The multilateral system needs to invest more in conflict prevention to address state fragility, but members of the United Nations and other institutions are often reluctant to fund this, according to Charles Call, Associate Professor at the School of International Service at American University. “We spend more on peacekeeping than we do on everything else the UN does globally,” he said.
“I think we need more funds that are catalytic and agile, that can be deployed quickly when you’re looking at a real potential of mass violence,” Call said. He felt that UN agencies such as the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Department of Political Affairs should be strengthened.
“The important thing is to bolster some of their ability to do programmatic work in ways that actually can support and sustain some of the institutional capacities that need to be developed,” he argued.
“Those institutions would do well if they could find ways to heed some of the critique that has been launched against them of being too national level and top down, and that means more differentiated approaches from the local level, and paying attention to sub-national dynamics, including in cities.”
Call said talking about inclusive governance is a fruitful way of thinking about how multilateral institutions can pay attention to issues of legitimacy. “One of the things you need for institutional capacity is to have some consultation and participation of the population—are these the kinds of institutions that they want?”
He said the concept of failed states has two main problems: it is paternalistic and it over-aggregates the problem. He argued that the concept should be split apart into three different dimensions: institutional capacities, legitimate governance, and violence and insecurity.
This interview was conducted by Nadia Mughal of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism (ICM), as part of a series of interviews done on the margins of ICM’s fourth retreat, on fragile states and fragile cities, held on May 8-9.
Listen to the interview:
In our discussion today on fragility you argued that there are two main problems with the concept of failed states: that it’s paternalistic and over-aggregates the problem. Can you expand on that?
I’ve critiqued the concept particularly of failed states and state failure. State fragility is a little bit better on the paternalistic front because it doesn’t have quite the “schoolmarmish” attitude that failure does, but it does suffer from the same problem of aggregation—of aggregating too many things into a single concept.
In an article that I wrote for the European Journal of International Relations, I argued that we should split that apart into three different dimensions. One of those is about institutional capacities—weak institutions, how much state institutions get things done or don’t get things done for the populations, and sort of service deliveries is a little too narrow, but essentially the idea that institutions are both political as well as service delivery institutions.
The second dimension is what I call legitimate governance. On some of these lists of failed states, for example, you see North Korea very high on the list and then people argue, “Oh, the solution to failed fragile states is to strengthen institutions—let’s do more security sector reform,” and I don’t think security sector reform would necessarily be the solution to a problem of legitimate governance in a place like North Korea. It’s not about strengthening the capacities of the institutions or the security sector, it’s about governance issues. It’s over-concentration of power that’s illegitimate in some ways.
The third is essentially violence and insecurity—how much of the percentage of the state’s territory is insecure or under conflict. But it’s a different thing when you are concerned about fragility and weak institutions that might lead to violence. They’re two very different things, and when you throw them all together you can’t distinguish between them.
How can the multilateral system respond to fragility in states? What kind of role can it play?
If you look at it along these three dimensions, there’s a big contrast between the institutional capacity dimensions—if you think about how we address the problem of weak formal institutions. First of all, it’s not necessarily a problem if informal institutions are working in a country. We had some discussion about that this morning, but in the World Development Report of 2011, there was quite a bit of attention to this from the development community. This is essentially the development community’s approach to the institutional capacity problem or in a post-crisis involvement. Then you need to get some technical capacities that are doing this sort of institutional development in a politically informed and agile way and that’s where some of our development partners have difficulties.
And on the other hand, you have the peace and security actors like DPKO [UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations] or DPA [UN Department of Political Affairs] who makes some very poor choices about how to do institutional development because they’re just trying to throw together something that will be secure in the short term.
One of the things you need for institutional capacity is to have some consultation and participation of the populations—are these the kinds of institutions that they want? It’s what I call the “institutional design issue” in my book on Building States to Build Peace. That’s the first dimension, and the second dimension is legitimate governance.
What can the multilateral system do? I think the inclusion agenda and talking about inclusive governance is a very fruitful way going forward of thinking about how multilateral institutions can pay attention to this legitimacy issue. There’s some institutions, of course, that can be involved in that as well. It’s dicey for DPA to do this; DPA needs to pay attention to this and it does, but its scope for action is limited because of pressures from those very states. The PBC [UN Peace Building Commission] can play a role here. The Security Council of course plays a role when illegitimate governance becomes a problem for international peace and security, but those are rare circumstances when we’re talking about fragility or conflict prevention. The peacebuilding commission is one avenue that could actually engage regional actors and others in discussions about governance questions, perhaps fruitfully as well.
The third dimension is violence and insecurity. We already have quite a bit of apparatus for that, the DPKO, mediation through DPA—those capacities have been bolstered quite a bit. I think the important thing is to bolster some of their ability to do programmatic work in ways that actually can support and sustain some of the institutional capacities that need to be developed. Those institutions would do well if they could find ways to heed some of the critique that has been launched against them of being too national level and top down, and that means being more differentiated approaches from the local level, and paying attention to sub-national dynamics, including in cities.
Fragile states often include countries that are recovering from conflict or experiencing recurrent violent outbreaks, but not enough has been invested in conflict-prevention tools in addressing fragility. In your view, what can be done to change that?
One of the things I said this morning is on the need to really invest much more in conflict prevention, and states and donors are reluctant to do that. We spend more on peacekeeping than we do on everything else the UN does globally.
That’s response and peacekeeping has not, with the exception of the Macedonia mission many years ago, been deployed in a way that’s preventive. But of course there’s a lot that can be done short of deploying troops to do prevention, and the UN system does do some of that, but could do a lot more—particularly on the diplomatic fronts despite the difficulties of doing prevention, but it could do so through the PBC as I’ve mentioned..
The PBC could do more to address conflict prevention through its mediation support role, essentially a diplomatic role that it plays as a broker for regional actors and regional organizations, states, even civil society in those countries where it’s worked, as well as the main relevant actors in the UN system.
I think we need more funds that are catalytic and agile, that can be deployed quickly when you’re looking at a real potential of mass violence, be it mass atrocities, electoral violence, around a transition, or around a post-conflict process that could be unraveling. I think it would be extremely helpful if even one or two percent of every peacekeeping budget of a given operation could be devoted to programs that supported directly the peacekeeping mandate. In order to be effective, multilateral intuitions need to work closely with regional organizations and regional actors for their own legitimacy in the neighborhood.
You mentioned earlier that there’s a lot to learn from innovations happening in cities in violence prevention, in countries such as Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. Can you give us an example and how the multilateral system can adopt some of these experiences?
Medellín, Colombia is one example, Cali, Colombia is another example, Nueva San Salvador in El Salvador is another. What’s happened in some of these places is basically you have coalitions come together because violence is so extreme. Municipal governments, the private sector, civil society, the local police, and religious authorities come together and they form essentially some initiative that they’re all participating in, which devotes money and support for the police and for the law enforcement efforts, as well as for prevention efforts in those areas to address extremely high violence.
In some cases it involves hyper-vigilant policing with cameras on the streets so that there’s a quick response when incidents occur. In some cases it involves prevention, it involves street lighting and activities in communities, and it almost always involves systems of informants.
Adapting that at the multilateral level, we already see that happening in the banks—the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank certainly are at the forefront of thinking about how to support, replicate, and adapt these efforts, and I think they’re going to be doing that for the next 10 years. What they don’t have is the kind of political clout to engage with national governments to take the kind of police and justice reforms at the national level that are often necessary for the state institutions to work properly. That’s the area where we need more pressure from citizens, from below most importantly, and that means funding citizen efforts to hold their governments accountable on violence prevention and violence control.
There’s a lot of civil societies organizations that are eager to do something about violence and hold their governments accountable, and donors can support that. It’s not like funding education or health— it’s harder to see the results, but it’s more important in terms of the strategic context of development. And you need donors, regional organizations, and regional neighbors that are willing to actually put pressure on governments to support efforts to reform their own justice systems in ways that will be responsive to citizens.
Thank you so much for speaking with us.
My pleasure, thanks.