Global Conference Calls for Stronger Conflict Prevention Measures
On December 6, the EastWest Institute and the European Parliament put preventive action back on top of the international agenda with the first Global Conference on Preventive Action. The conference, which brought together a wide range of practitioners from international, regional and civil organizations, responded to calls for diplomacy that forestalls violent conflicts rather than responding to them after the fact.
“In recent years, conflict prevention has gotten bogged down in long, expensive peacekeeping and development missions,” says Matthew King, head of the EastWest Institute’s Preventive Diplomacy Initiatives. “We need actions that are effective, immediate and responsive, using the resources that we have at our disposal right now.”
The conference, which continues today, aims to produce concrete recommendations, many focused on the United Nations. Participants broadly agreed that the U.N. needs to work more collaboratively with regional organizations and NGOs, some pointing out that effective cooperation already exists on the ground.
Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs in the United Nations, said that preventive diplomacy in the U.N. needs flexible funding to respond rapidly to conflicts. Of his department, he said, “We rely enormously on extra budgetary spending. What we do need is predictable, secure sources of funding.”
More funding for preventive action was a theme that resonated throughout the conference, with many participants pointing out that while preventive action costs a fraction of peacekeeping operations, it often lacks financial support.
Nick Mabey, advisor to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, proposed that to identify particularly unstable regions and help show the value of preventive action, a mechanism for credible, independent risk assessment and monitoring should be established. “If well managed, such a process would provide a critical way of stimulating media and political interest and emerging crises,” Mabey explained.
Some of the most positive points emerged from a discussion on regional organizations like ASEAN and the African Union, which reported on mechanisms they use to prevent violent conflict -- in particular, the A.U.’s right to intervene.
“The more we learn about what the other regional organizations are doing and how they have been successful, the more confident we can be to follow some of these established steps,” said Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, former Secretary General, ASEAN; Director of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
Participants explored how the United States and the European Union can better work together to prevent conflicts. Ambassador Guenter Overfeld, Vice President of Regional Security and Conflict Prevention, EWI, says working together on preventive action can be a valuable way to reinvigorate the trans-Atlantic relationship. “The U.S. and Europe need more cooperation on the strategic level on this agenda,” he added.
While the day saw a great deal of consensus, a discussion on the role of the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – in conflict prevention generated more debate. Some participants doubted that BRIC can operate as a political unit, given existing differences. Still others pointed out that BRIC countries already show support for preventive action and perhaps their full role is just beginning.
Today’s conference could be the beginning of a permanent review process for conflict prevention.
Dr. Franziska Katharina Brantner, MEP, who co-hosted the conference, said, “A lot of speakers have been mentioning a platform that galvanizes more political action. It would be great to institutionalize an annual gathering and, of course, it would be great if it could happen at the European Parliament.”
The conference continues today with a special focus on women’s role in stabilizing Afghanistan and regional approaches to preventive action.
A full report of the conference and its recommendations will follow.