Despite our success protecting America’s homeland, extremism is spreading. Since 9/11, the number of terrorist attacks worldwide per year has increased fivefold. As long as this continues, the United States will remain vulnerable to terrorism while extremism contributes to chaos, conflict, and coercion that drains U.S. resources, weakens our allies, and provides openings for our competitors.

We need a new strategy to prevent extremism in fragile states. If we can mitigate the underlying conditions that allow extremism to emerge and spread in these states, the United States will be closer to breaking out of the costly cycle of perpetual crisis response, pushing back against the growing threat of extremism, and positioning itself effectively for strategic engagement with its competitors. Recent successes in the fight against the Islamic State make this a unique opportunity to focus on prevention. We must move from defeating terrorists to preventing extremism.

Established in response to a request from the U.S. Congress in 2017, the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States has developed a new strategy that represents the insightful and bipartisan foreign policy thinking of fifteen leading former policymakers, legislators, and other experts on how to empower fragile states to resist extremism on their own.

1. Adopt a shared policy framework for strategic prevention.

  • The United States should adopt a shared, government-wide framework for understanding the underlying conditions of, and solutions to, extremism.
  • The framework should recognize extremism as a context-specific, but inherently political and ideological, problem.
  • The framework should make the goal of U.S. policy to support and encourage leaders at all levels and in all segments of society—including women, youth, civil society, and the private sector—to listen and respond to the needs of their people.

2. Launch a Strategic Prevention Initiative.

  • Congress should authorize and fund, and the Executive Branch implement, a government-wide Initiative that aligns U.S. policy instruments, from foreign assistance to diplomatic engagement, in support of preventing extremism in the Sahel, Horn of Africa, and the Near East.
  • The Initiative should aim to promote long-term coordination between U.S. agencies working in fragile states to ensure efficacy and efficiency in the way our government funds projects that prevent extremism.
  • The Initiative should set out the roles and responsibilities of each U.S. agency for undertaking prevention, create new mechanisms for oversight and coordination, and grant policymakers flexible authorities to implement a preventative strategy that responds to evolving local needs.

3. Establish a new Partnership Development Fund to rally the international community behind country-led efforts to prevent the underlying conditions of extremism.

  • The United States neither can nor should prevent extremism alone. Our government should therefore lead the creation of a multilateral Fund to focus the international community’s attention on prevention and pool international donors’ resources behind a shared, coordinated, and sustained approach to addressing the underlying conditions of extremism in fragile states.
  • A Partnership Development Fund would provide an innovative and inclusive international coordination and financing mechanism to align programs and activities and raise and disburse funding for country-led, inclusive programs that address the underlying conditions of extremism.
  • A single, unified source of assistance might also entice fragile states that would otherwise look elsewhere for patronage.

The Task Force urges Congress and the administration to take up these recommendations and looks forward to working to implement them.

Related Publications

Conflict Prevention in the COVID Era: Why the U.S. Cannot Afford to Go it Alone

Conflict Prevention in the COVID Era: Why the U.S. Cannot Afford to Go it Alone

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

By: Corinne Graff; Laura E. Bailey

As the United States and other international actors assess the wreckage reaped by the coronavirus pandemic around the world, estimates are that an unprecedented level of aid will be needed to mitigate its worst impacts in fragile states. Given the ballooning costs of COVID-response efforts, the U.S. will need to deepen its partnerships with other international donors and local actors to bolster accountable and inclusive institutions and prevent conflicts and violence from escalating. Equally important, but less discussed, these international efforts will need to focus on managing a more complex global risk landscape that is emerging from the pandemic.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Fragility & Resilience; Global Health

America can build peace better—if it includes women.

America can build peace better—if it includes women.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

By: Amanda Long; Kathleen Kuehnast, Ph.D.

The United States is making a publicly little-noted stride this month to strengthen its response to the violent crises worldwide that have uprooted 80 million people, the most ever recorded. Officials are overhauling America’s method for supporting the “fragile” states whose poor governance breeds most of the world’s violent conflict. Yet the proven new approach—helping these countries meet their people’s needs and thus prevent violence and extremism—will fall short if its implementation fails to include and support women in every step of that effort. Fortunately, an earlier reform to U.S. policy offers practical lessons for doing so.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Fragility & Resilience; Gender

Amid COVID, We Need Enhanced International Coordination to Build Peace

Amid COVID, We Need Enhanced International Coordination to Build Peace

Thursday, July 23, 2020

By: Jonathan Papoulidis; Corinne Graff; Tyler Beckelman

As the humanitarian and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow, so does the risk that this crisis will fuel new conflicts around the world, while stymying prospects for resolving ongoing ones. The global health crisis is triggering devastating levels of food insecurity and unemployment, especially in the world’s most fragile states, where the social contract between citizens and the state is severed and societies are fragmented and vulnerable to violence. These trends will almost certainly lead to a future spike in instability across these countries, unless concerted international action is taken.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Health; Fragility & Resilience

Putting the Global Fragility Act into Action Can Save Money and Lives

Putting the Global Fragility Act into Action Can Save Money and Lives

Thursday, July 2, 2020

By: Corinne Graff; Elizabeth Hume

The U.S. government (USG) is preparing to unveil a new strategy over the coming months to tackle the underlying causes of fragility and conflict in vulnerable countries around the world. The strategy comes at an important time, just as the United States and other international donors seek to respond to rapidly increasing health, food, and other emergency needs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. It will be critical that in line with the new strategy, this aid does not inadvertently stoke new tensions.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Fragility & Resilience

View All Publications