A Future for the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding in the Framework of the Sustaining Peace Agenda?
© United Nations. Projections on Sustainable Development Goals and 70th Anniversary of the United Nations
Having proved influential in establishing the New Deal framework and in shaping and securing SDG 16, the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS/the Dialogue) finds itself at a crossroads. Can the Dialogue move beyond a New-Deal-centric frame of reference and rediscover its impetus in the context of the Sustaining Peace Agenda?
The IDPS was launched in 2008 with the aim of defining a new framework for engaging with countries affected by fragility and conflict, and was a key player in the formulation and adoption of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States in 2011 in Busan. The Dialogue is an inclusive partnership between g7+ member states, civil society, and donors. It has proved instrumental in promoting the nexus between peace and development, and has championed nationally owned multi-stakeholder approaches to inclusive peace and state-building embedded in the New Deal. The IDPS constructively incorporated civil society into its structure, and advocated for peace to be included in SDG 16 of the 2030 Agenda—a lasting achievement. Through the piloting of the New Deal framework, the Dialogue has also played an important role for example in Timor Leste and Somalia, as well as in the Mano River countries in the wake of the Ebola outbreak.
Yet the New Deal is no longer the driving international framework for peace and statebuilding. This means that the IDPS has lost the unifying “project,” which brought together the three constituencies that piloted the New Deal at country level, and successfully advocated for SDG 16. The IDPS is increasingly seen by its constituencies as a top-down, inward-looking forum that is overly concerned with procedural issues and discussions in closed circles rather than advocating for the promotion of comprehensive approaches to peace and statebuilding. In addition, the Dialogue has an overly heavy governance structure at international level, which can seem off-putting to some members as well as to potential partners and alliances now that the New Deal is no longer seen as the main peace and statebuilding framework, but one of several frameworks. The IDPS’ three constituencies have developed a trend of working individually rather than collectively. The constraints on the secretariat’s role and chronic underfunding also mean that it has difficulties to drive the agendas it stands for.
The IDPS, therefore, finds itself at crossroads. Has it achieved its objectives, and should be put out to pasture? If so, the upcoming ten year anniversary in 2018 could be an appropriate occasion to herald the Dialogue’s success and gracefully close it. Or does the IDPS have a role to play as part and parcel of the promotion of the Sustaining Peace Agenda? We would argue there is a continued role for the Dialogue – and an important one, but the Dialogue has to adapt to the current reality.
For the IDPS to continue to be relevant it needs to move away from an exclusively New-Deal-oriented perspective towards a focus on prevention of violent conflict contributing to the UN Sustaining Peace Agenda. The Dialogue should also seek to go beyond purely technical responses and reengage at the political level—a central aspect of its activity in its first couple of years, when the IDPS mobilized constituencies for the New Deal—to provide political solutions that are genuinely locally-owned, locally-led, and locally-driven, and facilitate the inclusion of all stakeholders. In this respect the Dialogue has the advantage of already being normatively aligned with the intended direction of travel of the UN Secretary-General, namely in terms of the Prevention Agenda grounded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals—in particular, Goal 16; the Women, Peace and Security Agenda; UNSC Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace, and Security; and UNSC Resolution 2282 on Sustaining Peace. Moreover, given that inclusion is a central tenet of the Prevention Agenda, it will ultimately require multi-stakeholder platforms such as the IDPS to help to successfully put the Agenda into practice.
The Dialogue could have a comparative advantage in terms of country-level activities in the spirit and context of the Sustaining Peace Agenda. What could this concretely entail? Could the IDPS contribute to facilitating pathways to peace in specific g7+ member country contexts? In South Sudan, this would have to happen against the current backdrop of a stalled regionally-led peace process, a government-owned National Dialogue process that does not include key stakeholders, a separate inter-religious dialogue, a humanitarian crisis, and the incoherent positioning of major OECD members. In such a context the Dialogue could fill the vacuum and could play a pivotal role in bringing together stakeholders for starting an inclusive dialogue encompassing national, regional, and international constituencies—in the very spirit of the IDPS—to facilitate pathways to a renewed peace and reconstruction process. The multilaterally-led rethink of the Prevention Agenda provides the Dialogue with an opportunity to prove useful again.
The approach to facilitating dialogue must be more agile and responsive, politically informed, and display a lighter touch. For this to happen, reform of the IDPS governance structure would be necessary. The Implementation Working Group of the Dialogue should be redefined and take on a thematic role—also to signal that the Dialogue was never meant to be an implementer, in spite of the name. The Steering Group should be agile and flexible and the Global Meeting called when there are achievements to report and lessons to be shared. In this respect, the proposed shift to a country-level focal-point system is a step in the right direction, but will only prove effective with complete constituency buy-in.
The secretariat would need to be strengthened and include the following functions: communication, monitoring, and alliance-building capacities, to be more proactive and able to help drive processes. Ensuring that the Dialogue’s activities are carried out through the facilitation of the secretariat would also help to underline the value added of the IDPS’ different constituencies working together, and thus emphasize the overall value added of the Dialogue as a joint entity. One way this could be done is for the secretariat to include a small group of senior individuals appointed by and linked to the three constituencies, which could engage at both the country and global levels, and would help to make the IDPS visible again as a partnership. The timeframe for all of these changes also needs to be rethought, as these changes would have to be implemented without delay.
In conclusion, there is potentially a future for the IDPS, but any successful future incarnation would have to be based on a highly political agenda. As such—and most importantly—any effort to re-focus, re-organize, reenergize, and streamline the Dialogue will be meaningless without serious political commitment to making this partnership work. This, in turn, would require a considerable amount of political courage, along with the formulation of strategies to overcome resistance. If this kind of commitment is not forthcoming, a more realistic and workable option could be to scale down the IDPS by integrating its lessons learned and achievements into alternative dialogue forums. The Dialogue’s institutional apparatus could then be deactivated, while simultaneously making sure to maintain the networks and trust-relationships that the IDPS helped to establish and to reactivate them on an ad hoc basis when the need arises.
Written by Dr. Thania Paffenholz, IPTI Director, and Anne-Lise Klausen, institutional analyst and governance specialist and Partner, Nordic Consulting Group