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Lessons for coherent and integrated conflict analysis from multilateral actors

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Herbert, S. (2019). Lessons for coherent and integrated conflict analysis from multilateral donors. (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.

1. Overview

This rapid literature review collates lessons from multilateral organisations on their efforts to conduct and apply conflict analysis in fragile and conflict affected states (FCAS) in a coherent and integrated way.

The literature base on this issue is mostly drawn from the donors’ grey literature (including evaluations funded by the donors), with some reports from think tanks. There was substantial information about the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN), and much less about North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Key findings include:

Lessons from the EU

The EU established that conflict analysis should be conducted as part of the EU’s programming cycle in 2001, and restated this in 2013. Through its “comprehensive approach” (CA), the EU developed: guiding principles and procedures to approach conflicts in a systematic way; concrete objectives and priorities for EU actors; and a culture and the practices of coordination (Faleg, 2019). The EU’s needs for coordination in its conflict prevention and peacebuilding analysis and action are fairly unique in that it needs to ensure coherence and integration across a number of complex sets of actors.

The EU’s CA evolved into an “integrated approach” (IA) in 2016. The main organisational innovation of the IA has been creating the “PRISM” Division (Prevention of conflicts, Rule of Law/Security Sector Reform,
Integrated Approach, Stabilisation and Mediation) (Faleg, 2019). PRISM enables the implementation of the IA and works to improve coordination between all actors in crisis response, early detection and prevention and, stabilisation (Pietz, 2017). The EU focuses on early warning indicators, as part of its conflict and context analysis. PRISM and INTCEN (EU Intelligence and Situation Centre) are responsible for monitoring and analysis (Juncos & Blockmans, 2018).

Lessons include: Personnel, time, and budget are scarce resources, limiting the EU actors’ abilities to implement the IA; engaging other stakeholders with the EU’s conflict analysis process is preferable, but complex and with certain trade-offs; coordination and cooperation within the EU remains a key challenge; ultimately, real integration requires “true change in the EU’s organisational culture” (Faleg, 2019); the lack of a unified information exchange system within the EU structures limits knowledge sharing and lesson learning; and the warning-response gap remains, “despite policy consensus that prevention is always better than managing the consequences of conflict” (European Union, 2016, p. 29).

Lessons from the UN

The UN’s new “sustaining peace” agenda, initiated in 2015, aims to reform the UN system (including all its agencies, funds, and programmes) to “prioritise prevention and sustaining peace; enhance the effectiveness and coherence of peacekeeping operations and special political missions; move towards a single, integrated peace and security pillar; and align it more closely with the development and human rights pillars to create greater coherence and cross-pillar coordination”.2 Part of this reform agenda focuses on advancing its conflict analysis and joint assessments.

One of the institutional innovations of this reform agenda is the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) (established in 2019), which merges the former Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and the UN Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO). Among its responsibilities, the DPPA monitors and assesses political developments to detect potential crises and responses, and supports the Secretary-General and its envoys, and the UN political missions.3 The DPA contains the PBSO (established 2005), which, among other tasks, works to enhance system-wide coherence and partnerships with UN and non-UN actors.4 Other recent innovations to improve conflict analysis include: the establishment of a centralised unit in the Secretary-General’s office responsible for conflict analysis and planning for the whole UN system; the establishment of DPA regional offices; the deployment of Peace and Development Advisers (managed by DPA and the UN Development Programme (UNDP)) to non-mission settings; advances in joint assessment, planning, and programming (e.g. the UN, World Bank, and EU Recovery and Peacebuilding Assessments); and advances in digital technologies feeding into conflict analysis.

UN weaknesses in its use of analysis are widely highlighted in the literature as: needing to fill key analytical gaps; contributing to major UN failures (Wilmott, 2017); and where the UN’s “biggest gap in capacities lies” (Pantuliano, et al., 2018). Lessons include: the failure to translate analysis into more conflict-sensitive, politically smart programming; challenges in integrating the many UN entities each with different mandates, interests, funding streams, governance arrangements, etc; resource constraints limit the DPA’s capacity to meet all its needs. e.g. its analysis is restricted by its limited full-time political presence overseas, and desk officers are often overwhelmed with admin duties, with too little time for analysis; conflict resolution is often initiated at a late stage, thus analysis and strategy is often developed under pressure; there is a lack of analytical frameworks, and/or staff skills to conduct deep conflict/context analysis (with the exception of UNDP); while developing a shared conflict/context analysis between actors is often highlighted as best practice, there are many political and practical challenges relating to this; and the value of engaging with communities in analysis processes to understand their needs.

Lessons from NATO

NATO employs a CA, based on the “Understand to Prevent” (U2P) process. Within NATO, it appears that The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) has overall responsibility for monitoring and analysing regional instabilities, military capabilities, and transnational issues. This includes: monitoring, assessing and warning of impending crises, horizon scanning, information/knowledge management and knowledge development, and the development of situational awareness and understanding of emerging crises for planning activities. A large number of other NATO units feed information into SACEUR’s analysis (NATO, 2013).

Key challenges to NATO implementing its CA include: “the struggle to achieve internal cohesion, lack of synchronization with member states planning, and lack of budget allocated to foster [comprehensive approach] CA implementation and the projection of stability” (Faleg, 2018). NATO’s comprehensive approach has been effective at strengthening its partnerships with external actors, especially the EU (Faleg, 2018).

Lessons from the OSCE

The OSCE was the first security organisation with the concept of comprehensive and cooperative security as its original political mandate. The OSCE’s Conflict Prevention Centre provides policy advice, support, and analysis. It acts as an OSCE-wide early warning focal point, among other tasks it: collects, collates, and analyses information from different sources and advises on possible response options. It also coordinates the dispatch of needs assessment and fact-finding teams.

Challenges facing the OSCE’s comprehensive approach include: reaching political consensus can be hard and time-consuming; OSCE commitments and principles are not politically or legally binding; agreements on new or upgraded policy frameworks are difficult to reach; its wide range of disparate activities seem to lack coherence; lessons learned processes are hampered by limited resources; institutional capacity and incentives to implement the CA are limited by high staff turn-over; and sceptical attitudes from some participating states (Faleg, 2018). Lessons from OSCE experience are: the importance of political consensus among participating states to operationalise a comprehensive approach; and the importance of making few concrete, measurable actions, to allow a comprehensive approach to scale up over time (Faleg, 2018).