Improved Prospects for Peacebuilding? UN Peace Operations and the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States

This Impulse-article by Ann L. Phillips assesses the report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations and the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States. In how far are the two efforts comparable and what can peacebuilders glean from them?


The first comprehensive assessment of UN peace operations published since the Brahimi report fifteen years ago, and the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States were both spurred by the failure of traditional assistance to produce sustainable progress in fragile and conflict affected states. In light of the dramatic increase in the number of violent conflicts and growing demand for UN interventions, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon commissioned an independent panel to assess current UN peace operations and provide recommendations for improvement. The panel’s report was issued in June 2015 followed by an implementation plan in September 2015.

The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, initiated by leaders of fragile states dissatisfied by donor assistance, was endorsed by all major bilateral donors, a number of international organisations including the UN, and 19 fragile states at the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness on 30 November 2011 at Busan, Korea. Under the new framework, the host country is to design and lead its transition out of fragility. Donors are to serve as partners with host country actors and to play a supporting role. In sum, it prescribed nothing less than a paradigm shift in donor–fragile state relations as the basis for establishing a durable peace and sustainable development. What can we glean from both efforts?

Promising Convergences

The International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS) claims that the New Deal has become an international standard for best practice, relevant for all countries facing fragility, conflict and violence. And indeed, the High-Level Panel’s list of essential shifts required in UN peace operations echo the core principles of the New Deal.

The agreement on fundamental changes in assistance to fragile and conflict affected states is encouraging. Both the New Deal and recommendations for UN peace operations place host country actors and legitimate politics at the centre of success. Both agree that political reforms, not technical assistance, are fundamental to any lasting solution. Both also emphasise that political answers rest with host country actors; foreign assistance providers can only help or facilitate a host country process. Therefore, donor-driven solutions and project templates, the mainstay of traditional assistance, must be replaced by support for host country priorities.

Not surprisingly, there are different accents in shared concepts. For example, conflict prevention is an explicit priority for future UN peace operations; conflict prevention is implicit in the New Deal. The role of dialogue is another example. The New Deal underscores dialogue between host country government officials and civil society to reach consensus on priorities through a series of specific steps as the essential ingredient to resolve conflict and emerge from fragility. The New Deal’s premium on dialogue is a bow to mutual dependency between those who govern and those who are governed as the basis for legitimate politics. Recommendations for UN operations, in contrast, highlight mediation and inclusive dialogue as current deficits to be overcome but without comparable elaboration.

Important Differences

Important organisational differences and the conditions under which UN peace operations and the New Deal are employed warn against overdrawn comparisons.

The UN is a huge organisation with multiple agencies, plans and programs all working on peace operations. The UN deploys thousands of military, police and civilian personnel to the country at risk in a peace operation. It injects substantial funds into the local economy when it hires local civilians and purchases goods and services for the mission.

The New Deal, by contrast, is a process grounded in a concrete series of steps and based on an agreed set of principles. As such, it has minimal bureaucracy. Its key actors are all civilians: host country government and civil society being the most important; external donors are already present and are to reconfigure their assistance to play a supporting role. It involves no additional foreign personnel and brings no new money to the host country.

As a result, the role of assistance providers and host country actors in each differs significantly. Notwithstanding the proposed reforms, outsiders will continue to drive UN peace operations – mission approval, the terms of the mission mandate, and funding are all decided by external players. Moreover, the mission is largely staffed by foreign personnel. Conversely, the New Deal centrepiece is a home-grown effort, owned by host country government and civil society actors.

Mission scope varies as well. UN missions cover the full conflict spectrum with more recent attention to conflict prevention and peacebuilding. However, in practice, UN peace operations are increasingly deployed to high conflict areas. Although the New Deal theoretically covers the same conflict spectrum, it does not work in the midst of violent conflict as numerous pilot country experiences have shown. As such, the New Deal should book-end UN peace operations, providing the framework and process for conflict prevention as well as post-conflict stabilisation and creating a natural division of labour between the two.

Institutional Impediments

Despite the essential differences between a large organisation and a process, UN peace operations and the New Deal share common institutional impediments that have severely limited the application of the New Deal and will thwart the essential changes recommended for UN peace operations.

The elaborated peace operations bureaucracy in the UN makes strategic planning, coordination and integration an ongoing challenge. Not surprisingly, the Secretary General’s report on implementation of the panel’s recommendations devotes con-siderable space to trying to overcome the fragmentation in the UN system. Unfortunately, bureaucratic silos in individual donor agencies who participate in the New Deal are as deeply entrenched as they are in the UN architecture. The “New Deal Monitoring Report 2014, Final Version” (November 2014) concluded that the New Deal process had not produced significant changes in donor or host country behaviour. Lack of country ownership, neglect of politics, continuing use of donor-driven processes and instruments, and the proliferation of parallel processes in highly fragmented environments all persisted in the New Deal implementation efforts. Alas, nothing much has changed in the intervening year. The recently released OECD “States of Fragility 2015” report demands a major political effort to radically improve implementation of New Deal principles.

Institutional incentives, professional skills and interests, funding streams and reporting requirements in both the UN and individual donor agencies engaged in the New Deal heavily favour the continuation of business as usual. Compounding the problem is the lack of knowledge of the host country in both UN and New Deal donor agencies. The importance of local knowledge is not even mentioned in the New Deal. This, combined with institutional and professional incentives, means that identifying effective local partners, facilitating inclusive dialogue and supporting locally identified priorities remains a chimera in the New Deal. The Secretary General’s implementation report at least lists regional knowledge, local language, political acumen and mediation expertise as requirements for leadership in future UN peace operations. Whether they will be required in practice remains to be seen.


The convergence of recommendations for UN peace operations and the New Deal core principles is an important first step toward more effective peacebuilding. The real test, however, comes in their application and implementation. Here, the outlook is less promising. The New Deal’s record based on eight pilots launched in 2012 demonstrates that donor agencies have not significantly changed the way they assist fragile states. Nor have host country government actors altered their behaviour. This does not bode well for implementation of the proposed shifts in UN peace operations. The UN bureaucracy is not only inherently more unwieldy than that of individual donors but also the authority of the General Secretary is weaker than that of donor agency heads.

However, the current approach is not working well. The call for radical changes to assistance in both initiatives reflects that fact. Congruence on the fundamental shifts needed in external assistance in both the New Deal and the High-Level Panel recommendations provides the empirically grounded conceptual basis for change. Now a modicum of political will and ingenuity are required to follow through with the institutional changes in the assistance community necessary to provide more effective assistance to fragile and conflict affected states.

Ann L. Phillips is working for the United States Institute for Peace (USIP).

Weitere Informationen

Ann L. Phillips, United States Institute of Peace (USIP)

Links und Literatur

Report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations on uniting our strengths for peace: politics, partnership and people

The future of United Nations peace operations: implementation of the recommendations of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations

A New Deal for the Peacebuilding Commission?
Marc Baxmann, Marius Müller-Hennig | FriEnt | February 2015

4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness

The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States

New Deal Monitoring Report 2014, Final Version
Fiona Davies, Yannick Hingorani | International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding | November 2014

States of Fragility 2015: Meeting Post-2015 Ambitions
OECD | March 2015