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Conflict Prevention and Development Cooperation: From Crisis to Peaceful Governance, Gareth Evans

Keynote Address by Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group, to Seminar on Channels of Influence in a Crisis Situation – How can Development Cooperation Support Conflict Resolution and Democracy?, sponsored by Crisis Management Initiative, Finnish Parliament and Foreign Ministry, and Democracy Cooperation Forum of Finnish Political Parties, Helsinki, 9 May 2006

This is an important year for Finnish development policy – nothing less than a “superyear” I gather your Development Committee has described it – as you prepare to take up the EU presidency in July, and set a budget framework for development cooperation for the next five years. Today’s seminar is thus especially timely, and I appreciate being invited to share my thoughts with you on conflict, development, and achieving stable democratic governance.

Fifteen years ago, one would have been hard pressed to find any government interested in how to use development aid to prevent the outbreak or recurrence of deadly conflict, and some are still catching up. The fields of development and security were for a long time neatly drawn, with little overlap: development specialists dealt with poverty alleviation; diplomats and defence experts focused on security issues.

But the important link between development and security is now more or less universally recognised - as acknowledged in all the reports leading up to last year’s UN World Summit, and in its outcome document, and as demonstrated by the topic of today’s discussion and many others like it. Conflict almost always has a negative impact on economic growth: resources directed toward fighting are diverted from development, while infrastructure needed for economic activity is destroyed. And without security, development efforts are far less likely to be successful, as we are witnessing now in Afghanistan, Iraq and all too many other places.

According to research by Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, who have quantified almost everything that moves in this area, each year of civil war reduces a country’s growth rate by an average of 2.2 per cent, and the average civil war costs $54 billion for a low-income country and its neighbours. Clearly, conflict is something to which development agencies need to be paying attention. Similarly, security experts cannot afford to ignore issues of development: key indicators of future conflict are poor and declining economies and dependence on natural resource exports.

The issue is not the link but how to operationalise it in terms of effective development policy. As a recent report by the International Peace Academy argues, the now-pervasive rhetoric on the links between security and development has not been matched by action on the ground, and while security and development are potentially mutually reinforcing goals, they are not automatically or necessarily so.

There is a great deal that we still don’t really know about how development and conflict interconnect, and we are still very much in a learning process. That said, we have learned, as an international community, quite a few lessons over the post-Cold War years as to how better to prevent the outbreak, escalation and recurrence of deadly conflict, and where development cooperation fits in. Let me spell out what I think are the eight general lessons we have learned about conflict prevention, and then focus more specifically on how this translates into guidance for those working on development policy.

What We Have Learned About Conflict Prevention: Eight General Lessons

General Lesson 1: The best way to prevent conflict is not to start it.This is a message the U.S. is certainly now pondering after its rush to war in Iraq – although it’s worryingly unclear whether it (and the UK) are applying it in the case now of Iran. It’s a lesson that Europe generally seems to have learned better than most as a result of the horrific experiences of the first half of the 20th century, with the EU itself standing as the strongest testimony to that commitment.

Of course there are circumstances in which there will simply be no alternative to taking military action, to respond to real and immediate cross-border threats, and – in the case of man-made internal crises of the kind we confronted in the Balkans and Rwanda and elsewhere so often in the last decade – to do so in the context of the principle of the ‘responsibility to protect’. But military action should only ever be undertaken in the most serious cases, as a last resort, and in circumstances where it will do more good than harm: unfortunately, while last year’s World Summit, and last month the Security Council itself, embraced the responsibility to protect principle, neither of them have been prepared to address the critical issue of guidelines for when military force is legitimate.

General Lesson : 2. Conflict prevention effort does make a difference. This is a very important message to get across to political masters and bean-counters as well as to sustain our own morale. The best evidence that those of us who spend our time in the conflict prevention and resolution business are not wasting our time is now laid out in the long-awaited Human Security Report, published last year. Among its key findings are that:

there has been a dramatic decline in the number of armed conflicts since the early 1990s – by 80 per cent in the case of conflicts with 1000 or more battle deaths in a year – and a similar decline, notwithstanding Rwanda and Srebrenica, in incidents of genocidal and other mass killings.

paralleling the number of conflicts, the number of battle deaths is also dramatically down, both in absolute numbers, and in terms of the deadliness of each individual conflict; and

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of conflicts resolved by active peacemaking, involving diplomatic negotiations, international mediation and the like.

There are a number of factors contributing to these turnarounds in relation to the prevention and resolution of conflict. They include the end of the era of colonialism, which generated two-thirds or more of all wars from the 1950s to the 1980s; and of course the end of the Cold War and the proxy wars and puppet regimes it sustained.

But as the authors of the Human Security Report argue, the best explanation is the one that stares us in the face, even if a great many do not want to acknowledge it. This is the huge increase in the level of international preventive diplomacy, diplomatic peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations. And the key players here have been the UN itself, the EU and some key individual states, and major NGOs.

General Lesson 3. One size analysis doesn’t fit all: every conflict is different. To understand how to prevent and resolve conflict it is necessary to understand what causes it, and the starting point is to recognise that this is always context specific. Big overarching theories about conflict – whether cast in terms of clash of civilizations, ancient tribal enmity, economic greed, economic grievance, or anything else – may be good for keynote speeches, and certainly good for royalties. They may also be quite helpful in identifying particular explanatory factors that should certainly be taken into account in trying to understand the dynamics of particular situations.

But they never seem to work very well in sorting between those situations which are combustible and those which are not. For every case of religious or ethnic or linguistic difference erupting in communal violence, there are innumerably more cases around the world of people and groups of different cultures and backgrounds living harmoniously side by side; and for every group economic grievance that erupts in catastrophic violence there are innumerably more that don’t. The bottom line is that every conflict has its own dynamic, and there is no substitute for comprehensively understanding all the factors at work.

General Lesson 4. Conflict is cyclical: The trick is to stop the wheel turning. One of the things we now understand most clearly about conflict is that the countries and regions most likely to lapse into it are those that have been there before. There is not a straight line or step-ladder sequence between the anticipation of conflict and attempts to prevent it breaking out; the resolution of conflict, by negotiation or force, when it has broken out; and post-conflict peace-building. Rather there is a cyclical process, in which each post-conflict environment contains the potential seeds of the next round of destruction.

What follows from that is that far more effort has to be put into consolidating the peace after it has been won. Sustainable peace cannot be guaranteed just because a diplomatic peacemaking initiative has apparently been successful: the worst horrors in the Angolan civil war came after the Bicesse Accords in 1990, and the Rwandan genocide exploded just a year after the Arusha Peace Agreement of 1993, in each case because manifestly inadequate arrangements were made for peacekeeping and general implementation follow through. Similarly, peace cannot be ensured simply because a clear-cut military victory has apparently been won – Afghanistan and Iraq are clear examples.

General Lesson 5. Conflict prevention requires complex strategies: one-dimensional fixes rarely work. Each situation is likely to require a complex combination of measures, the balance of which is bound to change over time as circumstances evolve. Immediate physical security must always be the first priority, but it can’t be the only one. Peacebuilders have to effectively address economic and social needs, general governance and participation needs, specifically economic and anti-corruption needs, and justice and reconciliation needs as well. The established toolbox of available strategies is large, embracing political and diplomatic measures, legal and constitutional measures, economic measures and security sector measures.

My own feeling, from the perspective of all the many cases that Crisis Group has dealt with, is that the most fundamental of all peacebuilding tasks, more important even than establishing a notionally representative government, is establishment of respect for the rule of law – with all that that implies in terms of viable rule-making institutions and non-corrupt courts, judges, police and penal system. To this day, not enough attention is given to this issue: it’s always toward the bottom of the list. But it is crucial, and not just in consolidating a sense of personal security, but in creating the minimum conditions for serious economic activity and foreign investment, for which the most generous aid in the world is no substitute if a broken country is ever to get back on its feet.

General Lesson 6. Conflict prevention requires effective institutional structures. Globally, we need to finding a better way of assisting the stabilisation and normalisation of the many existing failed, failing and fragile states around the world, in both pre and post conflict situations, which is a cross cutting problem in meeting many security challenges, not least terrorism: the trick will be to find an institutional arrangement which brings together, effectively, all the key players, including the UN and its agencies, the Bretton Woods Institutions and the key bilateral donors. The new UN Peacebuilding Commission has gone part of the way to solving this, but only part. There is also a critical need to reform the Security Council and the UN Secretariat.

At the regional level, much more needs to be done, as you hardly need to be told in relation to the European Union, where major, effectively coordinated effort both at the diplomatic and military levels remains – to put it gently – very much a work in progress. But there certainly have been advances. The biggest problem remains delivering coherently focused policy which effectively coordinates Europe’s political, military, civilian, aid and trade capabilities. The task, as amply demonstrated in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere, is essentially to get Europe punching at its weight – not below it, as is so often the case notwithstanding the enormous resources the EU so often mobilises in conflict situations. Finland has a particular stake in effective coordination, given that 20 per cent of your development aid is channelled through the EU.

So far as both regional structures and national governments are concerned, increasing efforts have been made to develop structural arrangements both ‘mainstreaming’ conflict prevention – requiring all relevant policy officers to give attention to this dimension in developing aid and other external policies – and also specifically ‘tasking’ it by giving particular individuals or groups within the government the specific responsibility to think about prevention, and devise and recommend up the decision-making food chain appropriate policy responses. These strategies are complementary, and I think both wholly necessary.

General Lesson 7. Conflict prevention requires application of resources. Like many other worthwhile public policy activities, conflict prevention struggles to get its share of public resources. Part of the problem, as we all know, is that conflict prevention doesn’t generate immediately visible returns: you succeed most in conflict prevention when nothing happens, and nobody notices. And for most people in public office performing good works without anyone noticing it is like having your teeth pulled.

But there is no doubt a formidable case can be made for conflict prevention on pure financial cost-benefit grounds alone. Jack Straw estimated a few years ago that the small preventive military deployment in Macedonia, stopping the slide to war there, cost the British taxpayer ?14 million: fighting the war in Kosovo, by contrast, cost Britain ?200 million, and in Bosnia over ?1.5 billion. He could no doubt make an even stronger case, if he chose, based on what the recent Iraq war, eminently preventable as it was, has already cost his taxpayers and the expenditure benefits elsewhere that have been foregone in the process. But maybe he did make that case and that’s why he is no longer UK Foreign Secretary…

It is not only additional money that is needed for conflict prevention and resolution, but a more intelligent application of money already being spent, for example on armed forces. A critical resource problem constantly facing planners is the availability of deployable military assets of the necessary quality for peacekeeping, peace enforcement and peacebuilding tasks. One recent estimate (Thomas Donnelly, AEI) is that ‘of the 2.5 million personnel nominally under arms in Europe, at most 3 per cent are deployable’. As we become more and more aware of the magnitude of the peacekeeping/civilian protection tasks in Darfur and the Congo, and the post-conflict follow-through task in countries like Afghanistan, it becomes more and more obvious that the developed countries have a greater burden to bear than they are currently shouldering.

General Lesson 8. Conflict prevention requires political will. This is hardly a new lesson, but as in many other areas of public policy it is always the bottom line: for all the early warning they may have, and even for all the publicity that may be generated through the media and elsewhere for a particular horror situation, unless the relevant decision makers, at the national or international level, want something to happen it won’t. What we perhaps still need to learn is that merely lamenting the absence of political will – as so many commentaries do, stopping the analysis right there - doesn’t help very much: what we have to is work out how to mobilise it. And that requires a combination of not only good institutional structures of the kind I have earlier discussed, and good organisation and energetic campaigning, but above all good arguments.

Those arguments may be party interest arguments designed to consolidate a government’s vocal domestic base (always an important element in the Bush Administration’s interest in Sudan, such as it has been); national interest arguments (much easier to make now in relation to ‘quarrels in far away countries between people of whom we know nothing’, in Chamberlain’s terms, because of what we do know now about the capacity of failed states, in this globalised world, to be a source of havoc for others); or financial arguments (in terms of a million dollars worth of preventive action now saving a billion dollars worth of military intervention later). And if all else fails, they can even be moral arguments (given that however base politicians’ real motives may be, they always like to be seen as acting from higher ones).

Development Assistance and Conflict Prevention: Five Action Principles

So much for the general lessons we have learned about conflict prevention in recent years. Let me now be more specific about how those lessons should translate into guidance for policy makers, wrestling with how to make development assistance play a more immediate conflict prevention role. I think we can identify what might be described as five action principles: be bold, be wise, be firm, be cooperative, and be persistent.

1. Be bold. For all the cautionary advice out there about donors being overly invasive in their assistance – and I will offer some of it myself in a moment - situations will arise that call for precisely that form of active engagement. In Liberia, where theft and fraud within the transitional government were so great that they were sabotaging any possibility for durable peacekeeping, Crisis Group recommended – and the government has now adopted – intrusive international controls on state revenues. These have been widely supported by Liberian civil society. When thought through carefully, bold strategies such as this can be immensely successful.

Sometimes it’s necessary to be bold in other ways. In the Congo at the moment, if the transition from war to sustainable peace is to be successful, perhaps the most immediate of all the priorities jostling for attention is to create a national army which is part of the solution (acting as protectors of the population) rather than being, as now, a central part of the problem (preying criminally upon them). That will require a massive extension of the training and defence administration programs now being implemented by the EU and some others, but above all straight out budgetary support, in large, sustained amounts, to ensure that there is money for the soldiers to be paid. But under present OECD Development Assistance Committee rules, practically no form of military assistance can be treated as aid, and for donor countries struggling to sustain or increase their ODA/GNP ratios, that is a huge disincentive. It’s time to start thinking out of the box on this one, and Finland – with its excellent reputation both in traditional development assistance and peacekeeping – could lead the way.

Being bold also means acting quickly and decisively. As a World Bank study on the use of aid in Burundi noted last year, it is crucial that peace dividends be made quickly visible to the population, timed and packaged to achieve maximum effect. This is one of the points my own organisation has been making in Aceh, Indonesia, following the peace agreement between the government and Acehnese rebels (brokered, as you well know, by Finland’s former president - and Crisis Group’s former chairman - Martti Ahtisaari): donors need to assist in getting quick impact projects off the ground to address the economic needs of demobilised guerrillas; otherwise, disillusion with peace may spark a return to war.

2. Be wise. The international community needs to be acutely aware, however, that the careless use of aid can undermine efforts to realise peaceful governance. Quick impact projects by their nature involve sudden injections of cash, which, as Crisis Group has warned in the case of Nepal, could, if ill-conceived, be counter-productive, spurring further conflict as actors fight for the spoils.

Donors must always pursue their work with an eye to how they are perceived in the host country. The association of international actors with development projects in highly sensitive areas can hamper their success. This is particularly the case with efforts to promote “moderate” Islam. Donors should be particularly careful about how prominently they fly their flag above such projects: using local partners can be a sensible way of avoiding controversy.

It’s also particularly true of democracy promotion more generally As Francis Fukuyama and Adam Garfinckle (among many others) have recently pointed out in relation to U.S. policy in the Middle East., “highly visible embrace of democracy promotion as a component of [U.S.] national security strategy…and its telegraphing ahead of time of intentions to bring about regime change in places like Iran, only hurt the cause of real democrats in the region.”

Even a seemingly straightforward aspiration, such as electing as soon as possible a government with some claim to be representative of its people, has to be handled carefully. While this point has almost now become commonplace, Crisis Group was one of the first to warn, in the context of Bosnia in 1996, that while the urge to get legitimate local leadership in place is wholly understandable, early elections can be disastrously counterproductive if they only consolidate existing ethnic or other divisions. Concentrating on first building civil society institutions – to give new actors a chance to find their political feet - can often make much more sense.

Anything that consolidates potentially dangerous divisions rather than trying to bridge them should be avoided. In Iraq, the coalition’s attempt from the outset, in the transitional institutions it created, to precisely arithmetically weigh and exactly reflect Shiite and Sunni, and Arab and non-Arab, proportions of the populations for the first time in the country’s modern history elevated sectarian and ethnic identity to the rank of primary organising political principle. The danger that the country will disintegrate on religious and ethnic lines, previously much exaggerated, is now real – it’s happening as we speak.

3. Be firm. We must not shy away from evaluating whether aid is doing what it is meant to do. This is a point raised repeatedly by international experts – the American analyst Nancy Birdsall includes the “failure to evaluate” as one of her seven deadly donor sins - but has not always been embraced enthusiastically by those dishing out the cash.

Where it is clear that corruption or incapacity is impeding international assistance, governments should not hesitate to act decisively, through the use of benchmarks and incentives, or by bypassing state institutions and working through local NGOs. This is the kind of approach we were advocating in Nepal, for example, before the recent breakthrough: the donor community reviewing its assistance to that country with an eye to determining which programs perpetuate the government’s power monopoly and which might help break the deadlock. This type of strategy can apply to both short-term crisis management and longer-term efforts to promote peaceful governance. In the words of David Malone, the former president of the International Peace Academy, “If we are actually going to prevent situations that will lead to conflict 15 or 20 years down the line, we have to be prepared to be fairly judgmental early on.”

4. Be Cooperative. Complex strategies require coordination. In an ideal peacebuilding world, as in an ideal humanitarian disaster relief world, all the relevant international players would leap to their stations with alacrity, produce all necessary resources and deploy them efficiently – and with perfect cooperation between them. But of course that doesn’t happen. Coordination - the allocation of the right horses to the right courses, and ensuring that they stay in the right stables and run in the right races on the right tracks, and don’t kick and gouge each other in the process - is something for which everyone acknowledges the necessity in principle but drags their feet in practice.

Crisis Group continues to argue that in Nepal, for example, there is an urgent need - no less so now that there is a genuine peace process under way - for the creation of a Contact Group (consisting of India, the U.S. and UK, working with the UN) and a complementary Peace Support Group (of other key donors and international financial institutions) to form a common front on strategy and tactics to maximise international influence in achieving sustainable peace there. The Peace Support Group would review development assistance, prepare to support transitional processes such as constitutional reform and viable elections, and plan for assistance in the post-conflict phase.

5. Be Persistent. Too often donor attention wanes in the first few years after a peace agreement. Aid tends to flood in when institutional capacity to absorb it is weakest, and then tapers off when it is most needed. Major international peacebuilding operations tend to have a relatively short time-frame – perhaps 2-5 years – driven largely by the policy and budget cycles of rich-world capitals. We should be thinking rather in timeframes of 10 years and more, difficult though that may be. Hopefully the new Peacebuilding Commission will create a new institutional framework for this which has previously been lacking.

What must be central to all these efforts is the aim of strengthening a society’s own capacity to manage conflict before it degenerates into violent conflict. Given that the greatest tools a society has in avoiding conflict is the will and capabilities of its own people and leadership, and its own institutions, it is clear that development cooperation must focus on strengthening the underlying human and institutional capacity to prevent conflicts and crises from becoming deadly ones.

The road from crisis to peaceful governance is never smooth, nor is there a simple, straightforward map available to guide us en route. A further challenge is that many are put off by the very length of the journey. As the UN’s Shashi Tharoor has put it, convincing politicians to invest resources in conflict prevention is rather like persuading a teenager to invest in a pension. But that is precisely what we are here to discuss today – not just whether to invest, but how to do it most effectively. For all the progress which has been made, the conflicts which are still raging around the world remind us that the alternative is too bloody and too costly to contemplate.