“Sustaining Peace”. “Peace and conflict continuum”. The “hinge”. These are some of the terms that pepper discussions of the ongoing reform of the United Nations’ work on conflict prevention and resolution and peacebuilding. In this interview of Oscar Fernández-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, we discuss the meaning of these terms and whether the reform is making a difference.
We hear a lot in UN discussions about peacebuilding and sustaining peace. What do those concepts entail and how have they evolved in recent years?
Oscar Fernández-Taranco: There has been a lot of evolution in the thinking on peacebuilding and sustaining peace over the past several years.
Peacebuilding and sustaining peace is extremely pertinent, given the changing nature of conflict and the fact that we’re seeing the huge amount of resources that are being accorded to situations where we haven’t undertaken preventive action or any prior peacebuilding activities. The costs of responding to crisis have become unsustainably high, in the area of $233 billion just in humanitarian response, peacekeeping operations and in-country refugee settlement costs over the past decade or so.
The review of the peacebuilding architecture in 2015 and the follow-up twin resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly of 2016 were extremely important and coined the term ‘sustaining peace’. Crucial to the sustaining peace concept is the fact that this is defined both as a goal and a process, involving activities aimed at preventing the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of violence. I think this is an important definition because it involves the aspect of prevention but also underscores that peacebuilding is not just something that happens after conflict. It spans, as the Secretary-General likes to say, across the peace and conflict continuum. So, this thinking now takes peacebuilding away from just the aftermath of conflict, and I think this has huge implications. It defines sustaining peace as something that has to address the root causes and drivers of conflict, and the concept of sustaining peace and peacebuilding is framed as fundamentally a political process.
Peacebuilding and sustaining peace inherently have a focus on political process, on political solutions. We need coherent, strategic frameworks that address the complexity of conflict in today’s world. This framework is also meant to address the fragmentation and the silos that exist, both within the United Nations and among Member States. In short, it’s a unifying concept. It basically posits the need for much more integrated, strategic and coherent work between the peace and security work of the UN with the efforts of development, human rights and humanitarian actors. It is really all about enhancing coherence, again both within the UN and across the UN system, and among the wider international community. This is part of the vision that the Secretary-General has made his own in the reform process, and I think it’s a very powerful one. The concept also addresses the need for national ownership and national leadership. Prevention cannot be something that is proposed or imposed from outside, this has to be something that actually builds on national processes, on a national vision, on national leadership.
Another, related, aspect of it is that it is also an agenda of inclusivity, addressing issues of exclusion and marginalization. To do good conflict prevention and good peacebuilding work, we need to have people at the center of our attention. And it’s not just a people-centered approach, but also a broad, all-of-society type of approach. It’s all about making sure that we are not excluding anybody.
Extremely important in the concept of sustaining peace is the notion of partnerships. Sustaining peace is not just something that is fundamentally at the core of what the UN system should be doing, it’s not just about the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) or the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), prevention is a core charter responsibility that spans across the UN system. But we’re not the sole organization involved in conflict prevention, peacebuilding and sustaining peace: there are very important references to the work of the international financial institutions, regional and sub-regional organizations, civil society and specifically with women and young people’s organizations, and the world of the private sector in the resolutions on the review of the peacebuilding architecture that coined ‘sustaining peace’.
In these twin resolutions, there is also a very important reference that speaks to the centrality of development, the 2030 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, and the entry points that are needed to work on prevention. The Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) plays an important role as the platform to have such discussions on prevention and peacebuilding because of its bridging, advisory and convening role vis-à-vis the Security Council, the General Assembly and ECOSOC.
And the last, crucial, point is the importance of adequate, sustained and predictable funding. There, the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) serves as an instrument, a pooled funding instrument, an investor of first recourse that is able to respond rapidly, flexibly and in a catalytic manner.
As part of the reform and PBSO and DPA coming together to form the new DPPA, we are prioritizing prevention and sustaining peace, and we are working to ‘mainstream’ sustaining peace throughout the peace and security pillar and the UN as a whole. What does that mean in practical terms?
One of the important implications of this concept for us is how we translate political analysis, risk analysis, and conflict analysis into opportunities for programming. How are we able to link the political thinking, the political work that the Department does with the wider UN system? Looking for entry points to see how we can support national mechanisms in addressing issues of peacebuilding and conflict prevention.
I think it is extremely important to remember that any good programming proposal centrally requires national ownership and inclusive process, but also that every preventive or peacebuilding initiative is very context-dependent. The context in the wider regional setting is another dimension of this, the regional dynamic that surrounds a conflict and the way it has evolved over time. It is important to contextualize the solutions that are supporting national initiatives in an inclusive manner.
This is all about translating the political objectives of peacekeeping operations or special political missions and linking them to the development work of the UN agencies, funds and programmes. This really speaks to the importance of linking planning, political analysis and strategy to programming.
The instruments that support this are on the one hand funding through the Peacebuilding Fund, a mechanism to provide the incentives and resources to enhance the synergies between missions and UN country teams, to create a notion of jointness in delivery, jointness in operational response, and to localize a lot of these solutions that are nationally driven and people-centered. This is a big task because it involves not just the analytics but also transforming the analytics into programmable activities.
And then, of course, making better use of the Peacebuilding Commission as a preventive platform, as the advisory platform to the Security Council. We need to invest a very significant amount of time into how we as the Secretariat to the Peacebuilding Commission can infuse the substance, the analytics, the operational support, the strategic, coherent advice that the Council could use in formulating mandates, especially when it comes to the renewal of mandates or the drawing down of missions. The reform and the new structures are allowing us to work in a much more integrated way, in a whole-of-pillar and cross-pillar approach, which the Secretary-General refers to as the horizontal and vertical integration of the UN.
And we are already seeing that PBSO now receives information and analysis we didn’t see before, and we are much more closely connected to the formulation of such analysis and of political strategy, which we can then reflect in PBF programming or in the focus of work of the PBC. We obviously have some way to go but we are all on the right track here.
The Secretary-General has referred to PBSO’s ‘hinge’ function to better connect the peace and security pillar and the development system, humanitarian actors, and the human rights pillar. Can you give us some examples of how this vertical and horizontal integration works in practice?
One of the most recent examples is Liberia, and how the Peacebuilding Commission as a platform has allowed the Departments to engage with Member States, the government in question and our colleagues from the field, to support the transition in that country over the past two years or so. In 2016, the UN came together to work with the Government of Liberia to formulate a peacebuilding transition strategy, which then became part of the mandate of the mission at the time, mandated by the Security Council. The Council also involved the Peacebuilding Commission in requesting it to support the Government of Liberia in its formulation but also the socialization and communication of this peacebuilding strategy so as to mobilize political support and resources to make the transitional strategy work. One of the challenges of all transitions is the capacity and the financial cliff that the UN system faces recurrently. So here, in Liberia, there was an attempt to prevent these types of scenarios from occurring, and to support the leadership and ownership of the government of Liberia of this process. The Security Council, the Peacebuilding Commission and the Executive Boards and entities of the UN came together as one to work in a more coherent and strategic manner.
Other examples include the discussions we have had on the national development plans of Sierra Leone and some of the Strategic Assessments to re-think the mandates of missions in the Central African Republic or Guinea-Bissau, where the respective PBC country configurations were able to inform the Security Council as to the dimensions of peacebuilding work that these missions could incorporate as part of their mandates to ensure greater synergies between the UN country teams, missions, governments and regional organizations to work together as one.
Another example is the way we have been working with the World Bank and the European Union (EU). The World Bank, the EU and the UN have agreed on a common methodology of what is called the Recovery and Peacebuilding Assessment (RPBA). This is a joint methodology that allows three institutions to deploy jointly, to undertake joint analysis, joint planning, and joint prioritization of the top peacebuilding and recovery activities that a situation might warrant. This was the case in the Central African Republic, which resulted in the Government of the Central African Republic adopting the results of this assessment as its own national strategy. The strategy was presented at the Brussels donor conference for the Central African Republic in November 2016, and as a result of that resource mobilization, the Government of the Central African Republic received support to make critical recovery and peacebuilding priority investments. The national framework for peacebuilding was also central in the last peace agreement signed between the Government and 14 armed groups. There continues to be constant reference to how this peace agreement is building on the recovery and peacebuilding framework. So, it just goes to show the centrality of political solutions as the framework is linked to peace and security, development, human rights and humanitarian response, all in one. It’s the application in real time and in a place where we see political solutions and the integration of the different pillars.
One further interesting example of how to translate a strategy into programmatic interventions is the Integrated Strategy on the Sahel, which Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, together with the Special Adviser on the Sahel, Ibrahim Tiaw, finalized under the leadership of the Deputy Secretary-General. The Peacebuilding Fund has been among the first investors of the strategy, supporting interventions across the Sahel that deal with cross-border programming issues, with social cohesion, the interface between civilian and security forces in very difficult terrain, addressing the issue of radicalization, the lack of state presence, helping the state return in order to deliver basic social services like security, justice and involving young women and men in peacebuilding processes. All in all, over the past two years, we have allocated more than a $140 million to these countries to support the Integrated Strategy.