Captain Joseph Eranga, a Nigerian peacekeeper serving with UNMIL, holds a child during an evening patrol in Monrovia. UN Photo/Albert González Farran 12 January 2018 Monrovia, Liberia
Captain Joseph Eranga, a Nigerian peacekeeper serving with UNMIL, holds a child during an evening patrol in Monrovia. UN Photo/Albert González Farran 12 January 2018 Monrovia, Liberia

Can the Global Fragility Act Help Prevent Conflicts Before They Start?

What is the Global Fragility Act?

The Global Fragility Act is intended to address one of the major issues the U.S. government faces as it approaches conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding in what are known as ‘fragile states’. Dr. Dafna Rand, the Vice President of Policy and Research at Mercy Corps stated, “The Global Fragility Act, in just one sentence, is a new way for the U.S. government, particularly the State Department, USAID, the Department of Defense, and the White House, can think more strategically and more proactively about preventing conflict by picking a few specific countries and saying, “look, we need to align our diplomatic efforts and some of our program money.”” These efforts, as Dr. Rand states later on in the podcast episode, need to be carried out as long-term initiatives, focusing on 10-year plans rather than the short term 2 to 3-year cycles that characterize the typical lifespan of initiatives in the U.S Government. 

Two Exciting Aspects of the Global Fragility Act

Long-Term Strategy for Strategy and Stabilization

In practice, the Global Fragility Act will begin by picking a few pilot countries to focus on and write a strategy to determine how to prevent violence and reduce conflict for their specific situation. The legislation itself actually directs the government to come up with a 10-year strategy. Each of the 5-6 countries picked for the initiative will be divided into different categories – prevention and stabilization.

Funding and Bi-Partisan Support

Dr. Rand, commenting on the possibilities of the new law, added that the second exciting part of the bill was that it came with money. Rand continued, “there are often congressional bills and pieces of legislation just telling the government or the State Department to do stuff, but coming with resources really was an eye-opener. So, the State Department and USAID are watching because there’s nothing like resources to focus the mind.” The Global Fragility Act seems to have opened up a new landscape of opportunity as both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats alike, came together to pass the bill into law.

Fragile States and Why They Need Support

When asked about the reason these ‘fragile states’ need U.S. support, Dr. Rand responded, “since 9/11, the U.S. government amazingly has spent $5.9 trillion fighting terrorism, right? There has been a war on terrorism since 9/11/2001, but that is still a lot of money. And yet, terrorism continues to be a problem.” Rand continues to say that one aspect of the ‘fragile states’ that really worries foreign policy and national security thinkers is that terrorism tends to come from states in fragile contexts about 90% of the time. For groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram – both the individuals perpetrating the acts and the havens in which they thrive tend to be found in fragile contexts. Neglecting these fragile contexts will only continue to produce a negative impact on the international stage.

For a more in-depth look at the Global Fragility Act, listen to Global Dispatches podcast episode titled Can the Global Fragility Act Help Prevent Conflicts Before They Start? | Dr. Dafna Rand wherever you listen to podcasts. You can access the episode using the links below:


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Mark Goldberg: (00:03)
Welcome to Global Dispatches, a podcast about foreign policy and world affairs. I’m your host Mark Leon Goldberg, editor of UN Dispatch, and in this show we discuss topical global issues, have conversations with foreign affairs, thought leaders, and Newsmakers and give you the context you need to understand the world today. Go to to learn more and now on with the show.

Mark Goldberg: (00:31)
In the midst of impeachment drama unfolding in Washington D.C. A rare thing happened. Republicans and Democrats came together and in an overwhelmingly bipartisan move supported a bill known as the Global Fragility Act. The act became law when it was inserted into a spending bill that passed Congress and was signed by the president at the end of the year. In brief, the Global Fragility Act is intended to address a key gap in how the U.S. government approaches conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding in what are known as fragile countries.

Mark Goldberg: (01:11)
The bill was broadly supported and in part conceived by advocates in the global humanitarian and relief community. And on the line with me to discuss this new Global Fragility Act is Dr. Dafna Rand vice president of policy and research at Mercy Corps. She’s also a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human rights, and labor in the Obama administration. We kick off discussing the act itself before having a longer conversation about how U.S. approaches to conflict prevention in post-conflict reconstruction have sometimes fallen short and how this act may usher in a new whole of government strategy around conflict prevention and peace building. The Global Fragility Act is one of those under the radar policy stories that has big potential to change how the U.S. government and the U.S. Foreign Policy bureaucracy approaches parts of the world that beset by instability so I’m glad to bring this story to you.

Mark Goldberg: (02:15)
And a quick note to premium subscribers and those who want to become premium subscribers. I still have a couple of slots left, in my January and February office hours. It’s been really interesting to me to hear what you are working on to hear what’s on your mind. If you want to schedule one of those time slots. If you are a premium subscriber, just check the message I sent you via the Patrion page. And if you want to become a premium subscriber, go to or you can follow the links on

Mark Goldberg: (02:49)
And today’s episode is brought to you by Northwestern University’s Online Master’s Program in Global Health. You can learn how to make a meaningful difference in places where it is needed, the most go-to and click on the ad to learn more or go to and now here is my conversation with Dr. Dafna Rand of Mercy Corps.

Dafna Rand: (03:20)
The Global Fragility Act, just in one sentence is a new way for the U.S. government, particularly the State Department, USAID, um, even DOD, the Department of Defense and the White House. To think more strategically and more proactively about preventing conflict, um, by having greater strategy and picking a few countries and saying, look, we need to align our diplomatic efforts and some of our program money. Um, so that, that’s it in a short statement and it, you know, so that’s, that’s what it’s going to do.

Mark Goldberg: (03:50)
Well how will it do that though?

Dafna Rand: (03:52)
So there are two really exciting parts of this piece of legislation and the first part is kind of maybe boring and inside the beltway but really matters to people working in these buildings, which is just picking a few countries, these pilot countries up to six and saying look, we’re going to pick these countries whether it’s Yemen or the Central African Republic or Kenya and we’re going to write a strategy on how we prevent violence there and how we reduce conflict. You know, stepping back a little bit from the day to day humdrum of what we’re doing now and we’re going to present it to Congress and we’re going to report on our efforts toward achieving it. Um, so the legislation actually directs the government to come up with a 10-year strategy on each of these five or six countries and very smartly divides the different types of countries into prevention cases. And then stabilization.

Mark Goldberg: (04:41)
That’s what I was going to say, cause you mentioned Kenya and Yemen in the same breath. Uh, you know, Yemen is, you know, where there is a hot civil war ongoing. Kenya is a country that you know, in the last 15 years, 10-15 years has experienced some violence. But you know, it’s not a place where there is a conflict ongoing.

Dafna Rand: (04:59)
Right. So, the idea here is written pretty broadly, which to foreign policy wonks like me can be a little bit mind numbing. But the idea was to get at the fact that there’s different types of problem sets here. When you talk about the rise of global conflict and violence. So, you have situations like Kenya where every couple of years, usually around an election cycle, but sometimes not. There might be a spike in inter-ethnic communal violence, usually civil conflict, rarely of the international sort. And then you have very different case studies like Bolivia or Syria where you know, in this point, in both of those wars there’s major international powers intervening. So, it’s a layered conflict with an international level, a state level, civil level, and even sub state. Right. And local level violence. So, we want to make sure that we don’t, you know, drive the same broad-brush strokes and we recognize that a strategy will have to look very differently in those two types of cases.

Mark Goldberg: (05:49)
So the act requires the government is, presumably the to draw up strategies around a certain number of specific countries that are fragile?

Dafna Rand: (06:01)
Right. So, it doesn’t specify the countries. It says that the State Department and USAID and a high-level person appointed by U.S. State Department probably will get to pick these countries, which is really key because if you let Congress pick, you know, every Congressman would have their own country of choice. Um, so has to draw up and report to Congress on a 10-year plan for addressing violence and fragility. We left it broadly – fragility has kind of a, you know, a jargony word. I’ll be honest. Um, I think the development folks really like the word fragility because it encompasses development interventions, economic assistance and, but in some cases, you know, there’s a programmatic element. There’s going to be a foreign assistance project and some cases there’ll be more diplomacy that’s necessary. So, you know, the idea is to have to not pre-prescribe for the State Department or people writing the strategies what combination of tools in their toolbox they are going to need to use.

Dafna Rand: (06:53)
Um, but for the State Department and for the government to have ownership over this strategy and have to continuously report back against it, which is sort of novel because if you think about the way the government works, it’s often in one, two, three year cycles cause that’s the rotation of the personnel to do. But to say over 10 years we want to reduce violence or conflict by this amount and we’re going to report on our measurement. We’re going to measure our effectiveness as the new and novel way of looking at foreign policy.

Mark Goldberg: (07:19)
When you say fragile, like a fragile country, what do you mean? I mean, I know for example, there are organizations that put out like fragile state indexes. What is meant by the term fragile in the, in the context of, you know, international development or international relations or just, you know, what does that mean?

Dafna Rand: (07:38)
Yeah, the international development community has indices that add after sort of a fragility index, but broadly speaking, it’s a combination of socioeconomic factors, inequality factors, weak state, institutional factors and repressive regime factors and just basic conflict at every level that would describe any share and would also describe a Yemen, right? So, there’s many different types of countries that would fall into sort of the fragility index. Um, you know, people will criticize this because let’s be honest, no state wants to be called fragile. It seems sort of pejorative and kind of weak. Um, so one word that we’re using more and more at Mercy Corps, we talk about fragile contacts. We talked less about fragile States and more about these parts of the world. They’re often kind of regions or provinces within states where, you know, you don’t really see government anywhere. There are often militias running around the delivery of services could be like ISIS is a delivering service one day and some other jihadist group another day.

Dafna Rand: (08:35)
Right. So, a lot of the places where Mercy Corps works or in these contacts where the state is not really relevant as an organizing principle. So, these are the types of places in the world that we’re talking about. Northeast Syria, Northwest Syria, most of Syria is fragile, so and then a lot of African countries. Um, and, and, and even in non-fragile States there could be these pockets. So even in Nigeria, which is the biggest country in Africa, we look at Northeastern Nigeria, sort of a fragile context because they are, Boko Haram is in a bitter battle with the Nigerian armed forces to control, you know, who governs, who deliver services, who even controls the roads. And daily there’s a shift. And who’s at the checkpoints up there?

Mark Goldberg: (09:17)
Well, so why is it that fragile States are a fragile context, as you say, are a problem for the United States? Or why is it something that the U.S. Foreign policy should be in engaged in, in sort of helping to resolve or increase the relevance of a state institutions in those places?

Dafna Rand: (09:36)
Sure. So, since 9/11, the U.S. government amazingly has spent $5.9 trillion fighting terrorism, right? Like we know this, we know there’s been a war on terrorism since 9/11, but that is a lot of money. And yet the terrorism, you know, continues to be a problem. So, one aspect of the fragile context that really worries a foreign policy and national security thinkers is that the continents and the overlap between where terrorism come from, the tends to come sort of usually in probably over 90% from these fragile contexts, both the individuals perpetrating the acts, but also the ways in which there’s havens for groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, they tend to thrive in some of these more fragile contacts. Again, you know, some state might have authority and control over institutions and all, but you know, a tiny part of their, their country. And that’s where, of course the terrorists will thrive. So, this has become, you know, uh, after almost 20 years of fighting terrorism and recognition that it’s the nature of these incubating environments that’s really part of the problem. And that the terrorist will take advantage of these places where there’s no real, uh, government authority, no real official monopoly over the use of force and where people are, you know, willing to accept whoever will just turn on the lights, you know, give them minimal roads, deliver some sort of basic services,.

Mark Goldberg: (10:54)
So it’s like a national security argument that um, you find most persuasive here?

Dafna Rand: (11:00)
No, I mean, as a Mercy Corps executive, I’m committed to helping these contacts because that is what we do. You know, I mean the development community, um, is not bound only by the national security argument. We’re committed to improving and developing and, um, delivering humanitarian aid and these places, Mercy Corps has, you know, increasingly are distinctive as an organization, as we are that humanitarian organization that is just willing to go regardless of the security risks, regardless if there’s kind of no government in sight. And so, we’ve become as an organization and expert in these parts of the world. Um, and the bulk of our work is in these parts of the world. So, Mercy Corps. And then the reason we’re super aware, I began working on this bill so many years ago, we started working on it three years ago, is that even as a humanitarian authorization, we were shocked by how much the world was paying on the back end of these conflicts.

Dafna Rand: (11:44)
So, you know, more support. We get all these grants, but to be honest, we’d rather not be a booming industry. Right? Humanitarian aid has soared because there’s just, you know, millions and millions of people all around the world in the past 15 years who are caught up in some of these conflicts. So just last year, Mark Lowcock, who’s the head of the U.S. humanitarian agency estimates that a hundred-

Mark Goldberg: (12:05)
He’s been a previous guest on this podcast on this very podcast.

Mark Goldberg: (12:07)
Oh he is? Okay, great. So, he’s predicting that in the coming year, 168 million people around the world are going to be in need if that sort of highest level of UN humanitarian assistance. Okay. So, most of the world will take that money and we’ll deliver the services. But honestly that’s giving a food that’s a Band-Aid that’s giving out water. That’s, that’s epost, that’s after the problem. So, as an organization, we started looking for what’s the solution? What are the root causes of this?

Dafna Rand: (12:29)
Um, to real, the real detriment of the civilians. And so around three years ago, we sat down with members of Congress. There were also looking at this from a national security angle and from frustration, honestly, by how much the U.S. was investing in the war on terrorism without much return and with burgeoning new terrorist organizations. And we had a real meeting of the minds where we were kind of a credible voice that said, we’re happy to be a booming industry. And the, you know, humanity interesting, very square has grown exponentially, but we’d prefer that there not be all these people caught up in the crossfire of war and conflict. So, let’s try to do something about it and let’s try to turn us foreign policy toward this lens of stopping violence and conflict.

Mark Goldberg: (13:14)
So if you are back at the State Department and you are the officials sort of in charge of managing the um, you know, global fragility strategy, could you maybe just kind of dial in on some examples of what that strategy in practice would look like? Like what would be elements of this strategy in place in a fragile country or fragile context?

Dafna Rand: (13:41)
Great. Yes. So first I add at the second really key part of this bill. And the part that really wowed a lot of people in the country was that it’s come with money. And so, there’s often, you know, congressional bills and pieces of legislation just telling the government the State Department to do stuff. But coming with resources will really was an eye opener. It was kind of a wakeup call. So, the State Department and USAID are watching because there’s nothing like resources to focus the mind. If I were back at state, I would immediately start thinking about what kind of countries fit into these two categories, preventing conflict and then stabilization. So, after conflict or during conflict, how do you stabilize different communities? And then I would start thinking, you know, where there are countries that I want to nominate to be one of these new pilot priority countries for this Global Fragility Act where I can work on a strategy with my colleagues at USAA, with my colleagues at DOD.

Dafna Rand: (14:29)
I look at countries like Niger, like Nigeria, like Kenya where there’s different types of violence in age, you know, and in Niger the issue is really a jihadist terrorist groups. Um, and in Nigeria there’s all kinds of conflict including Boko Haram conflict and ethnic tension conflict and also conflict between pastoralists and herder community. So anyway, I would look at, I would think about the different countries I wanted to nominate and then try to bring together the folks in DOD who were hand training security services, the folks at state who are looking at human rights, the folks who were looking at economic development and see if we can synthesize all of the different parts of the U.S. intervention in that country. Um, and, and really it would be exciting because these parts of the government talk to each other, but we’re usually just working on the day to day.

Dafna Rand: (15:18)
Right. And the government just working on kind of their urgent. Now you know, what’s the next big fire burning in that country. But to come together with a goal of over 5-10 years trying to reduce conflict or trying to reduce violence would be a new way of working. And then I would start thinking through, you know, what more evidence do we need? And that’s a big part of this bill. What evidence do we need? What research do we need about what works? Not all of these programs are reducing violence or preventing conflict. Um, so I would solicit some great researchers, you know, maybe even mercy Corps researchers to conduct some studies, um, empirically with quantitative methods over which parts of the foreign assistance packages have worked over time. There’s too little of that kind of after-action accountability in the U.S. foreign assistance apparatus. And it needs to be driven by state department, USAID asking like, we’re not just going to give out money. We’re going to ask which of your programs that you have implemented have worked the best and have been the most sustainable. So that’s what’s, that would be exciting to me if I were back at the state department.

Mark Goldberg: (16:13)
I’m like a firm believer that people in general discount the role of bureaucratic politics and crafting foreign policy. Um, what are ways, for example now in like Niger, um, in which bureaucratic politics are undermining overall goals around fragility? And how would this act, you know, shift the, um, bureaucratic motivations to try to, as you do like work together, create this kind of whole of government approach that you, that you describe? Like what’s, what’s, um, the problem now in terms of bureaucratic politics?

Dafna Rand: (16:47)
Okay. So, let me give a Niger example. That’s a good one. So you have a situation where it’s very clear to the department of defense and those who look at threats, that there’s a lot of really bad, scary actors who are endangering the security of Nigerians first and foremost, and making their lives miserable, but also endangering regional and international security coming out of Niger. So they’ve invested a tremendous amount of money in the hundreds of millions in new security assistance programs that will train the Nigerian officials working with others, working with Europeans, with French and other European partners to train Nigerian security officials to fight some of these terrorist groups. Right? And that there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you don’t do that, and at the same time look diplomatically, which ministries is in, the ministry could actually improve the education system could actually deliver, take out the trash, turn on the lights, pave the roads, um, work on health issues and those same environments that are, where some of this radicalization is spreading.

Dafna Rand: (17:42)
You’re losing an opportunity. You know, you are first of all, creating incredible imbalance between the in the military and Niger and the poor beleaguered civilians. And at the end of the day, we know that the grievances that drive some of these types of conflicts like in Niger the first place are really civilian grievances. They have to do with really basic things like who was going to help me pay for school and why isn’t the government delivering me school for my kids? Um, and why is there so much inequality and why is there so much corruption? Those are the things that are driving the grievances and we know that and that’s what the research has shown. So bureaucratically this bill will help those at the state department, USAID call up Africom and say, look guys, we got to sit down at the table because for every unit that you’re training, we need to make sure that when you send those New Jersey and security forces up into the regions where ISIS and other bad guys are hiding out and really taking some of these civilians hostage, we create a complimentary development plan and an even a diplomatic plan to help the civilians who are living under these, um, these threats.

Dafna Rand: (18:44)
So that’s what’s exciting about this. It will give new resources and new kind of congressional, uh, uh, egging on, um, for lack of better term. And often Congress will give more resources and more, you know, and more championing of the DOD levers in the, in the tools and the, in the toolbox and less on the diplomatic and then development.

Mark Goldberg: (19:03)
And to what extent does the act, um, enable or encourage the U.S. government ‘s work in partnership with other governments or the United Nations or civil society actors?

Dafna Rand: (19:17)
Yeah, there’s actually a language in the bill and this part of the bell was championed directly by Senator Graham himself, who was one of the originally co-sponsors. So one of the key Republicans who helped bring this bill to passage. And in it, it has, it authorizes a new multi-donor fund. And the idea here is that the U.S. could use its, uh, its leverage and its leadership to get other donors. So other countries that have money to give to foreign assistance, um, to, to, you know, to write in some money and to work together. And this seems like a really exciting opportunity. We don’t know if this State Department under secretary Pompeo or this USA ID under Mark Green will seize on this authority. Um, we haven’t talked much with them yet about whether they’re excited about it, but Congress is saying, you haven’t this new authority for this new fund. Um, and imagine if like the MCC was more of a global fund. That’s what this could be.

Mark Goldberg: (20:05)
So the MCC is the millennium challenge corporation. The idea here is to create a, uh, a fund that the U.S. would contribute to, but also because the U.S. is contributing it to it, other countries, other donors may contribute to it as well. And that might be used for prevention and, and other, you know, antifragility operations more broadly. Is that right?

Dafna Rand: (20:29)
That’s right. So the idea is to kind of use-

Dafna Rand: (20:32)
Like a global fund kind of model.

Dafna Rand: (20:33)
A global fund kind of model and to kind of all work together on the same countries, the same ambitions, to coordinate resources to make sure that we’re not overlapping and let’s say all investing in education in Niger, you know, to make sure that some countries are investing in Education, some in health, some in housing, some in infrastructure, right. But it is again, complimentary, organized, efficient, um, and you know, and just there’s chains of communication.

Mark Goldberg: (20:58)
So the bill was just passed at the end of 2019. Um, what, what comes next? What are some inflection points for the Global Fragility Act in the coming weeks and months that you’ll be looking towards to see how it will evolve. And you know, in the near future.

Dafna Rand: (21:16)
Right? So we, mercy Corps and some of our partners, we amassed a coalition of 70 civil society groups, you know, from right from left, religious affiliated groups or um, and all kinds of groups. And so we’re going to continue our coalition work cause we’re going to keep on pressing the executive branch now to make sure that they are taking Congress’s intent and they implement it. So the first thing we’re looking for is high level leadership, probably at the State Department at the under-secretary or so level. Again, back to bureaucratic politics being everything we really need, you know, a supervisor at the State Department to make sure that this works out well. We can’t have these bureaus fighting over the money. So that’s the first point that we’re going to be pushing for. I said, you know, to appoint and to ask, uh, to make sure that there’s someone designated by the secretary of state who’s at the under-secretary level, um, who can really coordinate this and own this and report back to Congress on that.

Dafna Rand: (22:05)
So that’s step one. Um, and then second thing we’ll be looking for is to make sure that all the different parts of State Department and DOD and NSC are all involved in this. Um, it would be a real waste to go back to business as usual if it got kind of sent down and delegated to a couple people, you know, here and there and the bureaucracy. So we want to make sure that, you know, everyone’s working on this together. And as an outside civil society coalition, we have our ways of pressuring even the executive branch. Um, so that’d be the second. And then, you know, we’re hands off on the, on the country selection. That’s up to the U.S. government to decide there are many different countries that would benefit from this kind of spotlight and this attention and these resources. So we’ll be looking to see how they sell back to the countries in the conflict prevention category and those countries in the stabilization.

Mark Goldberg: (22:49)
When would that selection happen?

Dafna Rand: (22:52)
We’ll be looking for them for the, uh, State Department to report back to Congress in a timely manner. And they are split and they, it requires the executive branch to develop its strategy by September 15th, 2020. So they have around nine months.

Dafna Rand: (23:05)
Hmm. Okay. So that’s a, that’s when we’ll know what the first iterations of the strategy might look like.

Dafna Rand: (23:12)
Yes. And I should say that one of the other, um, indicators that this is succeeding is it’s very, very clear in the bill that the Global Fragility Act is not just about foreign assistance, but it’s not just about these programs and the money, but it’s about diplomacy. And this is the trickier part of oversight Congress always wrestles with how do you do oversight over what diplomacy is going on at the State Department with them? Private messages are, they’re being whispered around the world, right? By us diplomats. And so Congress and the civil society groups like Mercy Corps expect or an accounting, what kind of messages did you pass to those ministers in Niger? Or what did you tell the government of Kenya about election prevention? Right. And so this is novel, and this is the hardest part I think will be for to demand accountability by Congress over the diplomatic efforts that we’re involved in the strategy.

Mark Goldberg: (23:58)
Uh, well definitely. Thank you so much for your time. This is interesting. Helpful.

Dafna Rand: (24:01)
Sure. Pleasure talking to you.

Mark Goldberg: (24:05)
All right, thank you all for listening. Thank you to Dr. Dafna Rand, that was very helpful and also a really good, I think explanation of how and why bureaucratic politics plays such an important role in foreign policy making. There’s actually a really good book. It’s probably one of my favorite and most useful foreign policy books or us foreign policy books. It has a terribly boring name. It’s called Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy, but trust me, it explains how Washington works. It’s by Morton Halprin and Priscilla Clapp. It was published a few times over the years with updates, but I’ll post a link to it on the homepage. It’s a great book and kind of explains the sausage making process of foreign policy. It’s very interesting and again a do feel free to book an office hour time slot with me. Happy to chat with you about whatever is on your mind, uh, to access that. Just go to and become a premium subscriber. Thank you.


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