The Global Fragility Strategy Gets a Refresh


On April 1, 2022, the Biden administration issued a new prologue to the 2020 U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, also known as the Global Fragility Strategy (GFS). The prologue includes the following selection of priority countries: Haiti, Libya, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, and five countries in coastal West Africa: Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo. These places will be the focus of targeted violence prevention programming and new congressionally appropriated funding under the strategy. This Critical Questions explains the purpose and focus of the refreshed GFS, why these countries were selected, and what this means for the implementation of the landmark 2019 Global Fragility Act (GFA).

Q1: But first, what is the Global Fragility Act?

A1: The United States has historically taken a reactive approach to violent conflict, leaning on the military and other actors with kinetic tools that, while effective at winning battles against armed adversaries, seldom achieve sustainable peace. The 2021 collapse of Afghanistan is but one example of the limitations of military intervention in creating a durable peace and long-term stability; it was also a clarion call to improve the way the United States prevents conflict and promotes peace. The U.S. Congress passed the bipartisan GFA in 2019 in recognition of the importance of a holistic approach to conflict prevention and stabilization that integrates diplomacy, development, and defense.

Meant to equip the U.S. government with the tools and resources needed to prevent and mitigate the drivers of instability and violent conflict, the GFA originally passed as part of a broader FY 2020 appropriations package. It calls for an interagency approach to addressing fragility through several mechanisms, such as promoting good governance, strengthening civil society, and building resilience against violent extremism. The bill mandates 10-year plans to be implemented across the priority countries that were recently announced. Each country plan will be tailored to the specific local context, guided by the broader GFS. In other words, the GFA provided new tools to address underlying drivers of conflicts and the GFS—including the new prologue—provides a roadmap for utilization of those tools to be detailed and contextualized in individualized 10-year country plans.

For more details on the GFA, please see “A Policymaker’s Guide to the Global Fragility Act,” published by CSIS in 2021.

Q2: What are the main priorities of the 2020 Global Fragility Strategy?

A2: The 2020 GFS outlines four primary goals:

  1. Preventing violent conflict

Under this first goal, the United States will create and support capabilities to anticipate and prevent violent conflict. This includes acting both in the short and long term to address structural vulnerabilities and other factors that may trigger an escalation in violence. Some of the key objectives under this goal are establishing and bolstering early warning systems and actions, pursuing meaningful reforms to mitigate structural risks, protecting and promoting the rights and participation of marginalized groups, and elevating the role of local civil society and private sector actors to participate in conflict prevention, governance reform, and peacebuilding efforts.

  1. Promoting stabilization

The second goal of the GFS is stabilizing conflict through locally driven political solutions. Based on decades of conflict interventions and programs and informed by the Stabilization Assistance Review conducted in 2018, the GFS asserts that this goal is “an inherently political endeavor” that involves developing a political process toward resolving violent conflict. Key elements of this process include the meaningful participation of marginalized groups; adherence to human rights standards and international humanitarian law; and coordination between development, diplomatic, and military efforts. The objectives of this goal include cultivating partnerships with national and local actors to participate in peace processes, prioritizing civilian security and security sector reform, mobilizing public support for peace processes, and promoting economic development while reducing the influence of armed non-state actors.

  1. Creating national and regional partnerships

The sustainable impact of U.S. efforts is contingent upon having local partners who are equally invested in long-term stability and private sector growth. A distinctive objective for this goal is the establishment of “compact-style” partnership with national and local governments, aiming to guarantee mutual accountability and local commitment to agreed-upon reforms. This goal also includes enhancing the role of the private sector in promoting reform and sustainable development as well as addressing transnational threats and malign activity through regional cooperation.

  1. Aligning and integrating responses within and across the U.S. government

Finally, the GFS asserts that sequencing and coordinating efforts within the U.S. interagency is crucial. The complex factors of fragility span the humanitarian, development, diplomacy, and defense sectors. The GFS makes a commitment to improving the prioritization, integration, and efficiency of operations in fragile settings. Part of this effort also includes implementing adaptive management techniques and learning-focused analysis and evaluation. Key objectives include institutionalizing U.S. department and agency coordination across all phases of prevention and stabilization activities, creating flexible funding processes, developing a workforce with relevant skills, conducting field-level monitoring and evaluation, and aggregating this information using data analysis to adapt strategic approaches.

Q3: What is new in the 2022 prologue?

A3: Without the congressionally mandated GFS, the GFA is but a piece of legislation with aspirational goals. While the previous administration drafted a version of the GFS in December 2020, in releasing the 2022 prologue, the Biden administration has detailed how—and where—it intends to execute the GFS. It is important to note that the 2022 prologue does not fundamentally change the underlying priorities of the bipartisan GFA legislation or the 2020 GFS; however, it does outline several guiding principles and fills in some implementation-related details. The GFA was envisioned by lawmakers of both political parties as a longer-term endeavor, deliberately meant to outlast individual administrations. The fact that the GFS did not fundamentally change is an early indication that broad consensus remains on the primary goals, objectives, and approaches enshrined in the 2020 GFS.

The 2020 GFS and 2022 prologue are similar in several key ways. Both documents emphasize the importance of local solutions and the need to thoroughly understand local contexts while promoting subnational, national, and regional actors in ownership, participation, and accountability, including through “compact-like” partnerships. Learning and adaptation also feature prominently in both documents; as such, monitoring and evaluation, feedback looks, data analysis, and other tools will be used to assess performance and reorient efforts as needed over time. Lastly, both administrations have dedicated significant attention to the integration and alignment of U.S. government efforts. Both acknowledge that bureaucracy and siloes impede efforts to effectively prevent and stabilize conflicts. The 2020 GFS outlines specific roles and responsibilities of each relevant department and agency while the 2022 prologue more specifically calls for the establishment of a new, high-level steering committee within the National Security Council.

The 2022 prologue outlines three new guiding sets of principles that will inform the implementation of the 2020 GFS and its four goals. The first set of principles states that the administration will “reform U.S. Government foreign policy structures and processes.” The core principles within this category are learning from past projects and policies, streamlining bureaucratic processes to be adaptive and flexible, and aligning conflict-related mandates under the GFS through a whole-of-government approach.

The second set of principles focuses on multilevel partnerships. Through “compact-like” partnerships, efforts to address fragility will be predicated on knowledge, ownership, and accountability within the priority countries. While this section does not overtly mention the political economy analysis and elite bargaining—a key focus of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Thinking and Working Politically approach—the 2022 prologue does allude to these political dynamics through phrases like “agile technocrats” and “keen awareness of the governance challenges.” Consistent with the Biden administration’s foreign policy priorities, the 2022 prologue also affirms the United States’ commitment to multilateralism and consultation with a range of domestic and international stakeholders. This section briefly mentions sharing progress and priorities with Congress, though there is no mention of budget or resource allocations here or elsewhere in the document.

The third set of principles reflects the administration’s understanding that complex crises affect not only the places experiencing fragility themselves, but the entire world, including the United States. While the 2020 GFS only passively mentioned the pandemic and climate change, the 2022 prologue asserts that climate change and infectious diseases as well as other sources of fragility interact with each other and affect the rest of the world. These principles thus focus on integrating policy responses that advance multiple administration priorities, including democratic governance and human rights, climate change and environmental security, gender equality and social equity, and security sector reform. These priorities align with several recent Biden administration initiatives, such as the Summit for Democracy, the Pathways to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 Strategy, and the National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality. The 2022 prologue also references geostrategic competition with Russia and China, an important focus of the administration.

Q4: Why the focus on these countries?

A4: After a consultative interagency process that included stakeholders outside of government, the White House decided on Haiti, Libya, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, and five countries in coastal West Africa (Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo) as priority countries. While country selection was an evidence-based process, it was also time consuming and required substantial internal politicking and bureaucratic wrangling. As is often the case with new policies, the strategy revision and country selection process played out over a series of months and spanned the vast U.S. government interagency, with various (often competing) opinions and priorities needing to be reconciled. For example, while the promise of new sources of funding was enticing to some, the peril of engaging diplomatically with local partners in a place newly associated with the word “fragile” was discouraging to others. Though lengthy and a source of frustration inside and outside of government, this reconciliation process is critical. Successful implementation will require high-level attention, buy-in, and focus in Washington, embassies abroad, and among local leaders in the selected countries.

It is important to note that the GFA was designed to provide tools for post-conflict stabilization and violent conflict prevention. All the priority countries have experienced conflict in some form in the past and are at risk of increased fragility in the future. They were selected because of this relative state of fragility and the potential for strategic partnerships with the governments, local civil society, and other local and regional partners. Some (Haiti, Libya, and Mozambique) have active areas of instability and violence in which stabilization might be the more immediate priority, whereas others (Papua New Guinea and coastal West Africa) have some conflict but all the ingredients for expanded levels of violence and thus could use a healthy dose of prevention efforts. All the 10-year country plans will undoubtedly contain elements of stabilization and prevention. More importantly, the aspiration is that all countries—and other places that learn from the experience of GFS implementation in these places—move more toward sustainable peace over the coming decade.

Q5: What comes next?

A5: Now that the countries and subregion have been announced and reported to Congress, planning can begin in earnest. Though there are some immediate next steps, President Biden’s April 1, 2022, letter on the implementation of the GFS accurately states that “[prevention] is hard work—measured not in days and weeks, but in years and generations.” As dual tasks of developing country plans and reforming U.S. government foreign policy structures, policies, and processes commence, the Biden administration will need to elaborate on specific aspects of this prevention and stabilization agenda.

Now that they are named, relevant U.S. government officials in the priority countries will need to work with local stakeholders to develop 10-year country plans. The challenge of doing so will be thinking about and dedicating resources to longer-term efforts, while also recognizing that peacebuilding and conflict prevention require flexibility and adaptability. The plans will need to outline priorities and how that flexibility will be achieved. They will also need to set realistic goals and definitions of success, especially since some (if not most) of the priority countries are likely to maintain levels of fragility even after the 10-year period. Congress has authorized up to $200 million a year and appropriated $125 million for FY 2022 for the Prevention and Stabilization Fund; most of the funding this fiscal year will be used to develop and start implementing the 10-year plans. Congressional appropriators will be watching out for those plans and for how well GFS implementation begins as they consider future funding.

While plans are developed, the administration will need to articulate how the whole-of-government approach will work. The 2020 GFS outlined general roles and responsibilities for the Department of State, USAID, and the Department of Defense, and the 2022 prologue established the aforementioned National Security Council–led steering committee. There will need to be pragmatic discussions about leadership and working structures within each department and agency and direct lines of communication within them. In addition to communication and coordination, there will need to be clearly defined and assigned ownership over the various facets of implementation.

Finally, while both the 2022 prologue and the 2020 GFS stress proactively engagement with multilateral partners and allies, the Biden administration will need to delve into the details. Harmonizing foreign assistance and humanitarian aid should be a clear priority. The GFA allows for the creation of a new multi-donor “Global Fragility Fund,” though neither the 2020 GFS nor the 2022 prologue reference this specifically nor get into specifics about how donor coordination will function in practice. International allies and like-minded partners, such as Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom have complementary strategies and appear ready to coordinate on shared violence prevention and stabilization objectives.

Erol Yayboke is a senior fellow with the International Security Program and director of the Project on Fragility and Mobility at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Catherine Nzuki is a research assistant with the CSIS Project on Fragility and Mobility. Anastasia Strouboulis is a research intern with the CSIS Project on Fragility and Mobility.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2022 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Erol Yayboke

Erol Yayboke

Former Director, Project on Fragility and Mobility and Senior Fellow, International Security Program

Anastasia Strouboulis

Intern, Project on Fragility and Mobility