Insecurity disrupts development, but peace doesn’t drive it

Peace & Security30 Jul 2013Lisa Denney

The inclusion of a peace and justice goal in the High Level Panel’s post-2015 report is a welcome acknowledgement of the negative impact of insecurity on development. But this is just the first act in a much longer international community drama about what gets included, and how, in the post-2015 framework. As a result, there is still room for backtracking in taking the agenda forward. 

It is therefore timely to think carefully about the relationships between security, peace and development and to ensure that what gets built into the post-2015 framework stands the best chance of contributing to the eradication of extreme poverty. Some connections are well-documented – Paul Collier estimates that the average cost of a civil war is USD64 billion, and NGOs calculate that armed conflict cost Africa USD284 billion from 1990–2005, almost the same amount of aid received in that time. Fragile countries are among those most off-track in meeting their MDG commitments, and the Voices of the Poor study highlights that security is one of the great priorities of poor people themselves.

However, good or bad things do not always go together. Correlations between insecurity and underdevelopment are much stronger than correlations between peace and development. That is, where there is conflict there is often underdevelopment; it may seem easy to infer from this that peace therefore facilitates development, but this claim goes a step too far. In fact, where there is peace, there is often not development. Similarly, as experience of sub-national conflict in Asia shows, high levels of development do not always go hand in hand with low levels of violence. The evidence shows that peace does not necessarily facilitate or enable development, but rather that violence (‘un-peace’) inhibits development. How can this realistic but somewhat minimal approach to the relationship between peace and development be harnessed in global policy debates and campaigns?

What is more, there are also important variations in the definition of ‘peace’ employed. While claims that an absence of violence facilitates development use a negative definition, more expansive positive definitions go even further, claiming that an absence of violence plus the multitude of ‘goods’ seen to entrench peace – like good government, accountability, strong state-society relations and equal access to resources – actually facilitate development. Yet, while components of good governance might be desirable in and of themselves, many are not linked to stronger developmental outcomes. A study by Milanovic on the causes of weak growth in poor countries found that poor policies, slow reforms, democratization and improved basic services have minimal or no effects on economic growth, while war was identified as the single most important factor explaining slow growth, accounting for an income loss of about 40%. The relationships between violence, peace and development are thus not as straightforward as first meets the eye.

Of course, global agreements like the MDGs and the post-2015 framework are about more than instrumental relationships – they are aspirational and as much about intrinsic goods as they are about what contributes to development. However, given the clear causal links between insecurity and poverty, it is important to ensure that this instrumental relationship is prioritized in the post-2015 agenda.

How best to do this? One way may be to include issues of insecurity in a group of ‘development disruptor’ goals, which would include factors that disrupt progress towards reducing poverty, alongside phenomena like disasters, economic shocks, pandemic diseases and the effects of climate change. In all these cases, their absence does not necessarily drive development, but their presence does disrupt it. This ‘development disruptors’ approach provides a clearer causal explanation – or theory of change – demonstrating the relationship between goal areas like insecurity, and the overall purpose of the framework, poverty reduction.