19 May 2006 - 21 May 2006

Conflict Prevention or Economic Development - Which should come first?

Chair: The Hon Gareth Evans AO QC

We sheltered from a wet weekend and looked at conflict prevention policies in the context of development policies more generally.   We had to dispose of some quibbles about the conference title, but it was quickly agreed that conflict prevention could not be successful without strong linkages not just to economic development, but to international efforts on human rights, good governance and the rule of law.  It was further accepted that ‘conflict prevention’ did not just involve the initial outbreak of deadly conflict, but also extended to preventing its escalation and recurrence.  Managing all these trains of thought within a two-day conference was not easy, but we were lucky to have a firm and experienced chairman to keep us on track. 

Participants largely agreed that violent conflict had declined in the world, for which the United Nations, member states and agencies, deserved some credit.  The picture nevertheless remained unsatisfactory in many respects, with Africa in particular crying out for more effective treatment and with civilian deaths and displacement from conflict remaining worryingly high.  Darfur showed that we had not yet learnt all the lessons from Rwanda.  The UN Security Council had so far failed to agree principles governing the use of force to underpin the “responsibility to protect”, which the deep divisions that still remained over Iraq would make it no easier to achieve.  And improvements were still needed in analysis, early warning, peace-making instruments and in peacekeeping operations themselves.  Nonetheless many lessons had been learnt over the past fifteen years, governments and development agencies were much more clearly focused on the cycle of prevention, peace-making and post-conflict peacebuilding and the corpus of norms and principles had been substantially improved.  The challenge lay in getting better results on the ground and in establishing more effective coordination.

We therefore decided to pick apart the interlinked themes to see whether policy could be more sharply focused and better instruments devised.  The first working group looked at the causes of conflict.  Unsurprisingly, they concluded that they were very varied.  The poverty of a country or region – and there was very often a regional dimension even to an intra-state crisis – raised the likelihood of violent conflict, but was rarely a direct cause.  Poverty often meant poor governance, social exclusion, disputes over natural assets like water, land or mineral wealth, and the absence or failure of institutions to stave off desperation or deter greed.  Our analysis showed that violent conflict was better understood as a cyclical rather than a linear phenomenon, capable of endlessly recurring if root causes were not fully addressed, with support as necessary from the international community.  There was some criticism of the perceived tendency to treat the symptoms of conflict rather than the causes.  This was seen as too short-term.  We were also reminded that the conflicts that did not recur after five years or so tended to be those where one side had won conclusively, which did not necessarily mean an improvement in human rights or in standards of living.  Peace support operations might not resolve conflict so much as put them in the deep freeze, only to thaw again when the peacekeepers left.

In discussing how development assistance could contribute to a transition from conflict to stability and social/economic progress, it was firmly agreed that the real drivers of positive change, like the real drivers of violent conflict, were almost invariably endogenous.  Solutions could rarely be imposed from outside, nor could international aid make a catalytic difference on its own.  Engagement with the internal actors was almost always necessary for sustained improvement.  Neither, however, had the international community yet solved the problem of how to address the break point when “country ownership” ceased to work, a crisis unfolded and the balance shifted quite quickly towards the international ‘responsibility to protect’.  The suspicion that the second reaction was concealed within the first made it all the more likely that a vulnerable country or government would camp on the principles of national sovereignty.

We also considered, under the heading of “Causes”, whether the process of transition to democracy put a conflict-prone country more particularly at risk.  Even with multi-party systems, political parties in divided societies could easily get ethnicised.   Those supporting the process from outside needed to understand that the movement towards democracy was a multi-stage development and was unlikely in itself to be the short-term solution to conflict:  elections held too early, before new civil society forces could emerge and consolidate, were as likely as not simply to legitimise the discredited.  Promoters of democracy, donors and international institutions needed to understand that transformation to democracy was a long-term process, for which strategic patience was required, together with the ability to tolerate the downsides.  Short-termism, or impatient interference from outside, would normally lead to failure. 

As regards Africa, the conference disposed of the suggestion that the setting of borders from the colonial era was the root of the continent’s problems. They were much more likely to have emerged from ethnic differences, weak government structures across large territories, slow development of skills and capabilities and an excessive focus on extractive resources as the main economic driver.  The question of time was also important:  in one sense independence might have happened too fast in Africa for higher development standards to be achieved quickly.  Several more generations might need to go by before politics, structures and relationships matured to a more stable point.

In looking at strategies for conflict prevention, there was some uncertainty as to whether better conflict prediction and early warning would lead to more effective action.  Too often it needed a crisis before international or donor mechanisms could be activated.  With no model likely to be more than 50% accurate and with high political suspicion of interference, it would be extremely difficult to achieve better results.  In each specific situation, there was  likely to be competition for both resources and policy attention within the United Nations and its agencies and in donor countries.  Even when there was consensus that conflict prevention worked best with a comprehensive set of development policies in place, the prevention of a newly emerging conflict still resulted in a diversity of unreconciled opinions on precise strategies.  Many participants believed that the prevention of deadly conflict required long-term and sustained engagement in each specific case by political leaders and senior practitioners and that the instruments used had to be applied in a coordinated response to changes in the situation.  This complexity allowed ample scope for failure, but was a fact of life which had to be addressed.

The strategies working group examined the application of conditionality and, in particular sanctions.  Neither could be expected to produce rapid changes.  If sanctions were to be used, they had to be developed as a sustainable package, ideally accompanied by a sustained and robust conversation over several years with political leaders about their policy choices.  Ultimatums or one-off threats rarely worked.  Nor would conditionality on the granting of aid be likely to move the implacable.  Even in the most difficult situations, it was more productive to engage political leaders in countries at  risk and try to convince them of the legitimacy of a strategy recommended from outside.  Where this involved a multilateral exercise, bringing in a number of governments and civil society organisations as  well as international agencies, conflict prevention was more likely to be successful.  No-one could deny, however, that many potential conflict situations failed to cross the threshold to an active international response until they were close to a crisis point.  Nor was the international community good at using the window of opportunity provided by a temporary remission of conflict to prevent it from recurring.  An indication of this continuing lacuna was the failure to insert a pre-conflict preventive element into the UN’s new Peacebuilding Commission. 

Most participants wanted democratisation to be a leading instrument in preventing conflict in the longer term.  We agreed that attention needed to be paid to local democracy, to the role of local political power sources, as well as to the impact of the armed forces or armed groups and other nation-wide sources of authority such as religious institutions.  Traditional sources of power, for instance tribal chiefs, might also be relevant when looking at new power-sharing arrangements in national politics.  In the end, however, there were no automatic formulae or planning solutions for preventing deadly conflict.  There could only be approaches and instruments adapted to the specific case.  Here a need was identified for better international planning – one participant called for “plan-tanks” to be developed alongside think-tanks, because the heavy planning requirements for large-scale interventions by the international community appeared to be beyond the capacity of current multilateral organisations or certain groups of donors.

In turning to the institutional machinery for conflict prevention, the conference placed considerable emphasis on regional institutions.  Most participants agreed that the African Union, given the comparatively short period of its existence, was beginning to achieve real progress.  It certainly had the potential to do more if supported by adequate resources from donors.  In a rather different context, the European Union was also an important global player, not only because of its capacity to grant assistance and support particular initiatives in other continents, but also because of the example it had set as a magnet for the rest of Europe to strive for a higher level of development.  One of Africa’s greatest disadvantages was that areas of instability and low development neighboured and affected each other, within a continent of generally low development.  Where successful models could be established, and where sub-regional organisations could be encouraged to develop cooperation on a sustained basis, less successful areas might be better motivated to avoid conflict and develop a more sustained effort.  The relative success of the Organisation of American States in preventing conflict in its region was noted, not least as an example of the effective setting of normative functions, perhaps largely stemming from the region’s similar linguistic and cultural roots.  Asia, on the other hand, had failed to develop really effective continental or sub-regional organisations because of Asian countries’ much more divergent histories and cultures.  We concluded that organisations which valued inclusiveness and internal communication became more effective in addressing real problems.  Inclusiveness also worked well within societies.  The role of women in politics and in social structures could be particularly important.  Bringing in women, different ethnic groups and the private sector could all enhance the policy and field application both of regional organisations and of conflict prevention techniques. 

At the global level, the conference agreed that the United Nations should continue to shoulder overall responsibility for the application of international law and the maintenance of international peace and security.  The challenge was how to ensure that the UN remained the indispensable institution in practice.  The need was evident through the presence of nearly 70,000 peacekeeping troops on the ground.  It was much less clear whether they were being supported in a way which made them effective.  The central UN function in conflict prevention lay in its legitimacy and its impartiality, but it was also necessary to have effective diplomatic and peacekeeping practitioners building on those qualities.  On the whole, participants believed that the UN’s work on the ground was improving, as experience developed better instruments and as cooperation was improved between development and post-conflict reconstruction mechanisms and the work of the international financial institutions.  With all that experience gathered, however, there were still weaknesses in areas such as disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR), where the timing of outside support often failed to fit with other action being taken.  Nor had the corrosive availability of small arms been effectively addressed.  Weight was placed on the success of the Peacebuilding Commission, which would have to focus amongst other things on donor coherence and coordinated implementation of strategies. 

Several other linkages were made.  The importance of a fundamental drive on human rights was repeatedly emphasised.  So was the role of civil society and the involvement of NGOs.  The full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325, to ensure that women played a greater part in the leadership of peace building and conflict prevention strategies, was underlined.  And we had interesting discussions on the role of the private sector, which was more inclined than many people appeared to realise to invest in low development areas where there were real opportunities for establishing production or other business entities.  Kofi Annan’s initiative with multilateral companies had got off to a good start, but there was still enormous potential to be exploited. 

In attempting to draw general conclusions, the conference accepted that the discussion had not opened up bright new lines of action.  Much of the development community’s analysis to date was along the right lines.  Nevertheless the final message was an important one:  the prevention of deadly conflict was worth the effort and we should go on refining the instruments.  The experience of the  last fifteen years showed that we had done well but could still do better.  Proneness to conflict in a country or region was a cyclical rather than a linear process.  The post-conflict phase was the time to address the root causes of trouble, not to turn away.  This was the point at which economic development strategies could have the greatest effect.  We also concluded that simplified models had to be resisted.  There was no one-size-fits-all analytical model, even if some generalisations could be made and lessons learnt on how to identify risk factors.  And one-dimensional fixes rarely worked:  situations evolved.  Detailed planning of work on the ground should be given much greater weight.  This meant that effective institutional structures were indeed important at all levels, because without them the proper linkages could not be made across areas of development interest, not excluding the environment.  And good institutions meant resources and good people.  The Peacebuilding Commission and its support office had to show an understanding of this.

Finally, we recognised that effective work on conflict prevention inevitably involved political will.  Here there were acute problems both in the countries at risk and within the international community.  That was life.  The proper response was not to weep but to mobilise.  Good arguments – both pragmatic and principled:  political, national interest, financial and moral – should be deployed and the costed options presented to decision-makers.  As globalisation spread its effects, developed world governments in particular should find it easier to construct arguments for successful conflict prevention and conflict remedying operations.  If the moral arguments were added to the practical ones, politicians would see that they were also acting from high principles.  The power of ideas in mobilising political leaders should never be underestimated.

With such a wealth of experience around the table, particularly in the area of the UN’s work, this conference was an important taking of the current temperature on conflict prevention.  Participants hoped that these thoughts might be fed back into the areas where fresh momentum was needed.  We paid tribute to our Chairman for distilling them so effectively and were ourselves determined to respond to the injunction:  keep going.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression


Chairman: The Hon Gareth Evans AO QC

President and Chief Executive, International Crisis Group, Brussels (2000-);  Formerly:  Australian Foreign Minister (1988-96);  Co-Chair, International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (2000-01);  Member, United Nations Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Threats and Challenges (2004)..


Mr Matthew Neuhaus

Australian Diplomatic Service (1982-);  Director, Political Affairs Division, The Commonwealth Secretariat, London.  Formerly:  Senior Adviser, International Division, Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, Australia (2001-02).


HE Dr Gabriele Matzner-Holzer

Austrian Ambassador to the Court of St James (2005-).  Formerly:  Austrian Ambassador to Tunisia (2002-05), Slovakia (1997-2001);  Deputy Director, Vienna Diplomatic Academy, Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs (1992-97).


Professor David Carment

Professor of International Affairs, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University;  Fellow, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute;  Principal Investigator, Country Indicators for Foreign Policy Project.

Mr David Creighton

President and Chief Executive Officer, Cordiant Capital Inc (1999-);  Director, AC Water Canada;  Chairman, Investment Committee, BCS Foundation.  Formerly:  Vice President and Director, BMO Nesbitt Burns (1985-99).

Ms Louise Fréchette

Distinguished Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation, Waterloo, Ontario (2006-).  Formerly:  Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations Secretariat (1998-2006);  Deputy Minister, National Defence (1995-98).

Mr Syed S Rahman           

Associate Vice-President & Director General, Policy Analysis & Development Directorate, Policy Branch, Canadian International Development Agency (2003-).  Formerly:  Director General, Indonesia, Philippines, Timor L’este, South Pacific Islands & the Southeast Asia Regional Program, Asia Branch, CIDA (2002-03).

Mr Berel Rodal

President, Berel Rodal Associates;  Vice Chairman, International Center on Non-Violent Conflict, Washington DC.  Founding Member, North American Forum.


Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi

Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, United Nations.  Formerly:  Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq (2003-04);  Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan & Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (2001-2003);  Under-Secretary General for Special Assignments in support of preventative & peacemaking efforts (1999-2001).


HE Mr Kamalesh Sharma

High Commissioner of India to the UK (2005-).  Formerly:  Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Timor (2003-04);  Permanent Representative & Ambassador to the United Nations, New York (1997-2003);  Permanent Representative to the UN, Geneva;  Ambassador to the German Democratic Republic, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.


Professor Akiko Yamanaka

Member, House of Representatives, Japan (2005-);  Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2005-);  Special Adviser to the Rector, United Nations University.  Formerly:  Senior Associate Member, St Antony’s College, Oxford (2004);  Council, Japan Institute of International Affairs (2003); Senior Adviser, Center for Strategic & International Studies, USA (2000);  Member, House of Representatives, Japan (1996-2000).


Mrs Manal Omar

Regional Coordinator, Women for Women International, Amman, Jordan.  Formerly:  Country Director, Women for Women International, Iraq.


Dr Thierry Tardy

Director, European Training Course, Geneva Centre for Security Policy.  Formerly:  Researcher, Foundation for Strategic Research, Institut d’Études Politiques, Paris.


Ms Sheila Tschinkel

US Treasury Advisor, Office of the Prime Minister of Ukraine.  Formerly:  Economic Reform Advisor to Lithuania, Bulgaria and Uzbekhistan governments;  Senior Vice-President and Director of Research, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta 


Ms Lesley Abdela

Adviser on Post Conflict Reconstruction (1999-);  Senior Partner, Shevolution (1998-);  Chief Executive, Project Parity (1996-).  Formerly:  Board Member, British Council (1995-2000).

Dr Greg Austin

Executive Director, Asian Century Institute (2006-).  Formerly:  Director of Research, Foreign Policy Centre, London.

Mr Andy Bearpark

Director General, British Association of Private Security Companies;  Adviser on Post Conflict Reconstruction.  Formerly:  Director of Operations and Infrastructure, Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad (2003-04).

Dr Nicola Brewer CMG

HM Diplomatic Service (1983-);  Director General, Europe, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (2004-).  Formerly:  Director General, Regional Programmes, Department for International Development (2002-04);  Director, Global Issues, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (2001-02).

Mr Malcolm Bruce MP

Member of Parliament, Liberal Democrat, for Gordon (1983-);  President, Scottish Liberal Democrats;  Chair, International Development Select Committee (2005-).

Mr Jeremy Carver CBE

Consultant, Head of International Law, Clifford Chance LLP;  Chair, International Rescue Committee (IRC).  Formerly:  Partner, Clifford Chance LLP (1974-2003);  Vice-President, British Branch, International Law Association.

Mr Alexander Evans

Special Adviser to the Secretary of State, Department for International Development.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick GCMG CH

Chairman, The United Nations Association of the UK (2005-);  Member, EU Select Committee, House of Lords (2002-).  Formerly:  Member, United Nations Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Threats and Challenges (2004);  British Government Special Representative for Cyprus (1996-2003);  HM Diplomatic Service (1959-95);  Permanent Representative to United Nations (1990-95).

Sir Emyr Jones-Parry KCMG                 

HM Diplomatic Service (1973-);  UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York (2003-).  Formerly:  UK Permanent Representative, North Atlantic Council, Brussels (2001-03);  Political Director, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (1998-2001);  Director, European Union (1997-98).

The Rt Hon The Lord Judd of Portsea

Life Peer, Labour (1991-);  Member, Joint Committee on Human Rights.  Formerly:  Parliamentary Delegate to the Council of Europe & the Western European Union (1997-2005);  Director, Oxfam (1985-91);  Director, Voluntary Service Overseas (1980-85);  Member of Parliament, Labour, Portsmouth North (1974-79), Portsmouth West (1966-74):  Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1977-79).

Ms Catriona Laing

Head, International Division Advisory Department, Department for International Development;  Alternate Director, Board of the European Investment Ban (2005-);  Fellow, Overseas Development Institute.  Formerly:  Deputy Head, Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit.


HM Diplomatic Service (1974-);  Head, Conflict Issues Group, Foreign & Commonwealth Office.  Formerly:  Head, Conflict Prevention Unit, Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Mr Edward Mortimer

Director of Communications to the Secretary-General, United Nations (1998-).  Formerly:  Foreign Affairs Editor, Financial Times (1987-98);  Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford (1984-86);  Foreign Leader Writer, The Times (1973-85).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Professor Frances Stewart

Director, Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security & Ethnicity and Professor of Development Economics, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.


Ms Karin Christiansen

Fellow, Overseas Development Institute.  Formerly:  Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office.


Mr Michael Hoffman

Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Palamon Capital Partners LLP, London (1998-);  Member, Columbia University Advisory Council;  Director, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University;  Member, US-Spain Council;  Member, New York Council on Foreign Relations.  Formerly:  Senior Vice President, E M Warburg, Pincus & Co LLC.

Mr Sabeel Rahman

Rhodes Scholar, Economics and Socio-legal Studies, Department of Development Studies, University of Oxford;  Editor, Oxford International Review.


Ms Afsané Bassir-Pour

Director, Regional United Nations Information Centre, Brussels (2005-).  Formerly:  Bureau Chief and International Correspondent, Le Monde, Switzerland (2002-05).

Mr Patrick Hayford

Director, Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, The United Nations, New York (2006-).  Formerly:  Director for African Affairs, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, The United Nations, New York (1999-2005).

Mr Chetah Kumar

Inter-Agency Liaison Specialist, Bureau for Crisis Prevention & Recovery, United Nations Development Programme, New York;  Programme Manager, Joint UNDP-DPA Programme on Building National Capacities for Conflict Prevention.

Dr Johanna Mendelson-Forman

Director, Peace, Security & Human Rights Policy, United Nations Foundation.  Formerly:  Post Conflict Unit, World Bank;  Senior Advisor, Office of Transition Initiatives, Bureau for Humanitarian Response, US Agency for International Development;  Research Assistant Professor & Director, Democracy Projects, School of International Service, American University;  Senior Advisor, Democracy & Governance, American University (1986-93).  Author.


Ambassador James Dobbins

Director, RAND, International Security & Defence Policy Center.  Formerly:  Bush Administration First Special Envoy for Afghanistan;  Special Advisor to the President & Secretary of State for the Balkans;  Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director, National Security Council Staff (1996-99).

Mr Pete Garcia

President & CEO, Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc (1972-).  Formerly:  Chief Executive Officer, Inter-governmental Management Training Program, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington DC (1980-81).

Dr David Hamburg

President Emeritus, Carnegie Corporation of New York;  DeWitt Wallace Distinguished Scholar, Weill Medical College, Cornell University;  Member:  Defense Policy Board (Clinton Administration);  President’s Committee of Advisors on Science & Technology (Clinton Administration).  A Director, American Ditchley Foundation.

Major General William Nash USA (Ret)

General John W Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention & Director, Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations (2001-);  Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University;  Visiting Lecturer, Princeton University;  Military Consultant, ABC News.

Mr Timothy Phillips

Co-Founder, Project on Justice In Times of Transition, Harvard University;  Senior Advisor, The Clinton Foundation;  Member, Board of Directors & Advisors, Foundation for a Civil Society.  Formerly:  Senior Advisory, US State Department & Council of Europe;  Club of Madrid;  Advisor, Government of Sri Lanka on the design and implementation of its peace process.

Dr Suzelle M Smith

Partner, Howarth & Smith, Attorneys at Law, Los Angeles (1985-);  Membrs, Association of Trial Lawyers of America;  Member, Association of British Trial Lawyers.  Formerly:  Associate, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher (1983-85).