It's time to pass the Global Fragility Act

Heartbreaking images of Salvadoran migrant Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, who died trying to cross the Rio Grande, have been seared into the American conscience. It is a grim reminder that Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran migrants risk their lives to escape the endemic violence of countries that rank among the poorest and most violent.

The situation facing Central American migrants is hardly unique. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a staggering 70.8 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide because of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. Most go unnoticed by this country until they approach our borders.

These are people whose lives are endangered at home. How do we stem the gang violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle and give those fleeing violence and bloodshed across the globe physical and economic security? By the time they are drowning on our border it is too late. We must focus on the root causes of mass migration and find ways to solve these tragedies at their origin.

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One way to start down this path is to pass the Global Fragility Act of 2019. In June, it passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was hotlined to go to the Senate floor. However, it appears the bill has had one or more holds placed on it. Even if the senators release their holds, there is work to be done to iron out the differences in the Senate and House bills.

It seems short-sighted to miss this opportunity to work towards stabilizing conflict-affected areas and preventing violence and conflict. Preventing terrorist activity will ultimately enable us to avoid very costly military interventions and make us safer at home. 

This new legislation, the product of a bipartisan coalition, would require that the U.S. government, in collaboration with civil society, develop a 10-year strategy to enhance global stability.

The bill would, among other things, require that the State Department, USAID, the Department of Defense and other federal agencies develop a new strategy consisting of a coordinated and coherent approach to reducing and preventing violent conflict. This would start with identifying places where fragility poses the greatest threats to civilian security, and selecting those countries, or regions, where the U.S. can pilot innovative diplomatic and programmatic action to reduce those threats. It would support ways to improve the evaluation of the effectiveness of such programs and encourage new academic, NGOs and other partnerships to advance research and development in peacekeeping.

We need to improve our programs with evidence-based research, planning and systematic monitoring and evaluation to understand what works well, what doesn’t and what makes things worse. We need to make these findings broadly accessible to policymakers and those responsible for implementation here in the U.S. and abroad, taking care that funds are allocated to those programs that will actually prevent violence and give hope for stable and secure futures across the globe. In concert with the international community, we need to ensure that recipient governments institute the reforms necessary to make these programs work. Too often in the past, local politicians motivated either by corruption or reluctance to surrender authority have rendered many excellent programs fruitless. Other wealthy states interested in creating global stability share this interest in ensuring that their aid money has value but lack the ability unique to major powers like the U.S. to enforce the rules.

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At the same time, it is critical to listen to, involve and strengthen relationships with federal, regional and local governments; NGOs; educators; community organizations; churches; civic leaders and others in host countries. They fill in critical gaps in knowledge and resources, and must own maintaining long-term peace, stability, sustainable development and good governance.

This Global Fragility Act wouldn’t replace existing resources to respond to violent conflict. It would strengthen our ability to prevent violence by better addressing its underlying causes. It would enable us to develop and implement more effective policies and programs before violence takes root, disrupting and imperiling the lives of thousands. The House bill contains two appropriations: one to the existing Complex Crises Fund and another to a new fund, the Stabilization and Prevention Fund. The Senate bill has added a third global fund that would pool money from other countries for conflict and prevention.

Passing this bill would mean strengthening our ability to foster peace, so that refugees would not be driven to swim the Rio Grande. People like Oscar and his daughter could find hope and opportunity and build a safe future for themselves at home.

Ambassador Patrick N. Theros, a career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Qatar from 1995 to 1998. He is a strategic advisor to the Gulf International Forum and the appointed representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the United States. Dr. Margee Ensign is president of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., and former president of American University of Nigeria. While in Nigeria, Dr. Ensign developed and executed a number of peacekeeping and relief programs for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people fleeing Boko Haram.