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Peace and post-2015: a round up from the UNGA

2 October 2013 - Thomas Wheeler, David Alpher

Saferworld’s Thomas Wheeler and David Alpher share their conclusions from a busy week for the UN General Assembly (UNGA) where peace and the post-2015 development agenda loomed large.

The opening of the 68th UNGA saw a flurry of headlines that could be vital to world peace – on Syria, Iran and the signing of the Arms Trade Treaty by the US. Beyond the headlines, world leaders came together to discuss the development agenda which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in what was formally entitled "The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage".

Over the past year Saferworld has worked hard to ensure that the connections between development, conflict and violence are addressed within the post-2015 framework. This continued last week in New York. Together with civil society partners we promoted our shared policy agenda, co-hosted two side-events, and brought voices from South Africa, China, Liberia and Nigeria to the many discussions surrounding the UNGA (details below). It was a busy week. 

It was also an encouraging week. Listening to various statements made by civil society and representatives of UN agencies throughout the week, we sensed a growing consensus that the MDGs fell short in critical ways on conflict and insecurity. Many also agreed that a new model is needed for development – one that is less siloed and technocratic, and more in touch with political realities. There was broad recognition that we need a holistic approach that melds more traditional programmatic areas with issues of peace, governance, the rule of law, accountability and transparency, and human rights. Without a doubt a community with a set of shared aspirations for the new framework is emerging.

Cautious optimism

Like it or not, it will be UN member states that have the final say on a new development framework – but here too there were grounds for cautious optimism. Throughout the week’s events a surprisingly wide range of states - as varied as Turkey, Denmark, Mexico, Kuwait, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, Cote D’Ivoire and Croatia - called for the post-2015 framework explicitly to promote sustainable peace. Many more called for the inclusion of related issues such as governance and human rights.

Others were less explicit, but seemed equally aware of the debate. South Africa’s President noted that “development and security are two sides of the same coin…the best way to ensure both is through good governance and the promotion of democratic values in all societies”. Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Minister lamented that “war has made tens of millions of people homeless, reduced infrastructures to rubble, and brought decades of hard work to nought. To uphold peace is the purpose of the UN Charter as well as the precondition for the MDGs”.

In short, member states made clear that the challenges of conflict and insecurity are by no means on the fringe of post-2015 discussions. This consensus is probably best captured in the UNGA’s negotiated Outcome Document, which plainly states ‘that conflict and post-conflict countries are the most challenged in achieving any of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015”. And it is encouraging that the collective statement urges member states to work together towards a single framework and set of goals that “promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all”.

A long road ahead

These are encouraging developments for those of us working to ensure peace is included within the post-2015 agenda. Nonetheless, there is a long process ahead. It is by no means guaranteed that intergovernmental negotiations will result in a framework with meaningful goals and targets that effectively promote sustainable peace and safe societies. The progressive line in the Outcome Document (quoted above) was reportedly only negotiated into the text at the last minute because of opposition from the G77 group of middle income and developing countries. Its insertion came at the cost of conceding to the G77 a reference to ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’

Several G77 states are sceptical about promoting sustainable peace in a new framework. Some still maintain that if we restrict our focus to support for things like education, jobs or maternal health, peace will inevitably follow. However, the majority seem to now accept that peace and security are preconditions for development. What they remain uncertain about is whether these are issues that can and should be universally addressed through a post-2015 development framework.

We need to engage with their concerns. Supporters of the peace agenda need to show how it is technically feasible to measure progress in this area (and that it is already being done). Several developing countries need to be assured that aid will not be diverted towards conflict affected countries at their expense. Those countries that are making economic progress but still face high levels of violent crime need to be convinced that they will not end up on the ‘wrong lists’ – and that a new framework could instead be an opportunity to demonstrate what relative gains are being made. Other G77 sceptics need to be shown that this is not a northern agenda pushing northern political models: a wide range of states and civil society groups from across the globe are fully supportive and making their own contributions to the debate. Finally, those emerging powers that are worried about the dilution of state sovereignty need to be shown how a non-binding framework would be implemented at the national level and help prevent those conflicts, humanitarian emergencies and regional crises that invite intervention in the first place.    

Looking back it was a busy week, an encouraging week, but a sobering one too. A community of the like-minded looks to be emerging. The relationship between conflict, insecurity and under-development is no longer a fringe issue. At the same time, the case for using a new development framework to explicitly promote peace is still met with scepticism and is not yet at the centre of the post-2015 narrative. Looking forward, this makes it vulnerable in the looming inter-governmental process. In our next post, Saferworld will explore what those supporting a peace agenda need to do to change this. 

Thomas Wheeler is a Conflict and Security Advisor at Saferworld. David Alpher is Saferworld’s Washington Associate. 

Saferworld and the Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (CSPPS) promoted a shared policy agenda entitled: ‘Putting Sustainable Peace and Safe Societies at the Heart of the Development Agenda’. Policy actors from conflict affected countries and policy centres outside the West must be part of this global debate, and so we also worked together with partners to ensure that several travelled to New York and contributed their perspectives during the course of the week.

Along with the CSPPS and the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) we held a very well-attended side event on 23 September entitled ‘Stability and Peace: Finding the Heart of Sustainable Development’. We had speeches from South African anti-apartheid leader and former minister Jay Naidoo, Director-General for Development at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ann-Sofie Nilsson, Zhang Chun from the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, Theophilus Ekpon of Nigeria’s National Peace Summit Group and Ms Carolyn Myers Zoduah from Agenda in Liberia. 

On 26 September, Saferworld also co-hosted an event with Guatemala, Finland, the Philippines, Rwanda, Timor-Leste, UNDP, UN PBSO, UNICEF, Accord and the Institute for Economics and Peace. Its focus was on ‘Ensuring Peaceful, Just and Resilient Societies in the Post-2015 Agenda’. In addition, Saferworld and our partners attended many of the official UNGA events, side-meetings, consultations and other goings-on about town.

Read more about Saferworld's work on post-2015.

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Member states made clear that the challenges of conflict and insecurity are by no means on the fringe of post-2015 discussions

Thomas Wheeler