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What are key requirements for a future German peace policy in response to the changing conditions and (global) demands for peace and human security? An open dialogue with peacebuilding activists and think tanks from Africa, Asia, and Europe discussed the implications of the current political upheavals in different parts of the world and developed recommendations for future German policies – including the upcoming National Security Strategy.
“Germany has the power to choose what kind of global actor it wants to be. Don’t throw away the civil reputation.” This message to German policy makers gives an impression of the lively discussion with peacebuilding activists from Africa, Asia, and Europe on “Prospects of peace in times of change” on 19 October 2022 in Berlin. In taking up findings and conclusions of previous FriEnt events about the sea change (“Zeitenwende”) in German foreign and security policy, participants discussed the global implications of current and future policy decisions on pressing issues for peace and human security.
On occasion of the annual conference of the Security Policy Alternatives Network (SPAN), the debate and networking event was co-organised by FriEnt and IDOS (German Institute of Development and Sustainability) under the auspices of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation. SPAN members are peacebuilding experts and activists from over 50 civil society organisations, many from places affected by crisis and violent conflict, including Afghanistan, Somalia, the Sahel region, Iraq, and the Philippines among others. While the current policy discourse is mainly limited to domestic debates, the expert discussion served as an entry point for broader dialogue and to reflect on the implications of the current political upheavals in different parts of the world. The discussion also took up impulses from a previous event with minister Svenja Schulze, where she laid out the priorities for German development cooperation for peace and security in the current times of change.
In times of a raging climate crisis, a global pandemic, and a spike in world hunger and poverty, it has become clear, that the threats for peace and human security are globalized and interconnected. However, the current political discourse tends to neglect these interrelations and to disregard perspectives from the Global South. In a bid to bridge this gap, the discussion took up on a core question: What are key requirements for a future German peace policy – understood as a triad of development, foreign and security policy – in response to the changing conditions and (global) demands for peace and human security? While some policies need room for compromise and flexibility, the guiding coordinates must be clearly defined, especially if the course ahead leads into uncharted waters. In Germany, the upcoming first National Security Strategy can be seen as a prime example for managing political trade-offs and competing priorities for different areas of engagement.
Since March 2022, FriEnt has been hosting a series of events on the paradigm shift in German foreign and security policy or “Zeitenwende” in German with contributions from policy actors, civil society, and academia. A key finding from previous FriEnt discussions underlined that there is no sense in hierarchizing policy goals for different dimensions of development, peace, and security in a world where crises are steadily becoming more intertwined. While this calls for a comprehensive approach, the current political discourse also indicates the need to agree on guiding coordinates for navigation. The exchange addressed key findings and conclusions from the FriEnt series and gave room for reflection and further discussion.
In his opening commentary, Dr. Stephan Klingebiel (IDOS) touched upon key aspects like budgeting for military spending and civil crisis management, the increased need for evidence on peacebuilding impacts and effectiveness, the limitations of the current international peace and security architecture, and the lack of representation of policy actors from the Global South in global governance structures, especially from the African continent. He also mentioned the competing influences of China and Western states on conflicting values and interests for economic cooperation and security policy. He pointed out that developing countries have their own interests, which are often not recognized by OECD countries. Considering the close relationships to partner countries and established contacts with NGOs and civil society, development policy could thus play a vital role in this context as part of a civil power approach or “development diplomacy” based on national needs and potentials of partner countries in the Global South. Taking up these impulses, participants continued the discussion in thematic working groups based on three recurring topics of the political discourse.
1. Global governance and international cooperation - a call for more solidarity
Global challenges for peace and human security, like the climate crisis, require radical cooperation beyond a democratic-autocratic yield line. However, there’s no override for core values like human rights and the rule of law. What conditions and criteria can apply to navigate conflicting needs for cooperation and confrontation, especially when partnering with autocratic regimes? In this working group, participants focused on alternative ways for global cooperation beyond the current peace and security architecture. They agreed in their assessment, that the UN system is not well suited for addressing peacebuilding needs and necessary policy actions due to power imbalances and political paralysis. The discussants criticized an emphasis on antiterrorism and extremism, while the protection of human rights receives less attention. They referred to MINUSMA in Mali as a negative example for focussing on military engagement without sufficient support and protection for the population. Instead, German foreign and security policy should re-focus on a civilian power approach and bring in non-European perspectives. As one participant put it: “More humility by actors from the North is necessary.” He called for more solidarity and protection against violence and atrocities in war-torn countries and for political action, regardless of conceptual debates.
2. State and civil society - promoting human security
A broad understanding of security that aims to protect all members of society calls for inclusive participation and accountability with political agency for all stakeholders – including civil society. How can future policies – amid concerns about increasing militarisation – preserve a consistent focus on human security and allow for equal access for all groups of society? Participants in this working group developed ideas and recommendations for increased civil society participation and civic spaces as an integral part of political decision making. They underlined the vital role of civil society organisations (CSOs) as a third realm of government to increase accountability and good governance and as a safeguard against exclusion. With regard to the National Security Strategy, the peacebuilding experts gave recommendations for promoting human security and multi-stakeholder involvement. They underlined the need for multisectoral planning and programming and the advantages of a people centred approach for strengthening community resilience – also against extremist tendencies – and local security. This should also include a special emphasis on women and youth as key actors for sustainable development.
3. Narratives and political discourse - getting the message across
In the current times of change with a new emphasis on military means and security, peacebuilders need to make a strong case for the civil dimension of peace and security policy. However, the merits of crisis prevention and peacebuilding seem less visible or easy to explain than diplomatic, economic, and military instruments. Participants in this working group took a two-track approach in challenging the focus on military measures and in promoting the civil dimension of conflict management and peacebuilding. They pointed out that absolute figures are rarely a good indicator for adequate military spending, but rather effective management of existing resources. In comparison of civil and military means, investing in structural development is more sustainable, while military interventions – irrespective of their justification – hold the risk of escalating violent conflict dynamics. In their considerations on how to convey clear messages and convincing narratives for civil conflict transformation and peacebuilding, participants suggested different approaches for using the momentum of the current discussion. Depending on the political climate, this might either imply “taking the long road” with less immediate aims and ambitions or a change of contents and delivery – possibly with a stronger focus on social justice, inspiring examples, and a rights-based approach for public communication.
In all fields of discussion, the exchange made clear that the current policy discourse about imminent needs and future policies for peace and (human) security – for German policy makers and in international cooperation – is still navigating through troubled waters: Where should we stay the course? Where is room for manoeuvre? And where are we sailing into unknown territory? In his concluding remarks, Dr. Jörn Grävingholt (IDOS) reflected on “two types of fears” as notable undercurrents in national and international discussions. He referred to concerns about Germany leaving the right path of supporting peace in the world and how this perception might be misleading. He pointed out that German policies have always been based on a broad range of instruments, including peacebuilding approaches, but also business and trade. Consequently, militarisation might not be the greatest risks for German peace policy, but also persisting inconsistencies across different policy fields. He also noted a general pessimism and limited hopes for reforming the international system. In view of this stagnation, he advocates for engaging into people-to-people relations as a particular strength of the peacebuilding community. Recent budget cuts for academic, political, and cultural cooperation in German financing jeopardize these outreach activities and deserve political attention.
In a very practical approach for promoting people-to-people relations, the expert meeting closed with a joint networking reception as a starting point for further cooperation and global dialogue among peacebuilding activists and think tanks in Europe, Asia, and Africa.