Basic elements of crisis prevention

15.06.2017 - Article

The focus is not only on management of severe crises, but also on effective prevention, to keep crises from arising in the first place.

Many severe crises and conflicts are currently posing major challenges for German foreign policy. The focus is not only on acute crisis management, 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.

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 an even earlier, more decisive and more effective role in preventing and overcoming crises, the Federal Government, with the Federal Foreign Office having the lead responsibility, has drawn up a new basic document, the policy guidelines on “Preventing crises, managing conflicts, building peace”. These new policy guidelines replace the 2004 Action Plan “Civilian Crisis Prevention, Conflict Resolution and Post-Conflict Peace-Building”.

They add an equally important, primarily civilian pillar of German peace and security policy to the White Paper on German Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr of 2016 and give Germany’s crisis management a clear guiding principle that focuses on prevention. The guidelines look at all instruments of German foreign, security and development policy which the Government can use to try to prevent crises and conflicts from erupting at all.

Civil society played a key role in drawing up the new guidelines. In a consultation process lasting several months, the German Government discussed the concrete contents with the public at various events under the title “PeaceLab2016 – A Fresh Look at Crisis Prevention”. Interested members of the public could also air their views on the PeaceLab Blog.

Logo of the Center for International Peace Operations
Logo of the Center for International Peace Operations © Auswärtiges Amt

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.” Some key aspects of this precautionary work are:

  • 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.
  • Interministerial Steering Group for Civilian Crisis Prevention: this Steering Group was established in 2004. Its chief task was to implement and monitor the National Action Plan. Now that the new policy guidelines have been adopted, it will be monitoring the implementation of the guidelines and the follow‑up processes they stipulate. The Interministerial Steering Group’s 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 Board for Civilian Crisis Prevention: the policy guidelines on “Preventing crises, managing conflicts, building peace” envisage civil society’s close involvement in crisis prevention, conflict management and 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. 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 organised as a non‑profit company with the Federal Republic of Germany, represented by the Federal Foreign Office, as its sole shareholder.

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).

Meeting of OSCE Foreign Ministers
Meeting of OSCE Foreign Ministers © Auswärtiges Amt

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.

One important UN instrument for conflict management is the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (PBC). The PBC gathers around one table the international and national actors 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 include in particular:

  • The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
  • The European Union
  • The Council of Europe
  • The G7/G8
  • NATO

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