Towards An Integrated Approach to Conflicts and Crises: Germany's Central Role in European Conflict Prevention, Stabilization and Peacebuilding

11 October 2016   ·   Helga Maria Schmid

There are three priorities for the future of conflict prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding that Germany and the EU have in common: First, to invest early in prevention. Second, to pursue a political approach to stabilization with the long-term objectives in mind and third, to invest in multi-layered and multi-dimensional peace processes that build on mutual comparative advantages, and reach all parts of conflict-affected societies.

Sowohl Berlin als auch Brüssel haben sich zum Ziel gesetzt, ihre Konzepte für Konfliktprävention, Stabilisierung und Friedensförderung an die Herausforderungen von heute und morgen anzupassen. Diese Bemühungen sollten Hand in Hand gehen. Die neue Globale Strategie der Europäischen Union für die Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik – mit ihrem integrierten Ansatz zu Konflikten und Krisen – bietet hierfür einen hervorragenden Rahmen. Drei gemeinsame Prioritäten zeichnen sich dabei für Deutschland und Europa ab: Erstens, Konfliktursachen besser und frühzeitiger zu erkennen und früh in die Prävention zu investieren. Zweitens, einen langfristigen und politischen Ansatz zur Stabilisierung zu verfolgen. Und drittens, in vielschichtige und multidimensionale Friedensprozesse zu investieren, in denen alle betroffenen Gesellschaftsgruppen erreicht und eingebunden werden. Die erfolgreichen Iran-Gespräche haben gezeigt, dass wir internationalen Frieden und Sicherheit wirksam stärken können, wenn wir gemeinsam und von einem ganzheitlichen Ansatz geleitet handeln.

As Jean-Marie Guéhenno puts it in his contribution to PeaceLab2016, Germany, alongside wider Europe, needs to be 'an exporter of stability in an unstable world.' We can all agree to this tenet. Our persistent efforts over the years to help realize our even treaty obligation to 'preserve peace, prevent conflict, and strengthen international security' bear witness to our collective and unwavering commitment in this regard. But the changing global landscape of crisis and instability demands of us that we constantly adapt our responses, taking account of new and evolving sources of instability – without forgetting those long-standing root causes of conflict, like weak governance, economic instability, unaccountable security services, and exclusion and discrimination of minorities.

To maintain this dual focus, the EU's recent Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy presents an ambitious and effective platform spelling out the EU's core strategic priorities. It proposes in particular to enhance social and state resilience and to take 'an integrated approach to conflicts and crises.' What does this mean in concrete terms, and what pointers does it offer to Germany's development of new guidelines for conflict and crisis prevention? Three priorities emerge.

Understand what fuels violence, and invest early in prevention

The most recent Global Peace Index report calculates that wars and violence in all its forms have cost humanity $13.6 trillion in 2015 alone – the equivalent of $5 per day for every person on the planet; not to speak of the immense human suffering or environmental degradation. Investing in prevention, in comparison, is a small drop in the ocean, and highly cost-effective – if we mobilize resources in time, invest them in addressing those issues that are actually fueling conflict, and ensure we do no harm in the process. But how can we know where and how to focus our efforts and resources to prevent violence from erupting? The EU, like Germany, has invested significantly in its Conflict Early Warning System in recent years. It helps us detect where typical root causes of conflict and risk factors are present that increase the likelihood of violence in future. Together with our Member States, we need to marshal our collective political will to respond effectively, creatively and with sufficient resources when those alarm bells ring. Germany has a crucial role to play here as a Member State with influence and credibility.

This approach also helps us to understand the roots of a conflict and design appropriate frameworks for their resolution. The Iran nuclear deal successfully concluded last year demonstrated what can be achieved through cooperation rather than coercion. The EU coordinated the negotiations and, together with the E3+3 and Iran, continues to ensure the effective implementation of the agreement. In the same vein, the Serbia/Kosovo dialogue facilitated by the EU put an end to fifteen years of conflict and demonstrated that the EU can be a powerful international force for peace and stability.

Take a long-term and political approach to stabilization – and act in an integrated manner

A worrying number of crises today remain stuck in a limbo of 'no war, no peace.' In other cases, there may be pockets of stability in some parts of a country, while violence rages on in others. Where there is no overarching peace in sight, like in Syria, the International Community may have to support incremental steps to help stabilize those localities where this is feasible, while continuing to diplomatically push for a negotiated solution overall. In Syria, we have been working to link different 'tracks' of peace work and to involve those that are not necessarily present at the official negotiation table. This has included for example hosting Syrian civil society consultations about local ceasefires, which fed into the UN's Special Envoy de Mistura's Geneva consultations last year. We have recently launched, co-financed with the German Federal Foreign Office, the Syria Peace Process Support Initiative, which will work to further support involvement of civil society and women in particular.

Stabilization activities – for example the re-establishment of basic service delivery, strengthening security and legitimate civilian governance to prepare the ground for longer-term recovery – are key in such situations, where Peace with a capital P remains elusive in the short-term, or recent agreements are still fragile in a transition period. A number of EU Member States, including Germany, as well as the EEAS, have been building up internal capacities in this regard, creating dedicated units, capabilities and funding streams, while remaining overall the biggest donor for humanitarian aid and development assistance. As we develop our respective capacities, we need to remain vigilant against creating different 'brands' of stabilization, and instead work towards a common vision of what a European approach to stabilization looks like and aims to achieve. Here, we have a lot to learn from each other.

One of the key messages from the EU's Global Strategy is that we need to take the long-term view – even where we support short-term stabilization measures, they should be geared towards longer-term sustainable peacebuilding and recovery. This means for example that reconstructing a road may be an urgent and meaningful stabilization activity; but that it will only serve a long-term peacebuilding purpose if we at the same time build up the civilian capacity to maintain and administer a country's road system. We also need to be cognizant that stabilization is not a technical exercise: the politics of conflict loom large at all levels, and in all our interactions with countries affected by crises. That's why it is crucially important that our diplomatic, economic, and stabilization engagements are closely integrated and have a clear collective political direction – serving to build cultures of political consensus-building and participation, and not playing into divisive local or national politics. Again, Germany's own track record of consensus-based politics, democratic participation and history of gradual recovery from war, are important ingredients in this European approach.

Support peace processes that work at different levels, build on our mutual comparative advantages, and reach all parts of conflict-affected societies

The days when peace agreements were concluded between a few men with weapons, ending on the signing of an agreement, are well and truly over. Today, we need to support peace processes that take a long-term view, and reach down to conflict-affected communities as well as up to regional and international players. Importantly, we need to collectively do all we can to finally make our commitments for the participation of women in peace processes a reality.

Myanmar is a good example of where the EU, as one of the biggest donors in the country, played and continues to play an important supporting role in the nationally-led peace process, often through targeted quick actions, such as the set-up of the Myanmar Peace Centre in 2012. In Yemen, Germany and the EU, alongside others in the international community, were active supporters of the National Dialogue process. We sought to ensure that those voices traditionally not heard in high-politics – women, youth – were included in the deliberations. In Colombia, the EU and EU Member States played a strategic role in supporting the nationally owned peace process and its possible future implementation by committing to an EU Trust Fund. An important and innovative feature of the Colombia process is that it places victims at the center of the process: those affected by violence were systematically and extensively consulted and brought in to give testimony directly to the parties during the negotiation.

To conclude, we have the ingredients to make an even more meaningful contribution as Europe to international peace and security – what it takes is a better integrated approach to conflicts and crises, and, as we say in German, 'am Ball bleiben.'