Global Conference Calls for Stronger Conflict Prevention Measures

News | December 07, 2010

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.

Click here to view New Europe's special supplement on the Global Conference.