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A ‘Force for Good’? – Conclusions and Recommendations

Article by Tim Molesworth and Adam Hug

December 6, 2021

A ‘Force for Good’? – Conclusions and Recommendations

This collection of essays has looked at the ways in which the UK’s foreign policy engagement in FCACs is adapting to changes in the global foreign policy environment, the evolving nature of conflict and to changes in the UK’s institutional capacities and its place in the world.


The nature of conflict in FCACs is shifting, along with the challenges they present the UK. The number of violent conflicts today is as high as at any point since the end of World War II, only matched by a period in the early 1990s. Unlike the 1990s, however, we are not seeing a parallel rise in peace agreements. This is at least partly due to the transnational impacts on conflict, including transnational crime, violent extremism, climate change, migration and, since 2020, COVID-19. It is also due to a tendency towards the increasing internationalisation of conflicts. While conflict still play out within borders, a larger number of international actors are directly or indirectly involved – increasing the complexity of conflict resolution processes and the number of stakeholders who need to be considered and included.


The effect on the UK of this is of strategic importance. FCACs pose threats to international peace and security, undermining the stability of neighbouring countries. FCACs can provide ungoverned spaces in which transnational terrorist networks can develop and which can facilitate transnational crime. The situation in FCACs drive displacement, including refugee flows and other irregular migration into neighbouring countries and, ultimately, towards Europe and Britain. FCACs also provide a space for geopolitical competition, which the UK’s geopolitical competitors are able to exploit for strategic advantage, to develop partnerships or to disrupt the geopolitical status-quo. The UK, then, must be proactive in its engagement in FCACs, not only for its own security interests, but because supporting governments and communities in FCACs to resolve conflict and transition to a sustainable peace is the right thing to do and constitutes an obvious responsibility under the UK’s ambitions to be a ‘force for good’.


As the UK’s strategic priorities change, increasing its focus on the Indo-Pacific and European Neighbourhood and reducing it in large parts of Africa and the Middle East, it will be important for the UK to ensure that its change in posture is managed carefully so as not to further destabilise FCACs. Wherever possible this should include retaining capacity and engagement in contexts crucial for the UK’s ‘force for good’ agenda beyond its priority regions wherever possible and adopting a more coherent approach to conflict sensitivity that should applied across the range of the British engagement with all FCACs.


The UK has significant experience and expertise engaging in FCACs. As one of the most significant international donors, it has invested in the tools and capacities needed to understand conflict and leverage cross-government tools and resources to deal with conflict strategically. However, the UK’s approach to the world and its capacities to do so are changing. The 2020 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy outlines a strategic framework for how the UK engages with the world. It indicates a more joined up and strategic approach between the foreign policy tools which the UK has available. Recent institutional changes, including the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DFID) into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), provide an opportunity to more explicitly develop that joined up approach – particularly when dealing with complex, multidimensional problems such as those driving conflict in FCACs.


However, it also comes with risks. Relating to FCACs, the Integrated Review calls for more focused and ‘politically smart’ interventions aimed at addressing drivers of conflict. This reflects language and perspectives such as the Elite Bargains and Political Deals work of the UK’s former Stabilisation Unit (now incorporated into a new conflict unit within the FCDO). These perspectives have a lot of value, in so far as they are intended to inform how aid and other foreign policy tools can contribute to peace in complex political economies. There is a risk, however, that a focus on elite bargains will end up deprioritising the longer-term structural peacebuilding contributions which are necessary to help countries transition to sustainable peace. It suggests a higher tolerance for engaging with national actors who do not necessarily act in ways that are compatible with the values which the UK espouses, an approach that needs to be used strategically but sparingly, while remaining committed to more integrated and long-term approaches to building sustainable and equitable peace.


The publication makes the case for an integrated, conflict sensitive approach to the UK’s approach to the world both inside government and beyond. As well as building in a conflict sensitivity due diligence approach such as the conflict sensitivity tool outlined in the introduction across the full range of UK Government engagement in FCACs, it means also ensuring, as Helen Kezie-Nwoha writes, that gender analysis be made a more integral part of the UK’s policy development, informing all aspects of policy rather than being an ‘add on and paste’ approach as she puts it. She also rightly points out that the UK’s approach needs to be cognisant of and responsive to local dynamics, particularly in post-colonial contexts. As Kezie-Nwoha puts it ‘this is because democratic values are defined and understood differently by different countries and most have defined their values based on their desire to move away from colonial legacies which the UK represents’, noting the regular failure to make Western style institutions work within local cultural frameworks and leadership models, which have led to issues of corruption, weak legitimacy and poor accountability.


Similarly, Dr Naho Mirumachi and Marine Hautsch highlight the need for conflict sensitivity both in dealing with the impact of climate change and ensuring that future green infrastructure does not replicate problems of previous international investments that have exacerbated local conflict dynamics (citing the Gibe III dam in Ethiopia and solar grid expansion in the Turkana region of Kenya as examples of poorly thought through green investment). Climate action needs to be fully integrated as part of, rather than in competition with, wider strategies to address the underlying structures of poverty, inequality and marginalisation that can fuel conflict. Phil Bloomer’s contribution widens this point out to argue that the UK’s wider economic engagement with fragile and conflict affected countries needs to be conflict sensitive and comply with international best principles for business and human rights.


A number of authors, including Fred Carver and Rt Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP, have rightly made the case that the UK has an important role as a leader and convenor within multilateral institutions (including the UN, Commonwealth and NATO) if it chooses to continue to take this approach. A commitment to partnership at an international level must be matched with a commitment to building and resourcing local partnerships with civil society and peacebuilding, boosting from the ‘bottom-up’ as Dr Alexander Ramsbotham and Dr Teresa Dumasy argue.


For a country reliant on its soft-power to project its influence, perception and trust are key. The UK must, as it considers how to engage in the world moving forward and how to operationalise the strategic vision outlined in the Integrated Review, ensure that it stands by its stated ambition to be a ‘force for good’ in the world. This is particularly important in FCACs, where the ways the UK engages can demonstrate, perhaps most starkly, the degree to which it acts in accordance with the values it promotes.


The individual essays in this collection include a wide variety of policy recommendations regarding the particular areas of UK foreign policy engagement to which they relate. Some of the key recommendations include that the UK should:


  • Embed consideration of conflict sensitivity and the myriad direct and indirect ways in which its activities can worsen or address conflict into decision-making relating to all areas of UK engagement in FCACs, not just within aid projects where it has made significant progress but across HMG. It should look to embed a structured way of approaching conflict sensitivity due diligence to assess and mitigate the potential impact of interventions.


  • Ensure that its approach to engaging in FCACs puts peace in a central role. Wherever possible peacebuilding and peacemaking should not be in competition with other UK policy priorities for fragile and conflict-affected states, but at the heart of them; addressing violent conflict is often a precondition for advancing sustainable stability, and it is not always an inevitable product of other policy interventions without a clear focus on making it so.


  • Be willing and able to use a wide range of policy tools to assist in its conflict resolution and peacebuilding objectives including diplomacy, sanctions, aid, trade, military engagement (including peacekeeping), peacebuilding resources (both inside Government and in civil society), mediation (in appropriate contexts), and reform of private sector involvement in FCACs.


  • Find the correct balance in its aid activities between efforts aimed at promoting stability, for example through elite bargains and political deals, with the need also to address the structural drivers of violent conflict. ‘Politically smart’ aid should look to create the opportunities, through stability, to then allow for longer-term structural change which is necessary for the evolution of like-minded peaceful societies the UK would like to see.


  • Strengthen its peacebuilding and conflict resolution capacity. This could include:
      • Bringing in more specialist expertise from the peacebuilding sector into government, building on the existing secondment systems for senior academics and by opening up recruitment;
      • Improving coordination and information sharing across government and with external experts;
      • Enhancing embassy and FCDO operational capacity, helping find ways for the UK to support smaller, local peace actors rather than relying on multilaterals or large private consultancies;
      • Enabling local programming to become more responsive to evolving local situations and incorporating the learning developed through ongoing project delivery;
      • Providing more settled priority setting and guidance to the CSSF, and
      • Allowing for longer project timelines for peacebuilding work beyond the yearly budget cycle.


  • Leverage its strong convening capacity to build international coalitions, as the UK can rarely act alone in FCACs. It should use its ability to consider conflict from a wide range of perspectives in government, to multiply its impact by seeking to influence and shape the collective effort of international aid and other actions towards peace.


  • Address the gender gaps in its planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of policies and plans, ensuring that they mainstream gender, women, peace and security priorities in all government programmes and pledges. It should maintain its commitment to influence the global agenda on gender, women, peace and security.


  • Use its position on the UN Security Council and involvement with the policy conversations to push for:
        • Greater accountability to, and centring of, the communities at the heart of peacekeeping missions;
        • To resist any urge for state-based mechanisms to micromanage peace operations;
        • To resist state centricity in multilateral responses to areas of fragility and embrace the fact that states can often themselves be part of the problem and non-state actors part of the solution; and
        • To counter any attempt to have UN resources or UN supported missions diverted into counter-terror operations, counterinsurgency, or other forms of warfighting.


  • Strengthen the conflict sensitivity of UK private sector activities, by strengthening the modern slavery act, introducing new legal responsibilities for companies that failing to prevent human rights abuses, corruption or that fuel conflict in FCACs and strengthening conflict and human rights sensitivity compliance in public procurement.


  • Improve compliance with the principles of the Arms Trade Treaty and strengthen due diligence checks on both the direct use of arms sold and on the indirect consequences of the arms trade. It should provide clearer red lines on arms sales and military collaboration with conflict actors.


  • Prioritise partnership in its engagement in FCACs. Partnership is key to effective peacemaking and peacebuilding – conflict is too complex and systemic for any one country or institution to tackle single-handedly. Working authentically in local partnership is the hardest, but most important challenge for UK Government and civil society alike to achieve our peace ambitions.


  • Embed understanding of the links between climate change, peace and conflict into its wider work on climate change. It should ensure that its work on climate change is conflict sensitive, taking into account the ways in which the necessary economic transformation for responding to the climate crisis can embed or address structural drivers of conflict.


  • Address the role of the UK and its Overseas Territories as facilitators of international corruption that can be a key driver of conflict in FCACs.


Tim Molesworth is the Senior Advisor for Conflict Sensitivity and Peace Technology at the Peaceful Change initiative, a UK based peacebuilding NGO. He has 11 years’ experience working with the UN and NGOs in contexts such as Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Libya on strategic approaches to peacebuilding and conflict sensitivity.


Adam Hug became the Director of the Foreign Policy Centre in November 2017, overseeing the FPC’s operations and strategic direction. He had previously been the Policy Director at the Foreign Policy Centre from 2008-2017. His research focuses on human rights and governance issues particularly in the former Soviet Union. He also writes on UK foreign policy and EU issues. He studied Geography at the University of Edinburgh as an undergraduate and Development Studies with Special Reference to Central Asia as a post-grad.


Image by FCDO under (CC).

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