Peacebuilding in the UN in 2015 – breaking silos?

2015 will be a decisive year for development and peace in many respects. The EU has designated 2015 the European Year of Development. In New York, new goals for sustainable development will be adopted. The future of development financing will be discussed in Addis Ababa, the G7 will meet in Germany, and a new climate deal will be agreed in Paris. Marius Müller-Hennig is worried that this will deflect media and professional attention away from key reforms of the UN peacebuilding architecture. In this Impuls article, he offers an overview of the forthcoming change processes and the associated challenges.

Although largely unnoticed in Germany, 2015 has progressively emerged as the year of a major showdown over the future of United Nations (UN) peacebuilding. Although the future direction and the scope of the changes are difficult to predict at present, it is clear that in 2015, major policy decisions lie ahead for peacebuilding in almost all the relevant branches of the UN system. The following processes have already been initiated or are planned for 2015:

  • The review of the UN peacebuilding architecture is a longstanding issue on the agenda, although it has barely featured on many experts’ radar. Established in 2005, it underwent its first regular review back in 2010.
  • Another longstanding issue on the agenda is the adoption of a new framework to follow on from the Millennium Development Goals. The planned Sustainable Development Goals could certainly go some way towards remedying one of the shortcomings of the MDGs: the failure to consider peace and security in the targets for development cooperation over the next 15 years.
  • However, just this year, information emerged that a major review of the UN system of peacekeeping operations would also be undertaken in 2015. This process has now commenced, with the appointment of a High-Level Panel which, in terms of the eminence of its members, is reminiscent of the much-quoted Brahimi Report from 2000. The Panel has thus been dubbed “Brahimi 2.0” in some quarters.
  • In view of the significance of these processes, there is a risk that the UN Secretary-General’s next report on conflict prevention, also due to be published next year, could become something of an “also ran”.

The sheer number of these processes has taken many people by surprise. Less surprising, however, is that on the whole, the processes themselves remain trapped in their respective institutional silos, only one of which is explicitly labelled “peacebuilding”. To what extent, then, are they genuinely relevant to peacebuilding?

As the name suggests, the UN system’s peacebuilding engagement is centred around its peacebuilding architecture in a narrow sense. Established in 2005, this consists of three components: the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) as the diplomatic forum, the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) as the administrative support structure based in the UN Secretariat, and the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) as the financing mechanism for specific peacebuilding programmes. This triad, comprising the PBC, PBSO and PBF, has attracted criticism and disappointment in recent years, so it seems likely that the forthcoming review process will be of key significance for the future of these structures.

What is remarkable is the demand heard from various quarters that if the aim is to place the UN’s peacebuilding engagement on a new footing and enhance its effectiveness, this review process should extend beyond this institutional triad in the narrow sense. According to this line of argument, the UN’s peacebuilding architecture should be viewed from a broader perspective, given that other departments within the UN system also make, and should make, important contributions to peacebuilding.

The system of UN peacekeeping operations is a case in point. Although the peacebuilding triad described above is primarily responsible for peacebuilding in a narrower sense, at least on paper, it is in fact the peacekeeping operations which make the largest contribution to UN peacebuilding, in terms of both resources and political visibility. For example, the UN’s peacekeeping budget amounts to around seven billion US dollars annually – several orders of magnitude greater than the UN Peacebuilding Fund, for example, with its annual budget of less than 100 million US dollars. Although not all peacekeeping operations can be classed as contributions to peacebuilding in the narrow sense, the large-scale, costly, politically significant and multidimensional peacekeeping operations are meant to have a major peacebuilding component as well, simply by virtue of their Security Council mandate. There is good reason for the often-heard assertion that “peacekeepers are early peacebuilders”.

In terms of the funding volume, the question of the inclusion of peacebuilding elements in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (i.e. the post-2015 agenda) is likely to be in the same league as the UN peacekeeping missions: after all, the new Goals’ main aim is to focus international development resources on joint priorities. In the drafts tabled to date, peacebuilding has featured on the agenda in a variety of forms. Whether it remains there will depend on the official negotiations in 2015.

Of course, many diverse forms of peacebuilding already qualify as official development assistance according to the official ODA definition, but the point is that peacebuilding failed to make it onto the truly decisive global list of sustainable development priorities – the MDGs – in 2000. Will the SDGs, unlike the MDGs, give new weight to peacebuilding? This is likely to be the crucial question when it comes to the political significance ascribed to, and the resources available for peacebuilding.

Towards meaningful coherence between peacebuilding, peacekeeping and development

Summing up, then, it is clear that 2015 will be a year of major decisions. So far, they have been addressed in various silos and monitored and supported by more or less discrete academic and civil society communities, which is only to be expected, but of course, that does not make the situation less problematical. On the contrary, it is remarkable that despite robust institutional resistance, some tentative efforts are being made to overcome the silo thinking and establish substantive linkages.

These efforts should be flanked and supported – a role for which German foreign policy would be well-suited. Although many technical peacebuilding issues are primarily a matter for experts in development cooperation or – more specifically – peacebuilding, many of the decisions on the agenda depend just as much on diplomatic finesse and political authority as on technical expertise. It’s no secret that some countries want to see the peacebuilding architecture strengthened but view the inclusion of peacebuilding in the SDGs with great scepticism.

Regardless of whether German foreign policy manages to contribute to the successful linkage of the three processes (a step which should be advocated by the German peacebuilding community), it is especially important for it to widen its perspective and view the UN’s institutional architecture in its entirety in future, rather than rejecting a peacebuilding architecture that is viewed solely in terms of the PBC, PBSO and PBF triad. All three have substantial potential, but only if they are seen as elements of a larger whole. The major triad comprising the peacebuilding architecture in a narrow sense but also the peacekeeping and the development architecture will reach a crossroads next year. The way forward will be the subject of analysis in another Impuls article in 12 months’ time. All we can do at present is to lobby hard for institutional thinking to be overcome next year, as well as for the adoption of a holistic view of the “vast whole” in order to achieve a good outcome to the processes that lie ahead. After that, whatever happens, these outcomes can and must be addressed and implemented in the many, many diverse silos in which we work: in New York as well as in Bonn and Berlin.

Marius Müller-Hennig leads on Global Security Policy and Peacebuilding at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and represents the FES on the FriEnt team.

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