Despite the decline in interstate war over the past several decades, armed conflicts and organized violence remain major threats to people’s lives in most parts of the world. External actors are invested in these conflicts in many ways: through their economic footprint, by protecting specific interests, or by protecting people and building peace. In our interconnected world, there is no way we can avoid having influence. Our choices have consequences that either fuel the violence or help find ways out of war.
So how do we know what works? How can we act responsibly if we do not? While Rwanda and Bosnia have shown the catastrophic consequences of inaction, our instruments to act are often flawed. Mediation, capacity-building, support for political reform, and the use of military force require constant learning and sometimes fundamental change.
In our work with partners around the world, GPPi focuses on knowledge, norms and organizations in the global politics of peace and security. Currently we address four themes: (1) conflict, intervention and peacebuilding, (2) the prevention of mass atrocities, (3) the role of rising powers, and (4) organizational learning and change.
Conflict, Intervention and Peacebuilding
Despite deep disillusionment with grand schemes of social engineering in war-torn societies, governments and international organizations such as the United Nations are looking for responsible and realistic policy options to end violence and rebuild state authority. Our work has analyzed current conceptual and organizational ideas for stabilizing acute crises, police and security sector reform, as well as conflicts in South Sudan, Afghanistan and Kosovo. Currently, we are working with UN peace operations in South Sudan and the DR Congo on collecting lessons for the UN’s support to local conflict management.
Most often, we have found that external actors overestimate their influence over local political dynamics in foreign countries and underestimate the necessary knowledge, manpower and financial resources to make a positive contribution. The available instruments of diplomacy, justice or military capacities, EU crisis management or UN peace operations are flawed, but lessons abound to improve them. Even a modest and realistic approach to stabilization, however, is a high-risk, expensive and long-term undertaking. Among other proposals, we have recommended that policymakers be more responsive to local political dynamics, devolve decision-making power to embassies or development specialists on the ground, and invest in the cultural and capacity requirements to build learning organizations.
Prevention of Mass Atrocities
Since the failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda (1994) and Bosnia (1995), there is a heated global debate about how to effectively and legitimately prevent mass atrocities. The controversy focuses particularly on the use of military force, as in Kosovo (1999) and Libya (2011), often sidelining the discussion of other important instruments. For example, taking the highly organized nature of mass atrocities as a starting point, a group of policy entrepreneurs in the Obama administration seeks to systematically develop opportunities for targeted prevention. Our review of recent US policy (2009-2013) identifies lessons from this effort for policymakers in Germany, where Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board has found significant interest. Since 1999, UN peace operations have focused more on the protection of civilians. We have found that, despite considerable progress and investments, governments have long failed to supply the UN system with the diplomatic, logistical as well as police and military resources it needs to protect civilians. The whole UN system, in turn, needs to embrace a more activist organizational culture by fully implementing its “Human Rights up Front” initiative.
Rising Powers and Global Peace and Security
The global order is in transition. Major players from outside Europe and North America are demanding greater influence and a more equal, less Western-centric set of rules. As a result, global norms and institutions are increasingly contested. We work on the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) as an example of such a contested global norm together with partners in Brazil (Fundacao Getulio Vargas), China (Peking University/Beijing Foreign Studies University), India (Jawaharlal Nehru University), South Africa (South African Institute for International Affairs) and across Europe (Oxford University, HSFK/PRIF and CEU Budapest). Contrary to common expectations, views on R2P do not fall neatly into two camps of the “West” and the “rest.” Opposing ideas of sovereignty have been at the center of the R2P debate for too long. We argue that the debate should be refocused on avoiding abuse of the principle by major powers and finding practical tools for protection. Our analysis of local debates on R2P in Brazil, China and South Africa highlights the opportunities for more debate between policymakers from both established and emerging powers on how to protect effectively.
Other challenges for global peace and security have been discussed in the Global Governance Futures program (GGF), specifically: nuclear proliferation (2011), cyber-security (2013) and the control of robotic weapons (2014-2015). Through GGF, fellows from China, Germany, Japan, India and the US jointly develop ideas to address such challenges.
Organizational Learning and Change
We work on challenges of coordination and organizational learning in the way the United Nations, the European Union and national institutions such as the German Foreign Office engage with violent conflicts. Unlike what many expected, our research has found that learning is possible for international bureaucracies. However, it requires a significant and sustained investment in funding, organization and leadership that both national political leaders and senior international civil servants are rarely willing to make. When such investments are made, as in the UN peacekeeping system around 2008-2012, it becomes crucial to guard against the tendency of institutional learning systems to become ends in themselves: They are effective only when providing added value to the organization’s core mission on a day-to-day basis.
Likewise, coordination problems between organizations require flexible, less-than-perfect solutions. Obstacles to effective collaboration are deeply rooted in the fundamental specialization of government agencies in modern societies: Conflicting interests and cultures among ministries for diplomacy, development and defense limit coordination. Still, the people who work closest to the action – ambassadors, police advisers, military commanders – need to be less micromanaged and more empowered to take a genuinely political, flexible and occasionally risk-taking approach.
Clients & Funding
Our academic research on global peace and security was generously supported by the German Foundation for Peace Research (2006-2009), the Fritz Thyssen Foundation (2008-2010) and the Volkswagen Foundation in cooperation with Compagnia di San Paolo and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (2012-2015). Additional projects were funded or commissioned by the UN Secretariat’s Department for Peacekeeping Operations, the German Foreign Office, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Humanity United and the Robert Bosch Foundation.
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