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Civil crisis prevention

Big words, little action

In brief

Balkan Peacekeepers

Balkan Peacekeepers

Three years ago, Germany’s government resolved to boost and focus efforts in civil crisis prevention. However, the much vaunted action plan has been short on action, according to a critical policy brief from the Institute for Development and Peace (INEF) at Duisburg-Essen University.

The action plan of 2004 had set out, among other things, to expand and upgrade non-military conflict management instruments. The aim was to get the international community to adopt a coherent and coordinated approach to countries where an escalation of violence is feared. As INEF’s Christoph Weller concedes, this was an ambitious goal. After all, there is not much chance of getting various ministries and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to agree on exactly what kind of action will help prevent a crisis in every single case. All positions are hedged with doubt and shaped by self-interest. Moreover, it is hard to win political support for civil conflict management, as absence of violence is unspectacular and the effects of preventive involvement are difficult to assess.

But Weller finds no evidence of the Federal Government even trying to address these problems. To identify crises early on and develop strategies for tackling them, ministries need to network their early warning systems more effectively, and compare notes with NGOs working in the countries concerned. So far, however, Weller claims that little has been done in that direction. An attempt to create a Country Round Table for Nigeria, for example, basically ended in failure. And the government has not managed to come across with a stronger message to the public on the importance of civil crisis prevention.

In addition, the INEF scholar blames various ministries of using crisis prevention as a resource in the struggle over defining foreign and security policy. He singles out the Ministry of Defence, in particular, for refusing to play a part in an overarching strategy, while at the same time pretending to be an agent of crisis prevention in order to secure budget funds. In doing so, it is taking advantage of the prevalence of the traditional security mindset: even though military solutions are hardly appropriate for preventing a crisis, money continues to flow first and foremost to the armed forces. As no additional money has been earmarked for crisis prevention, Weller argues that the action plan is in risk of remaining a “niche project for isolated ministerial units and parliamentarians”.

The INEF paper calls for institutional reform and significantly more money for prevention work. It also carries the signature of amnesty international, three members of the Civil Crisis Prevention Advisory Council and the Green party’s security spokesperson in the Bundestag. The Federal Government, the paper says, should appoint a prominent special commissioner for crisis prevention and set up inter-agency commissions for selected countries. Alluding to the disputes between the ministries involved, the paper points out that civil crisis prevention is “not attainable without conflict”.

A Foreign Office spokesman commented on the matter, stating that greater coherence in the area of crisis prevention was one of the Federal Government’s priorities. As such, he added, it is institutionalised in two bodies – the inter-ministerial steering committee, in which the crisis prevention commissioners of the various ministries assemble, and in the advisory council of civil-society organisations that advise the committee. According to the Foreign Office, the focus is on effective coordination, as the government does not believe the answer lies in new or additional institutions. Moreover, the Foreign Office spokesman accuses anyone complaining of a military mindset prevailing in security affairs of forgetting that various policies in the fields of foreign and security affairs as well as in development, economic and social matters have proven effective in terms of preventing crisis without having ever been labelled as such. Nevertheless, the Federal Government “will, if possible, further increase the funds earmarked for crisis prevention”. (bl)