implementation, and share lessons learned. Each country and region is developing a monitoring, evaluation, and learning system informed by consultations with stakeholders. This system will be designed to capture changes in the local and external context and monitor progress on the plans, which will inform real-time decision-making and course corrections.

U.S. embassies overseas are scaling up to support this work. The Department of State, in coordination with interagency partners, continues to provide significant staffing support to our embassies as we move from the plan formulation phase to the implementation phase. For instance, it has positioned a new senior regional coordinator in Ghana to cover the Coastal West Africa region, and USAID is positioning a deputy regional coordinator and five country coordinators in the region. The State Department is similarly advancing planning and consultations in Haiti, Mozambique, and Papua New Guinea through deployed officers. The ten-year approach includes opportunities to identify and mitigate personnel and resource gaps.

The Take-Away

Deep partnerships are integral to the SPCPS. The U.S. government has consulted broadly in the development of these plans. As expressed in the plans themselves, the U.S. remains committed to partnering with others who bring knowledge, expertise, and their own resources to bear. These steps are part of a transformative U.S. government effort to prevent conflict, stabilize conflict-affected areas, and advance global peace in line with the Global Fragility Act.