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Peacebuilding Should Be Central to the E.U.’s Global Strategy

Losing the U.K.’s defense capability after Brexit will leave a hole in European security, but there are ways to salvage this. The E.U. should become a champion for conflict prevention by increasing its focus on dealing with the root causes of violence, writes Harriet Lamb, CEO of International Alert.

Written by Harriet Lamb Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
Protesters showing peace signs during a protest urging E.U. leaders to press forward with disciplinary action against Poland for allegedly violating rule-of-law standards in front of the Krakow courts. Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The increasingly bitter debate over the United Kingdom’s exclusion from the military aspects of the European Union’s Galileo project is another stark reminder of how urgently both parties need to address peace and security in a post-Brexit and increasingly divided world.

It is hard to discuss the scale of changes sweeping the world without the risk of sounding hysterical by pointing to brutal figures, the global rise in violence and polarization and the loss of faith in multilateral conflict prevention responses. But this, along with Brexit and diminishing resources, makes it even more important to discuss how the E.U.’s global strategy, launched in June 2016, can deliver sustainable solutions for Europe’s security challenges now and in the future.

High Representative for the E.U. Federica Mogherini’s vision for the European Union is that of a champion for conflict prevention with an increased focus on dealing with the root causes of violence. She has repeatedly stressed the importance of an approach that integrates military, diplomatic and development elements to address conflict and crises.

The challenge is getting the right balance. Under the E.U.’s current global strategy, conflict prevention risks being little more than an afterthought. Only by addressing the underlying reasons why people fight can we sustainably end conflict. But the current policy debate appears to focus almost entirely on hard security responses.

Yet the E.U., arguably the last woman standing with a belief in values-based multilateral action, human rights and inclusion, has the credibility to emphasize an ambitious conflict prevention and peacebuilding agenda, weaving in defense, diplomacy and development. By transforming the new proposal for a European Peace Facility into a full-spectrum approach, the E.U. can help set that forward-looking global narrative.

Make Peacebuilding the E.U.’s Security Niche

Prioritizing and leading the narrative on conflict analysis, prevention and peacebuilding would create a clearly defined niche for the E.U., among a range of security actors all pursuing similar approaches that have so far been unable to deliver sustainable solutions that would, for example, prevent the next ISIS.

A focus on tackling the root causes of conflict would also build on the E.U.’s comparative advantages. The E.U. does practice peacebuilding, but it should do more, with larger resources and long-term commitments.

While it is true that various military and security sectors around the world do require training and capacity building, the E.U. should devote equal attention and resources to dealing with the root causes of conflict, and building military and civilian capacity.

In Mali and the Sahel, for example, one of the E.U.’s strategies is to support the G5 Sahel, the counterterrorism force drawn from five regional armies. However, International Alert’s research in Mali found that a lack of trust in state and security forces, plus injustice, self-protection and economic hardship, are the primary drivers of some citizens’ decision to take up arms, very often to protect themselves and their families from armed groups or abuses from security forces. Scaling up the E.U.’s peacebuilding interventions in Mali with an inclusive approach to peacebuilding in the region is central to success.

In January, I met with representatives of farmers and foresters, women, teachers, youth and traditional leaders in Mopti, central Mali. Also at this table were representatives of the security forces – the Malian army, police and forest guards. The exchanges were sometimes heated, particularly when discussing injustice and the tough methods of the security forces – who in turn shared their difficulties in keeping the area safe from the armed groups. Such dialogue sessions show how important it is to rebuild relations that are shattered by violence and mistrust.

The Brexit Factor

The U.K. also has a strong interest in seeing the E.U. play a greater role in conflict reduction and prevention. In fact, it will be part of the U.K.’s legacy, having championed the E.U.’s early focus on dealing with the drivers of conflict during the birth of the European External Action Service.

The U.K.’s current contribution to the European Development Fund (EDF) could, for example, be translated into a flagship bilateral peacebuilding and conflict prevention partnership between the U.K. and E.U. This would enable the U.K. to retain some of the global reach and influence it gained from membership, while also nailing down conflict prevention as a feature of the E.U.’s security response. In turn, the E.U. would retain funds for its security agenda at a time of shrinking resources, and help align future cooperation with the U.K. on security issues.

The U.K. should also work with France, the only other European state with a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, to realize the U.N. secretary-general’s conflict prevention agenda.

It is deeply within the U.K. and E.U.’s interests to create a counterbalance on the global stage and step up to fill the ever-growing gap in international leadership left by a U.S. administration in foreign policy freefall. Close coordination to achieve common goals and build a robust conflict prevention agenda is needed now more than ever.

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Peacebuilding Deeply.

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