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Engaging new global actors in peace and development

18 December 2014

A recent Saferworld conference in Istanbul provided a rare opportunity for stakeholders from conflict-affected states, emerging global powers, and traditional development actors to debate key issues of peace and development. The conference discussions highlighted that while there are differences between their approaches, there is much they can learn from each other’s experiences to help address these immensely complex and deep-rooted issues.

"The developing world is not there to be 'saved', but to be partnered with", said a conference participant. Indeed, the importance of development partnerships when engaging in conflict-affected states was a recurring theme of the event. This reflects important changes in the development landscape over recent decades. First, a changing world order in which the balance of economic power is shifting from West to East, and rising powers like China, Brazil and Turkey are increasingly engaged in developing countries. Second, the realisation that while aid still has an important role to play, it is by no means the only or indeed main driver of development: trade, investment and technology transfer can all help to support endogenous drivers of development. Lastly, it reflects growing recognition of the need to move away from the donor–recipient model of development towards an approach which emphasises partnerships and puts local people at the centre.

These were some of the key issues discussed during the joint Saferworld–Wilton Park conference on 'Linking peace, stability and development: engaging new global actors in the debate'. The event brought together over 50 participants from around the world, with a mix of civil society actors, government officials, development agency and private sector representatives. There were three main stakeholder groups: from conflict-affected states, such as Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan and Myanmar; from emerging global powers, such as China, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and Nigeria; and from traditional development actors, such as the UN, OECD-DAC, and European governments.

The conference opened with a plenary debate about the relationship between peace, stability and development, with perspectives from conflict-affected states, rising powers and traditional development actors. There was broad consensus that conflict, insecurity and violence undermine sustainable development, leading to a number of countries becoming trapped in a cycle of conflict and underdevelopment. Views on how to help such countries break out of this vicious circle were more divergent. A participant from a conflict-affected state highlighted the risk that international development actors end up doing more harm than good if they have little understanding of the conflict dynamics, and align themselves in support of government programmes that entrench existing conflict dynamics between the state and non-state actors. A participant from a rising power expressed caution about addressing conflict issues and engaging with non-state actors, as it goes against the principle of non-interference in internal affairs. He went on to acknowledge, however, that practices of rising powers on the ground were in some cases becoming more flexible and promoting conflict resolution, partly in recognition of the negative impacts that conflict can have on economic interests.

Case study groups focusing on the engagement of rising powers in particular conflict-affected states – Turkey in Somalia, China in South Sudan and India in Afghanistan – allowed for more in-depth discussion of particular contexts. In all three cases, the approach of the rising power was seen to be distinctly different from that of OECD actors – for instance, by providing more tangible development inputs. The rising powers differed from each other, however, in other respects, such as the degree of their overt engagement in peacebuilding. All three groups concluded that these particular cases should not be regarded as reflecting a specific model of engagement that can or should be replicated in other conflict-affected states. Rather they reflect the particularities of the context, and also the fact that rising powers themselves are still evolving their own policies and practices in such contexts. There was general recognition that lessons can be learnt by traditional development actors from these alternative approaches – for instance, around the issue of trust-building; and likewise that rising powers can learn from traditional development actors – shared conflict analysis being one area suggested.

Finally, the participants went on to debate particular aspects of the conference theme in break-out groups. The first looked at the coherence of development policies towards conflict-affected states across the range of international actors. This concluded that greater coherence of development policies is essential, but should not simply be seen as an issue of 'coordination', which could imply homogenisation. Coordination can stifle innovative approaches to engagement in conflict-affected states, and there is often an expectation that new actors should simply fit in and align with the coordination frameworks of traditional actors, whether or not they have proven effective. Instead, the importance of genuine partnership between development actors was emphasised, learning from, and building on, the comparative advantages – both technical and relational – of each other.

The challenges of policy coherence were highlighted by the second group, which focused on the post-2015 development agenda and how it can address issues of peace and stability. While there was clear agreement within the group on the importance of including peace in the post-2015 framework, the debate underlined the perception in some quarters that the peace agenda has been framed by traditional development actors in ways that are selective and limiting.

The third break-out group considered different approaches to economic engagement in conflict-affected states. It highlighted that Official Development Assistance is only one part of a complex jigsaw when we consider the various forms of economic engagement that impact on development and peacebuilding: trade, investment and remittances all play a significant role. And as there tends to be little restriction on these economic activities in conflict-affected states, they can be both cause and effect of conflict.

A fourth group focused on transnational threats, including illicit financial flows as well as issues such as terrorism and organised crime. The group concluded that it was important to distinguish between the various actors involved in these systems so as to avoid tarring them all with the same brush, and thereby risk pushing those on the periphery towards the centre. Instead, it was recommended to separate out the hard-core from more peripheral actors, and to develop appropriate policy responses – security, political or economic – targeted at each group.

The Istanbul conference provided a rare opportunity for a diverse group of stakeholders to debate key issues of peace and development, and how to address them. It highlighted that while there are differences between the approaches of traditional development actors and rising powers towards conflict-affected states, all actors are still learning how best to address these immensely complex and deep-rooted issues, and they can – and should – learn from each other’s experiences. Such learning can be fostered through multilateral institutions and global frameworks, but to be effective these institutions and frameworks must reflect the changing world order as well as our evolving understanding of what drives development and underpins peace. Ultimately, the conference reminded us that the most important actors in conflict-affected states are local people, and that their voices in these debates are paramount.

The three-day conference took place in Istanbul from 3-5 December 2014. It was jointly organised and hosted by Saferworld, Wilton Park and the Istanbul Policy Centre. The conference was part of Saferworld’s on-going programme of research and policy dialogue focusing on rising powers and peacebuilding.

For more information on the rising powers project, please contact Ivan Campbell,

“The developing world is not there to be ‘saved’, but to be partnered with.”

Participant at Saferworld/Wilton Park conference, December 2014