Europe's Peace and Security Policies and Capabilities
Europe's Peace and Security Policies and Capabilities
Toward a Common Set of Signals from the G20 about Russia’s War in Ukraine
Toward a Common Set of Signals from the G20 about Russia’s War in Ukraine
Speech / Global

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.

Members of the police stand in front of banners of the G20 summit near a venue for the G20 Finance Ministers Meeting in Nusa Dua on Indonesia's resort island of Bali, on July 14, 2022. Sonny Tumbelaka/Pool via REUTERS
Commentary / Global

Toward a Common Set of Signals from the G20 about Russia’s War in Ukraine

The G20 countries’ positions on the war in Ukraine contrast starkly, yet the conflict raises issues of global concern – economic shocks and nuclear risks – that the leaders cannot pass over in silence.

When the Group of Twenty (G20) leaders gather in Bali, Indonesia, on 15 November, one head of state who belongs to the Group will be notable by his absence. Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided not to attend the event. This news will be a relief for Western participants, who hardly want to share photo opportunities with Putin while he pursues his war in Ukraine. The Kremlin’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, will be in Bali, but he may not be relishing the prospect. Lavrov walked out of a G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in July after his Western counterparts accused Russia of sparking the global food price crisis by invading its grain-producing neighbour.

Putin’s absence will not relieve the leaders who go to Bali of the challenge of how to address the war. The G20 is primarily an economic coordination mechanism, which was thrust into the limelight during the global financial crisis in 2008. Unlike the G7, which brings together like-minded Western countries with shared political interests, the G20 encompasses geopolitical rivals – the U.S. and China foremost among them – that are not apt to adopt strong common positions on international affairs. Yet Russia’s assault on Ukraine raises issues of global concern, including the widespread food and energy price shocks and the risks of nuclear weapons use, that the world’s most powerful politicians cannot pass over in silence.

The G20 meeting is, therefore, an opportunity for leaders to signal common positions about the war. Their primary focus should be on concrete commitments by the G20 countries to help poorer ones navigate economic turmoil. But the powers present in Bali could also use the occasion to underscore that they all expect Russia to refrain from nuclear use, in word as well as deed. Ideally, they would be as clear as possible that if Moscow does cross the nuclear threshold, it will face consequences not only from the West, but globally. A joint statement condemning Russia’s prosecution of the war or setting out potential peace terms will likely be impossible, given G20 members’ widely divergent positions on the war. But if G20 members can find common ground on economic issues and the nuclear taboo, the Bali summit will be a worthwhile diplomatic endeavour.

Diverse Ukraine Policies

The G20 members’ positions on the war differ starkly. The U.S. and most of its allies in the Group have imposed sanctions on Moscow and voted to condemn the invasion in the UN General Assembly. Most of the other members have at least condemned Russia’s aggression and illegal efforts to annex Ukrainian territory at the UN, but not resorted to sanctions (see map). Yet three weighty non-Western G20 members – China, India and South Africa – have not only declined to place sanctions on Russia but also abstained in UN votes on the war.

This map shows which G20 members have sanctioned Russia, and which voted to condemn its illegal "annexations" in Ukraine at the UN in October.

Various non-Western members of the G20 have at times tried to establish a diplomatic role in the war, although the results have mainly been negligible. South Africa attempted to take a lead at the UN in March by tabling a General Assembly resolution on humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. Western and Ukrainian diplomats rejected the draft out of hand because it made no reference to Moscow’s responsibility for the war (in contrast to an alternative UN text worked up by France and Mexico), although South African officials insisted to Crisis Group that theirs was a good-faith initiative to bolster multilateral cooperation.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited both Kyiv and Moscow over the summer, promising to facilitate communication between the warring capitals. Many observers suspected that his main concern was to make sure that the war would not stop the G20 summit from going ahead. Indonesia has raised the possibility of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attending the summit, although Kyiv has indicated he will most likely only intervene via video link.

Other G20 members have also dipped their toes in Ukraine diplomacy. Mexico surprised and confused UN officials at September’s high-level UN General Assembly week by tabling a proposal for the Pope, the UN secretary-general and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lead a ceasefire effort. This idea has not taken off to date. There has also been a sporadic flow of speculation among Western commentators that India – which has increased trade with Russia since the February assault – could eventually prove a useful facilitator of Russian-Ukrainian diplomacy, and Modi urged President Putin to take a “path to peace” at September’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.

In contrast to these fledgling and tentative peace efforts, Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has emerged as one of the main diplomatic actors in the crisis. Türkiye hosted early, fruitless Russian-Ukrainian peace talks, but had success when it worked with the UN over the summer to broker the Black Sea grain deal. This deal permitted Ukraine to export its harvest by sea without Russian military interference. Türkiye and another G20 member, Saudi Arabia, also facilitated a sizeable prisoner swap – involving some 215 Ukrainians and 55 Russians – in September. Behind closed doors, G20 participants will surely probe Erdoğan as to whether his frequent interlocutor Putin is ready to compromise. But there is no sign in advance of the Bali summit that Ankara sees a breakthrough coming.


For the U.S. and Ukraine’s other allies, Beijing’s view of the war has been a constant source of anxiety.

But, however much attention Erdoğan garners in Bali, leaders may focus even more closely on what China’s President Xi Jinping has to say. For the U.S. and Ukraine’s other allies, Beijing’s view of the war has been a constant source of anxiety since February. In recent months, Western observers believe they have seen increasing signs of frustration in China with the course of the conflict. Beijing has indicated its concern that Moscow’s nuclear sabre-rattling, bad enough in itself, might be more than dangerous talk. This concern was heightened by the Kremlin’s vague, erroneous intimations that Ukraine, not Russia, wants to raise the nuclear stakes with a “dirty bomb”. Xi articulated these issues most clearly in a joint statement with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz opposing the “threat or use of nuclear weapons” in Ukraine.

Points of Agreement

While G20 members have, therefore, no shortage of opinions about Russia’s war in Ukraine, it is difficult to see how they could reconcile their divergent views in Bali. It is hard, for example, to square Mexico’s advocacy for an early ceasefire (which Brazil and Argentina also advocated for at the UN in September) with Western powers’ worries that Moscow could use a pause in hostilities to consolidate control over parts of Ukraine even as it rearms and repositions for the next phase of conflict.

Rather than focus on the specifics of how to end the war, G20 leaders may be better advised to identify broad areas of agreement about how to contain the war and its fallout. The most obvious would be for those G20 leaders who are in Bali to endorse the Xi-Scholz condemnation of nuclear threats and nuclear use. Alternatively, or additionally, they could reiterate the basic principle that a “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”, which the five nuclear weapons states (the UK, China, France, Russia and the U.S.) affirmed in a statement to the UN in January. Such a declaration might be complicated by the G20’s incompatible positions on non-proliferation issues (Brazil, for example, has lobbied for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, whereas India is not even a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty). Given Russia’s recurrent allusions to nuclear use in Ukraine, however, the leaders should at least be able to agree they are opposed to nuclear threats and nuclear war.

The goal of such a declaration, however minimal or vague, would be to signal to Moscow that it will face global diplomatic and other penalties, rather than just consequences from the West, if its nuclear rhetoric turns to action in any way. Russia has shown some interest in how its moves in Ukraine – such as its agreement to the Black Sea grain deal – are seen in the non-Western world. G20 leaders are not likely to spell out in concrete terms what steps they would take if Russia does cross the nuclear threshold – indeed, it might be better they do not try to be too explicit, as doing so might only highlight their differences. But some sort of common signalling, especially one that by definition has both U.S. and Chinese buy-in, could help strengthen the nuclear taboo.

G20 members can offer common support to efforts to reduce the global economic damage the conflict is doing.

Turning to the war’s impact, G20 members can offer common support to efforts to reduce the global economic damage the conflict is doing. They could start by making a statement in support of the Black Sea grain deal (which is up for renewal by Russia and Ukraine on 19 November) and calling for this deal, which now has to be reaffirmed every 120 days, to continue indefinitely until hostilities cease. Such a statement would be a fillip not only for President Erdoğan, but also for UN officials working on implementing the agreement, which Russia threatened to quit in October after a Ukrainian attack on its navy.

More broadly, G20 leaders can use the Bali summit to help prop up the teetering global economy, much as their predecessors did in 2008-2009. Potential priorities include pushing multilateral development banks to boost lending to poor countries to handle economic challenges that could foment political instability. In 2021, G20 members committed to support liquidity in the global economy by making available to poor countries $100 billion in International Monetary Fund Special Drawing Rights (a reserve asset that Crisis Group discussed in detail in a briefing prior to the 2022 G7 meeting). They have been slow to follow through with this pledge, and they need to pick up the pace as the international economic picture gets bleaker.

Given its origins and membership, the G20 has greater credibility as an economic crisis management mechanism than as a security forum. Its actions on the global economy will carry more weight than its members’ political statements about Ukraine. Yet the last year has made it clear that global economic affairs cannot be insulated from security shocks, and big powers must tend to both. At the same time, Russia’s nuclear menacing amid the conflict it is waging in Ukraine is simply too big an issue to ignore. The Bali summit is an opportunity for the leading Western and non-Western powers to at least articulate their shared interest in not letting the war escalate out of all control.

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