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Basic elements of crisis prevention

Many severe crises and conflicts are currently posing major challenges for German foreign policy. The focus is not only on the management of severe crises, but also on effective prevention, to keep crises from arising in the first place and to ensure that they do not break out again once they have ended.

Political framework and instruments

Civilian crisis prevention is part of Germany’s precautionary foreign policy, which is increasingly important in the light of the numerous and increasing crises and conflicts.

In 2004, the German Government adopted the interministerial action plan, Civilian Crisis Prevention, Conflict Resolution and Post-Conflict Peace-Building. The purpose of this action plan is to anchor crisis prevention as a cross-sectoral political task at both government and civil-society level. The recommendations contained in the action plan focus on, among other things, enhancing Germany’s contributions to multilateral approaches, reconstructing state structures in crisis regions and strengthening democracy, the rule of law and civil society.

The main focuses of civilian crisis prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding are the promotion of statehood (establishing the rule of law and the police force, security sector reform), the strengthening of multilateral and regional instruments (especially in Africa) and peace mediation.

Sustainable crisis prevention can only be achieved by taking a comprehensive approach that includes all policy fields, particularly foreign, security, economic, development and environmental policy, and merging them into a coherent overall policy (the networked security concept).

The German Government’s new policy Guidelines

Expectations of Germany’s crisis engagement have grown considerably during recent years. In order to be able to play a role earlier, more decisively and more tangibly in preventing and overcoming crises, the German Government, under the auspices of the Federal Foreign Office, therefore plans to draw up a new basic document by spring 2017. These new guidelines will replace the National Action Plan. The aim is to spell out the priorities of Germany’s engagement and to further develop coherent action by all ministries in interaction with international partners.

Civil society is playing a key role in drawing up the new guidelines. Between July and early November 2016, the German Government will discuss the concrete contents with the public at various events under the title PeaceLab2016 – A Fresh Look at Crisis Prevention.

PeaceLab2016 - A Fresh Look at Crisis Prevention

The Federal Foreign Office’s crisis-prevention activities are part of a precautionary foreign policy that is based on simple logic: “It is much better to invest in stability and peace in a precautionary, targeted and flexible way than to be forced to intervene either late, or too late.”  Key aspects of this precautionary work include:

  • - Democracy-building aid and election observation
  • - Long-term strengthening of statehood, for example through police training
       and promoting the rule of law
  • - Peace mediation and consolidation in post-conflict states

Players in German crisis prevention

The most important state institutions in Germany involved in crisis prevention include:

  • The Subcommittee on Civilian Crisis Prevention, Conflict Management and Integrated Action: this Subcommittee systematically anchors crisis prevention in parliamentary work. It questions experts and ensures that the necessary attention is paid to this subject in a dialogue with national and international players. The Subcommittee was constituted in March 2010 and held its first regular session on 19 April 2010. It cooperates closely with the Interministerial Steering Group for Civilian Crisis Prevention.
  • The Interministerial Steering Group for Civilian Crisis Prevention: this Steering Group was established in 2004. Its chief task is to implement and monitor the National Action Plan. Its members are the Directors for Civilian Crisis Prevention in all federal ministries, headed by the Federal Foreign Office. As an information and coordination committee, it serves to coordinate the actions of the various ministries.
  • Advisory The Board for Civilian Crisis Prevention: the National Action Plan provides for close involvement among civil society in crisis prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding. This 19-strong advisory board, which advises and supports the Interministerial Steering Group, serves this very purpose. Members are drawn from the worlds of academia, security policy, development policy, human rights and humanitarian issues, the environment, the churches, industry and political foundations, or are policy advisers or figures with particular expertise in crisis prevention. The Advisory Board was established in May 2005.
  • The Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF): the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF) is the Federal Foreign Office’s implementing organisation for recruiting, deploying, preparing, supporting and training German specialists and managers for peace operations. It also conducts academic analyses of international peace operations, supplies information products and advises the German Government and the German Bundestag. There are currently more than 9,975 civilian specialists and managers working in over 61 peace operations worldwide. It is key to the success of these missions that staff be experienced, well-prepared and socially competent experts. The complex mandates of the operations mean that staff are required to do challenging jobs involving counselling and management skills. They also need to be extremely flexible, willing to travel, and physically and mentally resilient. ZIF is organized as a non-profit company with the Federal Republic of Germany, represented by the Federal Foreign Office, as its sole shareholder.

Peace missions are one of the international community’s main instruments of conflict prevention and conflict management. Building on the first United Nations peace operations of the late 1940s – the blue-helmet missions – they have developed into complex multidimensional undertakings. Alongside the United Nations, international peace operations are now also conducted by regional organisations such as NATO, the EU, ECOWAS (West Africa) and the OSCE.

International Players

Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter gives the Organisation, through the support of its member states, numerous instruments for the peaceful settlement of disputes. These include preventive diplomacy within the context of crisis prevention. The Secretary-General can take action in various ways, for example through good offices or mediation that he conducts either in person or via a special envoy or representative appointed by him. In the past, the Secretary-General has appointed numerous special envoys and representatives, either for specific conflicts (e.g. Myanmar, the Middle East, the Great Lakes region) or particular issues (e.g. climate change, HIV/AIDS).

During the most recent reform of the Department of Political Affairs, the Policy and Mediation Division was reinforced. In 2004, the Secretary-General took steps to improve the coordination of activities by the various UN institutions with a view to promoting the rule of law. One aim is to prevent the outbreak of crises and conflicts.

Conflict prevention is aided by the formation of Groups of Friends of the Secretary-General. These are small groups of suitable member states that work together with the parties involved in a dispute toward resolving bilateral issues.

An important UN instrument for conflict management is the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), which gathers around one table the international and national players involved in a post-conflict situation, supporting them during the reconstruction process, promoting a coherent strategy for post-conflict peacebuilding, and helping to mobilise resources. Germany is a PBC founding member and makes voluntary contributions to the UN Peacebuilding Fund for relevant initiatives.

In addition to the UN, many other organisations are active in the domains of crisis prevention, conflict management and post-conflict peacebuilding. These notably include:


Last updated 03.06.2016

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