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Ten things MPs need to know and ask about peacebuilding

November 10, 2017
International Alert recently published Redressing the Balance: why we need more peacebuilding in an increasingly uncertain world. This makes the case for a greater focus on and more resources to be invested in peacebuilding, to increase stability and help improve people’s lives in conflict-affected countries around the world.

As part of a series of recommendations in the report, we have called on members of parliament in donor countries to put more emphasis on peacebuilding. With this in mind, here are five things MPs on the UK’s International Development Committee, and their counterparts in other parliaments and the US Congress need to know, along with five questions they ought to ask as part of their scrutiny.

Five things MPs need to know: 

1. Conflict is on the rise again. After a steady decline in conflict since the end of the cold war, the number of wars has increased from 31 to 40 since 2010. The accompanying graph from the Center for Systemic Peace (figure 2 from our report) shows this trend graphically, based on their index of “war magnitude”. Meantime, the number of battle deaths has tripled since 2003, and went up by 27% in 2016 alone. That so much of today’s conflict is focused in the Middle East and Afghanistan, while other parts of the world seem to be more peaceful, should not make anyone complacent, as conflict crosses borders all too easily, as demonstrated by violent extremist acts taking place across the world.

Fig 2

2. Peacebuilding works, provided it is sustained. Building sustainable peace is a long-term endeavour, as any student of history knows. That puts off some decision makers, who are keen to show rapid, tangible results. But evidence from across the world – a sample of which we included in our report – clearly demonstrates how peacebuilding interventions make a timely, tangible and measurable change in people’s lives, their ability to live more securely, resolve their differences, grow the economy, and meet their aspirations in ways which allow others to do the same. The report shows how levels of trust were increased between warring Christian and Muslim communities in the Central African Republic; conflict resolution was improved in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala and Indonesia; political parties in Lebanon became more collaborative; and Serbian leaders intervened to stop revenge attacks on Albanians in Kosovo, in which they admitted they might previously have taken part themselves. It also features the work of business leaders who helped consolidate peace in Northern Uganda; Burundian activists preventing local political violence; security operatives changing their approaches so as to reduce the risk of violence in the Philippines, Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine; and Sudanese women using the mechanisms their mothers had taught them for taunting men to go to war, to persuade community leaders to push for peace instead. And it shows how a variety of mutually supportive peacebuilding initiatives had embedded peaceful attitudes, behaviours and systems in places as diverse as Northern Ireland, Nepal and South Africa.

3. Not nearly enough is being spent on peacebuilding. The policy rhetoric has embraced peacebuilding in the past few years. From the UK Government’s aid programme, the internationally adopted Sustainable Development Goals, the European Union, the World Bank and the UN, to name just a few, policy makers and policies are replete with the language of peacebuilding. And yet, this has not been put into practice on anything like the scale the policies imply, and the needs of peace demand. A recent paper from the Institute for Economics and Peace estimated that the value of peacebuilding investment is only worth about 0.5% of the US$ 1.72 trillion spent globally on the military, and less than 1% of the annual US$ 1.04 trillion cost of lost economic growth due to war. And yet, the same organisation has also demonstrated that every dollar invested in peacebuilding yields sixteen dollars in savings due reduced conflict. So peacebuilding not only works, but is also cost effective – and helps reduce the risk of violent extremism at home, as well as the pain and suffering caused to vulnerable communities far away.

The money piles

4. There is an enormous potential to weave peacebuilding into other forms of engagement: development, diplomacy, trade, etc. Peacebuilding is not something which can be done in isolation, and it can easily be – and should be – integrated into other international initiatives: development aid, diplomacy and so on. In one example, many businesses in Colombia have sought to contribute to the peace process there by their public statements, and also by seeking to support the process of reintegration and reconciliation by workplace initiatives. Meanwhile, it is well known that international initiatives to prevent terrorism are most effective when they rely not just on policing and other traditional security operations, but they also use peacebuilding approaches to reduce tensions and increase the sense of inclusion in the societies where terrorists have typically been recruited.

5. There is a ready-made political constituency willing to back political leaders who champion peacebuilding. This has been demonstrated by polling data recently published by Conciliation Resources and The Alliance for Peacebuilding, which shows that over 70% of people in the UK, the USA and Germany believe peacebuilding is vital, and at least 60% also felt that investment in peacebuilding should be increased, as a both moral and political imperative.

Five questions MPs need to ask: 

​1. Is enough money and effort going into peacebuilding? The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that peacebuilding expenditure in conflict-affected places needs to be worth at least $27 per capita, for a critical mass of change to occur, but is currently only half that.

2. Are government interventions in conflict-affected places focused on building peace and reducing fragility; are they focused not only on short-term stability and security, but also on long-term durable security, engineered through deep and wide political and economic inclusion? It is all too easy to fall into the trap of supporting short term arrangements which help create the stability needed to end or avoid violence, and then turn into repressive and non-inclusive political arrangements which harm their citizens and create grievances which later foment violence. The excitement of the Arab Spring has given way to a military dictatorship in Egypt which is as bad if not worse than the Mubarak regime the Arab Spring brought down. It’s critical that international support for stabilisation integrates support for the development of increasingly inclusive political economy which highlights tolerance, fairness and the inclusion pf women, men and people of all ages and identity groups. Are development and humanitarian programmes in fragile and conflict affected places being designed so they integrate elements of peacebuilding – as they can all too easily be?

3. Are peace activities being sustained for long enough to make a real difference to durable peace? It takes decades to build the foundations for sustainable peace, so it is important that peacebuilding remains a central goal of initiatives, long after the violence which first inspired them may have subsided. And yet all too often, the need for peacebuilding is forgotten as other, familiar tropes take centre stage: economic growth, infrastructure, and so on. It’s critical that providers of international aid focus their support to fragile or conflict affected countries on the need to reduce fragility and embed sustainable peace, for at least twenty-five years after the last fighting ended. After all, at least one third of peace agreements still fail to hold.

4. Are decision makers in government departments and the multilaterals they fund, sufficiently aware of the peacebuilding options available to them or otherwise active in accessing relevant advice? One of the obstacles to peacebuilding is that politicians and officials tend to support initiatives with they are already familiar: health, education and livelihoods aid programmes; military and security initiatives, etc. An important question to ask ministers facing parliamentary inquiries is: what do they know of peacebuilding methods, and what do their key advisors and decision-makers know?

5. Are international organisations being supported to work in fragile/conflict-affected places, sufficiently skilled in peacebuilding? Huge budgets are allocated to intergovernmental organisations: the UN and its various departments; the World Bank and its regional sister organisations, etc. Much of this money is spent in fragile and conflict-affected states. Are such organisation directing these resources to peacebuilding, and do they have the knowledge and skills to do so?


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