Guest post by Jago Salmon; Advisor, Fragile and Conflict Affected States at United Nations

On March 1st 2018, the United Nations and the World Bank released a joint study Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict. This study originated from the conviction on part of both institutions that the attention of the international community needs to urgently refocus on prevention.

Rooted in the UN Charter and customary international law, the system of multilateral Institutions that emerged out of World War Two to foster peaceful cooperation and competition, is today a bedrock for networks of economic, cultural, diplomatic and security exchange that cut across the globe.

This system has as its primary purpose to “maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace.”[1]  In pursuit of this aim, governments have collaborated in the pursuit of rules and the establishment of tools dedicated to containing the spread of violence, punishing its worst abuses, and mitigating its humanitarian impacts.

Beyond the visible deployments of peacekeepers and envoys, states are continuously engaged in collective responses, both systemic and operational, from the management of illicit economies, to regulating the use and trade of arms. Collectively this system, has contributed to a 30-year downward trend in armed conflict, particularly of interstate wars which have virtually disappeared, and underpinned a prolonged period of global stability and human development

Pathways for Peace

Since 2010, however, the number of major violent conflicts has tripled, and fighting in a growing number of lower intensity conflicts has escalated. By 2016, more countries were affected by violence than at any time in nearly 30 years; most of these conflicts are driven by the rapid escalations of domestic instability, including in middle-income countries.

At the same time, pathways for sustainable peace are narrowing. The growing complexity of conflict and diminishing international and regional consensus on how they should be managed, has reduced the number of conflicts being sustainably terminated per year. With conflicts that ended in 2014 having lasted on average 26 years, the human and financial costs of managing the resulting crises are mounting.

What needs to happen?

The Pathways for Peace study brings together evidence from regional consultations, thematic papers, and case studies of successful preventive action. The study reaffirms the recognition that conflict is a critical risk to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The upsurge of violence over the last few years has caused immense human suffering with enormous impact on global policy and collective action.

The study affirms that in a rapidly changing world, development policy and investments are a critical component of efforts to prevent violence and sustain peace. Triangulating from qualitative cases and data, the study highlights the importance of grievances related to exclusion—from access to power, natural resources, security and justice—that are at the root of many violent conflicts. These are development shortcomings.

The study also demonstrates how, in an interconnected world, information and communications technology, population movements, and climate change are creating shared risks that must be managed at both national and international levels. Efforts to manage these risks and grievances need to move beyond short term crisis management and securitised responses, towards sustained, inclusive and targeted attention and action.

As the study underscores, a scaled-up system for preventive action would save between US$5 billion and $70 billion per year, which could be reinvested in reducing poverty and improving the wellbeing of populations. Responding to this challenge reinvigorating global partnership to prevent violent conflict and sustain peace.

Based on a review of cases in which prevention has been successful, the study makes recommendations for countries facing emerging risks of violent conflict as well as the international community.

Successful prevention depends on national vision and will. The primary responsibility for preventive action rests with states, and successful preventive action is undertaken by local or national actors. However, increasingly states are called to work together and with other actors to address common risks and keep their countries on pathways for peace. In this sense effective prevention enhances sovereignty.

Development policies and programs must be a core part of preventive efforts. Growth and poverty alleviation are crucial, but alone will not suffice to sustain peace. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a foundation for building peaceful, just, inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence.

No single policy realm is adequate to managing contemporary risks of conflict. From outbreak, to escalation to recurrence, successful conflict prevention strategies have aligned security and diplomatic action with development policies and investments over the long term.

A global partnership for prevention needs to target the gaps in information, investment and collective action that drive short-term responses to violence — leading to a situation in which crisis management dominates the attention of citizens and political leaders.

The evolution of both practice and policy points to some critical areas of convergence,

  • Pre-Conflict Mediation – development planning and assessments can be critical for identifying arenas of risk that may inform early mediation efforts,
  • National capacities for prevention – the shift in mediation practice from a ‘state-centric’ towards inclusive processes, has been complemented with stronger support for building national and local mediation capacities, often involving youth, civil society, and government,
  • Development support for negotiations – development assistance can be essential in support of multitier agreements, bridging dialogue on social, economic and fiscal issues, with attempts to secure local or national security;
  • Community based conflict management – International partners are increasingly working with national governments to scale up, community led, non-military preventive engagement strategies.
  • Improved effectiveness, accountability and oversight of the state, particularly in the arenas of security and justice. Development actors have provided operational support to enhance core functions of the state, and maintaining law and order.

It is easy, but wrong, to see prevention as a trade-off between the short-term security and long-term development. The Secretary-General’s Report on Sustaining Peace reaffirms this message, calling for a quantum leap in resources for peacebuilding and sustaining peace, highlighting that sustaining peace is the task of the whole UN system in support of national governments. More than ever conflict and preventive action requires action to address immediate crises while investing to reinforce a society’s pathway toward peace. This study presents a framework for understanding how societies forge pathways toward violence or peace, and presents guiding principles and agenda for action to frame a shift towards prevention.

Related information

About the author

Jago Salmon is an advisor to the United Nations and the World Bank Group on Fragile and Conflict Affected States. Jago has over 15 years’ experience in policy analysis, programme design and project management in conflict settings with field experience in Sudan, CAR, Somalia, Yemen, Liberia, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. Jago established the UN Programme on Core Government Functions, supporting states in the immediate aftermath of conflict, and lead the UN’s Payment Programme for Ebola Response Workers as part of the integrated UN response to the Ebola epidemic in 2014/15 and the support to Security Sector in the aftermath of the 2014 crisis in CAR. Prior to joining the UN, Jago worked with the Small Arms Survey, International Crisis Group, the Overseas Development Institute and the UK’s Department for International Development. Jago has a doctorate on the formation and organisation of armed groups in Sudan and Lebanon from Humboldt University in Berlin.

[1] UN Charter, Article 1