To mark the centenary of The First World War, we will be publishing a series of articles looking at what has changed over the last century in a number of domains. Today’s article is the third from Alan Whaites, team leader, Governance for Peace and Development at the OECD.
The Christmas truce of 1914 is one of the iconic moments of the First World War, soldiers on the Western Front took the initiative to suspend hostilities in order to meet, share rations and play football. Accounts of the events on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1914 often refer to the singing of carols as a point of connection between the two sides. It seems that the power and symbolism of a religious festival that for many is associated with hope acted as a point of unity across divisions of nation and politics.
The truce is a rare positive reminder that identity is a powerful factor in many conflicts; too often identity is seen as the curse of conflict, the mechanism for division. Yet shared symbols, shared history and a sense of belonging to a group are simply the mediums through which ideas and ethics are transmitted. In his classic work Benedict Anderson described this sense of belonging as “imagined communities”, the bedrock of national identity and of the state itself.
Yes, of course the ties that bind can also divide and the phrase “conflict entrepreneurs” was coined to describe those adept at exploiting identity and sense of community for the purpose of individual or collective gain. In a report on a workshop on the issue Marina Ottaway noted that: “Conflict entrepreneurs often mobilize individuals through three general tactics: appeals to ethnic, religious, and/or ideological solidarity; patronage; and positive or negative promises regarding security.”
The vulnerability of identity to exploitation by conflict entrepreneurs creates a sense of pessimism about differentness and belief. In the Clash of Civilisations Samuel Huntington tells us that: “The philosophical assumptions, underlying values, social relations, customs, and overall outlooks on life differ significantly among civilizations. The revitalization of religion throughout much of the world is reinforcing these cultural differences.” Frances Stewart, however, warns against over-simplification: “Clearly, cultural differences alone are insufficient to cause violent conflict, given the large number of peaceful multicultural societies. Hence the many socio-economic and political explanations of conflict. Among these are horizontal inequalities (inequalities among culturally defined groups).”
Stewart’s work points to the need to also look at the power of political divisions. Particularly the role of social and economic problems that can either be harnessed to the mobilising potential of identity; or to those existing divisions that are visible through identity. After all consolidating the support of one constituency can often be discrimination against another, even to the extent of enshrining in law, constitutions and budgets the privileging of identity. These political divisions constructed through the medium of identity create the fuel for it to be instrumentalised by leaders in the context of conflict.
Ultimately this means that it is the choices that individuals make, as leaders, citizens and followers that matter. For this reason the work of those who explore “political settlements” has much to offer. Political settlement thinking recognises that If political leaders are willing to exploit identity for the purpose of conflict then that is likely to be for political gain – and this means political in its raw sense of access and use of power. Identity becomes a vehicle for controlling or destabilising the political settlement in question, but could equally be used to negotiate a more visibly inclusive process to manage power.
Sometimes caricatured as too elitist these studies have instead often pointed to ways in which relational dynamics and personal strategies for managing power make all the difference between peace and war. Political settlement thinking recognises that the strategies leaders use to relate to their constituencies matter, whether a society is deeply heterogeneous or not. Earlier this year Sarah Phillips outlined at the OECD the findings of her study on the Somaliland pointing to the way in which shared experience can play a positive role. Coupled with the work of others, such as Stefan Lindemann’s studies of several African countries, it suggests that the tactics adopted to include others in political settlements are crucial. Inclusive enough political settlements also need to be smart enough.
Choosing the smart rather than expedient path is the challenge. The positive and negative choices that leaders make have always been difficult to explain. Why are some leaders more willing than others to positively manage political settlements, rather than opting for the leverage of mobilisation and conflict entrepreneurialism? We all carry multiple identities around with us, and constantly weigh and prioritise these in the context of circumstances, opportunities and challenges. Yet while in the constant renegotiation and adaption of resilient political settlements these identities still surface and matter they are not usually instrumentalised as frameworks for discrimination and privilege. Research groups such as the Development Leadership Programme, ESID, and others are now chipping away at the issues of why some political settlements work in managing these processes, while others collapse.
The failure of leaders to manage these processes in 1914 provided a stark illustration of the cost when managing political settlements – including cross border ones – breaks down. It is therefore apt to remember that the ability of shared values and shared humanity to overcome those failures, shown momentarily at Christmas in the same year, is something that works on both identity and political settlements and it needs to be built on – not fear.
To mark the centenary of The First World War, we will be publishing a series of articles looking at what has changed over the last century in a number of domains. In the first article in the series, Alan Whaites team leader, Governance for Peace and Development at the OECD, discusses peace-building and conflict. In a second article on Wednesday, Alan will look more in detail at the role of the state.
In the early summer of 1914 my great grandfather was a poor labourer working in the sprawling docks of the Manchester ship canal. He supported a large family in a tiny slum dwelling in the Hulme area of the city. Within a few months he was a soldier, and by the end of April 1915, after 28 days at the front, he was dead. For him, like millions of others, the political process that transformed civilians into participants in large-scale industrialised warfare was both prolonged and, at the same time, remarkably sudden.
Christopher Clark captured this duality in the title of his book, The Sleepwalkers. The actors in this drama were first lulled by a long sequence of events that slowly created the potential for conflict, and then they were carried along by a sudden chain of events. In the lead-up, the development of two major alliance systems, the purchase of new weapons and the expansion of militaries were seen by many as contributing to reducing risk. But an assassination quickly turned these precautions around, creating a system that propelled Europe towards war.
The consequences of 1914 are embedded in our collective psyche: millions dead, the horror of trench warfare, and a further chain of post-war changes that would play out through the rest of the 20th century. In essence, the fundamental problem that unfolded on a grand scale 100 years ago remains familiar, and continues to characterise many, if not most, conflicts today. Actors take steps in the belief that they are providing protection and security, often in a defensive rather than an offensive frame of mind. Over time, their positions become fixed and mechanisms for dialogue and crisis management are neglected, so that when a political crisis does occur, actions are often based on assumptions (e.g., regarding the motives of others) that may be unfounded. Von Clausewitz said that war is policy conducted by other means; in reality, it is too often an unintended consequence of actions whose repercussions seemed eminently limited and safe at the time.
This can be the case at whatever level conflict occurs. As a professional my focus is predominantly on areas of internal conflict: civil wars, insurgencies, and breakdowns of political systems because of violent competing interests. And as in 1914, the steps that lead people into such conflicts may seem rational. In Civil War is Not a Stupid Thing, Christopher Cramer points out that often there are serious, considered motivations at play. Important factors may include assessments of ideological or communal risks and interests. People think themselves into relational corners – from which conflict becomes a logical step. In 2011 the World Bank’s World Development Report pointed out that the “who” of conflict (including instigators of urban or organised crime) doesn’t necessarily change the strategic dimensions involved; behaviours centred on calculations of risk can be essentially the same.
But if the human dynamics that create the potential for conflict remain stubbornly similar across the decades, is it possible to change the outcomes? Perhaps. The challenge is to change the logic – to move the rationale towards peace, not war. While this theory is nothing new, mechanisms have been elusive. A positive change over the last decade has been the level of engagement and agreement among richer countries and conflict-affected states on collaboration in peace-building. These new approaches to co-operation are encapsulated in the internationally-agreed New Deal for engagement in fragile states.
The New Deal aims to change calculations of risks and the logic of conflict by mutually supporting factors that shift the realities for those involved: justice, legitimate politics, sound economic management, trust and focus on new ways of working. It potentially offers a framework for creating sustained support for peace; building confidence that the future lies in development – not war. Of course, human nature and politics mean that there are no guarantees of success, and changes are unlikely to be trouble-free. Shifting the balance between peace and war is often non-linear, a process of persistence buffeted by crisis and turmoil. But at least the New Deal offers a platform for local and international actors to engage and act – and to do so with fragile states themselves setting the direction.
It is important to stress that a dose of realism is still needed, or “strategic patience” in the words of Helder da Costa (general secretary of the g7+ group of fragile states). There are no miracle solutions and without real political will no approach can work. The New Deal will also come under scrutiny, potentially because of unrealistic expectations and timeframes that are far too short. But the willingness by the international community to engage constructively in these situations has clearly grown. The lessons that enabled the agreement of the New Deal – the hard-won experience of what does and does not work in changing the dynamics of conflict and distrust – offer all stakeholders something to work with when trying to resolve conflict, in whatever region or state.
It was only after a second, even more costly, world war that Europe understood the need to shift incentives to peace, and away from conflict. That of course took considerable investment, trust and new forms of partnership (including the creation of the antecedent to the OECD). The principles and needs have not changed, nor the importance of working toward long-term peace now.
Can the New Deal for Fragile States Live Up To its Promise to Significantly Shift Agency to the Local?
Today’s post is by Cedric de Coning, head of the Peace Operations and Peacebuilding Research Group at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and Special Advisor to the Head of the Peace Support Operations Division of the African Union Commission. Tomorrow, Yannick Hingorani of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate will reply.
On a recent visit to Mogadishu I was reminded again of the overwhelmingly complex set of challenges facing the government and people of Somalia, and their regional and international partners. The legitimacy of the government is challenged and its capacity to deliver is weak. At the same time, this government represents the best chance the people of Somalia have had in decades to benefit from some level of stability, rule of law and provision of basic services.
If it is to succeed, the government will have to go beyond liberating territory with the help of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). It will need to deliver order, justice and livelihood opportunities that out-perform those offered by Al-Shabaab. In a country that is clan-based, governance needs to be hyper-local. Physical security may be imposed, but sustainable order has to emerge and be maintained by local communities. Consequently, a strong federal-local partnership has to be forged.
At the same time, the international community has to face its own demons. Despite efforts at fostering coherence and aligning international support behind government owned plans, dozens of international partners and organizations are still by and large each pursuing their own national or organizational interests. The result is predictably self-destructive: an international community that, despite its stated principles, is unwilling to give its local partners the space they need to take full ownership of their own project, as Peter Fabricius argues. In the process, the international community ends up contributing to the very fragility it was meant to address. These challenges are not new and the consequences are not unknown, but they have proven to be more structural, inherent and resilient than our theories of change assumed.
A new initiative has been underway since 2011, and it now focuses on the specific development challenges and opportunities faced by countries affected by conflict and fragility. It seeks to transform the way international assistance to these countries is managed by placing the countries themselves in the driving seat when it comes to determining what causes their fragility, setting their own priorities, planning their own paths to resilience and managing the relationship with their international partners. The New Deal was agreed in 2011 in Busan, Korea at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness by donors and self-identified fragile countries that have organized themselves into a grouping called the g7+. The donors and g7+ countries come together in the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding.
The New Deal is a mutual pact. The g7+ countries take the lead in doing their own Fragility Assessments and based on these, develop their own Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) and indicators. In turn, donors align their support behind the agreed PSGs and offer improved predictability and transparency in the assistance they provide. Together, they enter into a Compact that serves as a strategic framework for the government and its international partners.
The New Deal is more than an important step forward – it is a potential game changer. It has the potential to address most of the local ownership and aid coordination challenges I have highlighted above. It acknowledges that local agency is a pre-condition for sustainable peace. It has identified specific mechanisms that serve as vehicles for realizing local ownership, as well as for aligning international support behind these locally-led peacebuilding processes.
Nonetheless, implementing the New Deal has proved challenging. As the Somalia case so clearly demonstrates, early in the recovery process these societies typically lack the individual expertise and institutional capacity to fully engage in the Fragility Assessment and the other New Deal processes they are meant to lead. Yet these governments and donors are under pressure to complete these processes as soon as possible because they serve as precursors for the Compact. Significant aid can only flow once these assessments, goal setting and planning have been done. Because of this time pressure, consultants and other external actors are often brought in to overcome the capacity gap; and while they they do their best, the result is just not as homegrown and locally owned as the New Deal intended.
The fact that the New Deal Compact has to be in place before significant assistance can be disbursed has unintended consequences: most importantly, it reduces the Compact to a resource mobilization tool, when it should be the vehicle for a genuine, locally owned vision and plan for peacebuilding and statebuilding. If the emphasis is on resources, it makes sense for the ministry of planning to bring in external experts to help it get the Fragility Assessment, PSGs and Compact in place as soon as possible. However, if the ambition is truly to shift agency to the local, then, as Helder da Costa argues, the programming needs to reflect the upfront investment needed to build local capacity and the time and patience needed for meaningful political engagement at all levels.
In order for the New Deal to live up to its full promise, solutions have to be found for the dilemma caused by this time-capacity deficit: the New Deal Compact should not be a once-off exercise. It should be regularly revisited, and each time there should be a target for significantly increasing input from local expertise. Likewise, Fragility Assessments should be an iterative process, closely linked perhaps to the monitoring of the PSG indicators. The PSGs, their indicators and the Compact need to be regularly reviewed and adapted. The goal should be to progressively build capacity to manage these New Deal processes with local expertise. Similarly, if initially the process has to be rapid and small, it should be expanded over time so that within a few years it can be much moreparticipatory, representative, and inclusive. The New Deal should thus include a clear programme for building-up and phasing-in local expertise, so that it can result in a real shift in agency from the international to the local, underpinned by a significant increase in local capacity to manage and staff the processes needed to operationalize the New Deal.
In doing so, we will have to be sensitive to the inherent tension in the act of building local capacity from the outside. Too much external intervention undermines the ability of a society to self-organise because it inhibits the feedback local institutions need to learn and adapt, and it builds dependence. There is a threshold beyond which influence becomes interference and where it starts to add to fragility. This threshold is much lower than widely acknowledged. Consequently, many external actors make the mistake of interfering too much and endup undermining the ability of local systems to self-organise.We need a code of conduct that will help international actors to self-regulate their tendency to overreach.
The most distinguishing feature of the New Deal is that it recognizes that peacebuilding has to be essentially local. However, for the New Deal to move from an aspiration to a reality there would have to be a significant shift in agency from the international to the local. Achieving this will require nothing less than a paradigm-shift in the way fragile states, international organizations and international development partners understand their respective roles and responsibilities in peacebuilding.
Today’s post is by Erwin van Veen (Twitter @ErwinVeen) a senior research fellow with the Clingendael Conflict Research Unit of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, based on interviews conducted by the author during a recent visit to Guinea.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, a UN-supported stabilization package has helped put the ongoing transition from military to civilian rule in Guinea on a more sustainable footing. It largely took the form of a set of security sector reform interventions. While progress since 2010 has been substantive, Guinea today remains fragile. This highlights security as a critical precondition for development. It also demonstrates that initial security improvements must be followed up to become sustainable. Finally, it suggests what kind of results external money may ‘buy’ in a transition context. All three issues raise challenges for donors in terms of their policy focus (e.g. in the context of the post-2015 debate), their ability to commit long-term and their need to demonstrate clear-cut, ‘value-for-money’ results.
Between 1984 and 2009 the people of Guinea lived under a series of military and strong-arm governments that combined oppression with repression, plunging the country into a severe economic downturn. In 2010, the election of president Condé heralded a first step towards the return of civilian rule. However, the role and behavior of the armed forces continued to pose a critical challenge to political stability. The military retained a strong grip on political life and a visible position in society: theft, intimidation and violence were common. Citizens experienced the military as a daily, random threat on the streets.
In a rare show of unity, ECOWAS, the AU, UN and Government of Guinea recognized the instability of this situation in 2010 and jointly conducted a review of the country’s security situation. It led to a comprehensive, UN-supported, initiative to stabilize the security sector. Two-and-a-half years later both the results and the challenges look substantial. While Guinea’s poor governance and economic situation – exacerbated by its ‘bad neighborhood’ – still make for a combustible combination, the specter of another coup is fading. The military has moved from the streets into the barracks, weapons have disappeared from sight and civilian oversight improved.
A census of the armed forces that led to the retirement of 4000 out of roughly 24,000 soldiers – with dignity and a package – proved a critical part of the intervention. It helped reduce corruption in the military by weeding out ‘ghost soldiers’, reduced the potential for violence and increased the affordability of the military. Most importantly perhaps, it was a first step in restoring an ‘esprit de corps’ amongst the armed forces. Another key part of the intervention included the creation of a small, UN-led team to provide strategic advice on the security sector reform process to the office of the president. Leveraging the UN’s prestige, this team played an important role in maintaining momentum, building confidence and stimulating the re-instatement of critical institutional practices. Finally, additional interventions enabled difficult conversations to start on sensitive topics like democratic oversight and better protection of women against violence. The entire package came at the bargain price of $11 million out of a total Peace Building Fund (PBF) envelope for Guinea of $18 million.
What is remarkable is that in such a short time span a legal framework governing the security forces has been put in place, the previously prevalent culture of military secrecy has been reduced, the budget for the security forces is now publicly available (the government itself financed the retirement of the most recent contingent of soldiers in December 2013) and public consultations are going on about the role of the security forces (including the police) in society. No less important for the citizens of Conakry, soldiers now obey traffic laws like anyone else. The military is poised to contribute a battalion to MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) later this year, which will further increase its accountability, cohesion and esprit de corps.
These results may not seem transformative in Western parliaments – they are in Guinea.
Three factors played an important role. First, the UN leveraged the credibility it gained from staying in the country throughout Guinea’s crises – bilateral donors largely left – to advantage. Second, PBF funds were mobilized in a timely and flexible manner. It is worthwhile recalling that Guinea is neither post-conflict nor hosts a peacekeeping mission – the usual criteria for PBF support – and so this is a testimony to the catalytic role the fund can play. Third, and most importantly, the Guinean government recognized the urgency of the process and drove it hard, putting political capital on the line. Three decades of coups and military rule undoubtedly provided a useful reminder of the consequences of failure.
However, the devil is in the detail and this progress has, in a way, merely thrown up the next set of challenges. For example, now that the army has vacated the social space it used to occupy to the benefit of the police, the latter needs to step up to ensure public security. So does the country’s notoriously ineffective justice system. Yet, they are poorly governed, led, paid, trained and equipped. Reforming these organizations is also likely to command less political interest. For example, the 2009 ‘stadium massacre’ remains unresolved despite there being clear clues as to suspects and appropriate next steps. Finally, funds are becoming scarcer now that Guinea’s ‘success’ puts it at risk of seeing its PBF funding discontinued and donors in-country are few and not necessarily well-coordinated. Without further political and financial support the reform process may flounder, setting the scene for a slow erosion of what capacity has been created and increasing the potential for future violence.
Hence, paradoxically, if next steps cannot be taken, the success of the stabilization intervention may increase instability. A lack of prospects, basic services and poor governance continue to ensure that small incidents can spontaneously escalate and quickly lead to widespread violence. For example, a two-month long span of blackouts in some of the poorer suburbs of Conakry resulted in massive demonstrations leading to at least one death and several injured on 18 February. Police performance was poor. Such incidents are frequent.
In other words, given its help in achieving initial successes, can the international community now demonstrate it has staying power in accompanying the next step of the security sector reform process? Time will tell and yet the challenge is real.
Today’s post is from Donata Garrassi of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding and Brenda Killen, Head of OECD’s Global Partnerships and Policy Division
In May 2011, The Economist featured an image of Osama Bin Laden on its front cover with the title: “Now, kill his dream”. Conflict and instability are constantly in the headlines, from the civil war in Syria, to unrest across North Africa, to seemingly endless bloodshed and turmoil in the Sahel.
We have yet to see this much more inspiring headline: “Now, build peace”. However, many countries around the world are doing exactly that: building peace. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste, to mention a few, are recovering from armed conflict, rebuilding institutions that provide security and justice to citizens, and embarking on political transitions. Their leaders are working hard to maximize the benefits of their natural resources, attract private investment and create jobs for their burgeoning youth populations.
Conflict and instability directly affect 1.5 billion people. But in an interconnected world, local actions reverberate on the global stage in a way that can no longer be isolated or contained. Forging peace is not just a collective responsibility; it is in our collective interest to help countries transition toward peace and resilience. The good news is that conflict-affected and fragile countries, with the support of development partners, have identified tools and strategies for addressing the underlying causes of conflict and laying the foundations for peace.
One of these is the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, a breakthrough agreement signed by over 40 countries and organisations, including the 19 conflict-affected and fragile countries that form the g7+. The New Deal sets out 5 pre-conditions for building peaceful states—the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs)—and provides a practical framework for countries and development partners to assess, prioritise, plan, implement and hold each other accountable.
The New Deal represents a potential breakthrough in the way national and international partners work in situations of conflict and fragility, with implications for diplomatic and political, security, and development interventions. The Secretary General of the United Nations has called upon the member states to work towards the realisation of the PSGs on more than one occasion. Countries such as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are using New Deal tools to identify dimensions of fragility and peacebuilding priorities. The New Deal is also inspiring civil society organisations from the global North and from the South in their advocacy on the need for healthy state-society relationship as the foundation of sustainable peace.
To make a lasting difference, we need to adopt the New Deal as a “new mindset” for how we address conflict and instability. It needs to be incorporated into national development plans and budgets, reflected in newspaper headlines and speeches, and promoted by civil society activists and business leaders alike. Moreover, the principles that underpin the New Deal must be reflected in the future development agenda that will be hopefully agreed after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) “expire” in 2015.
Development partners can support country transitions toward resilience by fulfilling their commitments to provide quality, timely, and flexible aid. While some countries have achieved the promised target of allocating 0.7% of their Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance (ODA), figures recently published by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that the aid disbursed by OECD countries – as an overall average – is not even half of this. Low-income countries, many of which are conflict-affected or fragile, are the ones most likely to suffer from this shortfall.
While the volume of aid matters, even more important is how it is used. The New Deal and the g7+ group of fragile states help by establishing guidelines for development cooperation. A central concept is that aid should enable countries to assume responsibility for their own transitions and deliver concrete results for their people. The New Deal promotes a new model of partnership that catalyses national ownership and leadership with a long-term vision, as opposed to a “quick win” approach.
The leaders of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, the political forum that produced the New Deal and that reunites the g7+ countries, development partners and civil society representatives, will meet in Washington, D.C. on 19 April. It will be a very good opportunity to agree on concrete actions to put New Deal commitments into practice and into the headlines. Now, build peace.
Today’s post is from Erwin van Veen of the International Network on Conflict and Fragility, established in 2009 as a subsidiary body of the OECD Development Assistance Committee and Ann Fitz-Gerald, a senior academic with Cranfield University’s Department of Management and Security.
The excitement in Juba when South-Sudan declared its independence in 2011 has given way to anxiety now that the two Sudans seem close to falling into the “conflict trap” where countries with recent experience of conflict are more likely to fall back into conflict. On April 10, the South Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) took control of Heglig, an oil town on the border between Sudan and South-Sudan. It is unclear whether this is another incident in a long series, or the spark that will explode the powder keg. But it is urgent to assess whether anything can be done to prevent a slide back to violent conflict.
The natural response of the international community when faced with such escalations of violence is to call for restraint and dialogue, which is precisely what the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the US government and the African Union’s mediator Thabo Mbeki have done. However, to assess whether this call for dialogue is likely to be heeded, at least two questions need to be answered.
First, how much pressure is the international community willing and able to exercise? This is difficult to assess from the outside, but it is likely that key global players such as the US and UN may prioritize Syria and Iran over Sudan. Regionally, the situation is hardly more favourable with Kenya and Ethiopia embroiled in Somalia and Egypt focused on domestic issues. Libya’s chaos ensures a ready supply of highly mobile manpower and weapons, as evidenced by the situation in Mali. Calls for dialogue may sound louder than the pressure and support the international community can actually generate.
Second, is dialogue welcomed by participants? Political dialogue requires a sufficient degree of commitment from both parties to have a chance of success. Several considerations must be taken into account here. To start with, the trail of broken agreements and promises between Sudan and South-Sudan is a long one and mistrust runs deep. Recent analysis suggests that the SPLA has been stockpiling weapons and that both the SPLA and the Sudanese Armed Forces are arming South Sudanese rebel militia groups. However, little reliable analysis is available on what exactly is happening in the contested border areas. One also needs to take into account that South-Sudan has limited diplomatic capacity to tell its side of the story. Publicly, however, both sides state they welcome dialogue, which the international community can capitalize on. Yet it is also clear that they are gearing up for other scenarios.
In addition, South-Sudan may well take the view that it now must defend its hard-won independence. The country took a drastic step in January by shutting down its oil production in protest over transit fees, and escalation may well be one of its few strategic options left. The South has proven before that it can survive with food distribution lines cut off and oil wealth denied – large parts of its territory have no electricity anyhow – but its leaders would have to make radical political and financial decisions and be accountable to their people for the ensuing hardship. South-Sudan’s domestic peacebuilding and statebuilding agenda would certainly suffer setbacks, its recent commitment to the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding notwithstanding.
And yet, on the face of it, there seem to be sufficient common interests to provide a basis for dialogue. For one, the human suffering and economic damage of renewed conflict will be huge. Collier and Chauvet have conservatively estimated the domestic and regional cost of a civil war to amount to about $85 billion. Two thirds of the economic damage resulting from states descending into conflict accounts for external spillovers that hurt neighbours. This is the figure against which Sudan, South-Sudan and their neighbours must gauge their appetite for dialogue and war.
In short, the signs are not hopeful that calls for dialogue can or will be heeded. What can the international community do to help prevent another war? Three lessons stand out from the international intervention in the FYR Macedonia in 2001, one of the most successful examples of conflict prevention.
Co-ordinated, fast action between the OSCE, NATO and EU proved critical for an integrated political-security response that was sufficiently context specific. In the case of Sudan, it would be easy to argue that UNMIS and the AU need to swiftly deploy peacekeeping troops into disputed areas like Heglig and that their mediators must immediately commence facilitating a longer-term process to resolve the range of outstanding issues. However, a lesson from the last few years is that third party intervention, of the UN in particular, has not always been welcomed by Sudan. Moreover, President Kiir stated on April 12 in the South-Sudanese parliament that he had rejected calls from several international leaders, including Ban Ki-Moon, to pull his troops out of Heglig. Hence, a leading UN role near the contested border seems unlikely. In keeping with the model which kept the pre-Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) talks on track, an alternative option could be that the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) partners’ forum steps up and provides an AU-led initiative with logistical, financial and advisory support. The UN could consider supporting this quietly from behind the scenes.
Strong leadership is essential. Kenya kept the many pre-CPA talks on track and helped realize several goals towards the CPA, such as the Machakos protocol of 2002. Such leadership was also a key ingredient of the successful international intervention in FYR Macedonia, where Mr Van der Stoel, personal envoy of the OSCE chair, enjoyed the confidence of all parties. Kenya may not be able to fulfil this role again at this point. In that case, Ethiopia remains one of the few parties trusted by both sides. If it could convince the presidents of Sudan and South-Sudan to work towards a political agreement, the tide might be turned and Ethiopia would render the region a very valuable service. Given the trail of broken promises, however, the conflict must be addressed at the highest levels, and it would help if both sides could refrain from any aggression towards Ethiopian peacekeepers patrolling Abeyei.
Finally, the intervention in FYR Macedonia showed that confidence building is vital. This could begin with credible and verifiable information being collected and shared from the conflict-affected border area. Rumours spread quickly, feeding distrust and possibly catalyzing ill-considered action. An international monitoring mission, possibly IGAD sponsored and AU-supported, might be a way out of this conundrum – but speed will be of the essence.