With the new year I always feel a sense of renewal and new possibilities awaiting, a clean slate, a blank piece of paper waiting to be filled.
But right at this moment, that sense of optimism and freshness feels hard to attain. Looking at what's going on in the world right now, it's easy to feel hopeless and frightened. Violent conflict is erupting around the world -- from our own streets, schools, churches and mosques to war-torn countries far away. The call to war is being fueled by capitalizing on the fear people are feeling, but the strategies we are currently employing most often as a response to violent conflict in the world are incredibly expensive and they don't work. In fact, it seems they are making the problem worse.
As a U.S. taxpayer and a retired banker, I look for a good return on investment. I want my tax dollars used wisely, thank you very much -- and I've identified some smarter investments than war.
Consider just one of the peace-building organizations that exists today, Search for Common Ground. This group works internationally to address the root causes of violence, alongside those who are directly affected by violent conflict, and they are making a difference. They are working to implement peace-building processes, collect the data and measure their effectiveness -- and they are improving their processes all the time. On the ground training in collaboration, mediation and communication is transforming would-be warlords into peacemakers. For the price of four hours of the war in Afghanistan, Search for Common Ground could be funded for an entire year. For the cost of one year's budget for the Department of Defense, they could be funded for 15,000 years! Talk about a strategy that would provide a good ROI.
There is a bill about to be introduced in Congress that would solidify recent gains in the peace-building field and strengthen our national ability to avoid the next military entanglement, the next terrorist threat, and the next ethnic or religious conflagration. This bill is the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, which will be introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
This bill would do four basic things:
1) Authorize the Atrocities Prevention Board. The primary purpose of the interagency APB is "to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to preventing mass atrocities and genocide," as it is credited in doing in Burundi over the past two years. The cooperative and comprehensive prevention efforts of the APB helped forestall another round of interethnic violence in Burundi, a country already wracked by genocidal conflict.
2) Authorize the Complex Crises Fund, along with an increase in funding from $50 million to $100 million. In 2013, CCF allocated resources for the swift and effective stopping of mass violence in the Central African Republic through effective community peace-building practices. CCF has also been effective in dozens of other countries including Yemen, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, Cote D'Ivoire and Tunisia.
3) Require conflict prevention and peace-building training for all State Department Foreign Service Officers.
4) Affirm atrocities prevention as a U.S. policy priority.
Will our generation be the one to end violent conflict in the world, or will we continue to invest in war? How often have you asked yourself, 'what can I, as one person do?' My New Year's resolution is to work to reduce the senseless violence in our world. And you too can take a step for peace and join me by contacting Congressman Don Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and ask them to support the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act to take that first small step in 2016 toward making a more peaceful world.
Lori Draper is assistant national field director for the Peace Alliance (www.peacealliance.org). She lives in Seward.
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