Beyond political haggling

Peace & Security14 Sep 2013Karlijn Muiderman

Recently, The Hague Institute for Global Justice organized the second consultation meeting in a series on the post-2015 process. Now that the UN’s HLP report has made conflict, security and rule of law one of its priority themes and the SG’s report has endorsed it, the central message seems much more comforting than during the previous introductory meeting. But has anything really changed?

After the successful lobby for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Rio+ agenda to be incorporated in the HLP process, an integrated approach, including prioritizing conflict, security and rule of law, would be widely accepted for the post-2015 framework, according to keynote speaker Koen Davidse, Director of Multilateral Organizations and Human Rights Department at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I went to the meeting to hear Davidse give an update on the chances of getting security and conflict onto the post-2015 agenda. This time, he started off by saying: “I am much more optimistic.”

Predictions on the process

In May, at the introductory consultation meeting on the theme, the HLP report and the SG report had not yet been published, so all we heard were predictions. Davidse then advised NGOs to “put their money on the process after”, meaning they had better chances of getting conflict, security and rule of law on the agenda of the UN’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. Davidse predicted that, although the HLP report would probably not prioritize the issue, it would likely end up as a crosscutting theme. This caused concern that a crosscutting theme could easily result in a lack of political will and ambiguous and defragmented policy.

On the contrary, however, the HLP report included conflict, security and rule of law as one of the priority goals in its proposed framework. Yet, despite these improved prospects, the idealistic image sketched by the HLP report did not address how its goals are to be achieved. It did not, for example, explain how to implement the plans to hold partners accountable or how to address unequal power relations. This means that, in the negotiations to come, the statements by the HLP and the SG can result in oversimplified policy rather than an integrated one that targets the root causes of conflict, and analyses the abrasive power relations behind them and their restraining effect on development, as I argued in an earlier blog post. This has not changed.

Defining conflict in a development framework

Davidse did, however, see many improvements: he said he was pleased with the political statement that “conflict is development in reverse”, acknowledging that additional efforts are needed for fragile and conflict-affected states (FCAS), which the millennium development goals (MDGs) did not target. As a result the FCAS are lagging behind in achieving the MDGs. He was also pleased that the Secretary General’s report “endorses the HLP report”.

Professor Mohamed Salih (International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague) argued that the HLP has an old fashioned approach to donor-recipient relations. The HLP does not address society activism, economic progress or the strengthened relationship between civil society and the state in developing countries. Davidse responded that the participation of the BRICS countries shows a break with the traditional North-South division, as they were not in the MDG process. It is the political paradigm that is believed to be moving towards a more equal approach, in which the developed and developing world are partners.

Now that the agenda is developing into a global framework with integrated goals on sustainability and global public goods instead of poverty reduction, we need a broader dialogue, argues Lisa Denney of the Overseas Development Institute on The Broker’s post-2015 debate. She states that the correlation between insecurity and underdevelopment is much stronger than that between peace and development. So we need to talk about how we are formulating the conflict paradigm within a global framework, what gets included and what gets excluded, and in spite of what.

Political haggling

At the same time, the BRICS countries continue to push for an intergovernmental process that limits civil society and private sector involvement. These exclusive governmental politics will intensify the process of political haggling and increase the danger of the process ending up in empty rhetoric. In his blog post on The Broker’s post-2015 debate, Duncan Green defines how the focus has shifted from an aid agenda to how national governments behave. In the Open Working Group process it will be increasingly difficult for non-state partners to express their opinions, and it will become more and more a dialogue between member states.

So is Davidse’s optimism justified? The dialogue has remained highly political, which raises the question of whether the Open Working Group will be able to move beyond political negotiating and take real steps towards the comprehensive post-2015 framework. It will not, for example, hold the session on conflict prevention, post-conflict peacebuilding and the promotion of durable peace, rule of law and governance until February, as its last meeting, which will address a hodgepodge of topics. Is this because there is no broad consensus, are they labelled as tough subjects, should trust be established first before negotiations can start on these topics? So not that much has changed. For more insights on the process, see The Broker’s post-2015 blog.