International Dialogue, New Deal and Post-2015 Development Agenda – Adequate responses to greater complexity?

The aim of the second part of the morning session was to discuss the context for peacebuilding in the coming years. Current international debates, e.g. on the Post-2015 agenda or the implementation of the New Deal, will have a significant impact on the future of peacebuilding policy and practice. Are these ongoing processes the nucleus for a newly emerging peacebuilding consensus? Is there a new global momentum to strengthen the links between peacebuilding and development? How will these processes change the space for peacebuilding practitioners? Can all stakeholders make their voices heard?

Looking at the newly emerged peacebuilding frameworks (e.g. the World Development Report 2011, the New Deal on Fragile States, etc.) and the ongoing international discussions, Henk-Jan Brinkman of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office recalled that these new developments are first of all a response to the changing nature of conflict: Today's conflicts are more complex and multi-dimensional, and various factors are causing and driving it. This complexity of conflicts requires a multi-dimensional approach to solving them. Factors like economic and social inequalities, organized crime, climate change or natural resources management have to be taken into account. The peacebuilding field therefore needs to focus on investigating the connectivity between sectors.

Peacebuilding has already grown in leaps and bounds, leading to an expanding knowledge base and more prominent role in international discourses. But Brinkman still sees two major challenges:

While there is a lot of agreement on the why and the what of peacebuilding, there is no agreement on the where and the how;

A lot of organizations struggle with the challenge to translate peacebuilding knowledge into practice and to learn from experience.

Erin McCandless, The New School for Public Engagement, challenged the analysis that the world is becoming more complex. From her point of view, we are just willing to learn more and recognize that we do not necessarily have the solution at hand. And it is in the implementation of the new international and national peacebuilding frameworks that new and old challenges are particularly visible.

Ann Phillipps, United States Institute of Peace (USIP), remembered participants that donor agencies are generally very difficult to change in order to overcome the impediments to implement the lessons learnt and do things differently. Among the impediments are a general risk aversion, short-term deployments in conflict-affected countries and misleading incentives for short-term results. One very practical proposal to better deal with complexity is that development agencies need to recruit more people with regional expertise. Functional expertise will not suffice in order to identify key actors and sources of resilience in local systems. One participant added that it is also necessary to find ways how to integrate the knowledge of the people on the ground in the programming to adequately address complexity.

New Deal – Real Deal?

One attempt to address the complex challenges in fragile and conflict-affected states is the New Deal, which was developed by the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS) and which was endorsed 2011 at the 4th High-Level Meeting on Aid Effectiveness in Busan. The New Deal sets out five Peace- and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) to give clarity on the priorities in fragile states. The New Deal also defines principles for cooperation, pathways out of fragility and mutual commitments for results aiming for greater convergence of efforts, greater trust among the various actors, and stronger national ownership. The New Deal is now being implemented in seven pilot countries (South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Timor Leste, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Afghanistan), with cooperation between donors, host-country governments, and a robust range of peacebuilding and development civil society actors.

Erin McCandless considers the New Deal a response to complexity and an attempt to push back on the critique of peacebuilding for being Northern, template-driven and liberally rooted processes. The New Deal looks for country-led, best fit strategies and is drawing attention to setting more realistic targets with a longer term perspective. There is also a greater attention to the links between analysis and priority setting. The instruments that have been developed to implement the New Deal, e.g. the fragility assessment or the notion of one vision, one plan, are work-in-progress and as a matter of course still bear problems. But according to McCandless generally the idea is right. 

One of the main benefits of the New Deal is that it puts fragile and conflict-affected states in the driver’s seat to set their own priorities. There are of course questions around the governance structure of the New Deal itself and the location of ownership in certain g7+ governments. But part of the messy problems we are dealing with is that these processes do not work perfectly. In this regard it is also problematic that donors push to get things done quickly and desist from having a proper analysis in the forefront.

McCandless also highlighted that the New Deal is creating more space for civil society. It offers the opportunity to bring new societal actors into policy making discussions. Civil Society has in fact been very influential in shaping and influencing both the process and the substance in many important ways. G7+ governments have also become more aware of the role of civil society through the New Deal process.

Lancedell Mathews, New African Research and Development Agency (NARDA), shared the experiences from the New Deal implementation in Liberia and the involvement of civil society in this process. The fragility assessment is complete; indicators for each of the PSGs have been jointly developed and agreed. However, despite these efforts, the actual integration of these principles and ideals into the Liberia institutional frameworks remains a serious challenge. Most of the national documents and instruments are put together under a very heavy influence from either the development partners themselves or hired external consultants.

The talk of the New Deal process has been narrowed down to a few government ministries and agencies that are directly responsible for leading the formulation of these national agendas. This is undermining not only the pace and progress of the planned work on the New Deal process, but also inclusive, participatory and accountable governance in Liberia.

Despite these shortcomings, Liberian civil society insisted on their role in the monitoring of the process. They demanded for example that not only a few selected PSGs are piloted but the whole framework. As the New Deal recognizes that open and constructive relations between state and society constitute a key element for successful peacebuilding and statebuilding processes it is crucial to look at PSG 1 that focuses on legitimate politics. Not at least to bring new civil society actors on board and to amplify their voices in the policy dialogue.

For Mathews, the New Deal is essentially about building and maintaining honest, respectful and mutually accountable relationships, not only between the international community and states, but also and more importantly between both of them and the people they serve. CSOs have to insist on their role but they also need the political back-up by partner country governments and their civil society partners from the North.

Bringing Peace into the Post-2015 Agenda

One of the objectives of the IDPS is the integration of peacebuilding and statebuilding goals in the global development agenda with specific attention to the post-2015 development framework. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have not been effective in fragile contexts: no low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single MDG, and 32 of the 46 countries at the bottom of the UNDP’s human development index are conflict-affected or fragile.

However, Henk-Jan Brinkman explained that in the post-2015 process, it is probably smarter to avoid terms like peacebuilding or fragility because these are much biased in terms of “us vs. them”. We should rather talk about universal issues like violence reduction, crime, rule of law, good governance or access to justice. There is a growing community that wants to see these issues integrated – not only among civil society but also among member states.

But there are still quite a few challenges ahead, e.g. around questions of sovereignty, around issues of scope, around measurement and around fears that aid flows are directed away from development and towards security or that donors impose new forms of conditionality on aid. But Brinkman’s assessment is that it is not about the securitization of development but about taking a development approach to security and promoting a conflict sensitive approach to development. Therefore it is also important to integrate these issues into other goals as well.

According to McCandless the battle has already been won that issues of peace, security, rule of law, governance are interlinked and equally important in a development agenda. The question is, what member states are willing to put into the new agenda. One participant feared that the future of the New Deal depends on how peace and security will be integrated in the post-2015 agenda, because this agenda will determine the focus of attention in the coming years. But Henk-Jan Brinkman insisted that it is necessary to keep post-2015 and the New Deal as separate as possible, because of the limited geographical reach of the New Deal, while the post-2015 must be a universal agenda.


Some participants were concerned that there is too much focus on institution building/statebuilding both in the New Deal as well as in the post-2015 agenda. Strengthening transparent and responsive institutions is essential but should not be seen as substitute for relationship building and the (re-)establishment of trust between state and society and between different social groups. McCandless has the hope that system thinking can help to think beyond institutions. Within the New Deal there is a tendency (mainly by g7+ governments) to focus on institutions but the New Deal definitely provides for a more holistic approach.

A range of participants raised questions on how to integrate and engage the local knowledge into peacebuilding programming. One participant argued for example that it would create new impulses, to base the monitoring of peacebuilding on locally defined, bottom-up indicators. Lancedell Matthews agreed that there are possibilities to develop locally owned indicators and to some extend it has already been attempted in the New Deal process. But more generally speaking he complained that donor policies too often undermine local capacities. Local organisations should not be seen as implementing partners of donor agencies. Henk-Jan Brinkman added that it is also important to amplify the voices of local actors in global policy processes like the post-2015 agenda. On a more cautious note, Ann Philipps said that it is also a challenge to find  partners/people who have local knowledge and which is moreover not biased.

Participants agreed that peacebuilding is, first and foremost, a local process. External actors must focus on local systems, capacities, dynamics and priorities. But despite this awareness, the extent to which support can and should be aligned with local priorities and strategies and the situations in which such an approach may be counterproductive are still contentious issues. This field of tension needs to be considered as peacebuilding continues to evolve.

Coming back to the initial question of the session, Lancedell Matthews and Henk-Jan Brinkman shared a sense of optimism: We have not found adequate responses to complexity yet but are moving into the right direction. Probably the most crucial thing is to work on the trust between all different levels to make things work.

Marc Baxmann,

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Five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals

  1. Legitimate Politics - Foster inclusive political settlements and conflict resolution
  2. Security - Establish and strengthen people's security
  3. Justice - Address injustices and increase people's access to justice
  4. Economic foundations - Generate employment and improve livelihoods
  5. Revenues and services - Manage revenues and build capacity for accountable and fair...