Europe's Peace and Security Policies and Capabilities
Europe's Peace and Security Policies and Capabilities
A Pivotal Moment for EU Foreign Policy
A Pivotal Moment for EU Foreign Policy
Speech / Global 13 minutes

Europe's Peace and Security Policies and Capabilities

Speech by Louise Arbour, Crisis Group's President & CEO, at the Conference on Europe’s Peace and Security Policies and Capabilities organised jointly by the European Foundation Centre & the US-based Peace and Security Funders Group, Brussels, Belgium, 1 June 2010.

I’ve been asked to address the key peace and security challenges that Europe will face over the next decade, and more generally to examine the role of civil societies and foundations in promoting international peace.

Before looking at the role of civil society, and before trying to predict what the coming decade will look like, I would like to reflect briefly on what a decade can bring. In a political sense, the first decade of the XXI century began on 11 September 2001, and ended, or so some thought, on 20 January 2009, with President Obama’s inauguration. That decade was marked by an obsessive focus on security, defined in mostly American or at least western terms. From a previous decade that had seen the emergence of the concept of human security, the last one returned to a narrow understanding of security as relating mostly to terrorism and crime, in particular drug trafficking, and to violent repression as the method for dealing with it.

Yet for most people, including many in Europe or on its doorstep, security has a very different connotation.  Their primary source of insecurity comes from economic deprivation, discrimination and marginalisation. Women, in particular, virtually everywhere, understand the critical link between security and power, or put another way, between insecurity and lack of power. War and terrorism are not the primary sources of their daily concerns for their own survival and that of their children. Poverty, violence at home and on the streets, and lack of control over their lives are much greater sources of insecurity than the threat of terrorism, despite best efforts by many leaders to persuade them otherwise.

But for the purpose of our discussion today, I will first approach the issues within a more conventional understanding of peace and security, although I will return to this broader framework in dealing with the role of civil society.

We can conveniently look at three different sets of security challenges faced by Europe itself: first, the continued challenge posed by instability on the European continent itself; second, challenges posed in Europe’s neighbourhood – and here I use the word “neighbourhood” in a generous sense; and third, challenges to universal and European values and the impact of the erosion of those values on peace and security. I speak, of course, as the European Union wrestles to adopt the Lisbon Treaty’s measures in a manner that will ensure its prominence and effectiveness on the world stage – an important challenge in itself. I am sure that this issue will be prominent in the course of this conference, and will be addressed by many here who have a greater understanding than I do of the intricacies of the EU political and institutional machinery.

European conflicts

Let me then turn to conflictual situations within Europe first. Despite the extraordinary and unparalleled success that the EU represents as a model for regional progress and security, peace in Europe itself is still threatened. Bosnia and Herzegovina's future looks more uncertain and dangerous than it has at almost any time since the end of the war in 1995. The nation's three main groups -- the Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats -- are all competing to determine the future of the state. The country will hold general elections in October, and its various constituencies are all running in opposite directions, with nationalist rhetoric rising to troubling levels.  In Kosovo, two years have passed since the declaration of independence but there is ongoing concern about integration of the north and tensions around the parallel Serb structures that continue to operate there. Kosovo also struggles with uneven rule of law, a weak justice system and corruption in its state institutions, with the result that they are failing to meet the needs of Kosovo’s citizens. The EU will play a central role in ensuring that tensions do not boil over not only in the near future but indeed for many years to come.

Talks to resolve the frozen conflict in Cyprus  have been challenged by the April election of veteran nationalist hardliner Derviş Eroğlu in the Turkish North. The talks on a bi-communal, bi-zonal settlement resumed last week, but there is no doubt that the process has suffered a setback and that there is a steeper hill to climb. Here the EU could insert a new momentum by fulfilling its 2004 promise of direct trade with the Turkish Cypriots, encouraging Turkey to fulfil its existing obligation to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic, and then lifting the Cyprus-related blocks on eight of Turkey's EU negotiating chapters.

Europe’s neighbourhood

The EU and its member states not only face continuing challenges on the continent itself: look at their neighbourhood, starting with Russia. Managing relations with Russia presents both challenges and opportunities for Europe. In Georgia, approaching the two-year anniversary of the war between Georgia and Russia, tension remains over the separatist provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Abkhazia has become even more dependent on Moscow since Russia’s controversial recognition a year and a half ago.

Russia is not only integral to a solution in Georgia: it represents a key strategic challenge for the EU more broadly. Russia faces intense internal difficulties: birth rate collapse, instability in the north Caucasus, in Siberia and in the Far East. The Moscow elites recognise the need to improve relations with the EU, but don’t know how to do that without modernising their political system – which could represent a direct threat to their own interests. The challenge for the EU is to bring Russia closer to Europe without compromising on reform:  patience and intelligence will be needed but, maybe here more than anywhere else, the EU will have to demonstrate an ability to speak with one voice and stand its ground. In parallel, foundations face difficulties in continuing to work with and strengthen Russian civil society as the Russian government is steadily closing the space in which non-governmental organisations, especially those with foreign funding, can operate.

Africa is also part of the broader European neighborhood. In purely geographical terms, the distance between Athens and Khartoum is about the same as that between Athens and London. Overcoming state fragility and conflict in Africa is not only one of the great moral imperatives of our time but is vital for peace and security of Europe. Instability in Africa has a direct impact on Europe – in terms of migration, the trafficking of drugs, weapons and people and in providing breeding grounds for terrorism. As a corollary, any increase in peace and prosperity in Africa would benefit Europe, both as a trading partner and as an increasingly equal guarantor of its own security.

In Guinea, transitional authorities have made some progress towards returning the country to democratic civilian rule – since last September left at least 160 peaceful protesters dead – but the process remains fragile. An explosive situation in Cote d’Ivoire risks plunging the country into new violence unless politicians refrain from xenophobic language and more is done to ensure the integrity of the stalled electoral process. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, rebel activity continues to destabilize several provinces across the country’s east and north-west, while long hoped for democratic reforms have almost ground to a halt. And in the Central African Republic, the failure of President François Bozizé and his close circle to follow through with many of the concessions agreed to during 2008 talks with rebel groups risks exacerbating the country’s many conflicts and stalling national reconciliation.  Meanwhile, a regional strategy has yet to be implemented to eradicate the continuing threat posed by the activities of the LRA.

But it is Sudan that presents perhaps one of the gravest peace and security challenges over the coming years. South Sudan is now just eight months away from a self-determination referendum that will likely result in its secession from the North. Much remains to be done to implement the outstanding elements of Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – including a vote to determine whether Abyei will form part of North or South – and time is running out. The agreement’s underlying aim of “making unity attractive” has failed, and most Southerners appear determined to choose independence, despite the enormous difficulties of establishing a new state that is economically viable and peaceful. The road to secession has the potential to lead to grave security challenges – and thus far little has been done to prepare for arrangements post-referendum. While African initiatives, from IGAD and  the AU - and in particular its High Level Panel led by President Mbeki – are in the lead, the broader international community must press regional leaders to prepare for South Sudan’s possible independence by engaging Khartoum and Juba not only on the practicalities of the referendum but on the peaceful implementation of its outcome.

Challenges remain also in the north. The failure to foster democratic transformation, highlighted sharply by last month’s rigged elections, has undermined the chances for political settlement in Darfur and exacerbated tensions in both the East and the far North. The elections did nothing to address the principal causes of conflict, namely the marginalisation of the peripheries by the Khartoum government. Indeed many of the most vulnerable, including the internally displaced were excluded from the polls and left without representation in newly-elected institutions. Darfur peace talks need to resume immediately, and with those excluded given a voice in a reinvigorated peace plan.

Although the EU makes an enormous contribution to development aid in Africa, it punches below its weight politically in Sudan as in much of the continent.  It is difficult to find definitive figures on European expenditure for aid in Africa. But according to the OECD website, in 2008 the European Commission sent about 4.9 billion Euros on aid to Africa. This figure doesn’t include bilateral donations from member states to African countries. The UK, for example, gave about 2 billion Euros to African countries in 2008. If all the bilateral aid from member states is included, the EU and its member states gave about 12.76 billion Euros in 2008 to Africa. This far exceeds other contributions. The U.S., for example, gave about 5.7 billion Euros to Africa in 2008.

Universal Values

In that context, it should not be unrealistic to expect a commensurate political engagement. On the international scene, this could lead to African/European partnerships on issues that matter to both but are now best left to the politics of regional blocs. Let me give you a current and pointed example. As we speak, the International Criminal Court is holding its first review conference in Kampala, bringing together the 111 countries that have ratified or acceded to the Rome statute, as well as numerous other countries and NGOs. Europe and Africa have overwhelmingly embraced the Court, and its underlying concept of accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, is not a party to the ICC treaty. Two weeks ago Crisis Group published a report on war crimes in Sri Lanka. The report details the violation of international humanitarian law by the Sri Lankan security forces and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) during the last five months of their 30-year civil war. Evidence gathered by the International Crisis Group suggests that these months saw tens of thousands of Tamil civilian men, women, children and the elderly killed, countless more wounded, and hundreds of thousands deprived of adequate food and medical care, resulting in more deaths. The evidence we gathered provides reasonable grounds to believe the Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes, including the intentional shelling of civilians, of hospitals and of humanitarian operations, with top government and military leaders potentially responsible.

Meanwhile, On May 29 2009, little over a week after the victory of the Government of Sri Lanka over the LTTE, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution congratulating the government for its victory, and what it called the liberation of the Tamil population that had been held hostage by the Tigers. Despite the efforts of the High Commissioner, the resolution contained no mention of accountability for violations of international humanitarian law that were already alleged to have been committed, particularly in the last few weeks of that brutal campaign. All European members of the Council supported the High Commissioner’s call for accountability and voted against the resolution. In contrast 10 of the 12 African council members supported Sri Lanka and 2, Gabon and Mauritius, abstained

Why, you may ask, are European unable to overcome a south/south solidarity when it comes to values that Africans themselves have embraced and should be willing to promote. Why is it that some African leaders feel unjustly singled out by the ICC when they are unwilling to assist in the expansion of the reach of accountability?

We called for an international investigation into the alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka given the absence of political will or capacity for genuine domestic investigations and as accounting for crimes is necessary to address the grievances underlying conflict in Sri Lanka. The failure to bring those responsible to account increases the sense of Tamil grievance and resentment, and squanders the benefits of the military victory even for the Sinhalese majority.  Without a credible and independent accounting of the atrocities perpetrated by the LTTE, the demonization of the group by the government may be met with a Tamil mythology that will ensure its resurgence. The only guarantor of long-term peace is reconciliation, and that requires above all that the truth be told in a credible forum, and that the prevailing impunity be overcome.  

In addition, only a credible international investigation can to deter other governments from adopting the “Sri Lanka model” – unrestrained military action, refusal to negotiate, disregard for humanitarian issues – as a means to deal with insurgencies and other violent groups. The spread of a Sri Lanka model would not only be an assault on the laws of war, and the universal values central to European policy. It would also represent an intense threat to international peace and security, creating new grievances that will fester and lead to the outbreak of future instability and conflict.

In our report, we call for European leaders to take a strong stance on the issue of accountability in Sri Lanka. Where jurisdiction exists in Europe, including where nationals or residents are allegedly involved, member states can begin investigations into alleged war crimes or human rights abuses. The EU can also impose targeted sanctions, including travel restrictions, on Sri Lankan officials and members of their families, unless and until the government cooperates with international efforts to investigate alleged war crimes. But it is unlikely that Europe will succeed in implementing values that it believes to be universal if it is unable to mobilize at least some of those who will embrace politics of another convenience.

Civil society and foundation involvement

Let me conclude by taking a specific look at the peace and security role of civil society organisations, and the foundations that provide much of their funding. Many organisations now work to tackle the root causes of war, building trust and relationships across ethnic or religious boundaries. Others work to address the grievances underlying much of today’s conflict – poverty, disease, inequality, water or food scarcity, for example – either through direct service delivery or in assisting develop state capacity. The provision of humanitarian assistance is overwhelmingly in the hands of non-state actors, often through partnerships of national and international NGOs.

A key tool in the advancement of any security agenda must be to raise global awareness of the risk of conflict, identify policy responses and mobilise political will behind those responses. This is a role which Crisis Group has grown increasingly effective at playing over the last fifteen years. As foreign news coverage in Europe and elsewhere is increasingly limited in its reach and depth, and as field diplomatic work is restricted by budget cuts and security concerns, policymakers need real-time information and guidance from independent sources close to the ground.

Unfortunately, the simple impetus of timely analysis and sound recommendations doesn’t always propel global and local policymakers into action. Civil society organizations, and the foundations that support them, can mobilize different layers of public opinion on thematic or geographic issues. But to do so effectively it is critical to get the politics right.  For those organisations and foundations working in peace and security – whether delivering aid, developing state capacity, assisting local civil society groups, or involved in mediation – it is imperative they do so with a solid awareness of the conditions and context in which they operate.

Europe and the EU have enormous potential in advancing and preserving not only European, but global, peace and security. Rule of law, democracy, respect for human rights: these values are crucial to the prevention and resolution of deadly conflict as they are to sustainable development and lasting peace. But they cannot be seen as a European export, opening itself to the label of neo-colonialism that the government of Sri Lanka, for example, utilizes to maintain its self-serving history of impunity.

Different factors underlie today’s violent conflicts – inequality, political, social and economic marginalisation, state fragility and governments’ lack of will or capacity to provide for the security and wellbeing of their citizens, injustices and inequities left unattended by the absence of the rule of law, struggles over resources, land and water. Yet the incredible mobilisation of international organisations, of governments, and above all of all of us, has already reduced the number of armed conflicts, and the fatalities associated with it to unprecedented low numbers since the end of the cold war.

The last decade was marked by an American driven security agenda. Emerging powers are poised to enter the fray. Europe cannot afford to remain the benign underwriter of some else’s agenda. Nor can it lead by bureaucratic brilliance. If it is to make its imprint of the next decade, it must pursue more forcefully the politics of inclusion that are the best prophylactic against deadly conflict.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.