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How To Deal With Fragile States: Three Takeaways From This Week’s Paris Peace Forum

Lorenzo De Santis - Senior Research Officer for the Executive Director, ODI

Last Sunday, the world celebrated 100 years since the armistice of the Great War, one of the most terrible conflicts ever witnessed by humanity. Yet, for too many people around the world, just and lasting peace remains elusive. To discuss ways to tackle global challenges and ensure durable peace, President Emmanuel Macron convened more than 60 heads of state and relevant actors of global governance for the Paris Peace Forum, which took place in the French capital on 11-13 November.

During the opening ceremony President Macron, Chancellor Angela Merkel and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres all committed to defending multilateral cooperation as a key feature of global prosperity. This message was shared during the three days by a plurality of actors, and the convening was a great opportunity to remind us of the undeniable results attained by global cooperation, including a reduction in extreme poverty over the last few decades.

While it is certain that we have made some progress in tackling extreme poverty, also thanks to multilateral efforts, a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) indicates that, with the current patterns of growth and development, approximately 400 million people will still live below the threshold of $1.90 USD per day in 2030. Moreover, extreme poverty will be highly concentrated, with the latest estimates suggesting that up to 85% of poor people will live in fragile contexts.

Lasting change will only come from local actors, with international institutions working hand in hand with civil society and private sector.

The international community has embarked in several efforts to deal with fragility, which is the absence or breakdown of a social compact between people and their government, but results have been mixed at best. Last June, The Rockefeller Foundation, the United States Institute for Peace and ODI convened a group of world leaders and top experts to discuss challenges arising from states facing fragility. One of the key lessons we took from that gathering was the need to build and reinforce an international commitment to deal with fragility, taking advantage of pivotal moments arising in the global agenda. The Paris Peace Forum was undoubtedly one of those and fragility was widely discussed as a key issue that hinders inclusive development and growth.

Experts and representatives from international institutions offered suggestions and insights. While opinions were multifaceted, I believe three key takeaways emerged:

  • It will be important to align development, defense, and diplomatic efforts. When presenting the preliminary results of the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States, USIP President Nancy Lindborg underlined that, unless development, diplomatic and defense approaches align more consistently to develop a shared understanding of how to cope with fragility, international interventions will not be effective and will not produce lasting results. One of the main lessons we learned from the 2011 New Deal for Fragile States was indeed to bring on board from the start different sectors, avoiding a sole focus on development actors.
  • Work on prevention will make a difference. The joint United Nations–World Bank Group study on Pathways for Peace placed an emphasis on putting preventive measures at the forefront of peacebuilding, as presented by World Bank experts at the Forum. It was highlighted that focussing on prevention and avoiding a crisis would save between $5 billion to $70 billion USD per year, freeing up essential resources to be invested in key sectors, such as education and health.
  • Local ownership is essential for success. Lakhdar Brahimi, former UN envoy to Syria, during a masterclass he gave at the Forum, noted that “we never know enough of the country in which we intervene.” A key learning from past experiences is that a top-down approach from external actors would simply not work in fragile environments. This view was underlined by several speakers and it was emphasised that lasting change will only come from local actors, with international institutions working hand in hand with civil society and private sector, tailoring interventions to the realities faced on the ground.

While the Paris Peace Forum was certainly a step in the right direction for a renewed, reinforced approach to international cooperation and strengthened global governance, there is widespread agreement that much remains to be done. Secretary-General Guterres warned that the multilateral system and respect for international rules will be essential to avoid a return to power relations, reward-sanction mechanisms and a cycle of frozen conflicts. His commitment to protecting multilateralism was backed by other heads of international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but their leadership will not be sufficient without clear support from the UN Member States. To that extent, it will be interesting to see how President Macron intends to use the momentum generated by the Forum to influence the 2019 G7 summit, which will be hosted by France, and whether peace-building and fragility will have a meaningful space on its agenda.

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