The Best of Times, the Worst of Times and the Role of Peace and Security Funders
The Best of Times, the Worst of Times and the Role of Peace and Security Funders
The Moscow Attack, Afghanistan’s Islamic State Branch and the Ukraine War
The Moscow Attack, Afghanistan’s Islamic State Branch and the Ukraine War
Speech / Global 15 minutes

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times and the Role of Peace and Security Funders

Keynote Address by Gareth Evans, President & CEO, International Crisis Group and Co-Chair, International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, to International Dialogue for Funders on Advancing Peace and Security in 2009 and Beyond, Peace and Security Funders Group/FRIDE, Madrid, 20 November 2008.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us… Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

When it comes to peace and security, conflict prevention and resolution, I tend to be an incorrigible optimist. But in all the years I have been working on these issues I don't think I have ever been more evenly poised between optimism and pessimism than I am right now.

In the case of the U.S., we have the exhilaration of the Obama presidency, with all the change of direction it promises in substance, style and effectiveness -- no more bombing for democracy, no more demonization and refusal to engage with enemies, no more dismissal of multilateral process - or any legal process, and above all the opportunity to defuse, through the soft power of Obama's skin-colour and smile, the instinctive hostility to the US and the West which has been at the core of so much deadly violence in the Arab-Islamic world and beyond.

But -- how much will the financial and economic system meltdown we are now experiencing enable the new President to give his own undivided attention, or any real attention, to all but the most pressingly urgent peace and security problems? How proactive is his administration going to be on the issue of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, which - in terms of the potential for global catastrophe if we go on getting this wrong puts this issue right up there as one of the world's big three global problems, alongside the economic meltdown and the planetary climate meltdown.

And if his Secretary of State does indeed prove to be Hillary Clinton, which Hillary is it going to be - the refreshingly creative and open minded pre Senator-for-New York Hillary, or the Hillary whose foreign policy stances, especially on Israel-Palestine, Iran and sometimes Iraq, made her often sound more like John McCain, or even George W. Bush, than the transformative Barack Obama?

In the case of the EU, we have had the exuberance of the Sarkozy presidency for the last half year, which has demonstrated at least that the Europeans can punch at something like their collective weight - as they did, in particular, in response to the Russia-Georgia conflict - when it comes to major peace issues, with the military and related deployments made or promised by Europeans in Kosovo, Chad, the Congo and possibly Somalia also being useful contributions.

But presidencies change, anything other than lowest common denominator consensus on major issues will remain elusive, old bureaucratic habits of timidity and delay will reassert themselves, and the general dysfunctionality of the EU institutional system when it comes to effective foreign policy delivery most of the time will remain almost total. Over and again the EU's collective resources, if nothing else - the capacity to exercise the soft power of targeted financial support - should have given it the opportunity to be a major player on issues like the Middle East peace process or Iran; but over and again it has dropped the ball, deferring to the US in the Quartet, and not being listened to when it has tried to act even marginally independently of the US, as in Iran.

In the case of other regional institutions, we have had a failure to realize the hopes that many of us had that by now these would be playing a major stabilizing role in many parts of the world, defusing localized issues with diplomacy and, as necessary, tougher action.

But in most of the world most of the time existing regional organizations are limp bystanders rather than central players; and those that have shown they may be capable of doing much more have not been able to live up to expectations. The African Union has not been able to deliver on Darfur - not only with the joint peacekeeping operation which continues to limp badly in delivering basic civilian protection, but in its keenness to relieve rather than increase the pressure on President Bashir; has been a marginal player elsewhere in the Horn and in the terrible continuing conflict in the eastern Congo; and it has certainly not been able or willing to influence the course of negotiations in Zimbabwe, where the sub-regional organization, SADC, has itself lamentably failed so far to put any real pressure on Mugabe and his party to cede any real power to those who defeated it at the ballot box.

And its not only the developing country regional organizations that have let us down. NATO has almost completely lost its way, unable to work out whether it should be reliving the Cold War -- focusing on containing or deterring a potentially resurgent beast- from- the- east (and thereby inevitably encouraging, human nature being what it is, just that kind of behaviour), or rather transforming itself into a cooperative, common-security organization that could, conceptually, embrace even Russia itself as a member, and play a useful role in applying, with Security Council support, the kind of sophisticated enforcement capacity that not just the trans-Atlantic powers but the world as a whole needs. NATO's performance in Afghanistan -- with a confused mission, often counterproductively exercised, and its member states offering a cacophony of different interpretations of their own troops' roles, is proof enough that all is not well.

In the case of the UN itself, there is plenty to be pleased and proud about the way in which, over the post Cold War years, there has been a huge upsurge in activity in conflict prevention, conflict management, and post-conflict peacebuilding activity, including in the deployment of many more diplomatic peacemaking and military peacekeeping missions, most now with broad protective mandates -- all of which has been the main single factor in explaining what has been in fact a remarkable 80 per cent decline in the number of major conflicts, battle deaths and major atrocity crimes over this period.

But still too much is going wrong. In the Congo MONUC has all the formal mandate and most of the troop numbers it needs to curb the worst of the continuing ugly violence in the East, but has been consistently unable to do so - even recognizing that the real solution here has to be political rather than military. In Darfur the hybrid UN-AU mission continues to be rendered impotent by the world's failure to supply it the 22 helicopters it desperately needs from the 11,842 attack and transport aircraft now in the global military helicopter inventory.

And in the Security Council itself, it has in recent years proved not ever easier - as many had hoped as the world became ever more interdependent and old ideological barriers broke down - to reach consensus on difficult and sensitive issues, but harder and harder, with countries like South Africa retreating into hard-line 'non-interference' positions on issues like Burma/Myanmar and Zimbabwe, and the problem being compounded by the iciness of recent relations between Russia and the West. With last weekend's G20 meeting there are welcome signs that, when it comes to global policymaking, we may be at last moving to a more rational and inclusive approach - away from just the old G7/G8 toward the incorporation of the real new global power centres. But if the Security Council itself - the only global executive authority we have, and crucial for the maintenance of global peace and security - remains unreformed, unrepresentative, divided and cranky, we haven't achieved very much.

It's not only major institutions but policies that are in the balance. On the issue of mass atrocity crimes - genocide, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity and war crimes -- we made a fantastic breakthrough with the decision of the 2005 World Summit to endorse the new norm of the responsibility to protect. But since then there has been some significant backsliding, the whole subject is up for debate in the General Assembly again in the new year, and big challenges remain to conceptually clarify the concept to everyone's satisfaction, to institutionally ensure that we are capable of applying it and to politically summon the will to take whatever action is required. I remain an optimist about this norm eventually becoming effectively embedded and insitutionalised -- and the response to events in Kenya early this year was a welcome sign that things really are moving in the right direction. But there is a need to regenerate momentum on this front, not least in the context of the imminent UN debate: I have tried to make my own contribution to understanding what's at stake by recently publishing a book on the subject which you might find helpful, The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All (Brookings Institution Press, 2008).

The biggest of all our concerns on the policy front should be nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The good news is that we now have potential political leadership from the US again which could break the logjam, starting with ratification of the CTBT; and we have intellectual leadership emerging from an unexpected quarter on the disarmament issue - with the gang of four former secretaries making a hard-headed realist case for getting to zero; and we have a number of other efforts being made - including the Australia-Japan initiated Commission I am now co-chairing But it is difficult to overstate the extent to which we have been sleepwalking ever closer to catastrophe over the last decade on these issues, and how hard it will be to now turn the situation around:

  • the emergence of India and Pakistan since 1998 as nuclear-armed states outside the NPT, joining Israel;
  • the inability of the NPT to prevent the emergence of NK and Iran' nuclear capability;
  • the stalling of bilateral nuclear arms talks and processes between the US and Russia 9/11's demonstration of just how much devastation non-state terrorist actors are capable of wielding; and our knowledge now of just how much of an impact of the internet and AQ Khan-type black market activity has had in spreading knowledge of, and access to, sensitive nuclear technology;
  • increasing discontent with NPT nuclear-weapon states' performance in meeting their nuclear disarmament obligations, the failure of the 2005 NPT review conference and World Summit to agree on any language about anything, and of the CD in Geneva to agree even on an agenda.

And all this in a world where there are some 27,000 warheads still in existence (the overwhelming majority of them held by the US and Russia), with many thousands of them not only actively deployed but on hair trigger alert, and most with a destructive capacity 20-50 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Even the so called tactical or battlefield nukes (over 1000 of which are still operationally deployed by the case of the US, and probably over 3000 in the case of Russia, with many more stored with varying degrees of security) are enormously destructive, with single shells fired from large field guns capable of Hiroshima-scale destruction: and these are weapons that are much easier for non-state actors to find access to, and use, than the strategic weapons. Add to that the something like 3000 tons of fissile material now stored in some 40 countries - enough on some estimates to make another 250,000 nuclear bombs -- and Houston, we have a problem … On top of all these problems and uncertainties, we now have the gigantic set of problems and uncertainties posed by the current global financial and now wider economic system meltdown. This impacts on our discussion today in three main ways:

  • It will have a crushing effect on many already fragile developing country economies, increasing the risk of conflict where there are already grievances and tensions, certainly increasing the pools of unemployed and disaffected young men who can be such destabilizing actors, and reducing governments' capacity to pay for basic services, including security. Foreign investment is already rapidly declining; commodity prices have been collapsing (with the decline in oil prices - and thus transport and other input costs -- not beginning to compensate for the larger commodity problem), and remittances - now accounting for more than $300 billion net flows to developing countries, outweighing all aid and foreign investment flows combined, and crucial for holding together a large number of fragile states, are bound to shrink dramatically as they always have in times of domestic upheaval.
  • The crisis is bound to deplete development government income and willingness to spend it -- on aid (already being talked about as taking as much as a 30 per cent hit next year), on support for peacekeeping missions, and on support for NGOs working in the peace and security area.
  • It is also bound to dramatically diminish the discretionary income available to corporations and individuals to support charitable giving - and to deplete philanthropic endowments, with this a major impact over time in inhibiting their - your -- capacity to support activity in the peace and security area, as everywhere else.

And So…?

In all this cacophony of anxiety and doomsaying, and of simultaneous hope and optimism, I guess we have as confusing and difficult an environment as has ever been for peace and security funders to find their bearings. With your grant-making capacity likely to be constrained, what is it worth spending resources on? It has never been more important to have a surefooted assessment of where value can be added by peace and security funders - across the spectrum from high policy to most basic on the ground micro-delivery. So let me offer just a few thoughts on what those priorities might most sensibly be, for those of you operating as you are in a primarily North American and European context.

The starting point is that peace and security funders, and those whom they support, are not governments. Unless you are operating on the Gates/Buffet or maybe Soros scale you can't really aspire to replicate what governments as such do, or should be doing. You are, necessarily, rather operating in the realm of filling niches or gaps, and helping - through those whom you support - to push, prod, poke and shame governments and intergovernmental organizations into doing what needs to be done. The instruments you have to work with are essentially civil society organizations, which operate across the whole spectrum of peace and security related activity usually in one or other of four clearly defined roles: as pure think-tanks/research institutions/policy forums; campaign organizations; on-the-ground operational organisations (engaged in mediation, capacity building, confidence building and the like); or humanitarian relief organisations.

For the foundations and funders represented at this conference, knowing - or guessing as best I can - do about your past commitment and present concern for adding maximum value in your support for conflict prevention and resolutions, it may be helpful for you to think of your future commitments as involving a choice between four kinds of activity, all rather different, but inter-related and deserving, in my judgement, almost equal priority.

(1) Getting High Policy Right

This is essentially the role of traditional think tanks and research institutes (like centres for strategic studies, councils on foreign relations, institutes of international affairs and some foundations), universities, and also those commissions and panels focusing on issues rather than events (for example those I have co-chaired, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2001 and the current International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, which have been supported by private funders like the MacArthur and Simons foundations as well as governments). These institutions can play an important role in conceptualizing and generating intellectual support for new treaty-building and norm-setting exercises in areas like arms control and disarmament, rules governing the use of force, and human rights protection, with the evolution of the concept of "the responsibility to protect" being a classic example - hopefully building a new consensus, so conspicuously lacking through the 1990s - on how to respond to genocide and other mass atrocity crimes. They can also work usefully on the generic causes of deadly conflict and the available toolbox of solutions - recognizing that every real-world situation is different, and demands detailed case by case analysis, but that conceptual frameworks for that analysis will always be relevant and helpful.

(2) Understanding the Action Needed

What is involved here is the provision of case by case information, analysis, early warning and advice - the necessary first element in translating general policy mindsets (e.g. acceptance of the new norm of the responsibility to protect) into specific action in response to particular situations. Some think tanks and other non-governmental organizations try to provide this kind of input, but I hope I won't be thought too immodest if I say that this is a field which my own International Crisis Group is thought to have few if any peers. We don't quite fit into any of the usual boxes, being neither a pure think-tank, nor purely an advocacy or campaign body, nor a deliverer of on-the-ground capacity building or related projects, nor a humanitarian relief body, but something of a unique combination of the first three - with our focus on information, analysis, detailed and complex policy recommendations and high-level advocacy, but all our activity starting with strong, field-based input from our staff on the ground in conflict and potential conflict situations across four continents.

(3) Mobilising Political Will

The bottom line for all of us in the conflict prevention and resolution business is that unless the relevant decision makers, at the national or international level, want something to happen it won't. But merely lamenting the absence of political will - as so many commentaries do, stopping the analysis right there - doesn't help very much. What we have to is work out how to mobilise it. And that requires, above all, good arguments: moral, national interest, financial, and tailored to domestic political interests and dynamics. NGOs are particularly well able to mobilize these arguments at both a high policy and mass action level - with Crisis Group and its recent U.S. offshoot ENOUGH being good examples of each kind of advocacy respectively, with well-established, high profile, international campaign organisations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty straddling both sides of this fence.

(4) Delivering Results

There are three basic tasks here which peace and security funders can very usefully support. The first is mediation, conciliation and facilitation, of the kind usefully applied in many delicate and difficult situations by organizations like the Carter Center in Atlanta, the Community of San Egidio in Italy, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Switzerland, and Martti Ahtisaari's Crisis Management Initiative in Finland. The second is confidence building, where at community-level organizations like Search for Common Ground and Seeds of Peace have worked away year after year at the often thankless tasks of trying to build trust and human relationships across ethnic or religious boundaries. The third is capacity building - of the kind to which the Open Society Institute and on a smaller scale many other non-governmental bodies, for example the Initiative for Inclusive Security have contributed so much. Anything which contributes to creating better education systems, better justice systems, more empowered women, and more capable, accountable and democratic governance generally really does make a difference.

The good news in all of this for peace and security funders is that not just in the area of capacity building just mentioned, but right across the whole spectrum of peace and security related activities I have mapped out, effort really does matter, and really make a difference. For all that continues to go wrong in the world, there is much that is going right - not least the much enhanced level of international cooperation and commitment in the areas of conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and post-conflict peacebuilding. In contributing to making all these areas work better still - generating policy norms, ensuring knowledge and understanding of what is going wrong and how to put it right, mobilizing the political will needed to make things happen on the scale they need to, and contributing directly to the effective delivery of all these strategies on the ground - none of us are wasting our time. And you won't be wasting your money.

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