How to Prevent Violence Before It Begins: A U.S. Policy Primer
The number of armed conflicts around the world has decreased in recent years, but the number of civilians affected by violence has not. In South Sudan, more than a million people fled their homes in the past year after a rise in violence along the Sudanese border. In Mexico, nearly 50,000 people have died due to drug-related violence during the past five years, according to the BBC. In Syria, the United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 civilians have died from a brutal government crackdown and unfolding civil war.
Creating Structures for Peace
The U.S. government is taking some steps to create structures to help prevent future genocides and atrocities. High-level Obama administration officials carry a personal commitment to improve U.S. policy and government systems that was forged through experience, particularly with the genocide in Rwanda. The administration has taken some initial steps, such as creating a bureau in the State Department devoted to the prevention of deadly conflict and using a Presidential Study Directive to establish a high–level Atrocities Prevention Board. The Board will bring together senior officials from across the government to improve interagency capacities and develop new tools to help prevent atrocities. This structure could also turn early warnings of violence into a rapid-response preventive strategy.
President Obama announced the creation of this Board in April as part of a comprehensive U.S. strategy to prevent genocide and other mass atrocities. Speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the president noted:
“That does not mean that we intervene militarily every time there’s an injustice in the world...It does mean we possess many tools—diplomatic and political, and economic and financial, and intelligence and law enforcement and our moral suasion—and using these tools over the past three years, I believe —I know—that we have saved countless lives.”
FCNL staff were invited to be present for this speech and lobbied for the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board. We will continue to encourage the administration to focus the Board on crafting tools and strategies to prevent violence before it begins. Using the tools of diplomacy, development and international cooperation to address root causes of deadly conflict is less costly in lives and in treasure than relying on military intervention.
Congress Needs to Budget for Peace
Even though many members of Congress say they support these peaceful tools, the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development’s budget still pale in comparison to the Pentagon’s. As Washington confronts a crippling deficit, the military’s bloated budget remains sacrosanct even as spending on diplomacy and development faces deep and disproportionate cuts.
This spring a House subcommittee voted to slash funding for the new State Department bureau focused on violence prevention; drastically cut dues to the United Nations; and eliminate the Complex Crises Fund, which gives USAID flexible funding to address emerging conflicts. Thanks in part to lobbying by FCNL and our colleague organizations, the Senate voted to fully fund these investments. We are now working to keep these levels in the final budget.
The U.S. also needs to shift its foreign policy along with its rhetoric. The war in Afghanistan, U.S. policy toward Iran and the Middle East, and an expanding U.S. military footprint in Asia illustrate that military tools continue to be favored over peaceful strategies.
While U.S. policymakers should strive to help prevent atrocities and deadly conflict in other countries, they must also examine their own government‘s complicity in violence. As FCNL supports tools such as the Atrocities Prevention Board, we will also continue to lobby to reshape U.S. foreign policy toward the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict.
Find out more about how you can be part of this work to support a world free of war and the threat of war.