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Investing in peace: recommendations for UK funding

25 September 2018 Lewis Brooks Investing in peace: recommendations for UK funding

Today, a third of the world’s poor live in fragile states, with this proportion set to rise to half in 2018 and nearly two-thirds in 2030. In the UK, political parties have a range of views on how to best fund work to address conflict and fragility, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. Saferworld’s Lewis Brooks sets out key elements that should be reflected in any funding stream designed to address violent conflict.

The debate over peace and conflict funding

The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) was introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2015 and has been maintained by subsequent Conservative governments. This cross-government fund ‘provides development and security support to countries which are at risk of conflict or instability, and uses both Official Development Assistance (ODA) and non-ODA funds. The Liberal Democrats, now out of government, still commit to ‘using trade, aid and diplomacy as well as military cooperation – to strengthen UK efforts to prevent violent conflict’. Meanwhile, Labour has recently called for the CSSF to be scrapped and replaced with a ‘peace fund’. Our suggestions on the best way forward for the UK include the following:

1. Refocus on the goal of long-term peace

While rapid response is crucial and can prevent violence from breaking out or escalating, it is equally important to ensure that the UK continues and scales up investment in longer-term efforts to address the drivers of conflict before, during and after the outbreak of violence. UK security depends significantly on stability overseas and the government has recognised this in the Department for International Development’s Building Stability Framework. Long-term peace must be the central strategic aim of UK engagement overseas to give peacebuilding a chance. Too often, the pursuit of ‘quick wins’ under narrowly-defined national security objectives takes precedence. Securitised responses to terror threats or migration risk strengthening regimes with poor human rights records, in contrast to approaches that address instability by working to address its causes, not least through promoting better governance. This tends to hamper longer-term efforts to support those working for change and towards more peaceful, just and inclusive states and societies. In addition to investing in peace and governance programmes, all aid to conflict-affected states should be geared towards having a positive transformative impact and preventing and ending conflict. 

2. Be coherent in pushing for peace

Building sustainable peace is not only a matter of funding community programmes, dialogues and negotiations – it’s also about ensuring governments act coherently and don’t undermine their own conflict programmes with contradictory initiatives. Successive studies have shown the dangers of counterterror and countering violent extremism (CT/CVE) approaches – and the folly of building peace with one hand while aggravating conflict with the other. In particular, CT/CVE and stabilisation efforts tend to empower regimes and security forces whose corruption, exclusion and repression drive and perpetuate conflict. In Yemen, the UK is rightly supporting humanitarian efforts and peacebuilding initiatives but this is totally undermined by government-licensed arms sales to Saudi Arabia, one of the parties to the conflict. Such contradictions could be avoided by setting out clearer priorities and attaching greater importance to addressing conflict drivers.

3. Ensure effective cross-government collaboration

More coherent overarching peace objectives and strategies need to be underpinned by more effective cross-government working. The Department for International Development has long-standing expertise in understanding and addressing a wide range of conflict drivers, which should be central to national security strategies overseas. Meanwhile diplomats and the military have important roles to play. The military can be a key player in stopping atrocities, supporting peacekeeping and protecting civilians, relief and development operations; supporting security and defence reforms; countering arms proliferation; and disarming and demobilising combatants. This should take place within the framework of more coherent civilian-led peace strategies governing the respective role of relevant departments. For cross-government working to be effective, it is vital that the developmental vision for promoting peace set out in DfID’s Building Stability Framework becomes more central within HMG’s national security vision. For example, there have been positive results when the UK has responded to conflict situations with a cross-governmental task force with high level political representation and a clear peace mandate. This means that DFID should have a greater role in shaping strategy rather than being seen solely as a ‘soft’ tool for pursuing national security and military aims. Human rights, conflict and gender sensitivity should be important considerations determining whether programmes go ahead and what form they take.

4. Improve transparency and accountability to parliament, civil society and affected communities

Cross-government working also requires clear and transparent lines of responsibility from departments and country offices to the National Security Council. But beyond this, processes for parliamentary and public scrutiny of UK peace and security strategies and performance need to be made much more transparent and effective, with development and non-development programmes held to equal levels of scrutiny. In addition, more effective peace programmes require much higher levels of accountability towards affected communities, civil society and experts as part of their monitoring and evaluation processes. Saferworld and other strategic partners of HMG have developed participatory approaches to monitoring and evaluation that empower communities and civil society to measure and communicate their impact.

5. Work and think politically

Conflict is inherently political. Peaceful change can only be sustained if it is locally owned. This means that programmes designed to support peace need to be flexible enough to build on local political will and opportunities as they arise, setting the right incentives and communicating the right messages within a fluid operating environment. Delivering funds effectively in conflict environments means adopting a flexible programming approach that can identify changes in the political, social and economic contexts at multiple levels, and adapt project design and delivery to seize windows of opportunity while minimising the risks of doing harm. This requires building flexibility and innovation into programmes and investing in ongoing reflection and learning to improve understanding of the context. It also requires that donors and international NGOs take genuine steps to support the leadership and agenda-setting roles of people living in conflict-affected contexts.

6. Scale up engagement with conflict-affected societies and non-state actors

A key part of thinking and working politically is recognising that you can’t change how elites and state institutions behave merely by building their capacity. The primary focus of international engagement in conflict environments has traditionally been state-centric – with support to elite bargains, and emphasis on reinforcing and building up state institutions. In most contexts, this includes working with formal security forces, police and militaries. However, experience shows that training and equipping security providers and other authorities alone fails to achieve lasting results and improve their behaviour, with these shortcomings often leading to governance failures, human rights abuses and further conflict. Promoting more functional state institutions and state-society relations requires support for more broad-based, inclusive coalitions for peaceful change.

Evidence from our programmes shows that greater engagement with communities and civil society is crucial to building momentum for improved security and governance, particularly given the increasing closure of civil society space by governments – which is both a cause and consequence of tensions. Any fund working to address conflict must therefore ensure that it is set up to provide long-term support for communities and civil society working for peaceful, inclusive change including for smaller groups that have less capacity. The fund should actively seek to support women-led and women’s rights organisations and should acknowledge the transformational potential of youth in many conflict-affected contexts. Addressing conflict can also mean working with non-state groups, who are often de facto providers of justice and security, and who are sometimes seen as legitimate by communities.

7. Focus on quality of expenditure over quantity

Debates on aid often focus on how much money should be spent overseas and by which department, emphasising overall ‘value for money’. Despite headline commitments on how much aid should go to fragile states, there should be more focus on whether aid is being spent in the most effective ways to support peace. Delivering aid through large-scale commercial contracts tends to distance implementers from the nuances of local conflict contexts and disempower local partners. Financial pressures from donors can discourage risk-taking, innovation and projects that have long-term benefits. Any fund that seeks to support peace must be structured in a way that flexibly supports local groups to work effectively towards peaceful change. 

Ultimately a coherent UK peacebuilding approach depends on the leadership of UK politicians. The UK can play its role by carefully structuring its funding mechanisms in a way that unifies diplomacy, development and defence capabilities behind the promotion of peaceful, just and inclusive societies. Both the CSSF and the proposed ‘peace fund’ contain elements that would improve the prospects for sustainable peace, but much work lies ahead to ensure that the UK lives up to its full potential for promoting peace.