Dreaming of peace isn’t enough

Peace & Security04 Jun 2013Karlijn Muiderman

No development without peace. This report of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, published this weekend, calls peace-building one of five fundamental shifts. Peace and security appear to have gained a prominent position in the post-2015 process. This is a step forward compared to the MDGs. But the report does not seem far-reaching enough to put its idealistic image-sketching into practice.

“Freedom from fear, conflict and violence is the most fundamental human right, and the essential foundation for peace building.” This is the core message of the HLP report. In other words, there can be no development without peace and stability. The successes of the MDGs, but their failure in conflict-affected states, underline this statement. Probably for this reason, peace-building has been given a prominent position in the report – as one of five fundamental themes.

Many people working on peace and security did not expect this in the wrap-up stages of the consultations. The issue was not on the agenda at official HLP meetings in New York, London, Monrovia and Bali. Security was discussed in London, but only in terms of household security, ignoring politically sensitive issues like state security, international interventions, extraction of natural resources, etc.

In the final weeks before the report was published, sceptics expected the window of opportunity for conflict as a separate goal to become narrower. At a meeting on the post-2015 process, held by the Knowledge Platform Security and Rule of Law, initiated by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a ministry representative said that it was unlikely that conflict would be a priority theme for the post-2015 development framework. He expected it to develop as a crosscutting theme, causing participants from NGOs to express their concern that this could easily result in a lack of political will and ambiguous and defragmented policy.

It therefore appears promising that a global agenda should focus on peace and security this time. However, is the HLP’s report far-reaching enough? Does it recognize the lessons learnt from the MDG process?

The report does not say where the MDGs failed, nor how the post-2015 framework will be more successful. It vaguely states all countries should participate. But what are the mechanisms to hold states accountable for achieving progress? The section on ‘holding partners to account’ is rather vague about this. Annex II, goal 11 ‘Ensure stable and peaceful societies’, lists a lot of ‘musts’ without saying how they should be achieved. Nor does the report address power balances. It says that ‘good governance and effective institutions are crucial’, but who will empower local institutions? Do they build on the international community, or provide resources for state building and democracy building? What if there is no consensus on how to build the peace?

The post-2015 process could be a historical moment to develop an integrated policy that unravels the root causes of conflict, to analyse abrasive power relations and their restraining effect on development. The post-2015 framework can amplify development policy in fragile states or regions where the MDGs did not reach far enough. However, the report does not explain how this rather simplified definition of peace-building should be put into practice. It is writing in a language that could erase security targets in the negotiations to come, leaving them overshadowed by refined policies at international and national level.