Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Fragile States (via VTC)

Ambassador Kelly Craft
Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 6, 2021


President Saied, thank you for organizing this open debate. This is a timely issue to discuss as we begin a new year of work in the Security Council. And thank you to the Secretary-General, Chairperson, and Madame President for your comprehensive overviews this morning.

Fragile states are often characterized by their vulnerability to armed conflict, large-scale violence, or other instability – including the inability to manage transnational threats. Fragility can result from ineffective and unaccountable governance, weak social cohesion, and corrupt institutions or leaders who do not respect human rights.

Fragile states are particularly susceptible to destabilizing violence and armed conflict. The rise of terrorist activities and violent extremism makes them even more vulnerable. And the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this fragility, undermined public health, contributed to mass unemployment, threatened food security, increased violence against women, and reinforced – or even created – political and social divisions.

Within fragile states, weak institutions, corruption, diminished respect for the rule of law, and authoritarianism increase the risks for violent conflict and instability over the long term and open the door for more cycles of political subversion and violence. Externally, malign actors seek to weaponize instability against other states. Iran, for example, undermines the stability of its neighbors by using fragile states or non-state actors as proxies, contributing to protracted conflicts and complex humanitarian crises.

Fragility and conflict have given rise to historic levels of displacement and humanitarian need. There are now estimated to be 51 million internally displaced people globally, while the number of refugees has doubled to 20 million people. Humanitarian needs continue outpacing available resources by billions of dollars every year, and in 2021, a record number of people – at least 235 million – will need humanitarian assistance.

For these reasons, we must help fragile states improve their internal stability lest they become failed states. Each of us has a critical role to play, because problems in fragile states do not remain inside their borders. Fragile states can export their fragility to their neighbors, as violence, pollution, and similar issues do not stop at boundaries and can threaten wider international peace and security.

We must refine the role of the Security Council in addressing conflicts and state fragility. UN missions that operate in complex emergencies or conflicts must not be politicized; rather, we should strive to make them more effective. This means providing principled humanitarian assistance that is timelier and more efficient, through greater burden-sharing and improved coordination of our humanitarian, development, and peacekeeping efforts.

The United States has reaffirmed its commitment to conflict prevention and addressing fragility with the Global Fragility Act of 2019 and the recently released U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability. This important strategy places local solutions, ownership, and accountability at the heart of the U.S. approach to preventing conflict, stabilizing conflict-affected areas, promoting partnerships for long-term stability, and building resilience and self-reliance in states.

The United States supports locally-driven political solutions to address the political factors that cause fragility, and we target our foreign assistance accordingly. Seventy percent of all assistance provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development goes to fragile states, accounting for roughly 50 percent of all U.S. foreign assistance.

In the past five years, the U.S. has provided approximately $30 billion in foreign assistance in the 15 most fragile countries, as identified by the OECD. In November 2020, the OECD commended the United States for its prominent role in fighting transnational corruption – corruption that undermines good governance and responsive state institutions. The United States will continue to be a leader in providing such assistance, and we welcome increased efforts by our partners. We will continue encouraging other governments to contribute to the collective response against complex crises and fragility.

Countries with higher rates of gender inequality are more vulnerable to conflict. We therefore prioritize the meaningful participation of women in efforts to prevent and resolve conflict. The United States demonstrated our global leadership and commitment with President Trump’s signing of the U.S. Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, and the Administration’s release of our bold and innovative WPS Strategy in June 2019. Our new Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability incorporates WPS principles into all elements of country and regional planning processes.

Peacekeeping operations are a key tool in both advancing international peace and security and creating the space for states to address the root causes of conflict. As part of our efforts to help address fragility, the United States continues to lead the world’s contributions to UN peacekeeping operations, contributing 25 percent of the UN peacekeeping budget.

Thank you again, Mr. President, for convening today’s debate. The Security Council’s mandate to address threats to international peace and security, including threats deriving from intra-state conflict, means that we must be prepared to address these issues in practical terms, beyond just these useful debates. We must turn our words into actions; we look forward to working with you to do just that.

Thank you again, Mr. President.