USIP Publication: Global Fragility Act: A Chance to Reshape International Security Assistance?
By Calin Trenkov-Wermuth and Paul M. Bisca
Full Article: https://www.usip.org/publications/2021/01/global-fragility-act-chance-reshape-international-security-assistance
When the new U.S. administration gets to work, domestic priorities will be front and center on the agenda. Preventing state fragility and violent extremism abroad may seem less urgent. But implementing the Global Fragility Act (GFA)—which aims to fulfill those goals—should remain a top priority. Successfully advancing the GFA would directly benefit U.S. national security and help establish a more values-driven foreign policy. To this end, the United States should work with allies to create a global architecture for security sector assistance built on principles of aid effectiveness adapted from development financing. A U.S.-brokered international consensus on security assistance would help stabilize fragile states, prevent violence, and increase the value of dollars spent on the GFA.
Rethinking SSA that’s ‘Stuck in the Past’
The GFA marks a new approach in U.S. policy toward fragile states. It calls for all parts of the U.S. government to work out a coherent strategy and repurpose foreign assistance toward averting conflict and violent extremism. To achieve these goals, the GFA dedicates $1.15 billion over a 10-year time horizon for programs in five countries or regions. The GFA implementation strategy directs the State Department, the Department of Defense, and other agencies to promote meaningful reforms of security and justice sector institutions that increase legitimacy and reduce corruption. They should also work together to support legitimate, rights-respecting security institutions, capable of countering threats to stability, such as terrorist groups.
A shift in U.S. security sector assistance (SSA) toward advancing the good governance of armies and police is necessary. In Africa, a 2018 RAND Corporation study revealed that SSA has been highly inefficient and may have achieved the opposite of its objectives: U.S. assistance was not correlated with reductions in civil wars, terrorism, or state repression. In Afghanistan, the U.S. allocated $83 billion in security assistance since 2002, but the Afghan army and police have failed to subdue the Taliban—the group now exercises control or influence in at least half of the country. In Iraq, despite billions invested in training and equipment, local security forces disintegrated quickly in the face of the Islamic State in 2014 and remain dependent on U.S. assistance. The result is an approach to SSA that has been labeled “stuck in the past” and fails to efficiently build allies’ and partners’ capabilities.
The same problems undermine European SSA initiatives. In West Africa, these initiatives focus primarily on expensive efforts to help local security forces achieve military victory against violent extremists. This strategy may strengthen partner forces’ operational effectiveness in battle. But by neglecting security sector governance, European SSA may also make them less legitimate. France’s Operation Barkhane in Mali costs $800 million per year, dwarfing the EU’s security sector reform programs. However, Malian forces are prone to human rights violations, and successfully staged a coup d’état in August 2020.
The GFA is thus a chance for the U.S. security assistance to break with the past. In addition to repurposing its own instruments and approach, the United States should strive to create global norms for effective security assistance. Presently, there is no common framework or forum for Washington and its allies to decide what SSA initiatives to finance; how to find out which policies work and which have failed; or simply to have a data-driven debate on obstacles to success and lessons learned. International security sector assistance thus suffers from a massive deficit in global governance. The effects are perpetual cycles of violence, instability, and state fragility—precisely the problems that the GFA seeks to address.