Violent conflicts today are complex and increasingly protracted, involving more non-state groups and regional and international actors. It is estimated that by 2030—the horizon set by the international community to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals—over half of the world’s poor will be living in countries affected by high levels of violence. Information and communications technology, population movements, and climate change are also creating shared risks that must be managed at both national and international levels.
Pathways for Peace is a joint United Nations–World Bank Group study that originates from the conviction that the international community’s attention must urgently be refocused on prevention. A scaled-up system for preventive action would save between US$5 billion and $70 billion per year, which could be reinvested in reducing poverty and improving the wellbeing of populations.
The study aims to improve the way in which domestic development processes interact with security, diplomacy, mediation, and other efforts to prevent conflicts from becoming violent. It stresses the importance of grievances related to exclusion—from access to power, natural resources, security and justice, for example—that are at the root of many violent conflicts today.
Based on a review of cases in which prevention has been successful, the study makes recommendations for countries facing emerging risks of violent conflict as well as the international community. Development policies and programs must be a core part of preventive efforts; when risks are high or building up, inclusive solutions through dialogue, adapted macroeconomic policies, institutional reform, and redistributive policies are required. Inclusion is key, and preventive action needs to adopt a more people-centered approach that includes mainstreaming citizen engagement. Enhancing the participation of women and youth in decision making, as well as long-term policies to address the aspirations of women and young people, are fundamental to sustaining peace.
- Pathways for Peace: Laying the Groundwork for a New Focus on Prevention
- Eight Key Messages for Prevention
- The State of Violent Conflict
- The Need for Prevention in an Interdependent World
- The Pathways for Peace Framework
- Why People Fight: Inequality, Exclusion, and Injustice
- What People Fight Over: Arenas of Contestation
- What Works: How Countries Have Managed Contestation and Prevented Violent Conflict
- A Global System for Prevention under Stress
- Building Inclusive Approaches for Prevention
A surge in violent conflicts in recent years has left a trail of human suffering, displacement, and protracted humanitarian need. In 2016, more countries experienced violent conflict than at any time in nearly 30 years.1 Reported battle-related deaths in 2016 increased tenfold from the post–Cold War low of 2005, and terrorist attacks and fatalities also rose sharply over the past 10 years (GTD 2017).
This surge in violence afflicts both low- and middle-income countries with relatively strong institutions and calls into question the long-standing assumption that peace will accompany income growth and the expectations of steady social, economic, and political advancement that defined the end of the twentieth century (Fearon 2010; Humphreys and Varshney 2004; World Economic Forum 2016). If current trends persist, by 2030—the horizon set by the international community for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—more than half of the world’s poor will be living in countries affected by high levels of violence (OECD 2015).
The benefit of preventive action, then, seems self-evident. Indeed, the global architecture for peace and security, forged in the aftermath of World War II, is grounded in the universal commitment to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (United Nations Charter, preamble). Yet the changing scope and nature of today’s conflicts pose a significant challenge to that system. With conflict today often simultaneously subnational and transnational, sustained, inclusive, and targeted engagement is needed at all levels.
This reality has accelerated momentum for countries at risk and for the international community to focus on improving efforts at preventing “the outbreak, escalation, recurrence, or continuation of conflict” (UN General Assembly 2016; UN Security Council 2016). Yet, at present, spending and efforts on prevention represent only a fraction of the amount spent on crisis response and reconstruction.2 A shift away from managing and responding to crises and toward preventing conflict sustainably, inclusively, and collectively can save lives and greatly reduce these costs.
1. UCDP (2017). The UCDP/PRIO (Uppsala Conflict Data Program/Peace Research Institute Oslo) Armed Conflict Dataset 2017 records all state-based conflict in which at least one side is the government of a state and which results in at least 25 battle-related deaths in a calendar year. It covers the years 1946 to 2016. UCDP data that record nonstate and one-sided violence that results in at least 25 conflict-related deaths in a calendar year cover the years 1989 to 2016.
2. For example, official development assistance to countries with high risk of conflict averages US$250 million per year, only slightly higher than that to countries at peace, but increases to US$700 million during open conflict and US$400 million during recovery years. Similarly, peacekeeping support averages US$30 million a year for countries at high risk, compared with US$100 million for countries in open conflict and US$300 million during recovery. See Mueller (2017).
Pathways for Peace: Laying the Groundwork for a New Focus on Prevention
Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict is a joint study of the United Nations and the World Bank. The study originates from the conviction on the part of both institutions that the attention of the international community needs to be urgently refocused on prevention. While the two institutions are governed by different, complementary mandates, they share a commitment, founded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to the prevention of conflict as a contribution to development progress, as expressed in the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on sustaining peace3 and the eighteenth replenishment of the World Bank Group’s International Development Association.4
This study recognizes that the World Bank Group and the United Nations bring separate comparative advantages to approach the prevention of violent conflict and that they have different roles and responsibilities in the international architecture. Therefore, while a holistic framework is essential to implementing prevention, the findings and recommendations of this study do not apply to all organizations in the same way.
This study seeks to improve the way in which domestic development processes interact with security, diplomatic, justice, and human rights efforts to prevent conflicts from becoming violent. Its key audiences are national policy makers and staff of multilateral and regional institutions.
The background research and literature reviews, including 19 case studies, were prepared in partnership with leading think tanks and academic institutions. Regional consultations were conducted throughout 2016–17 with policy makers, members of civil society, representatives of regional organizations, development aid organizations, and donor partners in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and North America.
3. UN General Assembly (2016); UN Security Council (2016). This study has been greatly informed by and builds on recent reviews by the United Nations and the World Bank. These include World Bank (2011, 2017); UN (2015a, 2015b, 2016); UN Women (2015).
4. National governments and other local actors are the foundation and point of reference for preventive action (see UN General Assembly 2016; UN Security Council 2016; Articles 2 and 3 of the United Nations Charter). The sustaining peace resolutions reaffirmed this principle. UN Security Council Resolution 2282 recognizes “the primary responsibility of national Governments and authorities in identifying, driving and directing priorities, strategies and activities for sustaining peace … emphasizing that sustaining peace is a shared task and responsibility that needs to be fulfilled by the Government and all other national stakeholders.”
Eight Key Messages for Prevention
The study’s findings revolve around eight key messages:
- Violent conflict has increased after decades of relative decline. Direct deaths in war, numbers of displaced populations, military spending, and terrorist incidents, among others, have all surged since the beginning of the century. A rapidly evolving global context presents risks that transcend national borders and add to the complexity of conflict. This places the onus on policy makers at all levels, from local to global, to make a more concerted effort to bring their tools and instruments to bear in an effective and complementary way.
- The human and economic cost of conflicts around the world requires all of those concerned to work more collaboratively. The SDGs should be at the core of this approach. Development actors need to provide more support to national and regional prevention agendas through targeted, flexible, and sustained engagement. Prevention agendas, in turn, should be integrated into development policies and efforts, because prevention is cost-effective, saves lives, and safeguards development gains.
- The best way to prevent societies from descending into crisis, including but not limited to conflict, is to ensure that they are resilient through investment in inclusive and sustainable development. For all countries, addressing inequalities and exclusion, making institutions more inclusive, and ensuring that development strategies are risk-informed are central to preventing the fraying of the social fabric that could erupt into crisis.
- The primary responsibility for preventive action rests with states, both through their national policy and their governance of the multilateral system. However, in today’s shifting global landscape, states are often one actor among many. States are increasingly called to work with each other and with other actors to keep their countries on a pathway to peace.
- Exclusion from access to power, opportunity, services, and security creates fertile ground for mobilizing group grievances to violence, especially in areas with weak state capacity or legitimacy or in the context of human rights abuses. This study points to specific ways in which states and other actors can seek to avert violence, including through more inclusive policies.
- Growth and poverty alleviation are crucial but alone will not suffice to sustain peace. Preventing violence requires departing from traditional economic and social policies when risks are building up or are high. It also means seeking inclusive solutions through dialogue, adapted macroeconomic policies, institutional reform in core state functions, and redistributive policies.
- Inclusive decision making is fundamental to sustaining peace at all levels, as are long-term policies to address economic, social, and political aspirations. Fostering the participation of young people as well as of the organizations, movements, and networks that represent them is crucial. Women’s meaningful participation in all aspects of peace and security is critical to effectiveness, including in peace processes, where it has been shown to have a direct impact on the sustainability of agreements reached.
- Alongside efforts to build institutional capacity to contain violence when it does occur, acting preventively entails fostering systems that create incentives for peaceful and cooperative behavior. In order to achieve more effective prevention, new mechanisms need to be established that will allow greater synergy to be achieved much earlier among the various tools and instruments of prevention, in particular, diplomacy and mediation, security, and development.
This study demonstrates that prevention works. Many countries have successfully managed high-risk conflicts and avoided descents into violence. These experiences offer lessons in prevention that can be applied to other contexts. There is no one formula, as each situation is specific to the actors, institutions, and structures of each society, but common threads can be teased out of these experiences.
This study also shows that prevention is cost-effective. Analysis undertaken for this study finds that a system for preventing the outbreak of violence would be economically beneficial. Even in the most pessimistic scenario, where preventive action is rarely successful, the average net savings are close to US$5 billion per year. In the most optimistic scenario, the net savings are almost US$70 billion per year (Mueller 2017).
The State of Violent Conflict
While interstate conflict remains rare, the number of violent conflicts within states has increased since 2010. Furthermore, high-intensity warfare in certain countries has increased the number of fatalities caused by these conflicts, with the number of reported battle-related deaths rising sharply and in 2014 reaching the highest numbers recorded in 20 years (Allansson, Melander, and Themnér 2017; Sundberg, Eck, and Kreutz 2012).
This increase in the number of conflicts is a surge, but not yet a trend. Most battle deaths occur in a small number of conflicts; the three deadliest countries in 2016 (Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Syrian Arab Republic) incurred more than 76 percent of all fatalities. However, even if battle deaths drop significantly as fighting declines in these countries, these conflicts are expected to be protracted and risks of new outbreaks remain high (Dupuy et al. 2017).
Much of this violence remains entrenched in low-income countries; however, some of today’s deadliest and most complex conflicts are occurring in middle-income countries, underscoring the fact that income and wealth are not a guarantee of peace (Geneva Declaration Secretariat 2015; OECD 2016).
Armed groups have grown in number, diversity, and scope. Many of these groups are not linked to states. They include rebels, militias, armed trafficking groups, and violent extremist groups that may coalesce around a grievance, an identity, an ideology, or a claim to economic or political resources. Membership and alliances tend to evolve over time, depending on resources or leadership.
Violence is increasingly spreading beyond national borders: 18 out of 47 statebased violent conflicts were internationalized in 2016,5 more than reported in any year since the end of World War II, except for 2015, when 20 were internationalized (UCDP 2017).
The costs of these conflicts are enormous. Battle deaths tell only part of the story of the damage inflicted. Civilians are increasingly vulnerable, and much recent violence has occurred in urban areas and targeted public spaces (ICRC 2017). Between 2010 and 2016 alone, the number of civilian deaths in violent conflicts doubled (UCDP 2017). Many more civilian deaths result from indirect effects of conflict, such as unmet medical needs, food insecurity, inadequate shelter, or contamination of water (Small Arms Survey 2011; UNESCWA 2017).
Violent conflict is forcibly displacing people in record numbers. An estimated 65.6 million people are now forcibly displaced from their homes, driven primarily by violence (UNHCR 2017). Between 2005 and 2016, the number of internally displaced persons increased more than fivefold (UNDP 2016; UNHCR 2017). The number of refugees nearly doubled over the same period, with the majority (55 percent) of refugees coming from Afghanistan, the Republic of South Sudan, and Syria (UNHCR 2017).
More than half of the world’s refugees are children, and many of them have been separated from their families (UNHCR 2017). Violent conflict affects men and women differently. While men make up the majority of combatants during conflict and are more likely to die from the direct effects of violence, women also face a continuum of insecurity before, during, and after conflict (CrespoSancho 2017). Sexual and gender-based violence tends to be higher in conflict and postconflict settings, as does recruitment of girls into trafficking, sexual slavery, and forced marriage (Crespo-Sancho 2017; Kelly 2017; UNESCWA 2017; UN SecretaryGeneral 2015; UN Women 2015). In insecure contexts, girls’ mobility is often highly restricted, limiting their access to school, employment, and other opportunities (UN Women 2015). For children and youth, the long-term effects of exposure to violence and the adversities of daily life in a high-violence context are associated with a range of challenges (Miller and Rasmussen 2010). These include increased risk of perpetrating violence or being a victim of violence later in life, psychological trauma, and negative effects on cognitive and social development (Betancourt et al. 2012; Blattman 2006; Huesmann and Kirwil 2007; Leckman, Panter-Brick, and Salah 2014; Shonkoff and Garner 2012).
The costs associated with the economic losses caused by conflict put a severe strain on state capacity. Afghanistan’s per capita income has remained at its 1970s level due to the continued war, and Somalia’s per capita income has dropped by more than 40 percent over the same period (Mueller and Tobias 2016). Such effects can spread to surrounding countries in the region. On average, countries bordering a high-intensity conflict experience an annual decline of 1.4 percentage points in gross domestic product (GDP) and an increase of 1.7 points in inflation (Rother et al. 2016).
5. UCDP (2017) defines internationalized conflict as those where one side is a state and one side is nonstate, and where an outside state intervenes on behalf of one of these.
The Need for Prevention in an Interdependent World
The nature of violent conflict is not changing in isolation. The increase in violent conflicts has emerged in a global context where the balance of geopolitical power is in flux and a push for more inclusive governance is bringing new voices and new demands. Proxy wars are no longer the exclusive purview of traditional great powers. At the same time, the number of societies that have adopted more inclusive forms of political, economic, and cultural governance has grown rapidly over the last 30 years. While this transition has occurred peacefully in many countries, it can—when not managed carefully— also create a space for contestation and conflict to emerge.
At the same time, fast-emerging global trends are affecting the way people and societies operate and interact. Advances in information and communication technology (ICT) represent great opportunities for innovation, growth, and the unfettered exchange of ideas. However, alongside opportunities are risks. ICT benefits and access are not available to all, and the so-called “digital divide” threatens to widen the gaps between high- and lowincome countries. New technologies and automation are rapidly transforming industries, with the effect of reducing the need for unskilled or semiskilled labor in industries. Interconnectivity also enables transnational organized crime to flourish, allows the rapid transmission of violent ideologies, and leaves economies vulnerable to cybercrime.
Climate change, too, presents new challenges, especially to poor and vulnerable countries and communities (Nordas and Gleditsch 2007). By itself, climate change does not cause violent conflict. However, it does create major stress, especially in fragile situations where governments have limited means to help their populations adapt. Risks associated with climate change can combine with and exacerbate risks of violence through factors such as food insecurity, economic shocks, and migration (Marc, Verjee, and Mogaka 2015; Schleussner et al. 2016).
This new global landscape features significant demographic shifts that may create new stresses, as well as opportunities, for global and national systems. Already there are more young people in the world than at any other time in history—1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24—and the vast majority of young people live in low-income countries, many of them already affected by conflict (UN DESA 2015). In Africa, 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25 (UN DESA 2015). Harnessing the potential of a growing young population is an important challenge. In addition, population growth, while a positive force for economies, also puts pressure on labor markets, which will have to absorb the estimated 600 million new workers entering the workforce in the next 10 years (ILO 2016). These demographic shifts are occurring against the backdrop of slow and uneven global economic growth. World trade value, merchandise exports, and commercial trade services all grew substantially over the past 70 years, contributing to consolidating peace in the aftermath of World War II. However, trade growth has been marked in recent years by downturns and a prolonged period of only modest improvement since the global financial crisis of 2007. In 2016, trade growth fell, for the fifth consecutive year, below 3 percent. Meanwhile, foreign direct investment has also been decreasing, adversely affecting growth and productivity (Hale and Xu 2016). These trends do not directly affect violent conflict; however, they do put additional stresses on systems and people and can increase the tendency for groups to mobilize for perceived grievances.
The Pathways for Peace Framework
Prevention is about creating incentives for actors to choose actions that resolve conflict without violence. An important corollary is that inclusive approaches to prevention should recognize and address group grievances early. Violence is highly path- dependent: once it takes hold, incentives and systems begin to reorient themselves in ways that sustain violence. Effective prevention requires acting before grievances harden and the threat of violence narrows the choices available for leaders and elites, understood as groups who hold power or influence in a society. A society’s ability to manage conflict constructively is tested continuously by risks that push it toward violence and by opportunities to advance sustainable development and peace. To help to visualize how these risks and opportunities act on and within a society, this book introduces the term “pathway” for the trajectory that every society shapes through the constant, dynamic interaction of its actors, institutions, and structural factors over time. As figure ES.1 illustrates, a society encounters many dimensions and levels of risks and opportunities that affect its pathway. The pathway construct helps to conceptualize the temporal aspect of prevention. The behavior of domestic actors will adjust to changing events and the decisions of other actors. Reforming institutions to sustain peace and addressing structural factors that underpin grievances can take longer. This temporal aspect is important for international action. Development actors, for example, tend to decrease their engagement or withdraw altogether when risks escalate. Political actors tend to engage only when the risk of violence is high or violence is already present. Instead, viable, sustained action in support of preventing violence is needed throughout policies and programs.
Why People Fight: Inequality, Exclusion, and Injustice
Some of the greatest risks of violence today stem from the mobilization of perceptions of exclusion and injustice, rooted in inequalities across groups (Collier and Hoeffler 2004; Cramer 2003; Fearon and Laitin 2003; Lichbach 1989; Østby 2013). When an aggrieved group assigns blame to others or to the state for its perceived economic, political, or social exclusion, then emotions, collective memories, frustration over unmet expectations, and a narrative that rouses a group to violence can all play a role in mobilization to violence (Nygard et al. 2017; Cederman, Wimmer, and Min 2010; Justino 2017; Sargsyan 2017).
People come together in social groups for a variety of subjective and objective reasons. They may share feelings, history, narratives of humiliation, frustrations, or identities that motivate them to collective action in different ways, at different times, and in different situations. Perceptions of inequality between groups often matter more in terms of mobilization than measured inequality and exclusion (Rustad 2016; Stewart 2000, 2002, 2009). This pattern of exclusion include inequality in the distribution of and access to political opportunity and power among groups, including access to the executive branch and the police and military. Political exclusion provides group leaders with the incentive to mobilize collective action to force (or negotiate) change.
Exclusion that is enforced by state repression poses a grave risk of violent conflict (Bakker, Hill, and Moore 2016; Piazza 2017; Stewart 2002). Countries where governments violate human rights, especially the right to physical integrity, through practices such as torture, forced disappearances, political imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings, are at a higher risk for violent conflict (Cingranelli et al. 2017). In these contexts, repression creates incentives for violence by reinforcing the perception that there is no viable alternative for expressing grievances and frustration.
Societies that offer more opportunities for youth participation in the political and economic realms and provide routes for social mobility for youth tend to experience less violence (Idris 2016; Paasonen and Urdal 2016). With the global youth population increasing, the ability to harness the energy and potential of youth presents a strong opportunity for this “unique demographic dividend,” as the 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 notes (UN Security Council 2015).
Similarly, cross-country studies find evidence that high levels of gender inequality and gender-based violence in a society are associated with increased vulnerability to civil war and interstate war and the use of more severe forms of violence in conflict (Caprioli et al. 2007; GIWPS and PRIO 2017; Hudson et al. 2009; Kelly 2017). Changes in women’s status or vulnerability, such as an increase in domestic violence or a reduction in girls’ school attendance, often are viewed as early warnings of social and political insecurity (Hudson et al. 2012). Prevention of violent conflict requires a strong focus on women’s experiences and on measures to ensure their participation in political, social, and economic life. Some evidence suggests that when women take leadership roles and are able to participate meaningfully in peace negotiations, the resulting agreements tend to last longer and there is greater satisfaction with the outcomes (O’Reilly, Ó Súilleabháin, and Paffenholz 2015; Paffenholz et al. 2017; Stone 2015; UN Women 2015).
What People Fight Over: Arenas of Contestation
Inequality and exclusion manifest most starkly in policy arenas related to access to political power and governance; land, water, and extractive resources; delivery of basic services; and justice and security. As the spaces where livelihoods and well-being are defined and defended, access to these arenas can become, quite literally, a matter of life or death. The arenas reflect the broader balance of power in society, and as such, they are highly contestable and often resistant to reform.
Competition for power is an age-old source of conflict. Power balances and imbalances can put a society at risk of violence. Experience shows that more inclusive and representative power-sharing arrangements lower the risk of violent conflict. Decentralizing, devolving, or allowing autonomy of subnational regions or groups can help to accommodate diversity and lower the risk of violence at the national level.
Resources such as land, water, and extractives are traditional sources of friction. The effects of climate change, population growth, and urbanization are intensifying these risks. Disputes over resources have spilled over into violent conflict and instability across the world. Improving the sharing of resources and benefits derived from them as well as strengthening local conflict resolution mechanisms are important areas of focus.
Service delivery does not have a direct relationship with violence, but it affects state legitimacy and the ability of the state to mediate conflicts (Brinkerhoff, Wetterberg, and Dunn 2012; Sacks and Larizza 2012; Stel and Ndayiragiie 2014). The way in which services are delivered and the inclusiveness and perceptions of fairness in service delivery matter as much as— perhaps more than—the quality of services delivered (Sturge et al. 2017).
Security and justice institutions that operate fairly and in alignment with the rule of law are essential to preventing violence and sustaining peace. Accountability of security forces to the citizen, stronger community policing approaches, and improved efficiency of redress mechanisms are among the responses often needed.
What Works: How Countries Have Managed Contestation and Prevented Violent Conflict
Drawing on the pathways framework, the study describes the experience of national actors in three key areas: shaping the incentives of actors for peace, reforming institutions to foster inclusion, and addressing structural factors that feed into grievances. From the case studies analyzed for this report, common patterns emerge even if specific prescriptions do not. Overall, the studies suggest that effective prevention is a collective endeavor—led domestically, built on existing strengths, and with international and regional support.6
A central dilemma for all countries examined is that the incentives for violence are often certain and specific to an individual or group, while the incentives for peace are often uncertain, and diffuse (World Bank 2017). To shape incentives, governments took advantage of transition moments to introduce both long-term reforms or investments targeting structural factors, while implementing immediate initiatives that buttressed confidence in commitments to more inclusive processes.
The more successful cases mobilized a coalition of domestic actors to influence incentives toward peace, bringing in the comparative advantages of civil society, including women’s groups, the faith community, and the private sector to manage tensions. Decisive leadership provided incentives for peaceful contestation, not least by mobilizing narratives and appealing to norms and values that support peaceful resolution (World Bank 2011).7
Nevertheless, before or after violence, countries that have found pathways to sustainable peace have eventually tackled the messy and contested process of institutional reform. Expanding access to the arenas of contestation has been key to increasing representation and alleviating grievances related to exclusion. Often, the transition moment that led to sustainable peace was based on a shift away from security-led responses and toward broader approaches that mobilized a range of sectors in support of institutional reforms.
Alongside institutional reform, however, in many cases, governments invested in addressing structural factors, launching programs targeting socioeconomic grievances, redistributing resources, and addressing past abuses even while violence was ongoing.
In these experiences, the greatest challenge lay not so much in accessing knowledge, but in the contentious process of identifying and prioritizing risks. Part of the reason for this difficulty is that violence narrowed the options for forward-looking decision making needed to invest in institutional or structural conditions for sustainable peace. Conflict did not bring a windfall of resources; instead it brought a move to equip and support police, military, or security operations that strained national budgets. Furthermore, preventive action was at times unpopular, with popular demands for visible and tangible security measures trumping longer-term, more complex responses addressing the causes of violence.
In these processes, formal political settlements, or at least durable settlements, have been important, but also rare events. In some cases, political settlements have been applied only to address specific aspects of conflict, while underlying causes were targeted more comprehensively through government action. In others, political settlements were not used as part of the prevention process at all.
6. The insights are drawn from the background country case studies and research commissioned for this study and a review of broader relevant literature. The case studies cover Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, the Kyrgyz Republic, Malawi, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, Republic of South Sudan, and Tunisia.
7. In addition to transition moments like a natural disaster or global economic shock, opportunities can arise when a society’s tolerance for violence changes.
A Global System for Prevention under Stress
Since the end of the Cold War, the multilateral architecture for conflict prevention and postconflict peacebuilding has struggled to adapt to a fast-changing situation in the field and globally. Despite many challenges, there have been clear achievements.
At a systemic level, comprehensive international normative and legal frameworks are in place to regulate the tools and conduct of war; protect human rights; address global threats including climate change, terrorism, and transnational criminal networks; and promote inclusive approaches to development (the SDGs).
Operationally, the United Nations and regional organizations such as the African Union and the European Union have provided global and regional forums to coordinate international responses to threats to peace and stability. The result has been important tools—including preventive diplomacy, sanctions, and peacekeeping—that have proven instrumental in preventing conflicts, mediating cease-fires and peace agreements, and supporting postconflict recovery and transition processes.
As conflicts have increasingly originated from and disrupted the core institutions of states, international and regional initiatives have accompanied these changes with greater coordination and resource pooling among development, diplomatic, and security efforts. While this evolution is welcome, with conflicts becoming more fragmented, more complex, and more transnational, these tools are being profoundly challenged by the emergence of nonstate actors, ideologies at odds with international humanitarian law, and the increased sponsorship of proxy warfare. These conclusions increase the need to focus on the endogenous risk factors that engender violence and on support for countries to address their own crises.
Building Inclusive Approaches for Prevention
Prevention is a long-term process of reinforcing and steering a society’s pathway toward peace. This study amassed overwhelming evidence that prevention requires sustained, inclusive, and targeted attention and action. Deep changes are needed in the way national, regional, and international actors operate and cooperate so that risks of violent conflict are identified and addressed before they translate into crisis. However, few incentives now exist for this coordination, collaboration, and cooperation. Instead, preventive action often focuses on managing the accompanying crisis rather than addressing underlying risks, even when solutions to the underlying risk are available.
Pathways for Peace highlights three core principles of prevention.
- Prevention must be sustained over the time needed to address structural issues comprehensively, strengthen institutions, and adapt incentives for actors to manage conflict without violence. It is easy, but wrong, to see prevention as a tradeoff between the short and long term. Sustainable results require sustained investment in all risk environments, while development investments should be integrated into overarching strategies with politically viable short-term and medium-term actions. The need for sustainability requires balancing effort and resources so that action does not reward only crisis management.
- Prevention must be inclusive and build broad partnerships across groups to identify and address grievances that fuel violence. Too often, preventive action is focused on the demands of actors that control the means of violence and positions of power. In complex, fragmented, and protracted conflicts,
an inclusive approach to prevention puts an understanding of grievances and agency at the center of national and international engagement. It recognizes the importance of understanding people and their communities: their trust in institutions, confidence in the future, perceptions of risk, and experience of exclusion and injustice.
- Prevention must proactively and directly target patterns of exclusion and institutional weaknesses that increase risk. Successful prevention depends on pro-active and targeted action before, during, and after violence. Modern conflicts arise when groups contest access to power, resources, services, and security; alongside efforts to mitigate the impacts of violence and de-escalate conflict, preventive action must actively and directly target grievances and exclusion across key arenas of risk.
Devising National Strategies for Prevention
The state bears the primary responsibility for preventing conflict and shaping a country’s pathway toward sustainable development and peace. The following are some recommendations for effective national action in partnering for prevention.
Monitor the Risks of Conflict
Engaging early in preventive action requires a shift from early warning of violence and toward awareness of risk:
Identify real and perceived exclusion and inequality, which requires strengthening the capacity for identifying, measuring, and monitoring SDG indicators8
- Strengthen national early warning systems and design systems that can effectively influence early response by national actors at various levels
- Harness technology to improve monitoring, especially in remote and conflict-affected areas, including through application of ICT and real-time data collection methods • Ensure that surveys and data collection measure inequality, exclusion, and
perceptions and are conflict-sensitive and capacity-sensitive.9
Address Different Dimensions of Risk
National actors often deal with multiple risks simultaneously with limited budgets, political capital, and time:
- Bring institutions and actors together under a peace and development framework that prioritizes the risk of conflict
- Target risk spatially with investments and other actions in border and peripheral areas where grievances and violence may be more likely to exist
- Manage the impact of shocks when tensions are high
- Target action and resources to identified risks in arenas where exclusion and grievances arise over access to power, resources, services, and security and justice, and manage contestation and conflict by redistributive policies, among other possible actions.
Aligning Peace, Security, and Development for Prevention
One of the objectives of Pathways for Peace is to stimulate new thinking about the relationship of development, peace, and security—a relationship that takes concrete form in inclusive approaches to preventing conflict. A coherent strategy that can be sustained over time demands levels of integrated planning and implementation that are often challenging to development, security, humanitarian, and political actors. Each has comparative advantages at different stages of risk but sustained, inclusive, and targeted prevention requires that they coordinate more effectively. The following are some recommendations for better alignment.
Ensure that Security and Development Approaches Are Compatible and Mutually Supportive
Mutual support requires rebalancing growth and stability targets, as aggrieved groups
whose exclusion poses a conflict risk may not be the poorest and may not be in areas of high potential for economic growth. Where security interventions are warranted, social services and economic support should also be provided so that security forces are not the only interface between the state and the population.
Build Capacity and Allocate Resources to Ensure that Grievances Are Mediated Quickly and Transparently
Capacity building can be addressed through training, development of guidance, and strengthening of institutions. Support for national and local-level mediation can be integrated into planning and programming at the local level (Rakotomalala 2017).
Engage Actors beyond the State in Platforms for Dialogue and Peacebuilding
Many actors involved in conflict today are not directly accessible to state institutions or agents. Inclusive prevention entails a focus on strengthening the capacity of the society, not just the state, for prevention. Inclusive prevention is a bottom-up process that should involve as broad a spectrum of people and groups as possible. Coalitions should reflect the importance of young people, women, the private sector, and civil society organizations.
Adopt a People-Centered Approach
A people-centered approach should include mainstreaming citizen engagement in development programs and local conflict resolution to empower underrepresented groups such as women and youth. Service delivery systems should seek to make people partners in the design and delivery of public services through mainstreaming participatory and consultative elements for all planning and programming in areas at risk of violent conflict.
Overcoming Barriers to Cooperation in Prevention
Development organizations need to adjust incentives toward prevention. International development actors and multilateral development banks are constrained by mandates, intergovernmental agreements, and institutional culture from engaging on sensitive risks with governments. Development organizations should ensure that prevention has a higher priority in their programming.
Share Risk Assessments
In the absence of a coherent process to share data, many organizations carry out assessments of different risks using different indicators. These data mostly remain internal to these organizations and are not shared with the national government or other relevant national actors, mostly because this information is often seen as politically sensitive. Risk monitoring and assessment methodologies also must become more widely shared, with specific focus on developing shared metrics across the various risks to development, peace, and security.
Commit to Collective Mechanisms to Identify and Understand Risks at Regional, Country, and Subnational Levels
The absence of effective mechanisms translates into ad hoc and fragmented actions among international partners.
Ensure That Joint Risk Assessments Articulate Jointly Agreed Priorities
Joint risk assessments should be based on agreed indicators that allow trends to be monitored over time. For example, the joint United Nations–European Union– World Bank Recovery and Peacebuilding Assessment offers one such approach for aligning priorities. Currently used mostly during and immediately following conflict, this approach could be used further upstream and developed into joint platforms for prioritizing risk.
Build Stronger Regional and Global Partnerships
Efforts should include the strengthening of regional analyses and strategies for prevention and the sharing of risk analyses to the extent possible at a regional level.
Explore New Investment Approaches for Prevention
Financing for prevention remains risk averse and focused on crises. As a result, current models are too slow to seize windows of opportunity and too volatile to sustain prevention. Complex and multilevel efforts are often constrained by the lack of needed and readily available resources, resulting in ad hoc resource mobilization attempts to generate financing from donors, often resulting in delayed and suboptimal responses. Options include strengthening support for financing national capacity for prevention, combining different forms of financing, and strengthening financing for regional prevention efforts.
8. Several SDG targets and indicators could have relevance for assessing risks of horizontal inequality. Specifically, key core targets include SDG5 (5.1: End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere); SDG10 (10.2: By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic, and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic or other status; 10.3: Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies, and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies, and action in this regard); and SDG16 (16.3: Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all; 16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision making at all levels).
9. Implementing the monitoring of perceptions and issues such as horizontal inequality requires several important safeguards to be in place. Governments and other actors can use questions on perceptions, identity, and aspirations to identify certain groups, target them for security purposes, deny people’s rights, or support implementation of exclusionary policies. It is essential that very strong attention be given to protecting individual and collective rights of the population interviewed and the people collecting the information.
A comprehensive shift toward preventing violence and sustaining peace offers life-saving rewards. Pathways for Peace presents national and international actors an agenda for action to ensure that attention, efforts, and resources are focused on prevention. Today, the consequences of failing to act together are alarmingly evident, and the call for urgent action has perhaps never been clearer. The time to act is now.
- Executive Summary
- Full Report
- Chapter 1. A Surge and Expansion of Violent Conflict
- Chapter 2. The Need for Prevention in an Interdependent World
- Chapter 3. Pathways for Peace
- Chapter 4. Why People Fight: Inequality, Exclusion, and a Sense of Injustice
- Chapter 5. What People Fight Over: Arenas of Contestation
- Chapter 6. Country Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict
- Chapter 7. The International Architecture for Prevention
- Chapter 8. Pursuing Pathways for Peace: Recommendations for Building Inclusive Approaches for Prevention
- Appendix A - Thematic Papers and Case Studies