Too often international crises don’t make the headlines—or Congress’ agenda—until they are on the very edge of war. Ukraine is a case in point. As Russia again masses troops on its border, good options are few.

But as with most crises, the seeds of this dispute took root decades ago. When action is taken early to build peace, the options are cheaper, safer, more effective, and can prevent grievances growing into war.

As the 117th Congress enters its final year, it must learn from past approaches of militarized crisis management and take urgent action in support of sustainable peace.

Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated drivers of conflict and fragility globally, with each wave of the virus leaving fractured societies, decimated economies, and rising violence in its wake.

Now, America’s diplomats and development professionals are facing these new challenges—on top of climate change, extreme inequality, and persistent violent conflicts—without the necessary tools and resources to fully address them.

However, this crisis is not without hope.

To overcome these challenges and make progress towards a stable and peaceful future, U.S. foreign policy needs a major reorientation. It’s time for significant investment in diplomacy, conflict-sensitive development, and peacebuilding.

To this end, the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) has released a set of actionable and bipartisan recommendations for Congress. If followed, lawmakers can finally begin to put peace at the core of U.S. foreign policy.

A Reorientation for Meaningful Progress

Over the past two decades, Congress has massively expanded U.S. military spending and authorities. U.S. defense spending has more than doubled from FY2000 to FY2020, increasing defense appropriations by $458 billion adjusted for inflation.

However, the last 20 years have clearly shown that spending more on the Pentagon will not “promote global democracy, and confront the climate crisis” as appropriators claim. The challenges facing the world today cannot be resolved through force—they require diplomacy, conflict-sensitive development, and peacebuilding approaches.

FCNL lays out specific pieces of legislation, appropriations requests, oversight requirements, and authorities needed to move U.S. foreign policy toward more ethical and effective approaches. At the top of these recommendations is establishing peacebuilding as a core goal of U.S. foreign policy.

Peacebuilding is long-term work, often carried out over generations. But the investment is worth it—this work gets to the root of violent conflict before fighting breaks out by resolving injustices, healing fractured societies, and improving governance.

Together, peacebuilding, diplomacy, and development approaches have the potential to effectively deescalate global tensions, prevent violent conflict, strengthen economies, lessen extreme inequality, and bolster democracy and good governance.

To support a foreign policy with peacebuilding as a core goal, FCNL has identified six categories of action for Congress to take:

  • Make peacebuilding a priority
  • Do no harm;
  • Strengthen the voice of peacebuilding and human rights in U.S. foreign policy architecture;
  • Increase staff diversity and capacity to build peace;
  • Position peace at the center of U.S. foreign assistance; and
  • Reaffirm the U.S. commitment to multilateralism.

While protecting voting rights and reducing economic inequality are rightfully at the top of the congressional agenda, the 117th Congress must also begin to reorient U.S. foreign policy away from the militarized approaches of the past 20 years that failed to achieve their objectives and continue to exacerbate global challenges.

Time is short for the current Congress, but the actionable, bipartisan options put forward by FCNL would set U.S. foreign policy in the right direction.

 Ursala Knudsen-Latta is the legislative manager for peacebuilding at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, where she lobbies Congress to change U.S. foreign policy from an overly militarized and security-driven approach to one that prevents, mitigates, and transforms violent conflict and builds sustainable peace.

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