The expectation that development cooperation should contribute to transform violent conflict has increased. Our new study shows: there is no lack of knowledge about what is needed for development cooperation to contribute to peace. There is a lack of implementation – especially as regards the primacy of prevention and the age-old question of policy coherence.
Development cooperation is increasingly taking place in states affected by violent conflict. The number of state and non-state armed conflicts is currently at a historically high level. In 2018, 37 countries worldwide were affected by violent conflict, 32 of which are cooperating partners of German development cooperation. As conflicts spread and intensify, the expectation that development cooperation constructively contributes to their resolution is also growing. According to OECD-DAC data, Germany has been one of the top-three donor countries in the „Conflict, Peace & Security“ sector since 2008. At the same time, development cooperation is confronted with the fact that current conflict dynamics put decades of development progress at risk. A recent study on Yemen, for example, shows that the conflict has already set the country’s development back by 21 years.
The nexus between peace and development is the focus of our recently published study “Peace and Development 2020: An Analysis of Recent Experiences and Findings”. Based on interviews with 30 international experts and a comprehensive review of policy documents and academic research, it elaborates the state of knowledge on the connection between peace and development. The report analyses current developments, experiences and challenges for the development-peace nexus and derives practice-oriented recommendations for German and international development cooperation. This post summarizes the key findings.
Current challenges of peace development
According to the experts surveyed, three global trends in particular are currently shaping the interplay between peace (building) and development (cooperation). Firstly, we are witnessing a global wave of domestic, societal transformations in both donor and recipient countries, which are having an impact on the design and the potential effectiveness of development cooperation. This specifically concerns the rise of nationalist, illiberal or in part openly authoritarian movements and leaders, and – partly associated with this – the increasing restrictions imposed on civil society actors. At the same time, an upsurge of new protest dynamics and forms is evident worldwide – from Hong Kong to Chile. Secondly, the experts identify changes in environmental conditions, in particular climate change and related conflicts over resources, as central challenges. Even if the exact links between climate change and violent conflict are still unclear, climate change obviously functions as a risk multiplier with enormous potential to destabilize societies. Thirdly, we can currently observe global political power shifts which, on the one hand, involve an alleged decline of “the West” and, on the other hand, the parallel rise of non-western actors who are also increasingly acting as donors in development cooperation and peacebuilding. All three trends are changing the background conditions influencing development, peace and their interplay. These changes are creating complex challenges for policies that aim at tackling the development-peace nexus.
The problematic narrowing of the nexus in policy and practice
There is a broad consensus in science and practice that there is a positive correlation between development and peace: development needs peace and peace needs development. At the same time, the interplay between development and peace processes is proving itself to be complex, partially contradictory and not bound to a linear logic. Thus, development processes are sometimes fraught with conflict, and a successful peace agreement does not automatically and directly pay off in terms of increased prosperity. This has direct consequences for development cooperation. Research shows, for example, that development aid in violent contexts can have counterproductive effects.
Problematic in this context is the narrow understanding of the development-peace nexus that characterizes current political debates and political practice and which, in our study, is criticized by experts from both the global North and South. Particularly in response to the increase in cross-border migration and refugee movements, the priorities of foreign and development policies have shifted noticeably in recent years: Current debates often focus on short-term stabilization or security, supplemented by humanitarian alleviation of acute suffering, rather than the creation of sustainable peace. As a result, international (development) cooperation is currently focusing less on conflict transformation and more on securing the status quo. Despite the ubiquitous emphasis on a prevention agenda, international politics continues to act primarily reactively. In addition, attention is focused on collective, large-scale violence at the national level at the expense of other, local, non-conventional and interpersonal forms of physical violence.
Recommendation 1: Understand peace development as a transformative project
A first recommendation of our study takes issue precisely with this narrow understanding of the nexus: Development cooperation that takes the connection between peace and development seriously and is oriented towards the goal of peace development, i.e. the simultaneous achievement of development and peace, needs to be focused on long-term support for transformation processes. This also requires long-term planning horizons, more flexible financing mechanisms and, last but not least, greater risk awareness and willingness to take risks.
Such a commitment does not only require continuing to be involved in challenging conflict situations, while complying with basic standards of development cooperation such as the do-no-harm principle and issues around the security of personnel. It also means getting involved in new partnerships that go beyond the classic spectrum of development cooperation partners. Many development actors are constantly working in high-risk environments, but not all projects are designed to cope with this risk. It is also crucial to communicate transparently the paths, goals and expectations associated with these risks. A transformation-oriented engagement in peace development requires sophisticated, context-specific analytical skills and capacities.
Recommendation 2: Implement findings and goals on prevention and coherence
A key finding of our study on the international engagement at the interface of development and peace is that, while knowledge gaps and uncertainties remain, the biggest challenge is not the lack of knowledge about what works, but rather the implementation of existing knowledge and policy commitments. Central paradigms of the debate, in particular the primacy of prevention and the postulate of coherence, are anything but new. Both internationally and in Germany, a large number of strategy papers and concepts have been published in recent years that provide a generally appropriate framework for promoting development and peace in conflict-affected states. However, these goals and strategies have yet to be consistently implemented.
This applies firstly to the primacy of conflict prevention as a central building block and leitmotif of international peace development. Those who regularly declare their commitment to prevention as a priority of German and international development cooperation must also provide the corresponding financial resources. An improved connection of early warning mechanisms with continuous analyses of prevention measures and more methodological flexibility in the evaluation of the impact of prevention would also be necessary.
A second central postulate concerns an age-old theme and problem of development cooperation: coherence. It must be ensured at various levels: within donor countries, among international donors and on the ground in states affected by conflicts. In Germany, as part of the adoption of the guidelines „Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace“ in 2017, various mechanisms were created to coordinate the activities of different ministries, but these are only just being initiated and should be evaluated at a later stage. At the international level, the debate on the Humanitarian Development Peace Nexus has provided important impulses for coordination in conflict zones, but these also need to be implemented. So far, the results are rather sobering. Consistently implementing the coherence principle requires novel organizational designs and institutional change.
The complexity of the interplay between development and peace processes does not lend itself to simple and short-term solutions. Also, and especially in conflict-affected contexts, development cooperation needs sustainable and long-term approaches – but it requires more flexibility at the same time.
This blog post summarizes the results of the study „Peace and Development 2020: An Analysis of Current Experiences and Findings„, which was conducted at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The report was written by Felix Bethke, Sophia Birchinger, Ben Christian, Melanie Coni-Zimmer, Julian Junk, Anton Peez, Simone Schnabel, Jens Stappenbeck, Antonia Witt, and Jonas Wolff.
Download (pdf): Wolff, Jonas/Witt, Antonia/Stappenbeck, Jens/Schnabel, Simone/Peez, Anton/Junk, Julian/Coni-Zimmer, Melanie/Christian, Ben/Birchinger, Sophia/Bethke, Felix S. (2020): Peace and Development 2020, An Analysis of Recent Experiences and Findings, Frankfurt/M.
A slightly different version of this article was also published on the PeaceLab-Blog.