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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Breakthrough for International Peacebuilding Structures in our Federal Government! Exciting Update from D.C.!

Foreign Assistance Act Reform
Major Milestone: Strong potential to include significant peacebuilding funding and infrastructure

After years of advocacy, our efforts are helping to change the conversation!

Advocating for peacebuilding in Washington D.C. has never been an easy task, as many of you know. Last week at the Dirksen Senate building, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. But for once the emotion stemmed from deep appreciation rather than frustration.

Recently, Washington D.C. has seen a breakthrough for the field of international peacebuilding. As part of the Foreign Assistance Act Reform (the legislation that put USAID into place), there is a brand new section on peacebuilding and conflict mitigation. Members of Congress, specifically House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), now recognize the integral relationship between development and peacebuilding, as violence can be considered development in reverse. As such, Rep. Berman requested that leaders of the international peacebuilding community, led by Chic Dambach of Alliance for Peacebuilding and Lisa Schirch of 3D Security, draft a concept paper on what the peacebuilding section of the bill should include. Aaron Voldman and I, representing The Peace Alliance and Student Peace Alliance in D.C., were asked to contribute to the concept paper.

This concept paper provided the opportunity to place a peacebuilding framework into our foreign affairs policy and gain recognition of peacebuilding as a national priority. An opportunity brought about in many ways by our collective continued persistence and commitment to furthering peacebuilding within our federal government.

Last month the concept paper was handed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee who used it in developing a joint peacebuilding discussion paper with the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. This discussion paper's first page reads like our messaging of the last six years. I have never seen a document from the government so clearly lay out the problems of our current foreign policy approach and also offer solutions that are aligned with what we have advocated for since the beginning of our work. Here are some important highlights:

1) A joint USAID-State Council with the mandate to foster a unified and clear peacebuilding approach within the State Department and USAID that will enable these agencies to assume meaningful responsibility for peacebuilding policy and programming, including crisis management, contingency operations and conflict prevention, and provide the capacity to effectively mobilize and target resources. There exists a strong contingent of advocates calling for this Council to be named the Peacebuilding Council.

2) The Director of the Council would be nominated by the President.

3) The new Council would conduct conflict and risk assessments on an annual basis.

4) Training in conflict prevention and mitigation would be required of certain Foreign Service Officers.

5) The President would be directed to establish a standing interagency coordination mechanism specifically to address early action and preventive measures.

You can find both the concept paper and the Committees' discussion paper online at our website. You can also join me in a discussion on DoPeace. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and will be happy to answer any questions.

Last week the Committees held an open meeting for feedback on the discussion paper and over 75 representatives from the peacebuilding field attended! The staffers answered questions, provided some insight and most importantly of all, listened. It was clear by the end that they really get it. When I went up to shake the hand of the main drafter of the discussion paper I nearly cried as I shared with her my appreciation for all that she has done and all that she continues to do to move this forward.

These changes represent the growing commitment of our government to peacebuilding. The committee staffers, along with those in the peacebuilding field, also recognize the need for the Administration to come forward with a mission and strategy for security that will provide a framework for these possible changes. We still have questions and some concerns about the discussion paper (such as the lack of coordination with civil society) and many organizations (including Alliance for Peacebuilding and 3D Security) have submitted response papers to the Committees to help strengthen it.

We are honored that The Peace Alliance and Student Peace Alliance have been a part of this process, and are excited to see what makes it into the final bill. Regardless, the bottom line is that the peacebuilding conversation is happening in Washington D.C. The conversation we have been working for, of how to make peacebuilding a true federal priority and central to our policy-making, is actually occurring at the highest levels of government, even more than we know. There remain a lot of questions as we work towards consensus on the solutions to the problems articulated in the discussion paper. These discussions, and the proposed new structures, represent a huge step for the field of international peacebuilding.

We will keep you updated about the progress of the legislation and possible opportunities for support. Be proud of the influence The Peace Alliance and Student Peace Alliance has had on the role of peacebuilding in our federal government. We continue to have a measurable impact in the nation's capital.

I am proud to represent The Peace Alliance and Student Peace Alliance in Washington D.C. Now is finally our time!

Thank you for your continued commitment to this cause,

Julia Simon-Mishel
D.C. Staff of The Peace Alliance
Student Peace Alliance Managing Director

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