German responsibility in a complex world


Natascha Zupan

Since Germany’s President Gauck, Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Defence Minister von der Leyen called, at the Munich Security Conference, for Germany to take on a greater role in international affairs, a lively public debate about a new German foreign policy has been well under way. But apart from a new communication strategy, where are the gaps in terms of responsible peace and security policy?

The British researchers at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) who have spent several years looking at international development through the “complexity theory” lens – encapsulated in the famous “butterfly effect”, which shows how small differences, such as a butterfly flapping its wings, can potentially lead to major and unforeseen effects on the environment – would probably sum up the situation as follows: “Peacebuilding is not a puzzle, it’s a mess.” As they see it, peacebuilding in countries such as Mali, South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan is in a classic state of confusion: some problems cannot simply be separated like pieces of a puzzle but are interconnected through dynamic linkages of great complexity.

Responsibility and complexity

But what does the current debate about Germany’s new responsibility in the world have to do with complexity theory? On the face of it, not a lot, for the media have a tendency to reduce complexity. The “mess” encountered in fragile and conflict-affected states quickly becomes a “puzzle”, and the right piece, it would seem, has already been found – in the form of Germany’s greater participation in military interventions.

Communication certainly plays a key role in this context. Conveying foreign and development policy’s multi-faceted approaches to crisis prevention and conflict management to a broader public is undoubtedly a challenge. Swift and simple solutions – pieces of the peacebuilding puzzle – do not exist and, in any case, could not easily be packaged in a way that resonates with the public. What is needed, instead, is ongoing advocacy to convince people to take complexity seriously. This applies both to the debate about “responsibility”, which must focus on the interdependence of global challenges such as climate change, poverty and resource scarcity, war and fragile statehood, and to the translation of this responsibility into practical policies.

What is clear is that Germany’s international role can be developed in diverse ways. Its restrained approach to military engagement, referred to in the current debate, is the outcome of Germany’s history, and is a shortcoming in some people’s eyes and a cause for concern for others. However, this debate can also be seen as an opportunity, for in essence, it is about Germany’s own perception of its foreign policy role. It offers an opportunity to look at responsibility in terms of its historic dimension and to advocate for active peace policy based on an awareness of Germany’s own history. This type of policy must focus on preventing conflict by non-military means, on supporting the conservation of and more equitable access to resources, on strengthening governance structures and their functionality, and on creating the conditions for more political participation and respect for human rights. As experience in Germany shows, these are intergenerational challenges. These goals cannot be reached with rapid, externally imposed solutions, but require mutual respect, partnership and continuity – and the willingness to pursue new paths.

Identifying priorities – utilising synergies

Although peacebuilding is not a “puzzle”, there needs to be further strategic development of existing concepts, strategies and instruments to meet these responsibilities. The fact is that in the current constellation of international actors, successful peace policy engagement must be based on prioritisation and the use of comparative advantages. Neither has been achieved to a sufficient extent in Germany yet.

As the starting point, then, in cooperation with international partners, especially within the EU, it is important to identify country priorities and develop sector strategies which link in with existing fields of competence in German foreign and development policy – such as the active promotion of multilateral regulatory mechanisms, education and intercultural dialogue, sustainable land and resource management, security sector and judicial reform, and political transition and “dealing with the past” (transitional justice). This strategic development in the various sectors would enable different experience and access points to be utilised in a complementary manner, building synergies and strategic partnerships with civil society organisations and research institutions. It would also be easier to determine the form and scope of country- and sector-specific interministerial coordination.

Shaping international peace policy – strengthening the domestic policy dimension

Peace and security are under threat in many countries, not only from internal causes. Regional and global factors – such as the illegal arms trade, human and drug trafficking, climate change, and international investments in land and resources – influence local conflict dynamics as well. Well-functioning crisis prevention means assuming greater responsibility for developing international governance regimes, but it also means taking on more responsibility for Germany’s role in a globalised world. And it means strengthening dialogue with domestic and economic policy actors in Germany in order to highlight the peace policy dimensions of migration, economic, energy and trade policy. But it is also about participating fully in the development of international peace and security policy. Germany has opportunities available – beyond a seat on the UN Security Council. At present, for example, the UN member states are negotiating a new agenda for development and sustainability post-2015. It would be a milestone, in peace and security policy, if peace and conflict management could be given a prominent role on this agenda.

Strengthening capacities – expanding south-south partnerships – flexibly developing financing mechanisms

Peacebuilding has become increasingly diverse and specialised in recent years. More and more actors are defining the landscape, more communication and coordination are required and more country-specific and thematic expertise is needed in order to shape peacebuilding policy and practice effectively and sustainably. Often, especially in complex conflict settings, it is about building trust and utilising a “window of opportunity”. For that reason, networking, a learning culture and, not least, personnel capacities in Germany and in the countries concerned must be strengthened. This includes building multidisciplinary teams, creating greater permeability between government institutions, academia and civil society, and providing internal training and more regulated careers. For the strategic support and implementation of programmes, one option is to establish a pool of experts to recruit specialists with appropriate thematic and country-specific training. This pool can easily be integrated into existing institutions and would help to create synergies.

Furthermore, in a globalised world, more consideration should be given to ways of integrating the experience and expertise of people from conflict and post-conflict societies more effectively into existing peacebuilding strategies and instruments, e.g. through a financing mechanism that promotes south-south partnerships or by including experts from the Global South in the pool mentioned above. And lastly, in situations of conflict and fragility, there is a particular need for sound planning, flexible financing and strategic management. Existing financing mechanisms fall short of what is needed and must be adapted to specific requirements.

Sooner or later, the media will lose interest in this debate. At that point, it will be important to assume responsibility for active peace and security policy outside the public gaze.

Natascha Zupan is the Coordinator of FriEnt.

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