The Growing Role of Conflict Prevention in Support of the EU’s Efforts in Peacebuilding and Statebuilding

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    Current international developments present a serious challenge to any actor seeking to play a positive role in the world. The sheer number of concurrent crises; the complexity of inter-locking conflicts; the emergence of new, often trans-national and non-state violent actors; the simultaneous return to geo-political rivalry and resurgent nationalism in some quarters; the catastrophic humanitarian consequences, are all huge challenges for the EU as it strives to forge an effective response.

    Today's conflicts are rarely classic inter-state conflicts, nor are they civil wars confined to one country. These conflicts may be driven by domestic grievances yet some transform over time; they become proxy wars, driven and sustained by outside players, and commonly entwined with organised crime. The number of non-state armed actors and the blurring of interests and alliances can present a complex and confusing picture for those looking to identify and engage parties in peace processes.

    At the heart of many of the crises we are witnessing is a violent challenge against the authority, legitimacy and nature of the state. The loss of state control over territory is one manifestation of this. Increasingly, social media provide a basis for connecting people across borders and empowering and mobilising them outside the control of national governments.

    Some commentators have questioned whether states still have the same relevance in this rapidly changing world, and whether ‘state-building’ is the logical path and focus to promote peace, security, development and prosperity. Yet, a capable and effective state, able and willing to deliver basic services to its citizens within the rule of law, remains the cornerstone of stability and growth.

    Connecting governance with the people

    State-building is too often associated with an over-emphasis on strengthening national government and the ‘State’. But true state-building connects the institutions of governance with the people, and links people with people, in a social contract.

    People want good governance that delivers rights and dignity, justice, jobs, access to services and the rule of law, and that gives them a voice on issues that matter to them. When people and groups challenge the legitimacy and authority of their governments, and even the borders of the states in which they reside, more often than not they still want a state, but one that better meets their basic needs and aspirations.

    States and state-building remain crucial for conflict prevention, peace-building and development. Indeed, properly-functioning states are those that can manage change and resolve conflict without violence. Much of the EU's focus on preventing violent conflict is about helping build the capacities of states where government legitimacy and popular consent are derived from inclusiveness, democratic accountability and action to respond to the needs, fears and expectations of people.  

    A ‘Comprehensive Approach’

    The European External Action Service (EEAS), still a young institution, was established to help deliver a more effective and coherent EU approach to these sorts of challenges. From its development assistance to its humanitarian action, from its diplomatic engagement to its ability to deploy civilian missions and military operations, the EU has a lot to offer. The sheer size of the EU’s economy and trade volumes make the EU a significant global actor.

    The EU’s authority derives from the normative weight of 28 member states coming together, united by common values and principles. It also stems from the collective experience of conflict, state-building and peace-building within Europe. The European experience of turning a conflict-ridden continent into a Union of prosperous democracies is a powerful example to less stable parts of the world.  

    The EU has a significant set of instruments at its disposal to prevent conflict and promote peace-building that span the diplomatic, security, defence, financial, trade, development cooperation and humanitarian aid fields. It is now beginning to bring these more effectively to bear in its external actions.

    This is the ‘Comprehensive Approach’, and it is increasingly the reality of the way the EU thinks and operates when dealing with conflicts and crises. Set out in late 2013 in a Joint Communication of the EEAS and the European Commission, this is a commitment to make the EU's external action more consistent, more effective and more strategic; the development of an Action Plan, currently underway, will further contribute to the operationalisation of the Comprehensive Approach.

    Putting the ‘Approach’ into practice                                                      

    Somalia is one such example where a comprehensive approach helps guide policies and implementation. Since 2011 a EU Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa has guided the EU's multi-sectoral engagement in the region. By means of active diplomacy and support to the political process, security support, development assistance and humanitarian aid, the EU is contributing to the work on establishing a peaceful, stable and democratic Somalia. The EU is actively pursuing a political dialogue and partnership with Somalia through the engagement of the EU Special Envoy and the EU Delegation, jointly with the efforts of the EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa. Support in the security sphere is provided by EU military operations ATALANTA and EUTM and civilian mission EUCAP Nestor. Since 2007, also with support amounting to €411 million, the EU is a firm supporter of AMISOM which is a vital component of Somali security. At the same time, the EU is Somalia’s biggest donor of development assistance based on the New Deal compact which ensures local ownership and engagement.

    Other examples include the EU approach to Mali and more recently to the crisis in Central Africa Republic. Increasingly, the EU has been adopting integrated regional security strategies, for example in the Gulf of Guinea. In July, the EU adopted a citizens' security strategy in Central America and the Caribbean aimed notably at strengthening governments' capacity to tackle insecurity while upholding human rights and boosting prevention policies.

    The Comprehensive Approach places a strong emphasis on preventing violent conflict and crises in the first place. Significant effort has been put into developing and institutionalising a new EU ‘early warning system’ to identify countries at risk of violent conflict, or of an escalation of violence in the future. This new system, which combines analysis of open sources with internal staff assessments, is already generating vibrant internal debate on conflict issues. Crucially, it is increasing attention to future risks and priorities and opportunities for preventive action and is putting in place mechanisms to regularly review risks and monitor EU actions to address them.

    There has also been a surge in the use of a structured approach to conflict analysis that brings together all relevant EU institutional actors. The early warning system and the conflict analysis approach are key elements of the Comprehensive Approach. Their deployment invariably leads to an examination of the nature and role of the state(s) in question, and the extent to which each generates violence or fails to manage conflict peacefully.

    Such analysis is also encouraging more focus on the positive capacities and connections within states and their societies and beyond. These are the capacities that provide resilience to risks of violence and that form a possible basis for conflict prevention and peace-building. This leads to the identification of a wider range of options for the EU to deploy conflict-sensitive responses.

    Joint analysis for success

    This investment in focussed analysis and the institutionalisation of a preventive culture are in their early days and still need deepening. They are not a panacea on their own, but they represent an important step forward.

    Joint analysis and planning are also required for thinking through transition strategies that flexibly blend and sequence the EU’s instruments. This is necessary to ensure the EU takes a longer-term approach to peace-building and state-building that emphasises local ownership and sustainability. Joint analysis increasingly informs the strategic planning and implementation of the EU's responses to crises, be it through the deployment and review of civilian missions and military operations, diplomacy, humanitarian or development assistance.

    The Comprehensive Approach also highlights the importance of partnering with others in these efforts. The Arab Spring and developments in other parts of the world have acted as a reminder that the EU needs to engage with and understand the perspectives of people in those countries, not just governments, if we are going to respond effectively to state-building and peace-building challenges.

    The EU has a long track record of supporting civil society organisations around the world. Its partnership with and funding support to the Civil Society Dialogue Network (CSDN), run by the consortium of NGOs that form the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO), is a good example of how the EU is increasingly engaging civil society in policy and strategy formulation and review – on specific countries, in the design of crisis response missions, or in reviewing overall progress on conflict prevention for example. Experts and civil society representatives from fragile countries are increasingly invited to EU conflict analysis workshops to enrich the analysis and challenge our thinking. And promoting the proper inclusion of civil society, including women, is a central tenet of our approach, even if there unquestionably remains scope to take this further.

    No such thing as a ‘quick fix’

    None of this is easy. There are no 'quick fixes' and the world will continue to see instability and violence. The EU will remain a complicated set of institutions and its financial situation will continue to have implications for external action. In 2011, an independent Thematic Review of ten years of European Commission Support to Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding presented a challenging agenda for the EU to raise its game. There is a long way to go and no room for complacency, but the institutional progress and appetite for change are worth acknowledging. It is fair to say that the EU is on the right track, and will increasingly, with continued innovation, be in a position to apply its full capacities to promoting peace.

    Joelle Jenny is Director for Conflict Prevention and Security Policy at the European External Action Service (EEAS).

    This article was published in GREAT insights Volume 4, Issue 1 (December 2014/January 2015).

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