The Senate Reaffirms the US role in the Global Community and a return to multilateral Foreign Policy

By Adotei Akwei, Africa Advocacy Director, Amnesty International USA

In the waning hours of the 115thCongress, the House passed a potentially significant piece of legislation, the “Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act of 2018(H. R. 5273). The bill’s stated aim of reducing global fragility and violence by improving the capacity of the United States to reduce and address the causes of violence, violent conflict, and fragility would be significant enough given the scope, initiatives and objectives it outlines. However, that would ignore the equally critical messages implicit in the bill: a reaffirmation of the need for the United States to play its role in helping address the challenges created by fragile states and the need for that effort to include engaging with multilateral institutions. A bi-partisan companion bill (S. 3368) was introduced in the Senate by Senators Coons, Rubio, Merkley, Young and Graham.

Among the key focuses in both bills are addressing the perennial challenge of improving communication and coordination with international partners and among various US agencies as well as strengthening transparency regarding the impact of interventions focused on building respect for human rights, good governance, sustainable development and of course stability.

The bills calls for focusing efforts on at least 6 countries that would be designated as “Stabilization Countries” or “Stabilization Regions” where current levels of violence, violent conflict, or fragility are among the highest in the world or “Prevention Countries” or “Prevention Regions”, where levels of violence, violent conflict, or fragility are lower than the levels in Stabilization Countries but where the warning signs for future violence, conflict, or fragility are significant, helping increase the chance of successful interventions like those mentioned above.

The bills are also noteworthy in prioritizing addressing the underlying drivers of fragility as opposed to just focusing on the symptoms through short term projects or responding to crises as well as a commitment to building local capacity and working with civil society as well as government. By explicitly including coordination with the Department of Defense and its military counterparts in the focus countries, the bill reaffirms the centrality of non-security focused initiatives and would be a crucial step towards rebalancing US foreign policy.

The last two years have seen the Trump administration disparage multilateral initiatives, repudiate and renege on US obligations and commitments to international treaties that the United States helped draft, undercut traditional alliances and formally and informally shred commitment to developing and implementing a foreign policy that prioritized the protection and promotion of human rights. While it may be simplistic to think that the withdrawal of US engagement and leadership in multilateral initiatives is responsible for a unsettling rise in global instability, stopping the damage being done to adherence to global human rights norms and standards will need the United States to play a positive role in 2019 and beyond. During this period Congress has been left to prevent US foreign policy from devolving into a completely short term transactional exercise devoid of any commitment to principles related to good governance or human rights.

The bills represent a critical opportunity for the 116thCongress to move from a responsive posture to a proactive one and to work with other governments and institutions to protect individual rights and dignity. The 116thCongress should pass the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act.

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