Britain must be more strategic in tackling foreign conflicts

Last week, the new National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review gave conflict prevention a high priority, and committed more resources to addressing instability in fragile states as far upstream as possible to save both lives and money down the line; this week, ippr publishes its own review of the lessons to be learned from conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

Our guest writer is Alex Glennie, a Research Fellow specialising in Middle East politics, international relations, security and international law at the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr)

Last week, the new National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review gave conflict prevention a high priority, and committed more resources to addressing instability in fragile states as far upstream as possible to save both lives and money down the line. While this approach is welcome, the Government must back up its rhetoric with a set of clear policies that ensure that the UK becomes more strategic in the way it responds to conflicts abroad.

This week, ippr publishes its own review of the lessons to be learned from conflict prevention and peacebuilding in a number of case study countries, including Afghanistan, Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo. In it, we highlight some key principles that should guide the Government’s thinking on responding to conflict.

Get in early and stay the course: Although the UK can no longer play a major role in addressing every conflict, it should concentrate its resources on a limited number of cases where there are important strategic reasons for engagement and where it can make a significant contribution (in Pakistan, for example). In these places, it should be prepared to take a long-term political and economic role.

Engage with all the major players: Conflict prevention and peacebuilding processes rarely succeed if they do not involve all key actors in the conflict. Drawing on its experience of engaging with Sinn Fein in the Northern Ireland conflict, the UK is well-placed to press for the inclusion of all the major players in peace processes, even in cases like Afghanistan or Palestine, where this may involve difficult political tradeoffs.

Use high level-diplomacy: In Kenya in 2008, widespread conflict following disputed election results was avoided in part because of high-level involvement by Kofi Annan. When appropriate, UK ministers and other high-profile figures should be similarly proactive in using their diplomatic skills to help defuse crises before they turn violent.

Don’t rule out the use of preventive military deployments: Since the Iraq War, there has been little enthusiasm for the idea of pre-emptive military strikes. Yet the examples of Macedonia and Sierra Leone suggest that in the right circumstances, the judicious use of preventive deployments can buttress other diplomatic efforts. The UK should always set a high bar for the use of military force, but should not necessarily wait until it becomes an option of last resort.

Focus on good governance: As the UK’s experience in Afghanistan has shown, building up strong leaders can often undermine the long-term success of peacebuilding efforts. Instead, priority should be given to supporting strong political and judicial institutions, the rule of law, and good governance.

• The ippr report States of Conflict: Lessons in conflict prevention and peacebuilding can be downloaded here (pdf).

One Response to “Britain must be more strategic in tackling foreign conflicts”

  1. Paul Seery

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain must be more strategic in tackling foreign conflicts: //bit.ly/b5CXU3 writes @ippr's Alex Glennie

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