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Peacebuilding in international policy: a to-do list after Busan

19 December 2011 - Larry Attree

The conclusion of the Busan forum on aid effectiveness could mark a big shift in the approach to aid for fragile and conflict-affected states, having put a set of peacebuilding and statebuilding goals onto the mainstream development agenda. We must now push for action on these and previous commitments, says Larry Attree, and ensure coherence with other initiatives, principles and guidelines – including the development framework that succeeds the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  

The Busan high-level forum culminated with the endorsement of the Busan Partnership agreement, representing consensus among over 80 governments and organisations on more effective development cooperation. The agreement also welcomed a ‘New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States’. This New Deal includes five peacebuilding and statebuilding goals – legitimate politics, people’s security, justice, economic foundations, and revenues and fair services – and marks a new international consensus that progress on the MDGs in fragile states is impossible without first achieving peace and security.

The wider Busan Partnership agreement also includes measures and commitments that can help to promote peace. For example, sections of the document provide a basis for challenging aid that risks reinforcing human rights abuses or doing harm, and for challenging overly state-centric and non-inclusive approaches. Other sections reinforce the New Deal’s commitment to consider public perceptions when measuring peacebuilding progress, and promote inclusive planning processes that consider people’s perspectives, not only those of elites. They also reaffirm previous pledges to defend a vibrant civil society – often threatened in many conflict-affected and fragile states – which is essential to hold actors and institutions to account. Finally the agreement also upholds the importance of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in peacebuilding efforts. 

The Busan Partnership agreement and New Deal represent a significant step forward towards a better approach for fragile and conflict-affected states. Civil society played a central role pushing for the widest possible endorsement of the New Deal, and will continue to push for more governments to add their weight to it, and to ensure individual countries implement public participation commitments and adopt multi-stakeholder approaches.

But at a wider level, it is now crucial that the international community improves coherence between the range of different, overlapping and sometimes contradictory commitments, initiatives, policies, principles and guidelines on conflict prevention, development and humanitarian assistance. There is also the need for greater coherence between agendas on aid, diplomacy, security, finance and commerce – and co-operation to ensure a positive contribution to peace and conflict prevention across governments and by the private sector. For the private sector, in particular, this means the uptake of more conflict-sensitive approaches.

Conflict prevention also needs to figure much higher on international agendas, identifying ways to help a much broader range of states and societies avoid fragility, and overcome the threats presented by bad governance, in particular. The New Deal is largely a vision of how to work with leaders who are prepared to spearhead positive change. A genuine dialogue in aid policy is yet to be initiated in the most challenging contexts, where leaders are pursuing more destabilising agendas. Akin to this is the need for an agenda that offers consistent and balanced support to stateless peoples and helps disenfranchised sections of society to claim their rights.

A step towards this could be for donors to operationalise other long-standing commitments. For example, they must address their poor progress in implementing the fragile states principles – particularly on ‘doing no harm’ – and support civil society to play a full role in peacebuilding and development processes. We need to ensure that not only recipient countries but also donors take forward the peacebuilding and statebuilding goals in their actions.

Measures are also needed to address the regional and global drivers of conflict, as the New Deal frames solutions at the level of the nation state. The World Development Report 2011 posed the question of how the international community will reduce external shocks: for Saferworld these would include not only illicit flows of finance and narcotics, but also illicit and irresponsible arms transfers.

As 2015 rapidly approaches, governments, international organisations and civil society also need to follow up the work of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding with work to incorporate peace, security, justice and governance-related goals in debates on global development frameworks and the renewal of the MDGs. The agreement that aid in fragile states should focus more explicitly on achieving peace at last demonstrates an aspiration to tackle the elephant in the room: the real issues that are holding the bottom 20% of the world’s population in the double bind of fear and want. It is high time that conflict, security, justice and governance issues become part and parcel of what follows the MDGs in 2015.

Larry Attree is a Conflict and Security Adviser at Saferworld. He participated in the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding as a civil society representative throughout 2010-11, and coordinated civil society advocacy on conflict and fragility in Busan within the Better Aid global civil society platform.

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The Busan Partnership agreement and New Deal represent a significant step forward towards a better approach for fragile and conflict-affected states

Larry Attree, Saferworld