Pennies for Peace but Peace Is Possible

September 2nd, 2011 - by admin

Friends Committee on National Legislation – 2011-09-02 01:24:38

Peace Is Possible
Friends Committee on National Legislation

WASHINGTON (AUGUST 2011 Issue) — For nearly a decade now FCNL’s Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict program has worked to shift US policy and resources toward preventing, rather than fighting, wars. Based on current news headlines, you might not think this work is getting very far. The United States is now fighting three wars and still dedicates around 40 percent of the budget to the military and only 2 percent to tools to prevent war.

Fortunately, some good news for peace does lie beyond the war headlines. Ironically, while the US continues to wage war in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, support in Congress and the administration for FCNL’s peaceful prevention agenda is also growing and resulting in positive policy changes.

For example, last year the Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling for improving the United States’ ability to help prevent genocide and mass violence. FCNL led this lobbying and is now working for more substantive legislation and support for specific prevention tools like the Civilian Response Corps, the Complex Crises Fund, and UN peace operations.

Change is also underway within the administration. Late last year the State Department released its first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. This new strategy document for US foreign policy specifically embraces “conflict prevention as a core civilian mission” of the State Department and includes many proposals for which FCNL has advocated.

More policymakers than ever before agree with FCNL that war is not the answer and are looking for non-violent ways of addressing global problems before they erupt into violence.

Even military leaders such as Admiral Mike Mullen and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have repeatedly called on Congress to increase funding to strengthen diplomacy and development and to help reverse the militarization of US foreign policy. They know the true costs of war — in lives and treasure — and how much could be saved by averting it.

The concept that the US should shape its foreign policy and invest resources in preventing, not fighting, wars is now increasingly accepted in Washington and beyond. But this welcome political discourse has not yet been matched by substantive policy change. And the 112th Congress has brought new challenges.

This year, the House has already voted twice to eliminate the US Institute of Peace, the only congressionally mandated body dedicated to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.

Meanwhile, President Obama has continued with failed war policies in Afghanistan and even launched a new war in Libya. These policies are not only costing lives, they are also fiscally irresponsible.

Why does the US continue to invest in fighting, not preventing, wars? One reason is that policymakers and the public often cannot imagine other options. Too many members of Congress still misunderstand critical peace tools like the United Nations and foreign aid. And too few constituents in their districts advocate for adequate funding for diplomacy, development, and international cooperation.

We believe a majority of policymakers and the US public would support FCNL’s peaceful prevention of deadly conflict agenda if they were better educated about it. We’ve come a long way in building support for the concepts of this agenda. Now we need your help to turn this support into lasting policy change.

Please share the information with your community. write and visit your members of Congress, and join us in educating others that peace is not only possible, it can also be US policy.

Pennies for Peace:
Funding the Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict

Friends Committee on National Legislation

WASHINGTON — When Congress is looking for ways to cut spending, the international affairs budget — which funds the State Department, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and contributions to international organizations like the United Nations — is often the first on the chopping block.

Many members of Congress claim these programs are wasteful or unimportant for US national interests. In fact, these programs are critical for preventing deadly conflict and averting much more costly crises and, at just 2 percent of the total discretionary budget, they are a bargain.

Congress appropriates money for the international affairs budget each year through the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. For the past several years, FCNL has been lobbying in support of three specific programs in this bill that can help prevent war: the Complex Crises Fund, the Civilian Response Corps, and US dues to the United Nations.

These programs cost just a tiny fraction of the overall federal budget, yet they are smart investments that could save billions of dollars and thousands of lives.

A Contingency Fund for Peace
Imagine a country with deep-seated tensions over inequity, land, ethnicity, and political power. After the results of a democratic presidential election are disputed, the country erupts into violence. The State Department wants to support the efforts of regional mediators, yet it takes several weeks to find enough money even to purchase plane tickets for them.

Such a situation sounds impossible, yet this is what happened after the 2007 elections in Kenya.

Now, thanks in part to FCNL’s lobbying over the past five years, the State Department and USAID have a Complex Crises Fund that can be tapped quickly to address emerging crises.

Since the fund was first created in 2010, it has been used to support peacebuilding programs in Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, Yemen, and other countries. As another round of Kenyan elections approach in 2012, the fund will be an important part of US efforts to help prevent renewed violence there. That is, it will be if it survives this year’s appropriations process.

The House appropriations bill for 2011 zeroed out funding for the Complex Crises Fund. After an intense round of lobbying by FCNL and partner organizations, the fund was restored at $40 million, a 20 percent cut from 2010 levels.

FCNL is lobbying to increase funding in 2012 to $75 million, as requested by President Obama, but the House is once again preparing to cut all funding for the Complex Crises Fund in its 2012 funding bill.

Civilians Helping Prevent Violence
Another small investment that can save lives and treasure is the Civilian Response Corps (CRC). The CRC is a group of trained civilians that the government can send to countries at-risk of or recovering from violent conflict to help bolster diplomatic and peacebuilding efforts.

FCNL played a central role in lobbying for creation of the Civilian Response Corps in 2008, which has been run by the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS). The State Department is now planning to transform this office into a standing bureau dedicated to conflict prevention.

The corps is already making a difference in the lives of people around the world. A group of CRC members was sent to what is now the new Republic of South Sudan as the country moves through a volatile independence process.

Corps members support the US embassy there and are also active in the rural provinces, coordinating with local governors, community groups, and religious leaders to identify and help resolve potential flashpoints of violence. This CRC deployment is playing an important role in supporting peace and helping mitigate violence in a new Sudan.

Unfortunately, Congress is poised to drastically cut the CRC’s budget. The account that funds the CRC and S/CRS received just $40 million in fiscal year 2011 — much less than the $150 million it received in fiscal year 2010.

For fiscal year 2012, the president requested $92.2 million. Unfortunately, the House funding bill would cut the fund to just $35 million. FCNL is lobbying hard to protect funding for this important new tool for preventing deadly conflict.

Keeping the Peace through International Cooperation
UN peace operations play an essential role in preventing the outbreak or renewal of violent conflict. When the United States fully pays its dues to the United Nations, it supports these missions and also signals to the rest of the world that our country will work as part of the international community instead of “going it alone” when it comes to addressing threats to global peace and security.

The past few years have been good for US-UN relations. In 2009, the Obama administration requested and Congress appropriated almost $1 billion to pay off US debt to the United Nations. Unfortunately, in the final fiscal year 2011 appropriations, Congress cut funding for international peacekeeping by 20 percent from 2010 levels.

The $1.9 billion appropriated for 2011 may be just enough to keep the United States out of debt to the U.N. for another year. Unfortunately, the House bill for 2012 underfunds U.N. contributions by hundreds of millions of dollars and would put the United States back in debt to the international community.

In addition, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has held several hearings decrying U.N. “corruption” and demanding that US dues be withheld to force reform. While we agree that the UN has room for reform, continuing active US engagement is the best way to support reform. If the United States doesn’t pay its dues, it has less legitimacy when such issues are discussed.

Several bills and amendments to defund the United Nations have already been introduced in the House, and we expect to see more before the year’s end. FCNL continues to lobby, along with many of our partner organizations in Washington, to ensure that the United States pays UN dues on time and in full.

Leaders including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and members of Congress from both major parties have pointed out the imbalance in the US foreign policy toolkit.

The Pentagon budget is bloated, while diplomacy, development, and international cooperation are underfunded. By lobbying Congress to fund these small but cost-effective accounts, FCNL is moving US policy toward preventing, not fighting, wars.

Take Action!
Write your members of Congress and urge them to fully fund the president’s requests for the Complex Crises Fund, the Civilian Response Corps, and UN contributions in the fiscal year 2012 budget.