Despite their stated purpose of reducing violence and laying the structural foundations for longer-term security, Stabilisation efforts have too often not only failed, but made conflict worse. The definitions of what ‘stabilisation’ constitutes appear ambiguous, resulting in poorly coordinated efforts that vary enormously in scope. Stabilisation practices have also been criticised as elite-centric, overly militarised, and exclusive of local populations. And yet as new stabilisation strategies, departments and institutions in the US and Europe attest, Stabilisation seems here to stay. In response this initiative will convene actors at multiple levels to rethink their approaches and collaboratively design more appropriate policies that better contribute to resilient peace.
Why we need to ‘Rethink Stability’
International stabilisation missions have become a major part of the international toolbox in conflict affected areas, mandated to improve the stability and peace of communities experiencing active armed conflict. And yet despite their stated purpose of reducing violence and laying the structural foundations for longer-term security, these efforts have too often not only failed, but made conflict worse. Questions remain about which interests are really being ‘stabilised’, and whether current operations are ultimately enabling local and national actors to manage their own security challenges.
In response, Interpeace is leading a two-year initiative called Rethinking Stability in partnership with the German Federal Foreign Office, the Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik (BAKS), and The Atlantic Council. It will seek to revisit and question the conceptual and operational norms behind stabilisation efforts in the interests of improving the prospect of future work contributing to lasting peace.
Activities will be centred around a series of frank dialogue sessions at local, national and international levels, bilateral meetings, and original research papers. These are designed both to improve coordination between different stabilisation actors, whose disparate policies and actions can otherwise prove out of sync or even contradictory, and to build a stronger community of practice better able to respond to sources of instability.
Key emergent themes
There are many known issues to work through. For example, the understood definitions and implied expectations of ‘stabilisation’ vary enormously from merely instigating a ceasefire all the way up to accompanying a full statebuilding agenda. This conceptual ambiguity results in competing operational priorities between humanitarian, development, peace and security actors, where despite numerous efforts to overcome professional silos and improve Civil-Military cooperation, results remain elusive.
This is not helped by the way stabilisation efforts are staffed and funded. Operations regularly suffer from financial lopsidedness, with vast resources subsumed by ineffective Counter-Terror, Countering Violent Extremism, or military assistance work and diverted away from approaches more attuned to the fundamental objective of building trust and addressing the underlying structural drivers of violence. This can result in top-down, securitised stabilisation approaches distrusted by local populations and exclusive of the voices of those they purport to help. Far from building peace or stability, these approaches risk reinforcing experiences of political, social and economic exclusion that contribute to cycles of violence.
Stabilisation efforts are further undermined by upstream political developments such as how peace processes and mandates are designed. These are regularly elite-centric, technical, and short-term, promising much but unable to really deliver owing to the absence of long-standing, well financed, and process driven local approaches focused on rebuilding social contracts. Where only elite settlements are pursued, unless that settlement is inclusive and operates beyond the agreement towards working through its actual implementation, these type of ‘stabilisation’ mandates risk being a precursor to a sterile, negative peace that might stymie immediate violence but only at the cost of creating new conflict risks. Sadly this search for immediate ‘stability’ can actually prevent much needed social changes from taking place, and risk institutionalising and securitising conflict drivers.
These are significant problems for a field that appears slightly lost. Stabilisation activities ought to be politically inclusive processes designed to improve governance and build institutions able to recognise and respond to the real grievances behind people’s insecurity. There should be clearly defined goals and robust monitoring underpinning an exit strategy framed around the realisation of locally appropriate peace conditions. But instead, stabilisation work is too often conflict blind, overly reliant on hard security approaches, dislocated from local contexts, systems and needs, and unable to harness the locally embedded and trust enhancing approaches of local peacebuilders, humanitarians, and development actors.
How Interpeace will work with partners
Connecting these actors and bridging the gap between the immediate cessation of violence and longer-term stability through inclusive governance and peacebuilding has proved difficult. However, it is ultimately where gains have to be made to build genuine stability that is locally legitimate and trusted, and the Rethinking Stability initiative is a rare opportunity to try.
The initiative will offer opportunities for actors at multiple levels to design appropriate policies collaboratively that allocate the right instruments and resources at the right time, learning and improving together as they go. It will explore broader puzzles such as what a joined-up stabilisation/peacebuilding approach looks like, and where the balance lies between civilian and military components. Whilst drawing in lessons from multiple locations and experiences, it will keep an operational focus on the Sahel.