The Fragility Study Group is an independent, non-partisan, effort of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for a New American Security and the United States Institute of Peace. The chair report of the study group, U.S. Leadership and the Challenge of State Fragility, was released on September 12. This brief is part of a series authored by scholars from the three institutions that build on the chair report to discuss the implications of fragility on existing U.S. tools, strategic interests and challenges. 

The United States and its partners have not been unambiguously successful in most of the conflicts they have been engaged in since 9/11. In some cases, conflicts that had seemed settled erupted again under different guises. Combatants that had appeared defeated emerged under different names. Partners that had seemed reliable turned out to have different agendas. Successful operations have rarely led to strategic success. In short, tactics, alliances, motives, and players shift so quickly now that existing analytic “conflict lenses” sometimes make today’s conflicts look more kaleidoscopic than focused – shift your perspective just a little and the whole picture seems to change.2

In the face of this complexity, how should the U.S. government organize and position itself to protect its interests and contribute to a stable international order in the future? Some scholars and practitioners have suggested the answer lies in finding ways to be more adaptive and innovative – more like startups and venture capitalists than government bureaucracies. But what does that mean in practice? What are the systemic challenges the United States would need to overcome to prepare adequately for conflicts that realistically are not likely to be susceptible to normal planning?

Dr. Robert D. Lamb is a visiting research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College and Melissa R. Gregg is a Ph.D. student in​ the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University.

Related Publications

Countering Coups: In Africa, Use Investment to Build Rule of Law

Countering Coups: In Africa, Use Investment to Build Rule of Law

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

By: Joseph Sany, Ph.D.;  Thomas P. Sheehy

Policymakers are urgently seeking ways to reverse the erosion of democracy in fragile states exemplified by the past year’s surge in military coups in and around Africa’s Sahel region. To halt this decline, it’s vital to listen to African voices urging that international partners make the most of a powerful pro-democracy tool: increased foreign investment built upon the rule of law.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & GovernanceFragility & ResilienceGlobal Policy

Implementing the Global Fragility Act: What Comes Next?

Implementing the Global Fragility Act: What Comes Next?

Thursday, April 7, 2022

By: Susanna Campbell;  Corinne Graff, Ph.D.

Amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, the Biden-Harris administration has quietly released a new policy that commits the United States to do more to “interrupt potential pathways to conflict” and reduce threats before they arrive on our shores. This new initiative comes at a difficult time for the United States and the world, given the full-blown crises that require the international community’s urgent attention, from COVID-19 to the climate crisis. Still, it represents an unprecedented and promising commitment at the highest levels of our government to apply the important lessons learned from decades of U.S. involvement in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & PreventionFragility & Resilience

A New U.S. Plan to Avert Wider Conflicts in West Africa

A New U.S. Plan to Avert Wider Conflicts in West Africa

Thursday, April 7, 2022

By: Ambassador Terence P. McCulley;  Oge Onubogu

The United States is setting a new priority on building peace in five West African nations threatened by domestic crises and by violence that is spreading from the neighboring Sahel region. The White House named those countries among others in which to launch a new U.S. strategy to prevent violent conflicts in unstable regions. This choice signaled that stability in coastal West Africa is a vital U.S. interest — and that these five countries, while in varied stages of building democracies, can strengthen democracy and stability with more focused, long-term U.S. support. A broad consultation of scholarly and policy experts on coastal West Africa is buttressing that idea.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Fragility & Resilience

The New U.S. Plan to Stabilize Conflicts: The Case of Libya

The New U.S. Plan to Stabilize Conflicts: The Case of Libya

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

By: Dr. Elie Abouaoun;  Thomas M. Hill

Almost 11 years after ousting the dictatorship of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya remains a largely ungoverned land divided among warlord-led factions that fight with support from rival foreign countries. Libya’s instability resonates widely, permitting the trafficking of weapons to the Sahel and migrants to Europe. Repeated peace efforts have failed to help Libyans form a unified national government, yet Libyans continue to show the capacity to overcome communal divisions and build peace at local levels. That demonstrated capacity offers an opportunity that can be expanded by the U.S. government’s decision, under its Global Fragility Strategy, to direct a new peacebuilding effort toward Libya.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Fragility & Resilience

View All Publications