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New CFR Report Calls for Strengthening Global Architecture to Prevent Deadly Conflict

September 22, 2011
Council on Foreign Relations

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With the U.S. military overstretched and Washington facing acute fiscal pressures, the United States must nurture effective international partnerships to help prevent and manage violent conflicts that threaten U.S. interests, conclude Paul Stares and Micah Zenko, of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Center for Preventive Action, in a new Council Special Report.

By actively improving the global architecture for preventive action—that is, the ability of leading international institutions to carry out conflict prevention— “the United States will have more effective partners in instances where it has a major stake and lessen the need for U.S. involvement when it does not.”

The Obama administration has made enhancing international institutions' capacity for conflict prevention a priority, mandated in President Obama's National Security Strategy, the Quadrennial Defense Review, and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. This goal needs to be pursued more systematically and strategically, argue Stares and Zenko.

In Partners in Preventive Action: The United States and International Institutions, Stares and Zenko outline ways that international institutions already support American interests by promoting and enforcing global norms; providing a source of legitimacy for diplomatic and military efforts; and by contributing to numerous mediation and peacekeeping efforts around the world.

The report recommends a series of measures whereby the United States can enhance the effectiveness of leading international and regional institutions.

In particular, “the United States should help the UN and leading regional institutions carry out early warning and analysis of instability and potential armed conflicts,” they argue. “The U.S. intelligence community should collaborate—in particular with the EU—in producing assessments of areas of potential instability to prioritize policymakers' near-term contingency planning.”

“The United States should increase its financial assistance to the UN and regional organizations for activities that help avert conflict.” While assistance to regular budgets is often lost in underperforming infrastructures, “voluntary funding on a competitive basis” through the State Department's international affairs budget can support specific preventive programs.

For the full text of the report, visit: www.cfr.org/partners_in_preventive_action/

Paul B. Stares is the General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention and director of CFR's Center for Preventive Action (CPA). Previously, Stares was the vice president and director of the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the United States Institute of Peace. He is the author or editor of ten books and numerous articles and reports, including most recently the CFR publications Enhancing U.S. Crisis Preparedness (Policy Innovation Memorandum No. 4), Military Escalation in Korea (Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 10), Enhancing U.S. Preventive Action (Council Special Report No. 48), and Preparing for Sudden Change in North Korea (Council Special Report No. 42).

Micah Zenko is a CPA fellowfor conflict prevention. Prior to joining CFR, he worked at the Harvard Kennedy School , Brookings Institution, Congressional Research Service, and the State Department's Office of Policy Planning. He writes the CFR.org blog “Politics, Power, and Preventive Action”, which covers U.S. national security policy, international security, and conflict prevention. He is the author of the book, Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post–Cold War World. He is the author of two Council Special Reports, Enhancing U.S. Preventive Action, with CPA director Paul Stares, and Toward Deeper Reductions in U.S. and Russian Nuclear Weapons, which was published in November 2010.

Council Special Reports (CSRs) are concise policy briefs that provide timely responses to developing crises or contribute to debates on current policy dilemmas. CSRs are written by individual authors in consultation with an advisory committee. The content of the reports is the sole responsibility of the authors.

CFR's Center for Preventive Action (CPA) seeks to help prevent, defuse, or resolve deadly conflicts around the world and to expand the body of knowledge on conflict prevention.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.

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