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Seven ideas for putting peace at the heart of post-2015

15 October 2013 - Thomas Wheeler

In last week’s blog post, Thomas Wheeler and David Alpher reflected on the UN General Assembly opening week (UNGA) and where we were in relation to putting sustainable peace and safe societies at the heart of a new post-2015 framework. This time we look at the context moving forward.

For immediate attention: OWG

On the immediate horizon lies the Open Working Group (OWG). The OWG was created at the Rio+20 conference to develop a set of sustainable development goals. In early February next year it will hold its final session on three outstanding issues, including one on ‘Conflict prevention, post-conflict peacebuilding and the promotion of durable peace, rule of law and governance’. It will then submit a crucial recommendations report, reflecting consensus between its 70 members, to the UNGA in 2014.

It is crucial that those supporting the peace agenda engage directly with the relevant mission diplomats and technical advisors, many of whom will be more comfortable discussing environmental or traditional development issues. The overwhelming evidence on the centrality of peace for sustainable development needs to be presented, misperceptions over issues such as sovereignty need to be addressed, and the practical feasibility of the agenda needs to be demonstrated.

Over the horizon: Intergovernmental negotiations

Over the next year the UNGA President, John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, will hold three high level meetings and three thematic debates, one of which will be on stable and peaceful societies.

Intergovernmental negotiations will formally begin at the opening of the 69th UNGA in September 2014 and end at a High Level Summit in September 2015. Accompanying this process will be the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), which will provide ‘‘political leadership, guidance and recommendations for sustainable development”. Taking into account the work of the OWG, the HLPF is responsible for crafting a set of goals to be adopted by the end of 2015.

As well as engaging with the OWG, a few things need to happen over the next year to ensure that peace is embedded in the post-2015 narrative before formal negotiations start. The overall objective should be to create a consensus that the success of any post-2015 framework will be at least partially judged on the basis of if and how it addresses this issue. To make this happen, those backing the peace agenda need to keep their attention focused on seven areas:

1. Unite around common ‘asks’. Those from civil society and UN agencies who want conflict and insecurity to be addressed are for the most part singing off the same hymn sheet, with a strong set of shared messages. Nevertheless, further agreement on language and terminology would be helpful so that when we speak individually, those listening realise we are all pushing for the same ‘asks’. We can also improve our messaging and political readiness through further technical and policy work (for example on the integration of peace under other goals).

2. Work with progressive voices from other fields. There is an emerging community of organisations pushing for issues strongly related to the peace agenda: governance, accountability and transparency, the rule of law, justice, gender and human rights. They are also united in advocating for issues perceived to face opposition from some member states. An informal community of the like-minded who are more informed of one another’s engagement, more coherent in their messaging, and arguing for the same goals would put momentum behind the shared progressive agenda and its key asks.The wider development and environmental NGO community has been strongly engaged on post-2015 but has not focused significantly on peace. However, it should be possible to grow the coalition that supports peace given the attention it has received in official statements, high profile reports submitted to the UN and consultations with citizens across the world. Many will be interested to know how their own focus area – whether livelihoods, natural resources or climate change – can contribute. At the same time, the peace lobby needs to show the natural complementarity between peace and ambitious commitments on equality, gender, the environment and overall poverty reduction. It will also be important for humanitarian NGOs to raise their voices in favour of a more preventive approach to the crises they struggle against in their work.   

3. Activate business leaders. Another voice which would lend significant weight to the peace agenda would be that of business. The Institute for Economics and Peace has argued that if the world had been 25% more peaceful in 2010, the global economy would have reaped an additional economic benefit just over US$2 trillion. Through the post-2015 submission of the Global Compact, businesses have already agreed that peace and stability, alongside good governance and human rights, create the necessary enabling environment for development. By continuing to voice their support, business leaders could provide an important boost to the economic case for the peace agenda.   

4. Build on the foundations. A large number of countries already back the peace agenda, including from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), European Union, G7+, and Dili consensus signatories. Although the issue goes wider than those countries involved in the New Deal, it should be acknowledged that OECD and G7+ countries will be some of the strongest backers for this agenda. The G7+ should be encouraged and supported in making their case. While developing countries should lead, the EU, the OECD and other supporting countries must not shy away from clearly articulating their values and drawing red lines around the peace agenda when it comes to negotiations.

5. Engage on development with rising powers. Despite both recognising the negative impact of conflict and insecurity, India and China appear at the moment unlikely to support a peace agenda within a new development framework. Dialogue is needed to demonstrate feasibility, address misperceptions and find language that is more agreeable. South Africa and Brazil may prove slightly more supportive, but disappointingly have not yet taken a lead on this issue. Acknowledging specific concerns while championing their suggestions for promoting peace based on their own stated foreign policy norms may catalyse greater buy-in. These countries are important: it is possible that some of them see the post-2015 negotiations as a forum to demonstrate leadership of the G77 and the wider developing world. But to do so they will need to represent the priorities of a large number of G77 countries, many of whom are natural allies of the peace agenda.

6. Encourage middle-income champions. Aside from specific concerns, many influential middle-income countries (MICs) – such as Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand - have so far remained relatively silent on the peace agenda. Catalysing their active backing would further demonstrate the multipolar support base for this agenda, and could counter-balance scepticism amongst other influential states. Some may aspire to leadership roles on matters related to peace, either at a regional level or global level (with an eye on non-permanent UNSC seats). However, they will be unlikely to support an agenda that does not already have a constituency within the wider G77.

7. Look to Africa’s leadership. In addition to G7+ countries, the position of the 54 African countries within the G77 will be crucial. The Africa Union Heads of States Team on Post-2015 (made up of Liberia, Guinea, Chad, Congo, Namibia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Algeria) is in the process of establishing a joint African position. The track record of African states in establishing regional norms, commitments and monitoring mechanisms on peace, security and governance makes it hard to imagine that Africa will not affirm conflict prevention as a global development priority after 2015. However, technical experts and civil society should support their deliberations with strong evidence and policy options, because we face an uphill struggle if African states do not take robust positions on this agenda once negotiations start.   

Thomas Wheeler is a Conflict and Security Advisor at Saferworld.   

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

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The peace lobby needs to show the natural complementarity between peace and ambitious commitments on equality, gender, the environment and overall poverty reduction.

Thomas Wheeler