PeaceLab2016: A Fresh Look at Crisis Prevention

26 July 2017   ·   PeaceLab2016 editorial team

"We need your critical questions, your experience, your ideas, and your suggestions. We should talk openly about what we are already doing well, and how we can become even better and more efficient." (Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the PeaceLab2016 kick-off conference, 5 July 2016)

From July 2016 until June 2017 this platform featured a discussion on the new government guidelines for managing crises and conflicts. The Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin facilitated the discussion on this blog. The project was supported by the Federal Foreign Office.

A new guiding concept

International expectations towards German contributions to crisis prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding have grown, and Germany itself wants to assume greater responsibility by making earlier and more effective contributions, “to accept responsibility, and to assume leadership” (2016 White Paper on Security Policy). To make “future action … even more effective and targeted,” the government set out to establish new guidelines for managing crises and conflicts. The new guidelines, drafted by an inter-ministerial working group led by the Foreign Office and approved by the Federal Cabinet on 14 June 2017, are the first comprehensive conceptual statement on crisis management since 2004. The guidelines cover key normative principles for German contributions to crisis management, lessons from the recent past, priorities for strategic investments as well as the institutional set-up for decision-making and implementation, all with a view to playing a more effective role together with Germany’s partners.

Asking ambitious questions

To rise to Steinmeier’s challenge and deliver a truly “fresh look” that drives policy forward, the debate needed to confront some challenging questions. What are realistic, responsible objectives for crisis prevention, stabilization and peacebuildingparticularly in light of limited influence over local actors, and real trade-offs between our many goals? What kinds of non-state actors can and must Germany work with, and how influential, how legitimate are those partners? How do they both government officials and civil society activists on the ground see German interventions, what do Germany’s European and international partners expect, and how does that fit with the expectations of the German public and its representatives in parliament? How to translate a greater level of ambition into specific civilian, political strategies and instruments, and how to apply technical instruments in a way that effectively supports those political strategies? How to ensure learning from experience, accountability for failures and successes, and flexible adjustment to changing conditions? Where to set priorities, and where not to? These are just some illustrative examples of the kinds of questions the PeaceLab2016 process asked and discussed, openly and constructively, but without the need or expectation to find perfect consensusor, for that matter, more than imperfect answers. Work on the new guidelines provided an opportunity for the German debate on crises and conflicts to break out of its sedate little corner and find its place as part of a strategic peace and security policy that is fully aware of its limits and trade-offs without abandoning its values and ambitions.

Lively and extensive debate

Following an initial hearing at the parliament’s sub-committee for civilian crisis prevention on May 30, the former Foreign Minister Steinmeier started the debate at the PeaceLab2016 opening conference on 5 July 2016. Until December 2016, various stakeholders from the government, civil society, academia, and parliament hosted workshops and conferences. Topics included, among others, the normative principles that should guide German foreign policy, cooperation with local civil society, Berlin’s engagement within the European Union and the United Nations, reforms in the justice and security sector, transitional justice, early warning and early action, stabilization and prospects of civil-military cooperation, and the implications of the Agenda 2030 for the new guidelines. The PeaceLab2016 blog provided a public platform for opinions on the new guidelines from Germany and abroad as well as information on upcoming and past events. Among others, contributors included former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, his successor Sigmar Gabriel, Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen, Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller, Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière, Minister of Justice Heiko Maas, Deputy Secretary General for the EU External Action Service Helga Maria Schmid, several members of parliament, academics, civil society representatives and international experts such as Crisis Group President Jean-Marie Guéhenno. On social media, the debate was accompanied by the @PeaceLab2016 posts under the hashtag #PeaceLab2016.

In July 2017, the PeaceLab2016 team at GPPi published a summary of the debate: A Fresh Look at Crisis Prevention: Ideas for the Guidelines of the Federal Government ‘Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace.’ All blog contributions as well as event reports continue to be available on this blog.