Wherever armed conflict erupts, its causes can almost always be traced back to weak or broken social contracts between government and its people. The U.S. Institute of Peace sees such “state fragility” as a complex issue that needs urgent attention. USIP strives to address the challenge of fragility through new approaches to conflict prevention and by strengthening resilience that promotes a sound social compact between the state and society. USIP has joined in convening the Fragility Study Group, a non-partisan initiative aimed at improving the U.S. government’s approach to reducing global fragility.
Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, the virus has demonstrated it can infect anyone, anywhere. The disease has affected 179 countries and regions and has spread to all 50 U.S. states. Yet if the pandemic has spread far and wide, its impacts have not been the same everywhere. The disease may be taking radically different trajectories, even among wealthy countries. While it may be too early to tell how the disease’s spread will play out in specific countries, one thing is certain: the world’s fragile states—where the social contract between citizens and the state is severed or weak—are likely to be the hardest hit, and that could pose a significant risk to the global pandemic response.
As the world’s privileged cope with the COVID pandemic through telework and sheltering at home, millions of people face grim struggles for survival, packed into informal settlements or camps for people already displaced in war-torn or fragile states. Governments have missed opportunities for a stronger international response, partly because of great-power rivalries. The economically powerful Group of 20 nations and international financial institutions have made a start at buoying the world’s economy—but other multilateral forums are mired in stasis. The U.N. Security Council should act to get ahead of the pandemic in fragile states and seize the moment to advance peace in some of the world’s most intractable conflicts.
As COVID-19 cases appear in the Middle East and Africa, USIP’s Nancy Lindborg talks about opportunities for peace amid the humanitarian and security risks posed by an outbreak. “The hope is that everyone uses this opportunity to put down their arms and think differently about conflict,” says Lindborg.