UN, World Bank Reports: Policy Breakthroughs on Sustaining Peace?

The United Nations flag flies outside of UN headquarters in New York. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ much anticipated Report on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace was released in late January, in the lead-up to the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace to be held this week in New York, in accordance with the General Assembly and Security Council “peacebuilding resolutions.” Breaking new ground conceptually, these resolutions focused on sustaining peace “at all stages of conflict and in all its dimensions” and on the imperative to prevent “the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of conflict,” in response to worrying trends such as the spike in violent conflict worldwide and unparalleled levels of forced displacement. The secretary-general, in turn, has sought to forge a more coherent vision and to offer new tools and approaches to help the UN system better support both member states and civil society in building more just and peaceful societies.

Shortly after the launch of the secretary-general’s report, the World Bank and UN’s full  Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict was brought out in connection with the Bank’s Fragility Forum 2018: Managing Risks for Peace and Stability. Through the commissioning of some sixty-nine original studies (including twenty country cases), “P4P,” as it is commonly referred to, brings intellectual firepower to understanding the causes, consequences, and innovative ways to curb the disturbing uptick in political violence—specifically, citing Uppsala Conflict Data Program figures showing, since 2010, the tripling of major violent conflicts and the escalation in fighting in a growing number of lower intensity conflicts.

Especially if their recommendations are skillfully rolled out and then seriously considered at this month’s High-Level Meeting, the secretary-general’s and Pathways for Peace reports can, together, represent the start of policy breakthroughs that contribute, over time, to significant positive change in how the UN and World Bank—and indeed the international community—approach, manage, innovate, and resource their peacebuilding work. The secretary-general’s report team, led by the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), Department of Political Affairs (DPA), and UN Development Program (UNDP), and the “integrated core team” that prepared the World Bank-UN report, have moved the needle toward forging a new consensus among member states. In particular, the two reports advance a more integrated and coherent framework for global conflict management in five concrete ways:

First, they elevate the role of civil society—including women’s and youth groups, the private sector, and regional organizations in sustaining peace. Rather than just paying lip service to these less visible peacebuilding actors, the reports offer examples of productive UN and World Bank partnerships with them through new platforms, e.g., the UN Global Compact’s Business for Peace network, and tools, e.g., the Joint UN-African Union Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security and the Department of Peacekeeping Operation’s (DPKO) new community-engagement framework, that harness their capabilities and financial resources to create or sustain peace. And they stress the need to scale-up these innovations not only in UN peace operations but across UN’s resident country teams, which includes the international financial institutions.

Second, the two reports highlight recent advances in joint assessment, planning, and programming, including the tripartite UN, World Bank, and European Union Recovery and Peacebuilding Assessment in Liberia, the UNDP-DPKO Global Focal Point for police, justice, and corrections, and the field focused UNDP-DPA Peace and Development Advisers. Importantly, the secretary-general also calls for ensuring that the UN country team—including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund—can handle peacebuilding priorities that will fall in its lap when a peacekeeping mission draws down, and for triple-hatted support across development, humanitarian, and peacebuilding entities for the deputy heads of peace operations—who are now routinely responsible for all three areas of activity, but with scattered or uneven support.

Third, the secretary-general’s report, in particular, buttresses the case for “more predictable and sustained financing” for civilian-led peacebuilding, against the backdrop of declining development assistance to conflict-affected countries as a share of global aid (from 40 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2015). The secretary-general astutely underscores the billions in potential savings from effective conflict prevention, while calling for a “quantum leap” in un-earmarked and multi-year contributions to the UN’s Peacebuilding Fund (PBF). However, despite the recent progress in now allocating—as one positive illustration—approximately $250 million annually from UN peacekeeping missions’ assessed budgets for mandated peacebuilding programmatic activities, this amount (alongside proposed PBF and other funding stream increases) is still insufficient given the scale of the challenge—and compared to the annual peacekeeping budget, which continues to hover around $7.5 billion per annum. With the US once again calling for severe cuts in their financial contribution to the UN (including a proposed 37 percent cut to peacekeeping from enacted levels in 2017 and the complete defunding of UNDP, UNICEF, and other agencies), it is critical that both old and new donors prepare to step-in and fill the potential gap, including the World Bank, whose International Development Association recorded a record-setting $75 billion commitment from a coalition of 60 donor and borrower governments in December 2016, in the fight against extreme poverty.

Fourth, Pathways for Peace offers a framework for understanding the potential causes of conflict and preventing violence that combines systemic (or structural) and operational factors. Building on a similar conceptual framework introduced by the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict in the 1990s, the comprehensive approach advocated by P4P ensures that long-term systemic and shorter-term operational concerns are accounted for when building indigenous capacities for the management and eventual resolution of a protracted conflict. Such a multi-sectoral and sequenced approach becomes all the more imperative when one considers the World Bank-UN research finding that by 2030—the time-frame set for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals—more than 50 percent of the world’s poor could be living in conflict-affected countries.

Fifth and finally, both reports stress up front that the UN development system, the World Bank, and development practitioners in general are central to conflict prevention and sustaining peace. Given continued worries about “the securitization of development,” they strike a balance between development and security tools and approaches in efforts to build a durable, just peace and to prevent the outbreak of deadly violence, reflecting the UN’s evolution in this complex space since the end of the Cold War. Both studies will also accelerate efforts to put into practice—across the international financial institutions and the UN’s development programs, funds, and agencies—concrete peacebuilding and conflict prevention proposals, such as the need to improve upstream and downstream peacebuilding programming to restore citizens’ confidence in state leadership.

Missing Elements: Striving for Broader Peace & Security Management and Institutional Reforms

UN member states have opted to slow down adoption of the secretary-general’s proposed, mutually reinforcing 2017 reforms for the peace and security pillar of the secretariat, development system, and management system. Fortunately, both the above-mentioned reports add a sense of urgency, by stepping up political pressure on international policy-makers to support the secretary-general’s operational reform package too. If successful on these “track I” reforms in 2018, the secretariat’s 38th Floor can shift attention to nurturing the multi-stakeholder coalitions necessary to push through more ambitious institutional (including Security Council) innovations in the run-up to the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020. A revitalized and renovated world body would help to ensure that UN conflict management capabilities stay relevant to global efforts to counter violent extremism and stabilize conflict-ravaged societies.

For instance, the Peacebuilding Commission’s recent flexibility and innovation toward advancing intergovernmental coherence on regional issues, e.g., the Great Lakes and Sahel, and select countries merits the praise exhibited in the secretary-general’s report. But with an eye towards the expected 2020 UN Summit, serious consideration should be given—far beyond the secretary-general’s current operational recommendations—to elevating this Security Council-General Assembly advisory body into a more authoritative council with significant new coordination and resource mobilization competencies, and having it replace the all-but-defunct Trusteeship Council as recommended by the Albright-Gambari Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance. The proposed Peacebuilding Council could learn from the 2005/2006 upgrade of the Human Rights Commission into a Council with a new Universal Periodic Review mechanism that could, in effect, inform a newly agreed preventive action tool. This would equip the PBC to better help countries counter violent extremism and prevent the recurrence of conflict so essential to effective stabilization and sustaining peace.

Both the secretary-general’s and Pathways for Peace reports are also missing at least one major new flagship reform initiative with the potential to capture the imagination of both governments and global civil society. At the start of Secretary-General Guterres’ first year in office, there was talk of some kind of new “UN Prevention Platform”—perhaps absorbed, in part, by his promising new High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation introduced in mid-2017. One promising idea discussed at a recent sustaining peace experts dialogue is to develop a new roster and regular training for around fifty top-flight mediators and experienced diplomats in the latest negotiation techniques, who can step in at short notice as UN Special Envoys and provide leadership for a new, rapid-response UN Civilian Response Capability of up to five hundred personnel. The need for such capability is clear from the lengthy recruitment cycles of months to years needed to field more than a handful of new UN personnel for even the most urgent of field-related tasks. A backup system enrolling up to 2000 UN system staff—including from the international financial institutions, as well as a select number of municipal administrators, engineers, lawyers, and others with specialized skills—could also receive training as part of a major reserve component of this new set of capacities that would operate nimbly alongside UN peacekeepers and police.

Upgrading the PBC into an empowered Peacebuilding Council, as well the establishment of a new UN Civilian Response Capability, could feature prominently in the follow-on, unfinished research agenda to the high-level gathering later this week in New York. In addition, at a recent experts panel discussion a chief external advisor to the Pathways for Peace report called for further research on the rich interaction between security, development, and diplomatic actors in conflict-affected countries and greater independent analysis of how precisely development actors contribute to violence prevention.

In sum, by placing preventive action and post-conflict peacebuilding on par with peacemaking and peacekeeping, the concept of and report on sustaining peace by the secretary-general—coupled with the World Bank and UN Pathways for Peace report—have together laid the groundwork for important policy-breakthroughs, empowering civilians with new tools, better management practices, and hopefully new financial resources to contribute to a more integrated and coherent framework for global conflict prevention and management. With this progress has come expanded possibilities and political pressures for more ambitious, overdue peace and security management and institutional reforms in both the United Nations and World Bank. By positioning this week’s High-Level Event on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace as a springboard for forging a strong consensus on a renewed, innovated, and reformed UN peace and security architecture by 2020, the world body—as well as its closely associated international financial institutions—will be better equipped to help fragile and war-torn nations and their citizens avert future deadly violence and build a more durable and just peace.

A version of this article was originally published by the Stimson Center. Richard Ponzio is Director of the Just Security 2020 program at Stimson.