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Fragmented and interconnected Conflicts

October 9, 2016

1.    Intro

From time to time in the past year, I’ve been asked to give an overview of conflict and peace trends as part of a regular UK government course. The title of the session is Global Conflict Trends and Challenges: it’s intended as a broad, impressionistic view, with a focus on what the UK – especially the government – can do. After delivering this talk from simple notes all year, I’ve written them up here. It starts with a simple overview of high level trends, followed by an attempt to define a rough typology of ongoing conflicts. This in turn is followed by a broad description of some of the drivers of conflict and violence relevant to the present day and coming years, then finally I ask: what can the UK do? Nothing I say below is based on a specific review of academic papers: it has simply emerged from ongoing, casual analysis and scanning of literature and media, and discussions with colleagues and friends.

2.     Conflict and Peace trends

Briefly and broadly, I note six main trends.

  • Stephen Pinker’s insight that human society taken as a whole, has become considerably more and more peaceful over the past few centuries, as measured by the incidence of war-related and other forms of violence including rape and domestic violence. Pinker – whose analysis is controversial, but is based on a wide review of data – ascribes this to five main factors, which I summarised in a blog post in 2012: the Enlightenment, improved governance, the feminisation of some societies, an increase in empathy, and the cooperation inherent in commerce. His main point is that despite terrible episodes of bloodletting, things have been steadily improving over the long-term.
  • Increasing international stability brought about first by the post-Second World War settlement, and – after a spate of post-colonial wars following the end of various Western European empires in the 1960-70s, and again after the collapse of the Soviet empire in the 1990s – a significant reduction in wars, from about 50 in 1990, to only about 30 in 2010. This improvement represents among other factors, the growing commitment to and success of peacebuilding and peacebuilding efforts by the international community. Recent progress towards peace deals in Philippines, Colombia and Myanmar are examples from the present day.
  • But this trend has now seemingly reversed, and there are some 40 wars being waged today; including the horrendous violence in Yemen and Syria which is – rightly – forever in the news. Of course counting the number of wars is an imperfect measure, since Syria and (say) Burundi may both count as one, whereas the complexity, scale and depth of their conflicts differs enormously. Some 57 million people are thought to be displaced globally, terrorism and its impact is on the rise, the number of battle deaths has increased fivefold since 2008, and the Global Peace Index (GPI) has shown a decline in peace since 2008. (Though it is important to note that the 2016 GPI shows an increase in peacefulness if the data from the Middle East and North Africa region are removed).
  • Wars and conflicts have continued, in a trend which has prevailed since the Second World War, to be increasingly internal in nature – notwithstanding the relevance of external factors to most internal conflicts, the frequent involvement of outside powers, and the tendency of internal wars to affect or spill over into neighbouring countries.
  • Nevertheless there is a visible resurgence of conflict between the major powers: between the Russia and the USA and its allies; and perhaps also between the USA and China.
  • There is a growing recognition and understanding of ‘positive peace’, and how to build it. Positive peace is the idea that simply stopping the fighting (negative peace) is not enough. Half of all peace agreements are said to break down within five years, usually because the underlying issues remain unresolved (as in Liberia in the 1990s), or because resolving them created or exposed new tensions and conflicts (South Sudan). In the end, all peace agreements should be seen as ceasefires merely, which need to be managed and adapted with continuous care, until critical tensions are resolved or at least manageable. Positive peace is when people and societies – at whatever level, from the household to global relations – have the combination of culture, systems and capacity to anticipate and manage conflicts non-violently. We have seen an increasing international commitment to peacebuilding – the nurturing and sustenance of positive peace – and knowledge about how to go about it, e.g. in NGOs like International Alert; the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS) and the G7+; the acceptance of the ‘New Deal’ at the High Level Forum for Aid Effectiveness at Busan; the adoption of peace and security in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the integration of conflict-sensitive humanitarianism at the World Humanitarian Summit and in recent IDPS statements; and UN Security Council Resolution 2282 mandating step change improvements in UN peacebuilding intent and capacity; the establishment of a department for Fragility, Conflict, Violence and Forced Displacement in the World Bank; a fourfold increase in lending by the International Finance Corporation to projects in fragile and conflict-affected contexts; the adoption of conflict-sensitive approaches by extractive companies, the Global Compact, and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights Initiative; the integration of conflict-sensitive climate adaptation into policy by G7 member countries and elsewhere, and the increasing recognition of the human security dimension of climate change; and an increased understanding among donors and international bodies that state building encompasses building relationships among citizens and between citizens and the state, not just building the capacity of state institutions. Phew!

capture-positive-peace-boxSo, broadly, looking back over the past few decades, there is much to be happy about, but also evidence that violent conflicts are on the rise again, and terrible, prolonged human suffering wherever that is happening.

3.    A typology of violent conflicts?

In looking at some of the extant violent conflicts, I have developed a very simple typology. Not surprisingly, many conflicts fit into more than one, and often several categories – which is perhaps a reflection of the inherent complexity of most conflicts, especially those which become violent because they have not been managed, resolved or contained.

But before getting into the typology, it’s worth a reminder that conflict is a normal feature of society. Once two or more people get together, they are bound to encounter situations in which their perceptions and preferences differ, and larger groups and societies will inevitably have even greater and more complex differences to resolve. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine societies making development progress without conflicts over which directions to take, over who should reap the benefits of change, and over who will lose out or risk losing out. (It is, after all, the task of politics to chart a way forwards for society in the face of multiple competing ideologies and ideas.) At a fundamental level conflicts are thus necessary if we are to make progress in human flourishing. It is when they become violent, are left unmanaged, or are resolved unfairly, that problems arise. And so my typology is not so much a typology of conflicts, but of violent conflicts:

  1. Conflicts waged by international extremist movements. This concerns extremist Sunni Islamist movements fighting a complex war against unfavourable regimes mainly in the Middle East and their supporters in the West, using old fashioned political-theology as a propaganda tool which has often become the tail wagging the dog. This largely asymmetric warfare links up diverse groups of alienated Sunni Muslims across the world in loose and evolving franchise models led in different contexts by conflict entrepreneurs. Linking local grievances to a global movement allows successful local acts of violence to have a wide geographic impact, while the movement remains resilient to local defeats.
  1. Geopolitical conflicts of major regional or global significance. These are the high level conflicts which persist for decades, the resolution of which requires either a massive and costly victory by one side or, usually a mixture of containment and proxy wars. The Cold War is over now, but the conflicts between Russia and NATO members, between China and various other Pacific nations and powers, conflicts over Iran’s and Israel’s roles in the Middle East, and historically over oil, and between India and Pakistan, all fall into this category.
  1. Intercommunal violence between neighbours identified by religion and ethnicity. This is a feature of many countries and regions, especially where governance is poor (since a primary task of governance is to create a supra-identity which encompasses different ethnic or religious identities, for example between groups in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Nepal, Northern Ireland and the Central African Republic.
  1. Classic stand-offs over territory. These are the international – often long-frozen but unresolved – conflicts such as between North and South Korea, Pakistan and India over Kashmir, Israel and the Palestinians, and Georgians and Abkhazians (and Russia) over Abkhazia, and between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Ngorny-Karabakh. Inevitably such long-term unresolved conflicts play into regional and global dynamics, and in some cases can take on a talismanic importance far from their physical locale – as in the way Israel plays into geopolitics and American politics.
  1. Long-running sub-national conflicts. These aren’t always in the news internationally (or even nationally), but plenty of sub-national conflicts around the world persist unresolved: for example Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, Southern Thailand, Northern Ireland, the Basque region of Spain, Mindanao and Communist guerrilla movements in the Philippines, a slew of small scale, mainly communist armed rebellions across a large swathe of eastern and north-eastern India, and ethnically defined armed groups in parts of Sudan, Myanmar and Mali.
  1. Chronic conflicts of state formation. This is a controversial category, as it has been argued that conflicts of state formation can only be accurately described as such by historians, after the state has been formed; and that state formation is a never-ending process. Nevertheless, a significant number of national conflicts are very much between groups with different perspectives on the nature of the state, of the relationship between the state and the people, and over who has the right to control access to state power. The long-running chronic conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Central African Republic, Mali, Chad, South Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan and several parts of the ex-Soviet Union – and more recently in Libya, Syria and Iraq – all fit this category, which is particularly relevant to countries which have emerged from colonial status or a long period of home grown repression.
  1. Countries apparently emerging from conflict. I noted earlier that peace agreements are notoriously susceptible to breakdown. The recent resurgence of violence in Mozambique and Burundi are just two recent examples. Civil wars, sub-national conflicts and geopolitical conflicts are notoriously persistent. But wars can and do end, or be brought to an end. Currently or in recent years a number of places are emerging from years of conflict and war, usually through a peace deal but sometimes through victory and defeat: such as Colombia, Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, the Basque region and Uganda.
  1. Other social or societal conflicts. Finally, a catch-all category of violent conflicts which affect significant numbers of people in society, but are not always seen as “armed conflict”. This occurs in countries or parts of countries (often urban areas) typically affected by inadequate and/or structurally unfair governance arrangements and state capacity, the presence of organised crime conducted by armed gangs, and a lack of alternative economic activity. The resulting violence tends to affect young people in particular – as perpetrators and victims. When the World Bank said in 2011 that 1.5 billion people lived in contexts affected by armed violence, their figure included places in this category, and they were thinking of places like Jamaica, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil and Honduras.

I hope these are useful categories, but I know they are also poor, not least because so many conflicts fit into several of them. Where, for example, would one place Syria today? Certainly in the Islamic extremism, state formation, geopolitics and communal boxes; and perhaps also by the stand-off over territory (because of the link to Israel / Palestine) and sub-national conflicts… But a crisp, overlap-free typology is almost certainly impossible now (if it ever was), because we are in an age of so-called fragmented conflicts, described by the Advisory Group of Experts report in 2015 as ‘more complex, increasingly fragmented and intractable’.

4.    Drivers

The nexus between demographic, economic and environmental stresses

Conflicts are most often caused by stresses operating in and on societies, and violence happens when the capacity to absorb those stresses and manage the resulting conflicts – i.e. the degree of resilience – is inadequate or overwhelmed. The kinds of conflicts I have described above are all, in one way or another, conflicts over access to power. But what are the underlying drivers? In developing its current multi-year strategy, International Alert recently identified a complex of factors which seem to be sustaining, and possibly increasing the incidence, of violent conflict. These make up a dynamic combination of economic, environmental and demographic pressures putting societies under stresses which they lack the resilience to address and absorb.

Demographic pressures vary from place to place, but there are several relevant ways in which they create stress. First, the youth bulge affecting poor and many middle income countries, where young people make up the lion’s share of the population and seek an outlet for their energy and ambitions but become frustrated and create instability when these ambitions can’t be met. This phenomenon has helped persuade an admittedly small number of young men in parts of the Islamic world to gravitate towards ISIS, which offers them a chance to make a difference – to have a sense of political agency which seems to be denied them at home. It’s also one of the factors behind the Arab Spring – which was heralded by the self-immolation of a frustrated young Tunisian named Mohamed Bouazizi. Young people today can watch CNN and Al Jazeera and see the kinds of lives others are living, to which they also aspire but cannot attain, so their frustration is redoubled.

Second, in rich countries, people are living longer and having fewer children, so the shape of society is becoming top-heavy and thus unstable. There are too few young people, so the economy requires high levels of immigration to maintain its balance and momentum. This too often creates resentment and instability as immigrant and indigenous populations jostle against one another – a situation all-too-easily manipulated by demagogues and conflict entrepreneurs.

Third, is the basic link between demographics to resources. Population growth is outstripping the resources available for economic growth and decent living in too many places: insufficient land and other resources mean too many people in fragile countries have insufficient incomes; and the enabling development infrastructure is missing. Inequality persists – and seems to be growing – within and between societies. Again, this leads to frustration and grievances. The economy of many developing and fragile countries is still very much based on (often fragile) natural resources, so growing populations put more pressure on these, which in turn undermines economic development and can erode people’s assets and incomes, in a vicious spiral which is further exacerbated when climate change undermines farming and living systems – adding yet more stress.

People whose livelihoods thus become unviable are obliged to move: to other agricultural land on which others may have a prior claim, leading to new conflicts; to the rich world where they are often unwelcome, creating new conflicts there; or to growing and poorly governed informal settlements on the edge of cities, which become fertile grounds for violent crime and other sources of instability. Urbanisation is potentially good for peace, as cities create the possibility of faster and more widely shared economic growth, the development of a growing middle class with a stake in stability, an erosion of ethnic divisions, increasingly dynamic civil society, and improved governance and relations between citizens and the state. Mahmood Mamdani has written about how urbanisation in Africa can create ‘citizens’ out of ‘subjects’. But during rapid urbanisation, the state’s writ is often replaced by that of non-state governance bodies – such as the gangs in the informal settlements of Nairobi – in an environment of deep poverty, human insecurity and violence.

Identity, organised crime and technology

Additional factors which exacerbate the negative dimension of this nexus between demographic, resources and economic dynamics still further include international organised crime, questions of identity, and technology.

Organised criminals love nothing more than a fragile country with a hollow state, as this allows them to set up networks with virtual impunity using corruption, patronage and violence. In the process they further hollow out the state and make the context yet more fragile.

Non-national forms of identity become important in fragile contexts. Religious and ethnic networks provide the economic and social resilience, and often physical security, when the state cannot. This too often leads to – or exacerbates – enmity between identity groups; and this is all-too-easily manipulated by conflict entrepreneurs leading to violence, and often chronic violence. The breakdown of peace in South Sudan is just one example of tis among many.

Technologies can have a major impact on conflict and peace. Connections and communication is critical for peace, and technology can enable these. And there are numerous other ways that technology can enhance the five peace factors noted above: improving accountability and political voice, enhancing economic opportunity, access to justice and security, and improving people’s living conditions. But technological leaps can also be risky for peace: notably by enhancing communication and propaganda between conflict entrepreneurs and their followers, and enabling acts of violence to be planned and executed across a wide area – as when ISIS operatives carry out attacks in western Europe under orders from the Middle East.capture-dynamics

The risks which change – including development progress – brings

All these and other stresses are operating in and on societies at a time of great change: not just demographic change but also political change. And this is one of the reasons to be concerned about the shape of the conflict and violence trends in the coming years. Many of the institutions which help anticipate and manage change in many societies – those which mediate the horizontal and vertical relationships, and governance mechanisms and norms – are in flux. Relations between men and women, and between the generations, are changing, often becoming more equal and freer; many political systems are becoming less repressive and more democratic, at least on the surface; and international relationships are being recast, as the post-Second War settlement becomes less and less fit for the purpose of managing the stresses and conflicts of the 21st Century. Ironically, many of these changes are positive, at least as seen from a liberal, western perspective and in the long-term. But such changes will take a long time to bed in – and some may never – so in the meantime, many institutions have a reduced capacity to deal with stress and conflict, at just the moment when they need to do so. Result: a risk of increased local, national, regional and international stability and thus of violence. One example of this is the concept of “anocracy” – when governance is neither autotratic nor fully democratic, but somewhere in between. Anocracies are at greater risk of political violence – they are less resilient – than either autocracies or democracies.

5.     What can the UK do?

Wickedness

The kinds of issues and phenomena described superficially above are complex, often structural in nature, and hard to shift. Negative trends are difficult to deflect. Not the least, this is because some factors are, on the face of it, potentially positive in the longer term, even if they contribute to difficulties today and tomorrow: a shift towards gender equality or more participatory governance, for example. Most conflict and peace issues fall into the category of “wicked problems”: these (unlike so called “tame” problems) are complex, contradictory, dynamic, hard to describe and define comprehensively or completely, and impossible to “solve”.  Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems. This applies to virtually all conflicts and conflict issues. Syria is simply the most obvious example of this phenomenon, which is also consistent with the trend for ‘interconnected, increasingly fragmented conflicts’ noted by the UN Advisory Group of Experts, and mentioned earlier.

The literature says of wicked problems that they should be treated with humility. Rather than try to “fix things”, we should build a thorough and ongoing analysis, imbued with the knowledge that we cannot fully describe and understand them well enough to find comprehensive solutions. We need to use multi-stakeholder processes to capture as many perspectives as possible in defining the problems and ways to address them. Wicked problems lend themselves to a political approach, rather than problem solving approach. This means developing a vision of “better”, and principles for action, and then adopting an incremental approach – seizing opportunities as they occur, and monitoring and adapting approaches continuously. Above all, it is important not to try to problematize or projectise the big picture. Unfortunately, this kind of approach goes against the grain for journalists and politicians, whose cate rules require them to simplify and offer ‘solutions’. It’s thus really important for others – such as civil servants and civil society, to keep the more complex picture in view.

Getting the language right

Language matters, as it contributes to how issues are framed, and thus conditions responses. Just as treating a wicked problem as a tame one leads to misdiagnosis and the wrong prescription, so mis-labelling also matters. Some of the language used to label conflicts and associated dynamics falls into this trap. Getting one’s metaphors right matters. The “frozen conflicts” of the South Caucasus are far from frozen – as recent events in Ngorny-Karabakh showed. The violence may be on hold, but conflicts remain alive. We are fond of describing the UK’s role abroad in terms of “building” – for example state building, building institutions, and building resilience. Yet states, institutions and resilience surely emerge from circumstances – and often slowly – rather than being constructed (“built”), which implies a blueprint – and often one drawn by external hands. Another favourite phrase du jour is political settlement, which many external actors are keen to see as they believe it a necessary component of stability in fragile contexts. They are probably right, but their keenness to see it does not mean it is there: in the debacle following the fall of Ghaddafi’s regime in Libya, the UK and other internationals were all too happy to spot what looked like a political settlement between factions, on which to rebuild the state. How wrong it turns out they were. And finally, countering violent extremism is another problematic coinage, because “countering” assumes a simple cause-and-effect which is unhelpful in dealing with a wicked problem, and violent extremism is but one phenomenal aspect of a wicked problem touching on livelihoods, alienation, local and national governance, gender and inter-generational relations and identity, to name but a few. It’s probably most accurate to think of social “goods” such as peacefulness, representative governance, citizenship, and states which are both effective and fair, as emerging or evolving. If they are evolving, can we apply a Darwinian approach and attempt to reinforce the incentives and signals which guide that evolution…

Tensions

The UK will continue to find it difficult to balance its need for stability with the need for progressive change. Change is disruptive in the short-term, even when it may eventually lead to long term peace – you need to break eggs to make an omelette, as they say – and so it often seems sensible to favour the status quo, even when it is inequitable and harms people. Nowhere is it easier to see this challenge than in the Middle East. For historical and realpolitik reasons connected to the Cold War, colonial and post-colonial relations, trade, Israel, and the interests of its allies, the UK’s relationship with the countries of the Middle East has been defined for years by the need for stability, rather than progress for the people of the region. This led it actively to support very unsavoury regimes – such as Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia –  and also by indirect means to prop up unsavoury regimes of its non-allies in the region – in Syria, for example. Somehow or other, the UK must start to reset these relationships. President Al Sisi may provide stability in Egypt today, and maintain Egypt’s peace with Israel, but as long as regimes like his (just as President Mubarrak’s before him) continue undermine the five peace factors, they are doing Egyptians and others in the region no favours in the long term. Resetting these relationships will be hard, especially given the UK’s foreign policy dependence on Washington. But it must be done, and must be started now, if the UK is ever to be able to achieve a morally defensible approach to the region.

This also means finding a balance between short term national security needs, and long term peacebuilding. This is difficult for a democracy, as the media and public will be quick to round on any government approach seen as failing to protect the “our security”. So it will always make apparent political sense to take a national security approach to issues like violent extremism – ‘taking the fight’ to violent extremists, supporting governments who use repressive approaches to deal with extremists and potential extremists within their borders, and so on – than to address the complex – “wicked” – sets of issues which lead some people to take up violence as an approach to politics. But if the wicked problems are not addressed as such, and short term security actions lead to a reaction against “the west” and its clients, the problem is not addressed but made worse, progress towards more peaceful lives remains out of reach for too many people in fragile countries and the national security threat remains.

Internationalism

Often the UK can do little alone. In a speech to NGOs recently, DFID Minister of State Rory Stewart reminded them of Kant’s stricture that “ought implies can” – that a moral obligation (or political desire) is valid only when one has the means to be effective. So sometimes, doing nothing is the right response. But there is plenty the UK can do – through its development and diplomatic arms, including through the capacity of its civil society, to build the five peace factors in conflict-prone places. But in these domains, and especially when it comes to stopping or preventing actual violence, it is unlikely to ever be effective acting alone. So multi-lateral approaches must remain the order of the day.

It can continue to help set the tone for new liberal order, characterised by free trade, human rights, and a presumption that collaboration between states and among nations and people is the default setting for a more peaceful world. This is as much about the tone and culture of international affairs, as about specific instruments or actions. ‘Liberalism’ has taken a knock over past years, not least because it is associated with a globalisation which seems to ignore some people’s needs, and the military interventions wrongly carried out in its name. At its heart, liberalism is founded on a belief in progress which is beneficial to people across society; the need for governmental and other institutions to manage the conflicts and differences which inevitably occur within and between societies, non-violently and fairly; the need to prevent governments becoming overweening or repressive; and respect for the freedom of individuals, associations and communities. All this is highly supportive of peace. But liberalism obstructs certain interests, thus is constantly under threat nationally and internationally, so it needs to be nurtured and sustained. These tenets are embedded in British society and institutions. Britain thus has an important role to play in defending and promoting them wherever they are weak or under threat – in international systems and relations, as within individual polities. This means using its influence in specific countries through bilateral diplomacy, aid and trade, and through the work of British NGOs. It also means supporting international institutions especially the UN.

Last year’s Advisory Group of Experts’ report on the UN’s role in peacebuilding, the Challenge of Sustaining Peace, claimed the UN had lost its way, and led to Security Council Resolution 2282 which mandates the UN to rediscover its role in sustaining peace. This will not be easy, but the UK as a P5 member, a major financial contributor to the UN, an active proponent of Sustainability Goal 16 on Peace and the R2P, and whose own 2015 Aid Strategy counts building peace among its top priorities, is well placed to promote this policy in the UN system.

I mentioned earlier than the risk of instability is greatest when institutions are in flux. The international governance architecture is in flux, as power dynamics have changed considerably since it was set up in 1945. It is evolving. The UK can contribute to ensuring that this evolution is effective, and happens at the right speed – not being held back by those unwilling to accept change, nor being hurried by those who are anxious for change but fail to see the rocks ahead. As a waning but still influential power, the UK can help broaden international participation in international governance – reflected in the growing importance of the G20, for example. It can also strengthen its own political relationships with the second wave of ‘emerging economies’ – middle income countries mainly in Asia and Latin America in particular – which will be influential in determining the future of a liberal order, and which can counterbalance China and Russia.

Meanwhile the refugee flows of recent years tell us that we now live in an era where borders simply don’t mean what they once did: all borders are porous, and international communications and travel are increasingly easy. During the next few years the UN will need to revisit international conventions about what constitutes a refugee, and about how the global community combines its resources as a responsible duty bearer to those in need of support. The UK ought to have a strong voice in this debate, standing up for the rights of the disempowered by enshrining their rights in new conventions setting out how they must be fulfilled in a new era.

Britain helped craft the five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs), which are a simple way to consider what progress can look like in fragile or conflict-affected countries: more legitimate and effective politics which take account of people’s needs across society, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, safety for all, fair access to justice, and the provision of fair and decent services. It also lobbied hard for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which include peace, justice and good governance. Both of these frameworks – the SDGs and the PSGs – will inevitably be ignored by those leaders whose people would benefit the most if they were observed. As a major donor and P5 member, the UK has an important role to play in sustaining and financing progress towards the SDGs and the PSGs. And as a major trading nation too, it can help promote the kind of fair, participatory economic growth combined with good governance which is needed to overcome the twin forces of greed and grievance which so often undermine peace. It is critical the UK continues its efforts to implement peacebuilding programmes as a priority in fragile and conflict-affected countries. In addition, as a major shareholder of the World Bank and funder of so many other international development banks and multilaterals, the UK should continue promote their adoption of the kinds of development programming and lending which are most likely to contribute towards the PSGs in fragile contexts.

Contributing to peace through other means

Finally, the UK can contribute to peace by what one might call “building peace through other means”, to help reduce and manage the kinds of stresses likely to increase conflict and violence. The UK can do more to define its international posture and outreach in terms of strengthening the “peace factors”. This means for example using aid, trade, diplomacy and domestic policies with an impact abroad, to strengthen fair access in fragile contexts to livelihoods, justice, security and decent living conditions, and help build functional intra- and inter-community and citizen-state relationships. All these objectives, if done based on an understanding of political, societal and conflict dynamics per context, can be important incremental steps in addressing “wicked problems” and on the road towards more peaceful lives for people living in fragile contexts. Given the central importance of functional relationships within and between communities, and between citizens and the state, it’s important that all such initiatives integrate approaches which increase participation in decision making. And give the importance of fairness, they should all aim to ensure wide participation in the benefits they produce.

Not all the UK’s contributions to peace and stability have to take place abroad. As a financial centre it is well placed to contribute to reducing organised crime, corruption and money laundering, for example through increase transparency of financial assets managed in the UK, and by promoting international tax reforms which would help increase the tax take in poor and fragile countries. And as a wealthy and long-term carbon emitter, and a member of the UN – it has an important responsibility and role to play both in adopting and promoting carbon neutral technologies for energy generation, and in assisting affected communities to adapt in ways which minimise conflicts. This means maintaining an externally facing stance and recognising its membership of the global community trying to deal with climate change, not remaining focused only on its links to Europe.

The list could go on but the key is to remember that the right question should always be: what can we do to strengthen positive peace?

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