Approach to end endless wars
As Moderna and Pfizer are seeking emergency use authorization to address the COVID-19 pandemic, President-elect Joe Biden will inherit many foreign policy challenges in a post-COVD-19 world — China, Iran nuclear deal, Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. legitimacy marred by its handling of racial justice domestically to name a few.
All of this begs the question, what should a U.S. national security strategy look like in a post-COVID-19 world? For starters, the incoming administration must acknowledge that U.S. national security is dependent on the wellbeing of communities around the world. According to a Peace Direct report, it requires a reorientation toward locally-led solutions and sustainable peacebuilding. Biden can do this by investing into a tailored, situation- and location- specific mix of initiatives to address global fragility and threats to U.S. national security. It should be noted I work for Peace Direct.
Local civil society organizations have a comprehensive understanding of the social and political norms and the conflict dynamics threatening their own communities. As the Islamic State proved through their global recruitment, if local conflicts are not addressed meaningfully and in step with local peacebuilding organizations, it can quickly grow on a global scale and threaten the U.S. national security.
The growth of locally-led movements presents an enormous opportunity for the U.S. national security strategy to support sustainable peace, help prevent insurgent groups from spreading violence and protect human rights. The problem is that the current security paradigm does not give space to locally-led solutions and sustainable peacebuilding. The reconstruction, stability and security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan of the past decade demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the current national security model. The U.S. can only benefit from working with local peacebuilding organizations.
As Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, said, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing.”
Despite the blatant and costly failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, these operations have continued to serve as a template for stability and reconstruction efforts within the U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS). Outlined below are four steps that will reshape the U.S. NSS to address global fragility and other U.S. foreign policy challenges cost-effectively and sustainably.
First, the U.S. NSS should work through local peacebuilding organizations in the design and implementation to build resilient and peaceful societies and to ensure the needs of the local population are met. It means developing a national security strategy that centers around authentic relationships with local people in the country to build trust and understanding while not overstepping boundaries and adding to the animosity of U.S. presence on the ground.
Second, improve interagency coordination and shift resources from military to civilian agencies to reduce an over militarized approach to U.S. engagement with local communities, local governments and local peacebuilding organizations. By investing in and giving space to the non-military arms of U.S. national security — Department of State and USAID — the U.S. will balance its approach to addressing the threats to its national security. Where military presence is necessary, it should have limited and defined objectives that are people-centered and realistic in its understanding of the limits of success through military intervention.
Third, good governance and rule of law, conflict prevention, mitigation and response and reintegration and reconciliation programs must be grounded in community-based solutions that address root causes of insecurity and include all key actors at the local level with support from USAID and other donors. Where there are deep crises of state legitimacy, entrenched hostility between citizens and the state, and militias or groups that are committed to the use of force, such programs risk reinforcing patterns of dysfunctional, weak, unrepresentative or ineffective governance. Therefore, it is necessary for local peacebuilding organizations with established networks and comprehensive understanding of the dynamics driving the violence to lead initiatives to legitimately build civilian capacity to manage, oversee and provide security and justice while also ensuring local ownership.
Finally, supporting the leadership of trusted local peacebuilding community leaders and local communities reassure the U.S. as a viable international partner in addressing cycles of violence and global fragility. Supporting peacebuilding through genuine support of trusted local leaders is not only more effective and less costly, it is necessary in a time when the legitimacy of U.S. involvement has been weakened by its inconsistent engagement and hypocrisy of domestic policy to foreign policy rhetoric.
Local actors — particularly local peacebuilding leaders — can and should lead the design and implementation of efforts to build resilient, peaceful societies. By supporting locally-led solutions, the U.S. will not repeat the disastrous policy outcomes of Iraq and Afghanistan. It will open a path to ending endless wars and reducing a costly global U.S. military presence. This sort of national security strategy will strengthen local, national and global security and prove to be a cost-effective approach for a post-COVID-19 world.
Vahe Mirikian is the Peacebuilding Policy officer for Peace Direct. He leads their policy and advocacy in Washington, D.C., and supports the work of the organization at the United Nations. Follow him on Twitter @vahemirikian.
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