South Africa’s conflict prevention efforts must be more strategic

South Africa appears to be at a crossroads in defining its foreign policy priorities; particularly in terms of its peace and security engagements in Africa. On the one hand, the country still places peace and security engagements at the core of its priorities in the continent. On the other hand, its approaches to peace and security are increasingly being questioned. This comes at a time when there is a growing drive to bring prevention to the core of global responses to conflict; the result of an increasing realisation that such responses need to become more proactive, inclusive and ultimately more effective. Acknowledging that the international community has not reached the potential of its peace and security tools, theUnited Nations (UN) conducted three reviews on its approaches to peace operations, peacebuilding and women, peace and security last year. The reviews reinforced the point that conflict prevention must be brought to the forefront of all UN initiatives. Similarly, the African Union (AU), in its efforts to achieve its vision for Africa in 2063, has declared its intentions to silence the guns by 2020. South Africa has long advocated for better use of conflict-prevention mechanisms internationally, including for tools like mediation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding support to be better integrated. South Africa could therefore become a more active player in assisting the UN and AU as the organisations rethink their conflict-prevention initiatives. South Africa could also assume a more important role in preventing the outbreak of conflicts on the continent. This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies. Read full article...

Waging Peace: UN Peace Operations Confronting Terrorism and Violent Extremism

Of the eleven countries most affected by terrorism globally, seven currently host UN peace operations. In countries affected by terrorism and violent extremism, peace operations will increasingly be called upon to adapt their approaches without compromising UN doctrine. But to date, there has been little exploration of the broader political and practical challenges, opportunities, and risks facing UN peace operations in complex security environments. This has created a gap between the policy debate in New York and the realities confronting UN staff on the ground. This policy paper aims to bridge this gap by examining the recent drive to integrate counterterrorism (CT) and preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) into relevant activities of UN peace operations, as well as the associated challenges and opportunities. It seeks to expand the scope of discussions beyond whether peace operations can “do CT” to how they can better support national governments and local communities in preventing terrorism and violent extremism. Based on extensive conversations with UN officials, member state representatives, and practitioners, the paper offers a number of recommendations. At the level of headquarters, the UN should: Improve its capacity to analyze and respond to the factors and grievances leading to radicalization and violence; Enhance system-wide dialogue, coherence, and policy guidance; and Prioritize objectives and capacities related to CT and P/CVE in mission mandates. To make field missions more effective, the UN should: Preserve and expand the space for dialogue with all parties; Enhance capacity for early warning and response; Integrate CT and P/CVE into compacts with host governments where relevant; Enhance mission engagement with civil society, women, and youth; Design integrated strategies...

In Fight Against Violent Extremism, Why Is Prevention Elusive?

Countering violent extremism has become a cottage industry in both the global North and South, as Daesh (also known as ISIS) and other transnational armed terrorist groups continue to threaten the very foundations on which national and international peace and stability have rested for decades. For the countries of the Sahel-Sahara and North Africa regions, brutally affected by the scourge of violence, countering violent extremism (CVE) has been embraced as the new overarching framework for a continued pursuit of the “war on terror.” Current Approaches and Limitations Under the CVE umbrella, these countries have multiplied initiatives and adopted various measures both at the national and regional levels to address the roots of radicalization, violent extremism, and terrorism. Efforts based on increasing education and cultural outreach—such as training imams to counter radical Islamic teachings—have become common. Some countries, with the active participation of civil society organizations, have devised national action plans that include the organization of inter-religious and inter-communal dialogue, as well as awareness-raising campaigns aimed at encouraging citizen engagement in the prevention and the fight against violent extremism. Still others have included in their national CVE strategy the creation of socioeconomic opportunities for youth and other marginalized groups to prevent their radicalization. Meanwhile, more traditional law and order-based counterterrorism approaches have also taken on more of a focus on prevention, rather than merely responding to the after-effects of attacks. This includes adopting legislative and policing frameworks to control, repress, and track terrorist activities; training, equipping and reorganizing national security forces and intelligence services; and enhancing border surveillance and check points. Some of these countries, because of porous borders and...

Freeing Prevention From Conflict: Investing in Sustaining Peace

As the preparations for the May 2016 United Nations General Assembly’s high-level debate on peace and security intensify, prevention seems to be on everyone’s lips. The three 2015 UN global peace and security reviews that frame the debate have conveyed a common message: that the political instruments, tools, and mechanisms the world body deploys to address violent conflict all attest to the failure of early prevention. All three reports, not surprisingly, recommended a greater focus on prevention. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his follow-on report on the recommendations of one of these reviews, by the High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO), wholeheartedly endorsed this. The skeptics among political observers and those who have followed UN reforms over the years should not be blamed for asking, “So, what’s new?” This is not the first time that the UN and its member states, coming to grips with the woeful shortcomings of their responses to old and emerging global threats, have rediscovered the virtues of prevention. Nothing concentrates the mind more than imminent crisis and once that danger dissipates so does the political will needed, they would argue, to make prevention the first port of call before the outbreak of violence. To prove these skeptics wrong, it is necessary to find ways to help move the prevention discourse from rhetoric to action and to help member states deliver on their commitment to make prevention truly the core function of the UN. At least two inter-related strategies and conversations are needed. The first is to fully appreciate the policy, programmatic, and financial implications of this renewed focus on prevention, particularly as...

Getting clear about conflict prevention at the UN

The 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (UN) last year has prompted new questions about the organisation’s ability to effectively address peace and security problems around the globe. The UN peace and security architecture has expanded dramatically since the Cold War. This has partly been in response to the changing nature of conflict, but it is also a reflection of the organisation’s own ability to provide effective responses. After an increased number of complex intra-state conflicts in the 1990s, the world saw a sharp decrease in numbers in the early 2000s. However, in the past five years, these numbers have again been on the rise. This is particularly important for peace operations; perhaps the most visible of international responses to conflicts. Peace operations have, at best, delivered mixed results. This is particularly true for robust missions, which are drawn out over prolonged periods, and face increased challenges in their ability to deal with transnational threats such as terrorism and the protection of civilians. Attempts to reform the UN’s peace and security mechanisms have been undertaken since the 1990s. The so-called Brahimi Report of 1999 was a response to the challenges faced by UN peacekeeping in the ’90s, especially the failure to protect civilians in Bosnia and prevent the genocide in Rwanda. The report led to positive changes – including the creation of the UN Peacebuilding Architecture in 2005. Problems of effectiveness, funding, coordination and coherence remain, however. Peace operations have not, for example, been able to fulfil the goals of protecting civilians; nor has the UN been effective in preventing conflicts and sustaining peace. It is...
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