Comment & analysis

Four peacebuilding priorities for the UK’s Integrated Review

21 July 2020 Lewis Brooks Four peacebuilding priorities for the UK’s Integrated Review

As the UK Government restarts its Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review, Lewis Brooks outlines four priorities for promoting peace and stability.

Last month, the UK Government announced that the Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review will re-commence after delays brought about by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). When originally outlined, the Integrated Review was described as the biggest review of UK foreign policy since the Cold War, covering defence, diplomacy and development.

Peacebuilding and conflict prevention sit at the heart of these ‘three D’s’, so enhancing the UK’s efforts to address conflict should be high up the Integrated Review’s agenda. The move to merge the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Department for International Development (DFID) could be an opportunity to consolidate UK conflict prevention efforts but there are real risks that DFID's expertise in working on conflict prevention, crisis response and peacebuilding could be lost.

If the UK is serious about adding substance to its ‘Global Britain’ aspiration, and being a ‘force for good’ in the world, then the Integrated Review needs to deliver  in four key areas.

Prioritising international peace and security
UK security is intrinsically linked to international peace and security. Conflict and authoritarianism have a devastating toll on human suffering. They also threaten UK interests: being a disaster for trade and economic development, enabling the growth of violent movements and forced displacement, and for shrinking the community of nations that respect human rights and democratic values. Promoting the kind of durable peace that is built on respect for human rights must be central to how the UK national interest is defined for the next generation.
Understanding the links between peace in the UK and for those living overseas can be helped by adopting an approach of shared security. Establishing the promotion of just and lasting international peace and security as a primary objective of national foreign, security and defence policy through the Integrated Review would help focus the government on addressing these shared security challenges. It could also ensure better coordination between diplomacy, development, trade and defence, to address growing repression and instability.

Drawing on external expertise
The ability to shape international peace and security is not held by the UK Government alone. People affected by conflict often have the most sustainable solutions for addressing conflict and their views are vital to informing the UK’s understanding of what works. Non-governmental organisations working in fragile contexts, where the UK Government footprint may be small, also have significant insight into how the UK can best promote stability. So far, the government has made only vague promises to consult a range of experts.
The review should involve extensive consultation with those bringing first-hand knowledge of needs and opportunities. Past reviews, such as the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, involved wider consultation. DFID and FCO networks can reach beyond allied governments and draw upon the expertise of conflict-affected communities, many of whom are already working with the UK Government to build peace in their countries, to better understand how the UK could support peace.

Ensuring policy coherence
Incoherence and inconsistency in UK foreign policy are significant own goals. They weaken the effectiveness of UK action, while undermining the goodwill and credibility the UK needs to build diplomatic momentum for shared solutions to global challenges. Providing humanitarian relief and peacebuilding support to Yemen, while arming the party UN experts have found to be responsible for the most civilian casualties, may be the most extreme example. But incoherence is a serious obstacle to effective foreign and security policy wherever it happens.
Past efforts to counter terrorism and migration, which the UK has supported in places such as Libya, Egypt and Somalia, have empowered regimes and security forces whose corruption, exclusion and repression drive and perpetuate conflict. In these contexts, the UK must promote less abusive, more accountable security as part of long-term peace strategies.
Against a back-drop of rising great power competition between the USA and China, it may be tempting to argue that pragmatic security interests must come before values. But the data is clear that repression and conflict go hand in hand. So the UK’s national security depends significantly on its success in promoting democratic reforms, human rights and civilian accountability.
The UK’s Building Stability Framework shapes DFID’s work to address the drivers of conflict. But a corresponding, up to date, strategy for conflict prevention does not exist for the rest of government. Given DFID’s merger with the FCO, a cross-government conflict prevention strategy is vital. It would also advance the commitments David Cameron‘s government helped to broker among world leaders to promote peaceful, just and inclusive societies, women’s empowerment and socio-economic equality under the Sustainable Development Goals.

Investing in long-term peace and stability
Building peace takes time and must be flexible to respond to rapidly evolving conflicts and the issues driving them. Just as the UK invests in military approaches, it must also invest in standing peace capabilities. This includes supporting mediation expertise, partnerships with peacebuilders in places affected by conflict, and funding models that support flexibility and innovation in between lengthy and bureaucratic procurement or grant cycles.
As DFID is merged into the FCO, its expertise in understanding and addressing the root causes of conflict should be maintained and expanded within the new department. But the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office could also be looking for opportunities to outdo its predecessors and shift power to civil society organisations in fragile and conflict-affected states. UK strategies must reflect the priorities of communities who are working to build peace, and consistently fund them to do their vital work in the face of repression. Shifting decision making from international organisations to local organisations is possible even in  places affected by conflict, as exemplified by the kind of innovative partnerships being developed in contexts like Myanmar and Syria. The Integrated Review should pave the way for greater support to sustainable partnerships with civil society in conflict affected countries if the UK wants to sustainably reduce conflict.

Opportunities amid COVID-19? 

These priorities have become more pressing as a result of COVID-19. Peace processes have seen delaystensions between governments and citizens are likely to intensify amid the economic downturn; the pandemic is also rapidly intensifying the increase in authoritarianism around the world. 

Amidst the bleak global picture there are opportunities to build peace. Regional rivals cooperating on the COVID-19 response and opportunities to build back better in security sector reform should be seized. To reduce the havoc that the pandemic will create in conflict-affected contexts and to best ensure UK national security in a more stable and prosperous world, the Integrated Review needs to provide a bold vision for how ‘Global Britain’ will support communities and societies to meet these challenges, and address the grievances and divisions they face. Understanding shared security, investing in conflict prevention, consulting non-government expertise and ensuring policy coherence would be a good starting point.


Photo: Handshake between British Army trainers, supporting the United Nations (UN) and the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), mentoring Somali soldiers on vehicle maintenance. Credit: Crown copyright MOD