Stabilization Instruments Revisited: Increasing the Likelihood of Positive Impact

23 November 2016   ·   Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF)

On 19 October 2016, the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF) organized a workshop on stabilization instruments to offer a forum for an open exchange and a fresh look at approaches to stabilization, with a view to making policy recommendations for the Government Guidelines for Crisis Engagement and Peacebuilding. The workshop was held in Berlin.

Civilian stabilization instruments seek to support political processes that prevent imminent violent conflict or bring escalations of violence to an end, thus creating space for non-violent approaches to conflict resolution. New stabilization instruments have been applied in Afghanistan, the DR Congo, Iraq, Libya, and other countries. There is an ongoing debate whether they have reached their desired goals, how to define success, and what needs to be done to increase the likelihood of positive impact. Although still relatively new, these stabilization instruments have already produced a stock of experience which can serve as reference for future action. The workshop brought together stabilization planners from the European Union, the United Nations, the Governments of Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the US, as well as practitioners from peace operations in Mali (MINUSMA), Somalia (UNSOM), the DR Congo (MONUSCO), and peacebuilding experts from civil society organizations.

An overall insight of the workshop was that stabilization planners and implementers are well advised to make use of the lessons that peacebuilders have been learning over the past decades. Overall, the debate generated four overarching takeaways:

Stabilization is in essence a peacebuilding approach

Stabilization should be understood as a specific contribution to peacebuilding in situations of imminent or escalating violent conflict. The strategic goal of stabilization is to support a political process that prevents or brings to an end such escalations of violence and creates the conditions for a sufficiently inclusive political settlement, which fosters sustainable peace in the long run.

Politics is at the center of stabilization – instruments need to serve the political strategy

Although all peacebuilding activities are ultimately political, in the case of stabilization politics is at the very heart of the effort. The appropriateness of stabilization instruments and activities must hence be measured against the yardstick of how far they effectively support a political strategy. On the other hand, this requires that key elements of a strategy need to be formulated and shared to serve as guidance.

Primary and secondary goals of stabilization require a comprehensive approach

The primary goal of stabilization is a political process as described above. Secondary goals are tangible peace dividends, generated by quickly satisfying the basic needs of populations affected by violent conflict. While diplomacy is crucial, stabilization can also require preventive or reactive measures of humanitarian, development, or security actors. A comprehensive approach can provide a joint understanding of goals and realistic theories of change, thus guiding a common effort and political coherence.

Support instruments need to be flexible and responsive

Stabilization activities can rarely be pursued in a linear manner and often need to be reset or recalibrated. In order to increase the likelihood of positive impact, it is essential to analyze the changing context and the relevance of activities rigorously and to flexibly adapt the initial theory of change and the programs based on them. In many cases, the bottleneck is not money but a sensible design and a conflict-sensitive implementation of measures. Do-No-Harm-Checks should be applied at the policy and the program level.