Can inclusive approaches prevent the escalation or recurrence of violence, as the subtitle of the recent UN–World Bank report, Pathways for Peace, suggests? If so, how? And what are the pitfalls of inclusion? Qualitative case study research conducted at the Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative (IPTI) offers answers to these complex questions.
Pathways for Peace
During my dissertation and post-dissertation fieldwork in Kenya and India, I was often struck by how my interviewees—including political elites—framed the issue of electoral violence. For many, such conflict had come to be a normalized aspect of their nations’ politics. Rather than denying that major episodes of election-time violence involved political machinations, respondents typically displaced the blame for such violence onto rival parties and candidates. And yet, there was also an explicit recognition that election-time conflict had come with significant human costs for ordinary Kenyans and Indians. In short, although there was an understanding that the overlap between elections and violence in these countries was far from ideal, there was also an acknowledgement that this was simply how “the game had to played.”
How can countries emerging from civil war be supported on their path toward sustainable peace? Besides the finding that multidimensional peacekeeping reduces the risk of civil war recurrence, little systematic knowledge exists on the effects of international efforts to foster peace. Therefore, debates over priorities, sequencing, and other questions regarding the design of international support in postconflict contexts are far from concluded. At the same time, recurring violence continues to haunt many countries that have experienced civil war.
The upsurge in violent conflict since 2010 has led to renewed calls to promote the use of preventive diplomacy. But what do we mean by preventive diplomacy? Who can do it? And what methods are effective? As a contribution to the joint United Nations and World Bank study on preventing violent conflict, the European Institute of Peace (EIP) looked further into these questions. As a first step, we undertook a “rough and ready” review of available academic literature to see what the data sets used by social scientists might have to tell us about the issue. The picture is far from clear.
Since 2016, the United States budget for United Nations peacekeeping has been reduced by 40 percent. This is a reflection of how many view the United Nations and it’s record on peacekeeping. Data on the effectiveness of UN peacekeepers, however, don’t support this perception. In fact, they find that the opposite is true. Numerous statistical studies have explored the role of third-party peacekeeping in reducing violence around the world. They all come to the same conclusion: Peacekeeping works better than almost anything else we know. Using different datasets and statistical models, leveraging slightly different time periods, and measuring peacekeeping in somewhat different ways, the most rigorous studies have all found that peacekeeping has a large, positive, and statistically significant effect on containing the spread of civil war, increasing the success of negotiated settlements to civil wars, and increasing the duration of peace once a civil war has ended (see here, here, here, and here). More recent statistical studies have found an equally strong relationship between large-scale peace operations and the spread of civil wars, within and between states (see here, here, and here).
Since Dag Hammarskjold first articulated the concept of preventive diplomacy more than half a century ago, the idea that diplomatic engagement can head off violent conflict has been at the heart of the UN. But over the past 30 years, the nature of armed conflict has changed dramatically, and today’s diplomats are faced with a far more complex array of actors, intra-state dynamics, and global risks than ever before. Violent conflict is growing and becoming more difficult to resolve. As a result, the need to prevent violent conflict before it starts has become the UN’s overriding priority.
Yet while the UN Secretary-General has called for a “surge in diplomacy for peace,” very little is actually known about what preventive diplomacy really is, and what makes it work. In a paper to support a joint UN-World Bank project on prevention, Alexandra Pichler-Fong and Adam Day set out to answer the question, “Under what conditions does UN diplomacy help shift the calculus away from violent conflict?”
Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict—the flagship study jointly published by the UN and the World Bank—has been touted as an unparalleled, potentially paradigm-shifting piece of work. But so often, conflict prevention approaches are weighted toward Africa or the Middle East; is the study relevant to Australia’s region and interests?
This study is a mix, but it tips toward the positive for Australia’s approach to security, politics, and development. It features several countries of high interest to Australia, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Timor Leste. Even Bougainville rates an instructive mention, although Solomon Islands is not discussed. Subnational conflict and middle-income country dynamics are certainly considered in a general sense. Predictably, though, African and Middle Eastern experiences are more prominent, given they are in many cases acute, high profile, and the destination of much conflict or peacebuilding support and political interest of UN and World Bank members.
Most conflicts take place in fragile low- and middle-income countries. Therefore, monitoring, measuring, and evaluating the risk of violent conflict in such environments poses a huge challenge, but is necessary to inform strategies and interventions. Can we monitor the risk of conflict, or is this an impossible task? What tools do we have at our disposal for doing so?
The renewed focus on conflict prevention—resulting from the jointly published UN–World Bank study, Pathways for Peace—along with the recent rise in intra-state and regional conflicts, has thrust conflict prevention back to the center of global security sector reform (SSR) discourse.
As highlighted in the 2017 DCAF report, “The Contribution and Role of SSR in the Prevention of Violent Conflict”, security and justice institutions are often the primary interface between states and the populations they are meant to serve. But their protracted ineffectiveness or poor governance can leave the door open for conflict to escalate. It is therefore encouraging that we are going back to the roots of SSR and reassessing its role in conflict prevention.
Studies on conflict prediction and prevention often investigate places that experience civil war and try to determine why they occurred, with the idea that knowing the answer can inform policymaking efforts. This approach has two weaknesses. First, it provides an incomplete understanding of conflict, as there are no comparisons between these observed cases and a set of systematically chosen and similar peers. Second, it does not answer the question of whether the international community can identify risk factors in time to do anything about them.