Why did Congress cut funds for peace in a time of war?

The House of Representatives voted recently to eliminate all funding for the US Institute of Peace, which plays a vital role in mediating international conflicts that no other group can. So what's behind this jaw-dropping, backward step?

It was with disbelief and dismay that the military and international security community learned that the US House of Representatives voted recently to eliminate funding for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) – the government’s only institution created to focus exclusively on international peacebuilding.

Eliminating USIP funding is a jaw-dropping, backward step. Although other national security contributors can perform some of USIP’s functions, none can perform them all in unity or has such convening power. More important, none can perform them as effectively. This is why Congress created USIP in the first place and should ensure continued funding.

Five ways Republicans will change the House

First, there is, today, a shared understanding on the battlefield and off the battlefield that we need international conflict management – a field that USIP built over the past quarter century in partnership with the military, diplomatic, development, higher education, and humanitarian sectors.

Second, the characterization of USIP – by Reps. Anthony Weiner (D) of New York and Jason Chaffetz (R) of Utah – as merely a think tank was inaccurate at best, disinformation at worst. USIP folks work in conflict zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Balkans, and throughout the Middle East, where they train military and civilian personnel. Yes, they “think,” but they transform thought into action.

Finally, a surprise amendment, debated at 1:30 AM with a two-minute roll call vote hours later, is not a responsible way for the world’s leading democracy to legislate such an important function of government as peace, especially when our nation is at war.

What motivated the House to vote this way?

The new House appears motivated by three key, even predictable, lines of reasoning. The first is a shortsighted desire to save a few dollars – whatever the cost to national security.

The second motivating mindset is the usual desire to have private firms, rather than government, do the work of peacebuilding. Ideologically, politicians can reason that they are keeping the American government out of foreign conflicts – an involvement they feel inappropriately expends US resources. (However, contracting private firms to do this work actually costs the taxpayer more.)

The third line of reasoning that appears to be motivating the new House is a policy that smacks of “big on war, soft on the causes of war and preventing, managing, and resolving it effectively.”

USIP's critical role in Balkans, Kosovo War

While it necessarily operates with a low profile, USIP has provided our nation with critical support in a number of high-profile contemporary peace operations, including those in the Balkans when I commanded Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo war as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (1997-2000). I appreciated firsthand USIP’s unique value in the national security toolkit. Its experts provided a full spectrum of national security operations, analysis, and education and training focused on Bosnia in the immediate aftermath of the 1995 Dayton agreements.

The Balkans was the proving ground for operationalizing USIP’s advanced research in peacebuilding theory and practice in non-combatant operations conducted by our nation’s military forces. In these operations, our military was required to perform crucial peacebuilding tasks that armed forces are not normally trained or properly equipped to perform and have generally regarded as distracting them from their primary responsibilities.

Crucial support for stability in Iraq

In advance of the Iraq war, based on the Balkans experience, USIP peacebuilding experts briefed the Defense Policy Board on the need for the US to develop a civilian police force to control civilian violence in the aftermath of the US capture of Baghdad. That work had not advanced before Baghdad’s fall, which was followed by months of looting, crime, and civil disturbances that fueled the insurgency.

Since then, the capacity for robust policing capability has grown dramatically with USIP’s planning and training support and help creating the international Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units (CoESPU), a vehicle to address this capability gap. Between 2005 and 2010, CoESPU trained 3,600 trainers from 20 countries and helped to establish standards for stability police operations and train evaluators. CoESPU also assisted the United Nations and African Union with police peacekeeping doctrine.

A job no one else can do

To confront the challenges before us, USIP captured the lessons from these experiences and developed the strategic planning concepts and tools required for America to stop reinventing the flat tire with each military intervention. The result was a practical guidebook for adaptive, creative conflict leadership at a critical time in our history. Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction (2009), the first-ever strategic “doctrine” for civilian components in peace operations, institutionalizes the hard-won lessons of the past, charting a course for managing the transition from war to peace.

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In this dangerous world, the value of USIP’s interagency operations, analysis, and education and training to the military, diplomatic, development, higher education, and humanitarian sectors in international conflict management cannot be overestimated.

Wesley Kanne Clark is a retired general of the United States Army. He spent 34 years in the Army and the Department of Defense, receiving many military decorations, several honorary knighthoods, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. General Clark commanded Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo war during his term as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (1997 to 2000). He is currently a senior fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center.

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