That inter-ministerial competition doesn’t make for more successful foreign policy is a commonplace observation. However, it isn’t enough that all parts of government pull together, they must move together in the right direction.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has focused attention on the importance of a coherent foreign policy—notably across a wide range of policy areas. Thus for the moment we see energy security issues in the spotlight, and the likely and dramatic impacts of the war on global food security are only just beginning to emerge. In the 2017 policy guidelines, “Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace”, the German government undertook to coordinate its engagement in crisis prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding more closely. And today, according to the coalition agreement of the “Ampel” government, German foreign policy ought to “act from a single mould and develop joint strategies across ministries in order to increase the coherence of our international actions”. In March 2021, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock pointed to the significance of a coherent foreign policy in her opening speech on the conception of a National Security Strategy. To achieve this, Baerbock said, the relevant ministries would have to coordinate “much more closely” their “cooperation in the spheres of foreign, economic, energy and development policy with one another”. Clear objectives—yet the implementation remains difficult.
Cooperation Only in Times of Crisis
For a long time we have heard discussion of an expanded or comprehensive concept of security. However, its perception is still mostly limited to the instruments of military, diplomacy and development policy (also called “3D”: defence, diplomacy, development). Expert communities, on the other hand, are aware of the value of international police missions, for example, and understand that world financial and trade relations, energy and resource policy, global climate protection and other policy areas with an international reach can make important contributions to creating peace—or, in the negative case, to fuelling violent conflicts.
Nevertheless, in recent years representatives of the ministries for economy, finance and environment have rarely participated in interdepartmental coordination sessions on German engagement in fragile states. And when they do, it is usually only in the face of acute crisis. Conversely, when the Ministry for Economic Affairs discussed a strategy for German engagement in Africa or a raw materials strategy, questions of war and peace were usually left out, as if disputes over oil and minerals or subsidised food exports from the EU played no role in the conflict dynamics on the continent. Until now, considerations of this kind were only taken into account when people fleeing violence came knocking on Europe’s door—and then the issue of preventive foreign (economic) policy was gladly delegated to the development ministry.
Implementing the Guiding Principles for Peace Policy
While coherent interdepartmental cooperation in crisis prevention is still a construction site with few supporting walls, the picture has changed noticeably in recent years when it comes to dealing with acute crises. In day-to-day operations, coordination mechanisms have been established in which representatives of the ministries active on the ground engage in intensive exchange, as is clear from two studies commissioned by the Advisory Board for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding on the coherence for peace of German government policies and action. However, the results also show that the content of the coordinated approach still raises considerable questions: A clear orientation towards the guiding principles for peace policy, as formulated in the “2017 Crisis Guidelines”, could not be identified.
An analysis of the Africa-related guidelines and strategy papers of the German government and individual ministries has also shown, for example, that sustainable peace is not an overriding goal of these strategies, but is rather understood as a prerequisite for economic development. Another study, which examined German government policies in Mali and Niger, concludes that in the tension between counter-terrorism measures, migration policy, and loyalty to the alliance, ministries have not yet succeeded in developing an interdepartmental understanding of the measures that can contribute to creating sustainable and long term peace in these two countries.
Inter-ministerial country strategies–comparable to the U.S. Integrated Country Strategies–do not yet exist as an instrument of German foreign policy, thus there is no place where the content and coherence of such strategies can be grappled with, or where the pros and cons of different approaches can be argued over. Changing this should be a high priority for the German government; the development of country strategies could be introduced as a binding instrument in the National Security Strategy for countries with a substantial engagement from several ministries. Coherent policy alone does not create peace if it is not underpinned by a plausible strategy that sets out how positive outcomes can be achieved and harmful ones avoided.
Strengthen Coherence Internationally and Locally
German discussions on coherence all too often end with calls for more inter-ministerial coordination. However, coherence requires more than simply better coordination between different ministries in Berlin. Especially when conflicts escalate, there is often a sudden increase in media and political attention to certain countries and regions. At the same time, more (financial) resources become available, which in turn is reflected in a sudden increase in the number of projects and measures on the ground in the respective crisis contexts. For example, between 2013 and 2021 the financial scale of Germany’s engagement in Mali alone has multiplied from about 120 million euros to over 700 million euros.
There is a need for coordination not only with regard to the engagement of various German ministries, but also with regard to the activities of international organisations and other donor states, many of which are usually active in conflict regions. International policy coherence is not only hampered by the conflicting goals pursued by different states and organisations, but also by competitive thinking between donors who are competing for ideas and reputation, while also struggling to exert economic and political influence in their partner countries. Germany itself is, for the most part, involved not only bilaterally but in parallel contributes to EU and UN missions. In addition, there are the funded activities of civil society organisations, which are of great significance for civilian crisis prevention.
If we once again take Mali and the Sahel as examples, various donor coordination forums have emerged there in the past decade, such as the Sahel Alliance, the Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel or the Coalition for the Sahel. However, their mandates partly overlap and their relationship to each other is not fully clarified. Moreover, they are all dominated by France, which has a reputation for focusing primarily on short-term stabilisation and security, which counteracts structural peacebuilding engagement.
Policy coherence for peace should therefore not only be a concern for Germany at the national level, but also in Europe and internationally, as well as on the ground in conflict regions. However, increasing the coherence of international engagement in those places requires not only political will but also additional commitment, which not least requires the more personnel in the embassies.
Incorporate Local Knowledge and Needs
In all of this, the perspective of partner countries must not be lost. Only a commitment that is oriented towards the needs of those affected by crises and conflicts can actually help to avoid crises and create sustainable peace.
This requires appropriate analyses and contextual knowledge. Local actors must be involved, meaning not only the respective government representatives—whose legitimacy is often questioned—but also actors from civil society and academia. It is true that German ministries use various forms of conflict analysis and also have early warning systems. However, these are insufficient when it comes to systematically incorporating local knowledge. Moreover, the results and analyses are mostly reserved for the respective ministries and are only selectively shared and jointly evaluated.
Policy Coherence for Peace in the National Security Strategy
Germany’s National Security Strategy should make clear its commitment to the goal of policy coherence for peace and strengthen it. To this end, the Federal Government must not only ensure that ministries consistently orient themselves towards the guiding principle of sustainable peace, but, in addition, create suitable structures and processes to this end. Coherence also requires strategies that are adapted to the respective conflicts and plausibly set forth how peace can be achieved jointly by the ministries. Despite some progress in interdepartmental coordination in recent years, much remains to be done.
For partner countries in which several ministries are substantially involved, binding joint country strategies should be developed. The National Security Strategy could introduce such country strategies as an instrument. At the same time, it is clear that Germany’s efforts to strengthen policy coherence for peace must not end in Berlin. They must be continued and implemented internationally and above all on the ground in conflict regions and fragile states.
Coni-Zimmer and Grävingholt are members of the Federal Government’s Advisory Board for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding. They write here in a personal capacity.
This article was published in German on 49security blog on October 20, 2022. A longer version was published under the title “Kohärenz statt Konkurrenz” in Internationale Politik Special 5/2022.