Peace, Stability, and Post-2015: How to Make Progress

Yesterday we outlined three reasons why the inclusion of peace, stability, and governance in the post-2015 framework is controversial. Resistance to including these issues in the post-2015 agenda is political, not substantive. Impassioned arguments about the links between peace and development will not win the day. It is necessary to consider the various interests and concerns and identify politically feasible options.

The intergovernmental process will be characterized by two years of challenging negotiations within the General Assembly, beginning with the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals. Following the presentation of the OWG report, which is expected to provide a proposal on sustainable development goals, intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 framework will begin in earnest when the 69th session of the General Assembly kicks off in September 2014.

Negotiations on this scale are unprecedented. A collective negotiation, by all 193 member states at the General Assembly (represented by their foreign ministries), of not just the broad approach to development, but the specific language of goals and detailed targets, will be a drawn out battle. The politics within the UN have changed enormously since Monterrey, which is the only instance of collective negotiations that comes close to what will occur within the next two years around the post-2015 development agenda.

This process will have both the character of international negotiations (capitals, civil society, agencies) and of the basement rooms of the General Assembly. The international community should neither underestimate how much will happen in basement room negotiations nor how important continued capital-level engagement will be to stop the basement room dynamics from eroding this agenda.

Despite initial positive reaction to the Secretary-General’s report and the High-level Panel (HLP) report, negotiations will be long. Nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed, and the language and targets around peace, stability, and governance are likely to be a locus of genuine debate and subject to wider negotiating issues.

There are three important steps to create the political space necessary to forge compromise.

1. It is important to ensure that the concerns of the emerging powers are understood and accommodated so that they do not become a blocking force. Analytically, several of them recognize the need to act to build peaceful and stable societies. Politically, the issue is not a priority for them, and they will likely concentrate their efforts elsewhere in the coming debate. These countries are sensitive to the possible crowding out of their priorities. They need to be reassured that there is not a zero-sum relationship among the issues across the agenda. Substantial work will be needed - most of it in capitals - to keep the emerging powers open to the inclusion of peace and stability. The language provided by the HLP is a productive starting point for this.

Language and framing matter; the issues must be situated squarely within the realm of development, rather than security. Building on the work of the HLP, adopting a positive formulation will be essential. It will be essential to focus on building stable societies and effective institutions, rather than emphasizing conflict, violence, and security. This approach can help reassure reluctant countries that their interests are being considered, and that the approach to these issues will remain rooted in their links to development.

2. A common African position will be essential. The African group has the potential to play a decisive role in negotiations on building stable societies, and indeed they have the most at stake in the final outcome. They recently pursued a General Assembly resolution on challenges specific to Africa and included language about conflict issues that was redolent of some of the language included in the HLP report. In fact, there was a deliberate effort to align the HLP language with the African’s General Assembly language. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s chairing of the African Union’s High Level Committee process to produce an African Common Position is promising, and the outcome of the this process will have substantial implications for New York dynamics.

3. A genuinely independent southern voice will be decisive on whether or not these issues are included. A broad coalition is needed that realizes that governance and institutions are universal and are not limited to conflict-affected countries. Many countries are vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and external stressors that can foment insecurity and instability. The critical factor that will tip the balance in favor of including these issues is the voice of a set of developing countries themselves saying, “this matters to us.”

Advocates among OECD countries need to allow southern voices to reflect on their common interests and negotiate an approach. Too hard a push from developed countries is likely to hurt rather than help the chances for inclusion in the final agenda.

The challenge of advancing peace, stability, and governance within the post-2015 agenda cannot be underestimated. But an awareness of the political context can help shape reasonable paths towards consensus. The opportunity to improve development outcomes for an enormous concentration of the world’s poor who struggle daily with the mutually reinforcing dynamics of conflict, instability and poverty, and the opportunity to build the foundations of more sustainable global growth and development, cannot and should not be overlooked.

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Jan 08, 2014
Jennifer Slotin