Upstream conflict prevention: Addressing the root causes of conflict
The concept of ‘upstream conflict prevention’ has gained increasing currency among the development, diplomatic and defence communities. This briefing outlines the key elements of this approach.
In July 2011, the UK Government made upstream conflict prevention a key pillar of its Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS), a joint initiative between the Department for International Development, Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence which sets out a bold vision for developing a coherent, comprehensive and long term approach to conflict prevention. Yet for many there remains a lack of clarity as to what the term means and how to put it into practice.
The defining element of an upstream approach is not when it takes place, but rather that it seeks to address the underlying causes of conflict, which could be the result of a variety of factors. Upstream conflict prevention should be understood as a process of supporting societies to become more cohesive, resilient and able to manage their internal conflicts without resorting to violence.
Every conflict-affected or fragile state is different. It is therefore important to carry out a thorough and comprehensive conflict analysis in which members of the conflict-affected communities participate and design responses based on the underlying drivers of conflict identified.
It is important to understand that specific conflict prevention activities cannot create long-term peace and stability on their own if business as usual through other channels continues to exacerbate underlying tensions. All kinds of interactions, including trade, aid, defence and diplomatic engagements can have both a negative and positive impact on conflict dynamics.
While challenging, taking an upstream approach has the potential to secure real and long-term gains in promoting a more peaceful and safer environment for all.
“Upstream conflict prevention should be understood as a process of supporting societal change: helping countries to become more cohesive, resilient and able to manage their internal conflicts without resorting to violence.”Saferworld on upstream conflict prevention