Guest Post: Chic Dambach on the USIP

This week we received a submission from Charles F. (Chic) Dambach that discusses the value of the US Institute of Peace.  Dambach, who is the president and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, addresses the unique role that the USIP plays in preventing and resolving conflict and the immense savings the USIP incurs through the mitigation of future military actions and defense spending.  Please read on for some thought-provoking insights and leave your comments below! Thanks, Chic!


Stop Debating the Value of USIP and Get on with Building Peace

The world community spends close to $2 trillion every year on wars, militaries, and directly related activities. The US is responsible for about half of the total. A small fraction of that figure is invested in diplomacy and development, and a very tiny portion of that small fraction goes into initiatives designed specifically to reduce the frequency and severity of violent conflicts. We call it peacebuilding – resolving the immediate drivers of conflict and addressing the root causes for sustainable peace. As we actually reduce violence, tens of billions of dollars are saved.

The old notion that “war is good for the economy” is rubbish. It may be good for a few weapons manufacturers and arms dealers, but it is dreadful for everyone else. The US economy collapsed in the midst of two wars. Need I say more? The Institute for Economics and Peace found the global negative impact of war and defense spending exceeds $7 trillion every year – about 13% of global GDP.

Yet, a majority in the House of Representatives voted twice this spring to eliminate the US Institute of Peace (USIP) – the unique US institution devoted to building peace and reducing the need for such large investments in the tools and practice of war. The USIP charter was approved by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 to “prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and development, and increase conflict management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide.”

Somehow in the minds of some, USIP’s budget of less than $40 million should be eliminated to reduce the national debt, while nearly $1 trillion allotted to two wars, defense, intelligence gathering, the VA, and nuclear weapons is not to be discussed.

During the same week that the House voted to zero-fund USIP, the Pentagon signed a $35 billion contract with Boeing to build more flying tankers. There was not one editorial, letter to the editor, or speech in Congress questioning taxpayers funding for the tankers, but funding for USIP – one thousandth as much – was attacked vigorously.

Before its new building was completed giving it high visibility, and prior to the financial crisis, no one paid attention to USIP. Its modest budget never attracted the attention of Congress or the media.  It simply went about its work quietly and quite competently.

The building, by the way, was partly funded with private donations. Furthermore, like any significant architecture, it is designed to make a statement. Just as the massive Pentagon building warns the world, “don’t mess with the US,” the USIP building’s design and location proclaims: “We, the government and people of the United States of America, believe in and we are committed to the concept of peace.” If USIP were to be eliminated, our message of peace would become dark and vacant.

Regrettably, the Institute is under attack, and some are voting to eliminate it without a single hearing or the slightest analysis of its value compared with its cost. I am absolutely convinced that from a purely cost-benefit perspective it is a great bargain.  Defense and military leaders including Secretary Gates and General Petraeus have vigorously affirmed its value. If, for example, USIP can help reduce the length of US engagement in Afghanistan by one month, it will have earned 300 years of funding!

Building peace and reducing the frequency and severity of violent conflict is in America’s interest, and it is a public responsibility. Protecting the safety and security of the American people is a government function, and building peace does as much, if not more, to protect the public than any police or military operation.

USIP is to building peace what the military academies are to winning wars. There are dozens of private and state funded military academies and think tanks. Why then, do taxpayers need to pay close to $1 billion per year for the major military academies, plus over $400 million for ROTC programs and hundreds of millions more for other think tanks and training institutions? Why do taxpayers also pay for the National Defense University, the Army War College, the College of Naval Warfare, the Air War College, the United States Army Command and General Staff College, the College of Naval Command and Staff, the Air Command and Staff College, and the Marine Corps University? These are all think tanks and training institutions with functions similar to USIP – research and analysis as well as education and training for professionals. With dozens of private think tanks and academic institutions focusing on the same issues, why not privatize all of it and fund them with donations? Answer: It is a foolish question!

The only difference between the military academies and USIP is that military institutions study and train professionals in the art and science of warfare, while USIP studies and provides professional training in the art and science of building peace.  In light of our massive investment in warfare, $40 million to better understand the dynamics of conflict and train professionals to build peace and help prevent the outbreak of (and cost of) war is worthy of taxpayer support.

The justification for a federally funded USIP is obvious. The federal government has a fundamental obligation to keep Americans safe from violence and to protect our interests domestically and globally. Safety and security can be achieved for much less cost and far fewer casualties if we can build a more peaceful world and reduce the frequency and severity of violent conflicts. For a tiny fraction of the cost of military operations, we can, if we are willing, find ways to prevent and mitigate conflicts and better achieve US interests. USIP is the institution created by the US Congress to help make that happen. If USIP helps prevent just one war, it will have offset its entire budget for centuries. According to our own military leaders, its programs in Iraq alone have saved the Pentagon enough to offset well over a decade of military costs.

The private sector could not do that. Private think tanks are important, and I appreciate and work with them. (Most of them are also heavily government funded, by the way.) But they do not serve the public interest the way USIP does. Yes, USIP does policy research and analysis, but it is also a training academy that provides superior education and training for diplomatic, military, and civilian professionals to develop skills and establish strategies to prevent and mitigate violence. USIP also carries out on the ground operations in critical regions including Iraq and Afghanistan. No private think tank could do that.

I am not on the USIP payroll, and I tend to prefer to work in the NGO world with private support rather than government funding. I like the independence. Thousands of citizen-based organizations have emerged worldwide to advocate for and provide alternatives to violence. We work together through the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict and the Alliance for Peacebuilding, and we are remarkably effective. (Media headlines create the impression of growing violence, but warfare and casualties are actually in decline worldwide.) But, we in the non-government sector cannot substitute for USIP. We do not build peace on behalf of the American people, and we do not represent America’s interests when we become engaged in conflict resolution overseas. We do it because it is the right thing to do, regardless of US interests and policies.

USIP, on the other hand, is a creation of the US Government, and it seeks to build peace on behalf of the United States. That is an essential difference, and it helps explain why USIP is so important to the government and the people of America. It is the symbol as well as the substance of America’s commitment to do our part to reduce the frequency and severity of violent conflicts. I would argue with 100% certainty that dollar-for-dollar, USIP does as much to protect the safety and security of Americans as any military institution, and it saves the taxpayers far more than it costs. Can we stop this nonsense of debating the value of USIP and building peace and get on with getting it done?

Charles F. Dambach

One thought on “Guest Post: Chic Dambach on the USIP

  1. Harry Blaney June 22, 2011 / 11:32 PM

    Chic Dambach’s views on the U.S. Institute of Peace and especially noting how much we spend on making war, some on “wars of choice” rather than helping build a landscape of building peace and using what we call “pre-emptive diplomacy,” which is far less costly and real “smart power.” But even here we have to put in the necessary resources to accomplish these vital goals.

    We only spend just about 1% of our government funding for building peace and keeping the world safe through diplomacy and our aide programs and the Peace Corps. Most people think it is more like 20% and would support about 5%. We all need to make our voices heard in the Halls of Congress against cuts in our diplomacy/peace/development efforts and less on making counterproductive wars that are not necessary and enacting laws and special provisions that just benefit the already super rich at the expense of protecting the average citizen from economic disaster and hurt our own security..

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