The United States’ New Global Fragility Strategy (GFS)


TACOMA, Washington — Violent conflicts have been on the rise for the past 30 years and now face further escalation with the debilitating effects of COVID-19 on fragile states. Almost two-thirds of the globe’s most extremely impoverished people live in fragile and conflict-affected regions. Therefore, in order to ultimately end poverty, the most fragile states need to be prioritized. The United States’ most recent response to this critical challenge was the 2019 Global Fragility Act, which proposed a complete overhaul of the nation’s previous approach to fragile states. The State Department released the official Global Fragility Strategy (GFS) document on Dec. 18, 2020, detailing the United States’ first comprehensive strategy to address conflict prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding.

The Challenge

Fragile states are those that lack consistent control over their security, territorial sovereignty and law enforcement. They are often plagued with weak institutions and inadequate governance and suffer from low development and economic insecurity. Because of this, they are easily exploited by external actors and criminal organizations whose activity further destabilizes the region and can pose a serious threat to United States’ interests, allies or national security.

Since 9/11, the United States has poured assistance into these conflict territories with mixed results. While humanitarian efforts certainly help conditions for people on the ground, they do nothing to break the cycles of conflict or fragility. Because of this failure to address the source of the problem, the United States has invested billions of dollars into stabilization efforts that produced few lasting results.

The United States Institute of Peace released a recent report showing that experts agree that the United States must address fragility directly and balance its short-term and long-term security interests in those regions to break the cycles of violence. The Global Fragility Strategy intends to do just that.

Goals of the Global Fragility Strategy

The overarching goal of the new strategy is to help states transition from fragility to stability. To achieve this, the GFS lays out four focus areas:

  • Prevention: engage in both short- and long-term efforts to mitigate conflict and promote peacebuilding.
  • Stabilization: engage in efforts to stabilize the political processes that contribute to violence.
  • Partnerships: promote partnerships to foster regional stability, accountability and mutual growth.
  • Management: improve prioritization, integration and efficiency of United States’ operations to make them more effective.

Strategic Approach

The GFS is a cooperative joint strategy, requiring participation from various departments and agencies. The most central bodies are the Department of State, USAID and the Department of Defense (DoD). The Department of State is the primary overseer, USAID leads the implementation and the DoD provides specialized support. Other relevant agencies may be called upon as required.

Effective, long-term conflict resolution consists of altering the unstable power structures and relationships within a fragile state. The GFS allows for much greater long-term awareness than previous efforts, not to mention a stable strategy amid changing presidential administrations and congressional elections. The United States will invest resources more intentionally into fewer target nations. Efforts will focus specifically on addressing the causes of conflict and instability rather than merely patching the symptoms.

The Steering Committee will choose the countries or regions to receive assistance. The criteria for assistance include levels of fragility, violence, political capacity for partnerships, United States security and interests, the international environment and chances of positive impact.

The GFS’s toolbox includes both political tools and existing initiatives. Defense and security support, diplomacy and intelligence are all crucial implementations that can address conflict drivers within political processes. Trade, investment, commercial diplomacy, sanctions and foreign assistance can all be utilized to support local businesses and investments. Even strategic communications can help stabilization efforts by countering destabilizing disinformation. As for initiatives, the GFS expands reforms that already focus on conflict prevention and peacebuilding, such as women’s empowerment and anti-terrorist measures.


A key aspect of the GFS is the measuring of results. A Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) plan is in development specifically for the GFS’s use. Because conflict scenarios are so unstable and subject to rapid change, regular assessments will be necessary to measure the continued effectiveness of projects.

The GFS expects increased assessments on multiple levels of operation. Embassies and other actors on the ground will accumulate qualitative and quantitative data. A new model of “compact-style partnerships” prompts local governments to participate in accountability measures. Department and agency stakeholders are also expected to review their procedures regularly. The GFS secretariat will conduct further assessments on the agencies.

Finally, the Steering Committee will meet quarterly to review the projects’ progress. Throughout the GFS’s 10-year span, the United States commits to building a rigorous databank of continuous assessment, evaluation, adaption and learning to determine which strategies work best for stabilizing fragile states.

A Brighter Future

In summary, the Global Fragility Strategy offers better national and international coordination, improved monitoring and evaluation, clarified goals, focused efforts, greater flexibility and adaptation, more effective operations and an overall more streamlined strategy for conflict prevention and resolution. Barring any political complications or hindrances, the GFS embodies hope for a much improved United States effort in fragile states and a more stable world for everyone. Overall, through the Global Fragility Strategy, the United States shows its commitment to alleviating global poverty.

Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr


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