This past week, in black and white, President Trump laid out his vision for our country in his America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again. Although we really shouldn’t be surprised that Trump’s America is one that values war and division over peace and human dignity, it is still hard to see the actual dollar amounts assigned. There is no denying the direction of our country’s leadership when the U.S. Department of Defense, Homeland Security and Veteran’s Affairs are tagged to receive even more money, while health, education, labor, housing, the environment and agriculture will experience extensive funding cuts. Additionally, many precious federal programs and agencies are eliminated entirely if Trump’s proposed budget is put into effect, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, Meals on Wheels for the elderly, after-school programs for children, and legal aid and fuel assistance programs for the poor.
One federal agency that has received almost no attention, but will be abolished under Trump’s new budget is the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). Created by Congress in 1984 as an independent, federally funded organization, the mission of USIP is “to prevent, mitigate and resolve violent conflicts around the world by engaging directly in conflict zones and providing analysis, education and resources to those working for peace”.
Housed in a stunning building worthy of its mission, USIP’s 300+ staff work to ensure that a world without war and violent conflict can still be envisioned. It is a dynamic agency where individuals of diverse disciplines and nationalities—educators, activists, practitioners, artists, political leaders, journalists, students, diplomats, and religious leaders—come together to seriously consider paths forward to achieve real and sustainable peace. As a non-partisan institution, USIP provides a neutral space for exchange and dialogue in a city that is otherwise mired in partisan politics. AND they are effective at what they do.
Poaching from their website, here are a few examples:
- In Iraq, USIP and its partners facilitated peace agreements in Mahmoudiyah (2007) and Tikrit (2015) that reduced communal warfare in those regions and the need for U.S. or Iraqi troops. Hundreds of thousands of displaced residents returned home. USIP is expanding its Iraqi partners’ capacity for such peacemaking.
- In Afghanistan, USIP research on traditional Afghan systems of conflict resolution helped shape stabilization efforts by U.S. and NATO forces. The Institute is researching the local drivers of violent extremism and working to reduce recruitment by the Taliban and ISIS. With Afghan universities USIP is training students, and developing curricula nationwide, on conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
- USIP has helped Pakistan develop a national strategy for community policing against violent extremism, and better responses by police and courts to terrorism cases. USIP supports local partners who use film, public art, and peace education in schools to oppose the growing intolerance of diversity.
- In Colombia, USIP helps broaden a peace process that has yielded an accord to end more than 50 years of civil war. By offering technical and financial help to local organizations, the Institute has enlarged the role of civil society, including women, youth and minority groups, in the peace process. USIP serves as a trusted source of analysis and a liaison among all parties.
- In Nigeria, USIP is convening government officials—notably the country’s influential state governors—with civic leaders and scholars to build a national consensus on strategies to reduce the causes of violent conflicts in the north, such as the Boko Haram insurgency.
- In 10 countries across Africa and the Middle East—including Nigeria, Kenya, Tunisia and Sudan—USIP’s Generation Change Fellows program provides training and support to strengthen emerging youth civil society leaders working against violence in their communities.
Additionally, USIP serves as the convener and Secretariat for the U.S. Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace and Security (U.S. CSWG), a coalition of 35 civil society organizations committed to advancing women’s role in conflict prevention, mitigation and peacebuilding. For several years USIP has generously provided a beautiful space for the coalitions bi-monthly meetings and administrative support for our collective work to implement and codify the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (U.S. NAP). It is heart-breaking to think that this noble institution – often a beacon of good and light amidst the muddied work of U.S. foreign policy – will no longer exist. And worse, it is being traded in for more military spending, weapons, and walls to divide us.
People keep saying that we just have to hold out for another three years. Then we can elect a new leader and get our country back on track. My concern is that such severe damage will be done in those three years that it will be a long time before our nation is righted. I am sure that establishing and funding a non-partisan federal agency whose mission is to advance peace was no small feat the first time around. I suspect the only way the U.S. Institute of Peace will be quickly rebuilt after Trump is because our country’s trajectory towards war has gone so far that people actually long to envision peace once again.
Its time to speak up.
Tanya Henderson is the founder and director of Mina's List.