World Bank and UN discuss new “Pathways for Peace” report with FriEnt members in Berlin


There is no shortage of appeals and pledges to step up efforts in prevention. For the first time, however, the World Bank and the United Nations are jointly calling for a new approach to linking development cooperation with violence prevention. Their plea is partly based on developments and assessments which civil society groups have been propagating for years.

In early March the institutions presented their 400-page study entitled “Pathways for Peace – Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict”. With input from a number of international experts and institutions, the report presents facts and analyses on global conflict situations, the origins of violence and potential approaches to violence prevention.

On 22 March, FriEnt invited the members of the editorial team to present and discuss the central arguments of the study at an expert meeting with a group of representatives from civil society and state development, environmental and peace organisations in Berlin.

Rethinking prevention approaches

The report draws on a broad database and points to worrying trends in global conflict situations. The overall bad news is that the trend towards fewer wars that continued for more than 30 years has reversed since 2010. While more violent conflicts ended than broke out on average in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, that ratio has turned around since 2010. In addition to an increase in the number of wars, there has also been a rise in the number of terrorist attacks, those killed in combat and forcibly displaced persons since then.

In 2016 more countries were affected by violent conflict than ever before in the past 30 years. The situations of violent conflict last longer, have regional dimensions, involve growing numbers of non-state armed groups and increasingly affect middle-income countries as well.

The study identified shifts in global power, growing inequality in the distribution of wealth and the quest of new emerging states to redefine spheres of political influence as the main causes for this trend reversal.

As a result, the world is becoming increasingly multipolar and rivalry between regional powers is growing. On balance, these developments are weakening the ability of the international community of states to find consensus on the question of how to respond to the escalation of violence. It is therefore urgently necessary to rethink international prevention approaches in a way that takes these centrifugal forces into account.

High risks of escalation deserve priority

The study recommends focusing prevention particularly on the factors that will generate high risks of escalation in the years ahead. These include the consequences of shifts in regional power, growing competition over natural resources, particularly access to land and water, and an increasing threat to security posed by non-state armed groups.

On the basis of previous experience and best-practice examples, the study highlights three core principles for realigning international cooperation.

  1. Since even successful economic development does not automatically provide affected states with the ability to overcome existing social conflicts and the risk of violent escalation, prevention must become a core objective of international cooperation.
  2. After years of concentrating on institutions and structures, a major focus of future prevent-ive measures should be placed on social groups and their social and political inclusion. The authors’ plea is that inclusion should not aim to improve the situation of poverty groups alone. Rather, what is necessary is to take into account the relations between the different groups in society. Altering them may generate new risks and requires a social negotiation process.
  3. Previous prevention strategies were too reactive. In order to change this, the institutions call for new approaches to address risks sooner and for activities to be continued longer after the violence has been brought to an end.

The core challenge: political consensus

In the discussion, representatives of civil society organisations pointed out that many of the challenges and recommendations for action put forward were not entirely new.

Early and long-term efforts, inclusive approaches, the potential for conflict created by land and water scarcity and the recommendation to review the conflict sensitivity of all measures of development cooperation, financial and technical cooperation in fragile situations have been part of the range of their political demands and their work in the field for several years.

However, implementation often falters because of conflicting objectives, political blockades and competing interests. Questions from the group included: What solutions does the study provide to these unresolved challenges? On what does it base the hope that risks of escalation can be raised and addressed earlier in the future despite the diminishing ability of multilateral bodies to reach consensus? How does the study define ‘inclusiveness’? When are processes sufficiently inclusive? And does the call for inclusiveness also apply to non-state armed groups? Finally, it was also asked what consequences does the World Bank draw for its own funding instruments and support strategies, which so far have focused on economic stability and growth.

The high added value of the study may consist less in the fact that it formulates completely new findings. What is new, however, is the scope and quality of the empirical database that underpins the findings, along with the fact that it comes from these two institutions, which have not simply submitted an analysis and recommendations for action for ‘others’. The recommendations can also be understood as a basis, if not an invitation, to measure the actions of these institutions themselves against the findings and recommendations made in the study. In this sense, the study is a political reference work that is rich in facts against which critical reflection on the cost of missed opportunities and the benefits of international crisis prevention can be demanded and pushed forward at national and international level.

The team of authors announced that preparing the study was a first step which will now be followed by the task of developing specific proposals for implementing the recommendations. FriEnt will support its members in feeding their own experiences into the discourses which the study has set in motion.