Image: Traders and shoppers pack the market in Bossangoa, a town in north-western Central African Republic that found calm after the war but has since been hit by renewed unrest. Credit: Jack Losh.
The Review shares a timeline with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the universal call to action to end poverty which was adopted by the UK and all UN Member States in 2015. Yet, we already know that those countries suffering from chronic insecurity and conflict are the least likely to achieve the 17 Goals in the UN Agenda. If current trends persist, according to the World Bank, by 2030 67% of the global poor will be living in countries affected by conflict and insecurity.
We also know, not least through the devastating experience of the global pandemic, that in this interconnected world we are only as secure as the most vulnerable. National security depends on our shared global security, but actions taken by states in the name of national security, such as political alliances and arms sales, often fuel conflict and therefore undermine our shared security.
The Review acknowledges, albeit on page 79, that over the coming decade “conflict and instability will continue to pose a major test to global security and resilience.” The Review’s commitment to multilateralism is welcome, given the complexity and protracted nature of conflicts today, as is the intention to strengthen diplomacy and adopt political and strategic approaches to conflict resolution.
The priority given to open societies and defence of human rights is also positive. Much conflict prevention and peacebuilding rely on the efforts of civil society groups and networks, in particular of women and young people. But this civic space is under severe political, legal and financial pressure. In 2018, for example, Freedom House reported the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
However, incoherence between the different objectives, as well as recent budgetary decisions, raise serious questions as to how the Government will in practice support conflict prevention and reduction. Despite announcing a rise in defence spending to at least 2.2% of GDP, the Government is set to make a 36% cut to the Conflict Stability and Security Fund and a ‘temporary’ cut to official development assistance from 0.7% to 0.5% GDP. This will undermine an effective strategy in the medium term, and severely impact civil society activities and countries like Yemen, South Sudan and Syria. Research on conflict, vital to building our understanding of effective responses, will also be hit.
The commitment to open societies and human rights sits at odds with the likely need to strike deals with trading partners in the Indo-Pacific who may have poor human rights records. The goals to tackle the climate crisis fail to make the joins with conflict prevention objectives, yet climate change exacerbates existing conflict dynamics, and conflict in turn hampers the ability to mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change. And despite the overriding evidence that inclusion benefits sustainable peace, the Review fails to connect the fact that while girls’ education is important for gender equality, women feel the brunt of conflict and insecurity. A more comprehensive approach to addressing the impact of conflicts on women and their meaningful participation in peacebuilding and peace processes is needed.
Going forward we call on the Government to use the development of its ‘strategic conflict agenda’ as an opportunity to narrow areas of incoherence in its approach to the conflict-affected countries it prioritises for engagement, and to draw on and continue to invest in the wealth of expertise and experience in this sector.
Conciliation Resources was one of around 450 organisations which submitted evidence to the UK Government’s consultation on the Integrated Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy Review. Read our submission here.
MORE LIKE THIS
Conflict is difficult and complex, but not unbeatable. We push for evidence-informed international policy and practice to support the path to peace.